Written by Erskin Quint

Saturday, 17 March 2012


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image for D L Misty On The History Channel's New Mini-Series
James Corden keeps saying things like 'this is awesome lamprey and golden beetroot croissant' with his mouth full of pastry

I have been charged with the solemn duty of reporting to you on the new mini-series which will be aired on television's History Channel from next week, entitled Extreme Patisserie in HD.

It was the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who said:

'Patisserie must be eaten forward, but it can only be understood backward.'

Whereas it was Henry Ford the motor car salesman who said:

'Patisserie is more or less bunk.'

I share these thoughts with you because I think it is important that we set out our stall at the outset. I need hardly say to you how ill-advised we would be to set out our stall at the end. We would be left with a lot of unsold items. That I do not say 'we should be left with a lot of unsold patisserie' is neither here nor there.

That is why I have shared these thoughts, even though Søren Kierkegaard was a failed hat-maker who made his own nautical maps. I share them despite the fact that Henry Ford was a man who lived in the shadow of his more famous siblings, John, the film director, and Betty, the founder of the clinic for bewildered John Wayne impersonators.

I shall skirt around the sad tale of their younger sibling, Gerald, who suffered from delusions of grandeur and went around telling people he was the President of the United States of America. I have no wish to over egg the pudding.

What I hope I have established is a mood, or a timbre. My intent was to convey a sense of the complexity of our lives, of the ineffable mysteries at the core of who we are. At the core of who we are is an ineffable mystery.

I said to myself last night, after watching Extreme Patisserie in HD, 'it really is ineffable that I should be reduced to this. It is ineffable that I should have to watch this ineffable television programme and it is even more ineffable that I should have to talk about it afterwards. Such are the ineffable mysteries at the core of who and what we are. What can it all mean?'

Of course, there was no answer. There was nobody there. Well, there was next door's cat, who was sitting on my window sill, looking in at me, but cats, I find, are more a part of the ineffable nature of things than any help in getting to the root of the matter.

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's being told what to do. Another thing I cannot stand is Heston Blumenthal. A third thing that I am unable to bear is fancy pastry. When I tell you that I am unable to endure the television, you may begin to see a pattern.

But with these things to the fore, let us proceed in our mission.

Now the Chinese bicycle magnate, Mao Tse-Tung, said: 'Despise the enemy's sausages, but regard his patisserie with deadly earnest'. Perhaps this explains why there will be 30000 hours of Extreme Patisserie in HD. I am here to tell you that I am unable to fathom another explanation. Perhaps you can find one.

I was vouchsafed a mere 250 hours by way of what they call a 'preview'. Lightly armed as I was with this minuscule sample, I feel that I have hardly brushed the surface of Extreme Patisserie in HD. I have barely attempted a glaze. But, lest you begin to pity me, let me tell you that 250 hours was more than enough for one evening.

When you learn that this 250 hour morsel was devoted to the history of patisserie in High Wycombe, then perhaps you may begin to understand my predicament.

Watching 250 hours of Extreme High Wycombe Patisserie in HD with next door's cat looking in through the window is not my idea of an evening at home. A game of nude blind man's buff with Alan Titchmarsh and Ann Widdecombe followed by an hour or two of Balinese Gamelan gong kebyar music, that is closer to my idea of an evening at home.

At least Balinese Gamelan gong kebyar music keeps the cat off my window-sill. Extreme Patisserie in HD had very much the contrary effect.

I am told that they 'scoured the globe for rare and never-seen original photography and film', and that 'research teams left no stone unturned in their search for authentic documentary evidence'. The emphasis, we are promised, will be on 'strong, dynamic images for maximum impact'.

As far as maximum impact is concerned, I have to congratulate them. I have not had a wink of sleep. I keep seeing the streets of High Wycombe. I see pastry shops packed full of James Corden. The luminous spectacles and baleful visage of Heston Blumenthal are never far from my troubled imagination.

But I begin to get ahead of myself. If I carry on like this, I shall reach the end of my discourse long before it has actually finished. And that would never do.

The most fascinating parts of the 'rare and never-seen original photography and film' are the oldest parts. These are by far the most fascinating. They really are very fascinating indeed. In the words of James Corden, they are 'fantastic, awesome, just brilliant'.

When I use these words of James Corden, I am not wedged in the doorway of an abattoir that was once a monastic pastry-house consecrated by Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, in 1086. Nevertheless, I feel justified in using them, in order to convey something of the flavour of the 250 hours of Extreme Patisserie in HD I was fortunate enough to watch.

Yes, it is the oldest bits of photography and film that are the most interesting. And here, once again, I have to congratulate them. Not the bits of photography and film. These have their own quiet dignity, and are in no need of external endorsements from the likes of me. No, it is the makers of Extreme Patisserie in HD that I feel bound to congratulate a second time.

