Meades, Jonathan (Turner) 1947-
MEADES, Jonathan (Turner) 1947-
(Enderby Hogg, Russell Russell, John Tee, Eddie Tyde)
PERSONAL: Born January 21, 1947, in Salisbury, England; son of John William (a soldier) and Margery Agnes (a teacher; maiden name, Hogg) Meades; married Sally Dorothy Renee Brown, September 15, 1980 (divorced, March, 1984); married Frances Anne Bentley, January 6, 1988; children: four; (first marriage) Holly and Rose (twins); (second marriage) Eleanor Lily. Education: Attended University of Bordeaux, 1965-66, and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, 1967-69.
ADDRESSES: Home—Borough, London, England. Agent—Pat Kavanagh, A. D. Peters & Co. Ltd., 10 Buckingham St., London WC2N 6BU, England.
CAREER: Freelance designer and copywriter, 1969-72; freelance journalist, 1971-75; lecturer in liberal studies, 1975-76; staff writer for Time Out magazine, 1976-78; Observer, London, England, staff writer, 1978-79; staff writer for Architectural Review, 1979-80; editor of Event, 1981-82; Tattler, London, features editor, 1982-87; Times (London), restaurant critic, 1986-2001; freelance writer, 1987—. Presenter and writer for television programs and documentaries on food, architecture, and culture, including Meades Eats, Travels with Pevsner, Abroad with Jonathan Meades, Further Abroad with Jonathan Meades, and Even Further Abroad with Jonathan Meades.
AWARDS, HONORS: Glenfiddich Award for best food journalist, 1999.
This Is Their Life (television biographies), Salamander (London, England), 1979.
(With Philip Bagenal) An Illustrated Atlas of the World's Great Buildings, Salamander (London, England), 1980.
Filthy English (stories), J. Cape (London, England), 1984.
(With Deyan Sudjic and Peter Cook) English Extremists: The Architecture of Campbell Zogolovitch Wilkinson Gough (essays), Fourth Estate (London, England), 1988.
Peter Knows What Dick Likes (stories, prose, and a screenplay), Paladin Grafton (London, England), 1989.
Pompey (novel), Grafton (London, England), 1993.
Incest and Morris Dancing (food essays), Cassell (London, England), 2002.
The Fowler Family Business (novel), Fourth Estate (London, England), 2002.
Author of a weekly restaurant column in the Times (London). Contributor to periodicals, including Curious, Harpers and Queen, Craft, Literary Review, Granta, Vogue, Books and Bookmen, and Dial, sometimes under the pseudonyms John Tee, Eddie Tyde, Russell Russell, and Enderby Hogg.
SIDELIGHTS: Irascible, erudite, and disdainful of the mediocre, Jonathan Meades is a novelist, food critic, journalist, cultural gadfly, and connoisseur of architecture. Best known throughout Britain as the black-clad presenter and commentator on such television fare as Meades Eats and Abroad with Jonathan Meades, Meades combines the refinement of a gourmand's Epicurean tastes with the acerbic commentary and poison pen of a gonzo journalist. "Jonathan Meades has been compared, favorably, to Rabelais and, flatteringly, to Swift," remarked Henry Hitchings in the Times Literary Supplement. "The truth is that he outstrips both in the gaudiness of his imagination." Meades, wrote Lloyd Evans in the Daily Mail, "is a snob—let's not mince our words here—an outstanding, world-class snob. A gifted scorner, and a passionate eulogist." When a participant in the You Ask the Questions feature in the Independent asked Meades if he was a snob, Meades replied, "Everyone is snobbish about something or other. Snobbishness is merely a deprecatory synonym of discrimination."
His first novel, Pompey, concerns Ray Butt, a reformed stand-up comedian turned church leader in the southern English coastal town of Pompey—a setting based in large part on Meades's "adopted spiritual home of Portsmouth," wrote Jenny Turner in the Guardian. In his former life in the pubs and comedy clubs, Butt spewed off-color jokes and lewd stories as easily as if they were prayers. But a drunken-driving accident shattered his body, killed his wife, and led him to religious transformation. As the head of the Church of the Best Ever Redemption, Butt presides over the functions and needs of his congregation. Still, Butt lives for the day when another automobile accident makes available another donated organ or dollop of living flesh that can be stitched into his body to prolong his life, as though he himself were a neomodern Prometheus.
Butt shares Pompey with the Vallender family, an assortment of depraved characters who operate a fireworks factory—one is eaten by a crocodile in the Belgian Congo, another chokes on his own waste while wearing a latex bondage outfit, and another brings a fatal virus to Pompey, contracted after eating a pygmy in the Belgian Congo. "Although it sounds chaotic, Pompey actually has a weirdly elegant architectonic to it, a sense of its own shape that is best got at by reading long and fast," Turner commented. "And although it may sound cold and cynical, Pompey's dominant mood is rather dreamy, sad, and puzzled, a feeling partly created by having Meades himself appear in his narrative as a heartlessly normal suburban middle-class thug." Susan Jeffreys, writing in New Statesman & Society, called Pompey "an extraordinary work, peopled by the repellent, dwelling on the vile and yet done with so deft and brilliant a touch; a picnic in the heart of darkness." Jeffreys concluded, "What a dark pleasure it is to come across writing that is both luminous and bilious."
