Keith Floyd dead


Keith Floyd, who has died aged 65, will be best remembered for his television cookery programmes in the late 1980s – the epitome of gonzo-TV – as wine destined for the pot was drunk instead by the presenter. Cheerful mayhem was the consequence, though attentive viewers learned sound basics of flavour and technique. Floyd's performances, on or near the stove, were a refreshing departure from the prissy, controlled style then in favour at the BBC, or the alternative mode of half an hour with a French chef whose incomprehensible English made the recipes a mystery.

Floyd came to public performance after a long and, he would have said, punishing apprenticeship in running restaurants. Brought up on the slopes of the Quantocks and Exmoor, hence perhaps his love of game, fishing and the odd rook for the pot (his father was a keen field sportsman), he was educated at Wellington School in Somerset, where a fellow pupil was Jeffrey Archer.

Electing a career in journalism, he found not this to his liking and joined the army, gaining a commission in the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment in 1963. His own account would have his rush of military blood inspired by the heroics of Stanley Baker and Michael Caine in Zulu. That film was not in fact released until 1964. In fact, his regiment was stationed in Germany where, though but a subaltern, his responsibilities extended to the meals in the officers' mess. Those nights he was on duty the cooks were encouraged to produce high-falutin' French dishes in preference to roast meat and two veg.

His catering skills, however, did nothing to prolong his military career which was soon abandoned for an Orwellian stint of kitchen portering and restaurant work in London and France before returning to Bristol in 1966. Somehow, and somewhere, he had learned sufficient about cookery to open restaurants in the Georgian quartier of Clifton, where the posh people, students and broadcasters lived.

Keith Floyd was a natural cook of great skill, and a restaurateur and host of effervescent charm. However, he was an appalling businessman who rarely kept hold of his money for long enough to pay the bills that mattered, while often charging his customers over the odds for his wares. His perception of the ambivalent role of the restaurateur -somewhere between pander and provider — was always clear and forcefully expressed, sometimes too forcefully for his own good.

His first Bristol period ended in the sale of the restaurant in the early 1970s. Floyd took off in his yacht, Flirty, to lotus-eat in the Mediterranean for a couple of years. When money got tight, he began exporting antiques to France and importing wine to England then, when in turn the customs got tight, he opened his own little restaurant in the Provençal town of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Not far from Avignon, its main claim to fame is the greatest concentration of antique shops in mainland France (300 and counting). It says much for his bravura that he succeeded where many Englishmen have failed. Success, though, is a relative term and when he did return to Bristol in 1979-80 it was without a penny to his name. He was only able to go back into business, with another restaurant called Floyd's, courtesy of friends stumping up the capital as advances on meals yet to be cooked.

Extravagance, incompetence and the VAT would have done for him a third and even final time had he not been rescued by unlikely fame in broadcasting. The chain of coincidence began with a small book from a local publisher called Floyd's Food (1981, with a foreword by the actor Leonard Rossiter) which led to 10-minute recipe chats on the Bristol station Radio West, that developed in turn into a short-lived yet garrulous phone-in.

By now something of a local hero, he was tried out on TV where his first foray culminated in roasting a guinea fowl complete with giblets in their plastic bag (a Julia Child moment). More successful was a short film of him cooking made by David Pritchard, then working at BBC Bristol. This might have come to nothing had not Pritchard been relocated to Plymouth and able to propose a new series on fish cookery. A pilot was made for transmission at the end of 1984 and Floyd on Fish went out in the summer of 1985.

Pritchard's style of direction was exactly suited to that of his presenter. Inspired by chaos, Keith would address the crew as often as the camera, would get palpably squiffy as programmes wore on, would indulge in any manner of derring-do (from playing rugby with Welshmen to shooting seals and eating puffins) and would be lovably madcap. Yet the cookery content was red-hot, copper-bottomed stuff. Never refined, but still good. Success was reinforced, and financed, by popular books to go with each series and the partnership continued swimmingly (though never without friction) until 1994 when there was a bust-up.

Thereafter, Floyd carried on in much the same style for commercial channels, cable companies, national tourist offices and anyone who would put up the money. He made 19 series in all, and his long-term popularity was as great, if not greater, outside the UK than within. It often appeared that a Floyd programme was showing on at least two airlines and in a hundred hotel lobbies at any given moment.

f his media life seemed a treadmill – it included a one-man show complete with piano and vocal backing – he still found time at the beginning of the nineties to start another restaurant. This was the pub, the Maltsters Arms (rechristened Floyd's Inn) in a hamlet near Dartmouth. Here he drove his white convertible Bentley through narrow lanes, got married for the third time to Shaunagh Mullet (though she departed after he accused her of forgetting his 50th birthday) and built up colossal debts.

We were dining peacefully one night in the pub, when the hum of conversation was silenced by the crack of breaking china as Keith responded to a complaint from the couple he was serving. You tangled gently with Keith, especially (as someone remarked) after 9.20 at night when the smiling, witty chef in a bow tie was likely to be subverted by red wine and paranoia.

The debts were cleared by a further distress sale, in 1996, and disappearance to Ireland. A fourth marriage followed, to Theresa Smith, and removal to Marbella, before a final (or nearly so) return to his old haunts in Provence.

A life that seemed punctuated by bankruptcy and bust-ups was nonetheless full of achievement and hard work. Nineteen series for television, 25 books as well as countless public appearances, not to mention a good dozen restaurants.

He is survived by a son, Patrick by his first marriage, and a daughter Poppy by his second marriage.

Keith Floyd, cook, born 28 December 1943; died 14 September 2009
I hadn't picked this up from the news. Keith Floyd - what an inspiration! He introduced me to red wine and the world of gastronomy. If the world is going to be a better place, these are the things we should be aiming at.
That is a shame... style and cooking rolled together.

Watched that new MasterChef with sourface and Roux Jnr and thought what an offensive line of miseries the cheffing trade serves up. Big Brother standard of torture.

J Oliver is practically Messianic and should be knighted now; he has the same spunk and charm as Floyd.
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