Thursday, January 04, 2007

Naughty, Naughty

The British Broadcasting Corporation was always known for being stodgy. Times have changed: when I listen to the BBC news now I am struck by the rainbow of ethnic names and by the diverse accents of many of the reporters. Back in the day "Auntie" demanded a standard “BBC English”, and the newsreaders were for the most part male and certainly the product of reputable public schools and universities. I wrote about my childhood friend Muffin the Mule. Someday I will get around to The Archers and Mrs. Dale’s Diary.

When I was looking for a photograph of Richard Dimbleby yesterday I was reminded of a most uncharacteristic broadcast he presided over in April of 1957, on a par with Orson Welles’ adaptation of The War of the Worlds. Viewers of Panorama (a kind of 60 Minutes magazine program) were treated to an account of the massive spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland, delivered in all seriousness by the earnest Mr. Dimbleby. If the audio link doesn’t work for you, here is the text:

'It is not only in Britain that spring this year has taken everyone by surprise. Here in the Ticino, on the borders of Switzerland and Italy, the slopes overlooking Lake Lugano have already burst into flower. But what, you may ask, has the early and welcome arrival of bees and blossom to do with food? It is simply that the past winter, one of the mildest in living memory, has also resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop. The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer. There is always the chance of a late frost which, while not entirely ruining his crop, generally impairs the flavour and makes it difficult for him to obtain top prices in world markets.

'Spaghetti cultivation here in Switzerland is not, of course, carried out on anything like the tremendous scale of the Italian industry. Many of you, I am sure, will have seen pictures of vast spaghetti plantations in the Po Valley. For the Swiss, however, it tends to be more of a family affair. Another reason why this may be a bumper year lies in the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil, the tiny creature whose depredations have caused much concern in the past. After picking, the spaghetti is laid out to dry in the warm Alpine air. Many people are very puzzled by the fact that spaghetti is produced in such uniform lengths. This is the result of many years of patient endeavour by plant breeders who have succeeded in producing the perfect spaghetti. Now the harvest is marked by a traditional meal. Toasts to the new crop are drunk in these poccholinos, then the waiters enter bearing the ceremonial dish. This is of course spaghetti--picked early in the day, dried in the sun, and so brought fresh from garden to table at the very peak of condition. For those who love this dish, there is nothing like real home-grown spaghetti'.
The BBC was flooded with inquiries on how to grow spaghetti. Their answer? "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

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