New For 2013: ‘British Man Vs. Food’

Cucumber Sandwiches (sadly not prepared at Harridges)

Shh! Don’t tell anyone you saw this, right, but we found a transmission script from what is clearly going to be the TV milestone of  the next 12 months: an all-British version of the scoff-tastic U.S. TV hit Man Vs. Food, presented by a dapper gent in a pinstripe suit called Arthur Richerman.

Details are sketchy as to when or where this culinary masterstroke will appear, but as you will see, the format is broadly the same as the original version, with perhaps one or two tiny changes to take into account the difference between British and American diners.

Here, read the whole thing, and then tell us this isn’t TV gold in the making:

Voiceover – footage of people sitting stiffly, and sipping at china crockery:

Arthur: “You join us in the dining hall of Harridges, one of the cleanest and quietest luncheon venues in all of St Knightbridge’s Park. Tens of people arrive here on a daily basis, expecting to be served hot beverages with only the barest minimum of friendly service.

“We have come to take part in the legendary Harridges ‘Born To Be Mild’ challenge, a terrifying ordeal in which diners are invited to partake of afternoon tea at an hour which is unsuitable for proper digestion. Imbibe of the hot tea, partake of the meticulously arranged comestibles on offer without creating any unseemly digestive noises or asking for an indigestion tablet, and you could qualify for a 10% discount on your next bill, and your name will be entered in the Leger of Notable Diners.

Arthur’s first piece to camera, walking from dining room through a side door:

Arthur: “Here in the Harridges kitchen, head chef Charles D’Montbattle is preparing the platter for the ‘Born To Be Mild’ challenge. He has already placed fine leaf tea inside a china pot and will be pouring in boiling water at the last moment, just before serving. At the moment, the tea is being allowed to dry out, to prevent a situation whereupon the flavor becomes unmanageable.”

To Charles: “Charles, I see you’re gathering the ingredients for some extremely edible delights that will form the collection of  foodstuffs for this challenge. Would you be so kind as to furnish me with the details of your preparation?”

Charles: “Well, I must say how glad I am that you asked. What we have here is a cucumber, of the kind that one might put in a salad or offer as a moisturising disc for ladies, when receiving what I believe is known as a ‘facial.’ You’ll notice this is a particularly yellow cucumber, and quite soft, with far more girth than those one may come across in the greengrocer’s shop. This is intentional. I made a request to my suppliers, that they provide me with their most over-watered cucumbers, in order to try and dilute the extremities of flavor as much as possible. What we want is for the cucumber to exist in the mouth as a texture only.”

Arthur: “Really? Such a culinary experience must be quite hard to endure.”

Charles: “Indeed so. Next, I seek the cheapest loaves of value white bread from the supermarket, and let a selection of slices sit and dry out a bit, so they lose their softness and become a little stiff. I take these slices, and spread a miniscule amount of unsalted butter extremely thinly across one of them, so it leaves a very vague off-white smear that one can only appreciate when the slice is held up to the light.”

Arthur: “And is it critical that the butter is unsalted?”

Charles: “Very much so, or the entire challenge would be undermined. My next task is to assemble these ingredients into a sandwich, with the buttered slice of bread at the bottom. Then I arrange slices of the cucumber, being careful to ensure they do not overlap. I place the dry slice of bread on the top and cut the sandwich across the corners, creating four triangles in the process.”

Arthur: “I see presentation is key to your work.”

Charles: “We find that if flavor is kept to an absolute minimum, presentation must become primary. In the case of this particular challenge, we find people eat the food as much with their eyes as their mouths.”

Arthur: “I see. And what else do you add to this unassuming repast?”

Charles: “A dry scone, with the vaguest hint of ginger preserve in the air above it.”

Arthur: “Well, this all sounds marvellous. Let us proceed to the challenge, which I anticipate will be terrifically exciting.”

Cut to Arthur, sitting behind a table on which we see a china teapot, a china plate with eight triangular cucumber sandwiches on it, and a smaller plate from the same dinner service with a forlorn scone in the center. He is clearly being observed by other diners in the restaurant.

Arthur (consulting a pocket watch): “It is 3pm, and therefore slightly early for an afternoon tea (cries of “I say!” and “Good Lord!” from the other diners). Let us dispense with any further formalities, and embark upon this challenge.”

There follows a tableau in which Arthur struggles to eat three of the sandwiches, having to take many sips from his white and watery tea as he goes. Realising that he is failing, he makes a last-ditch attempt to save face by trying to bite the scone.

Arthur: “My word! It’s a trifle stale!”

Two bites into the scone, and Arthur has to concede defeat. He gives his final summary in a piece to camera:

Arthur: “Well, it is certainly clear that the staff at Harridges knew their onions when they created this challenge. There was simply no possibility that I, having only recently laid down my cutlery from luncheon, would be able to entertain food of such remarkable blandness and unfriendly texture. In the battle twixt humanity and sustenance, it appears that one must concede defeat, and live to battle again another day, or at a more civilised time.

“Thank you for your time and attention. Farewell!”

Roll credits.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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