DELIA Smith has said she will never make another television programme because she was fed up with having to "entertain" rather than teach people how to cook.
Her announcement, at the age of 71, marks the end of a television career that spanned more than 40 years and introduced at least two generations to cooking, from a basic boiled egg to the delights of oven-roasted tilapia (a fish).
Smith made her announcement while demonstrating a new line of baking tins at a trade show in Birmingham. She said she was still passionate about teaching people how to cook but wanted to do it via online tutorials, not television.
“This is the future for me and the population. It’s miles ahead. If you do a TV programme now, it’s got to entertain,” she said.
“When I started, there was further education in the BBC; now you have to entertain. You have someone telling me I haven’t got time to show this, or I haven’t got time to show that.”
Asked if she would reconsider if a television company offered the right money or the right format she said: “No. As soon as my Waitrose contract ended, the BBC called me up and said 'what can we do?’ And I said 'no, thank you’. I am afraid to say this is the end when it comes to Delia on the telly.”
Last month, Smith, who had been the face of Waitrose with Heston Blumenthal, was dropped “by mutual agreement” from the adverts. Both sides insist the decision was amicable.
The chef, who has sold 21?million books throughout her career, said that she would launch the Delia Online Cookery School later this month – aimed at people who use a computer in their kitchen and want a step-by-step guide to baking cakes, for example.
She said it was “the best way to teach people to cook”. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s better than television or live demonstration.”
Her retirement is likely to upset her legion of fans, many of whom see her as an antidote to the lifestyle-driven shows presented by younger chefs.
It will also come as a blow to the supermarket industry, which said it still enjoyed a sales boost with the “Delia Effect”, a term that entered the Collins English Dictionary in 2001, when she recommended an ingredient or product on television. Cranberries, omelette pans and Aunt Bessie’s frozen mashed potato have all benefited from her stamp of approval.
Despite Delia’s army of loyal fans, there were grumbles from within the BBC that she no longer had the draw of some of the newer chefs. Three years ago, a leaked report from the corporation suggested she had “limited appeal” and was in the bottom tier of the BBC’s presenters.
This is not the first time that Smith has announced her television retirement. In 2003, she said she was dedicating her time to her beloved Norwich City Football Club, where she is a director. At the time she said: “I just cannot think of any more recipes right now. I’ve been doing it for 30 years and I’ve had enough.”
She changed her mind and came back to present series including How to Cheat at Cooking and Delia through the Decades, her most recent programme, in 2010.
Smith also issued a rallying cry for the high street, saying she was refusing to allow supermarkets and department stores to stock her range of baking tins until they had been on the shelves of small cooking shops for a few months.
“I am very distressed that cooking shops struggle nowadays because supermarkets and other big multiples undercut them and drive them out of business,” she said. “It’s the same thing with delis. And if you are a cookery writer and you are trying to encourage people to cook you need them badly.”
Smith left school at 16 with no qualifications and was briefly a trainee hairdresser before she started to cook. She presented her first series, Family Fare, in 1973. The first recipe she demonstrated on screen was alpine eggs, a baked dish of eggs, butter and chives topped with grated cheese.
Harry Wallop Telegraph.co.uk