Helicobacter Mongooseincline first came to prominence as the world’s leading authority on the history of the cheeseboard, often mesmerising TV audiences during the 37 years his History of Cheese appeared on the BBC. His even longer 42-year stint as the host on the nightly The Cheeseboard at Night made him one of the most recognised faces on TV, even though hardly anyone except devoted cheeseboard enthusiasts watched the programme. However, when the BBC moved away its original remit to educate, entertain and inform its audience and turn to patronising them instead, Mongooseincline’s programmes were some of the first under the axe.
Many TV critics have blamed this move away from its original values for the decline in the importance, relevance and interest that the BBC has suffered from since that change of focus. Many others have – more importantly – decried the shift in emphasis and blamed it for the worrying decline in cheese knowledge and awareness of the British public in general.
For example, only a few months ago a nationwide survey found that 79% of British people could not correctly identify a Cheshire Cheese wedge in a line-up of international cheeses, some even confused it with Edam.
British industry has long complained that the UK education system itself is not educating the potential workers of the future in the vital technological skills needed for Britain to compete in the modern world. Many more business leader and industrialists have also complained about the almost complete lack of cheese awareness and understanding in school and university leavers these days.
‘In the past,’ one business leader said recently, ‘we could count on the BBC – and even ITV – to make up for the lack of formal cheese education among the pool of school-leavers and graduates we employed, but that doesn’t happen any longer.’
There has also been a severe decline in the number of further education classes in cheese history understanding and awareness in recent decades. Even the universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have reduces the number of degree courses in British Cheese studies that they used to offer. Some claim this does not matter if students are offered courses that explore cheeses from around the world. Others argue that it is a form of cultural imperialism only to study British cheeses and not those from – especially – emerging third world countries. Feminists too, complain that the traditional Cheese Studies in schools and universities have also downplayed the significant role played by women in the development of cheese, from the vital but unsung role of dairymaid onwards.
Some of these are – of course – valid criticisms, and if Cheese Studies is to continue as a serious academic discipline, then it needs to grow and change.
As a MP on the TV, Sport and Leisure Committee said recently, ‘The BBC must take back its leading role in educating, entertaining and informing the British public about the vital role cheeses – of all nationalities – play in our national life. If not, then we must seriously question what the TV licence fee is for.’
So maybe soon, one day Mongooseincline or someone like him will return cheese-based TV programming back to its vital role in the British national conversation, and – for many – it won’t be a day too soon.