Meades served as the food critic for the London Times for fifteen years, finally laying down his fork and pen in 2001. "Purveyors of the bland, the unauthentic, and the mediocre will have been sleeping easier since last December, when Britain's most vitriolic, knowledgeable, and literate restaurant critic handed in his napkin" for the final time, wrote Christopher Hirst in the Independent. More than 200 of his best reviews are collected in Incest and Morris Dancing, published in 2002. The title of the book derives from a quote by Sir Arnold Bax, a British author and composer, who advised, "Try everything once except incest and folk dancing" (switched by Meades to morris dancing).
Chief among reasons for Meades's longevity as a food critic were his ability to focus on topics beyond the merely gastronomic, and "his near-limitless reservoir of bile," Hirst remarked. "The twin passions propelling this book are a profound appreciation of top-notch cuisine, preferably French in origin and visceral in content, and a Swiftian disdain for the tastes of the mass of the populace," Hirst commented. The book is "good fun to read and terrific fun to hate," Evans observed.
In Meades's 2002 novel, The Fowler Family Business, the "family business" of the title is Henry Fowler's inheritance—a mortuary in south London. And it is a legacy that Henry takes seriously, having twice been named Young Funeral Director of the Year. Henry accepts his station in life, but there are dark secrets and lies that line the rocky path from Henry's youth as a doted-upon and cherubic boy, to respected adult professional, to ruined and morally bankrupt middle-aged man. As a boy, Henry pushes his friend Stanley off a high railroad bridge; the death is ruled an accident, and Henry doesn't reveal otherwise. Afterward, Henry and Stanley's younger brother Curly become inseparable. As adults, Curly discovers he is impotent, and asks Henry to impregnate his wife, as a favor. Henry gladly obliges, but discovers in the process that he is also sterile—which brings up questions of his own children's paternity. "Meades's novel is what is generally described as a romp," Hitchings commented. "His characters blunder around insanely, and new ones turn up without much warning."
Filthy English, first published in 1984 and reprinted in 1994, was noted for its use of language. "Meades's linguistic games, together with a frequent lack of coherent narrative, often lead to incomprehensibility, but you'd be hard pushed to find a more invigorating use of English, filthy or otherwise," observed reviewers in the Times.
Jonathan Meades told CA: "I am quite incapable of explaining why I write what I write. My writing has been described as 'gruesome,' 'enticingly repellent,' 'intended to deprave and corrupt,' 'odd and gorgeous,' 'haunting,' and 'relentlessly tasteless.' My characters are base, corrupt, and hugely unpleasant. I fondly suppose that I am none of these. My interests are called civilized: buildings, food, and so on. In fiction I like high style and low incidents—plenty of both. I also like intense concentration, distillation: epics in miniature."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Books, January, 1990, review of Peters Knows What Dick Likes, p. 5.
Building Design, September 6, 2002, Alan Powers, "The Centre Ground (The Opinions of Jonathan Meades on the Picturesque)," p. 10.
Daily Mail (London, England), May 31, 2002, Lloyd Evans, "Snob a la Carte," review of Incest and Morris Dancing, p. 58.
Guardian (London, England), May 4, 1993, Jenny Turner, review of Pompey; February 9, 2002, Alex Clark, "Poison Pen," review of The Fowler Family Business; June 8, 2002, Tom Jaine, "Where's the Beef? Tom Jaine Is Left Feeling Hungry," review of Incest and Morris Dancing, p. 15.
Guardian Weekly, January 30, 1994, review of Pompey, p. 28.
Independent (London, England), January 30, 2002, Brian Jones, "You Ask the Questions: Jonathan Meades," interview with Meades, p. 7; May 30, 2002, Christopher Hirst, "The Thursday Book: Truly and Legend in His Own Lunchtime," review of Incest and Morris Dancing, p. 18.
New Statesman, February 11, 2002, Hugo Barnacle, review of The Fowler Family Business, p. 53.
New Statesman & Society, April 23, 1993, Susan Jeffreys, review of Pompey, pp. 30-31.
Observer (London, England), April 25, 1993, review of Pompey, p. 63; September 18, 1994, review of Filthy English, p. 20.
Spectator, May 1, 1993, review of Pompey, p. 35.
Times (London, England), May 2, 1993, Tom Shone, "Expletives Deleted?," review of Filthy English; October 2, 1994, Ned Balfe, Phil Baker, Pam Barrett, Ian Critchley, Joanna Duckworth, Ivan Hill, Edward Platt, and Roger Williams, review of Filthy English; August 14, 2002, Iain Finlayson, review of Incest and Morris Dancing, p. 18.
Times Literary Supplement, April 9, 1993, review of Pompey, p. 20; February 15, 2002, Henry Hitchings, "English Vices," review of The Fowler Family Business; August 2, 2002, Paul Levy, "Off the Menu," review of Incest and Morris Dancing.
BBC Television Web site,http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (March, 2003), transcript of online chat with Jonathan Meades; (February 6, 2004), Meades Eats Web site.
Guardian Unlimited Web site,http://www.guardian.co.uk/ (February 9, 2002), review of The Fowler Family Business.
Telegraph (London, England) Web site, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ (February 22, 2003), Harry Mount, "Portrait of a Driver: Jonathan Meades," interview with Meades.*