Radio 4 retraces A Taste of Britain

Derek Cooper on a boat Derek Cooper travelled around the country for the 1970s series A Taste of Britain

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Forty years ago, the BBC filmed what appeared to be the dying moments of the regional food industry for a TV series called A Taste of Britain.

Derek Cooper, the founding presenter of Radio 4's The Food Programme, travelled around the country to film food traditions that were disappearing as shopping and consumption habits changed in the 1970s.

"He was a pioneering journalist because he was the first one to take food and drink seriously as a subject that deserved journalistic scrutiny," says Dan Saladino, producer on The Food Programme.

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In a three-part special for Radio 4, Saladino has retraced some of Cooper's footsteps, visiting Dorset, Yorkshire and south Wales to find out "what happened next".

"Derek Cooper passed away in April so it's partly a tribute to him […] but it was also fascinating because we tracked some of the original contributors to the 1970s series.

"What we are doing is taking three episodes from that programme and finding out what happened next - and if that tells us something, not only of Britain's food story of the 1970s, but also about what we have in 2014, what kind of changes have taken place in that time."

TV impact

Saladino adds: "There was a post-war generation that was attracted by the new in terms of the foods that were arriving into Britain, and also through social change and convenience."

Although he believes they "did lose that connection with traditional foods", he reckons television has "played a huge part in reconnecting people to regional stories and understanding of the food".

Their stories and recipes are often highlighted in the likes of The Great British Bake Off, currently drawing 7m viewers, and Great British Menu.

Dan in radio broadcasting gear while holding an English truffle Dan Saladino, holding an English truffle, presents the three-part special

"Some wonderful programmes have celebrated regional foods and I think people are getting excited again about regional [produce]. But that's not to lose sight of the fact that most of us shop in a completely different way to previous generations, and also we have different food influences and cultures."

As a regular weekly show, The Food Programme can often spot trends early on, whether that's the rise in street foods or an "explosion of cheese-making".

Another, albeit unexpected, food item undergoing a renaissance is tripe.

"In the 1970s, Derek Cooper filmed people outside tripe stalls in Dewsbury eating basically cooked intestines of a cow with vinegar on. It was very, very cheap and affordable food for the working classes of Dewsbury at that time."

The stalls have now disappeared but tripe is still made locally because of its popularity in other cultures.

In the programme, Saladino shares a meal with an Ethiopian couple in Leeds. "So whereas people in Yorkshire no longer eat tripe, for this couple, it's an important part of their food culture and likewise with Polish people in Yorkshire, who are another reason why tripe continues to be made in Dewsbury.

"Another reason is because most of it is exported to China where consumption is still quite strong and a traditional feature. We explain why Derek Cooper found those [Yorkshire] traditions and why they continue but for completely different reasons and sustained by completely different people."

Saladino admits to finding the experience of revisiting the 1970s "fascinating".

"Derek Cooper was recording what he thought was the last moments of the foods that Britain had had for hundreds of years. We're now able to report that, while many did die out or are at risk, returning to that series is a reminder of the improvement that we've seen in recent years when it comes to the choice, range and quality of food."

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