I have never seen photography and film so old. The nearest thing I have seen to photography and film this old would be the time I discovered the photographs of my great-great grandmother playing tennis with Mr Gladstone. It was my mother, snatching the photographs from my five-year old grasp and throwing them onto the fire, who told me it was Mr Gladstone. Of course, at that age, I had no idea who Mr Gladstone was, or why he was playing tennis in the nude. It was only when I was much older, and studied history, that it all fell into place. Then I realised that he must have put his clothes into his Gladstone bag.

But to return to the fascinating subject of my diatribe, some of these parts of photography and film are very old indeed. My favourite parts are the very oldest. There is a wonderful bit of very old film showing Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, consecrating the monastic pastry-house of Chepping Wycombe in 1086. It really is a wonderful bit of film. It is a pity that this bit of film has to end as soon as it does. I suppose bits of old film as good as this are very hard to come by, and are bound to be short. That will be the reason why no sooner has this bit of film begun than it is over, and we are left with James Corden wedged in the doorway of the modern-day abattoir, saying 'fantastic, awesome, just brilliant' with a mouth full of pastry.

Another wonderful bit of very old film is the film of Benjamin Disraeli making his very first political speech from the portico over the door of the Red Lion Hotel on the High Street. You can tell this is a very old film because (unlike the film of Wulfstan, which was in colour) it is in black and white and is all speeded up like the Charlie Chaplin films, and also everybody is wearing a hat.

This was Disraeli's first campaign, in 1832. He was campaigning on behalf of the Huguenot monks who started the chair-making industry that is so important to High Wycombe. His campaign was on behalf of these monks who wanted to start a patisserie in a wing of the factory where they were making the chairs.

Disraeli was unsuccessful in this campaign but he learned a valuable political lesson. He learned that it was a waste of his talents to be campaigning in this way on behalf of a lot of foreign workers. Soon, he joined the Conservative Party, where the money was, and the rest is history.

Unfortunately, here in Extreme Patisserie in HD, the rest is James Corden, for we are transported from the portico above the Red Lion Hotel in 1832 to the building that is now an Iceland store, where James Corden is asking someone where the frozen pastry is kept. He keeps having to repeat himself because his mouth is full of pastry. In the end, all is well, and he gives the lady at the checkout a signed copy of his autobiography called 'I Want to Be The Centre of Attention All The Time Or I'll Scream'.

On the whole, this bit of film is not as fascinating as the old bits of film.

Soon we are with James Corden, Heston Blumenthal and a football player called Dominic Blizzard. Apparently all three are from High Wycombe, though Dominic Blizzard now plays for Yeovil Town. We are with them at the Patisserie & Chair-Making Department of High Wycombe University, where they have gone to see the Professor of Patisserie & Chair-Making, who is the only one not from High Wycombe, though she does live there now.

Heston Blumenthal makes some authentic High Wycombe patisserie, using original Roman and medieval recipes, and James Corden keeps saying things like 'this is the most genius dormouse and honey millefeuille I've ever tasted', 'this is awesome lamprey and golden beetroot croissant', and 'brilliant genius awesome nettle and mole dacquoise Heston mate'. There are some parts where other people talk, but mostly it is James Corden talking.

At one point James Corden seems to be saying that he is doing well, being a mere cockney West Ham United supporter, to know so much about patisserie, and that anyone might think that he was some kind of middle class poseur and attention-seeker. But it is hard to be definitive about this as his mouth is full of woodcock and straw tartlette and the others have gone off in search of Heston Blumenthal's ego, which has wandered off down the corridor.

I must confess that I am unable to tell you whether or not they eventually find Heston Blumenthal's ego. I had ploughed through 233 hours of Extreme Patisserie in HD by then, and there is only so much a person can stand when it comes to 233 hours of Extreme Patisserie in HD.

Similarly, I did not see the part where James Corden, Heston Blumenthal and Dominic Blizzard travel to Wycombe Air Park, where the Huguenot Aeronauts of the Middle Ages built their planes from local wood and straw and made the very patisseries later used in films such as 'The Blue Max' and 'Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines', although I am sure it is 'fantastic, awesome, just brilliant.'

I did not see that part. I had my head in a bucket of cold water when it was on.

Edward Gibbon, author of 'The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', said:

'Patisserie is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.'

I do not think I will be watching the History Channel's tribute to Edward Gibbon's book when it is released, as it surely will be, if James Corden has anything to do with it, as he surely will do, if his agent has anything to do with it.

In fact, I have rather taken against the History Channel, to be honest, after this experience. I am beginning to think that the History Channel is something that I can very easily live without. I am considering whether there is anything I can do about this.

I'm thinking of forming a revolutionary movement, if anyone's interested.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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