The Roscoff Market


In the crazy world known as television, I once went to Brittany on business. In fact, the word "business" and what I and two colleagues got up to, are somewhat at odds.

We were filming a "pilot" - a sort of demo for a possible tv series about this French and English thing that's going on. Anyway, armed with some advice from the in-laws, I set off. I thought I'd share some of these events.

Wednesday 7.30 am. Roscoff. So there we were. Three of us, rather laden with kit and a large camera, striding off towards the marketplace at the quayside. I also carried a large bag full of a carefully prepared selection of English fare. Forget fine produce. I was keen to get some really traditional English food out there. Yes, I was about to offer the unsuspecting French population (well a tiny part of it anyway) the delights of Spam, Marmite, Jammy Dodgers and the great baked bean.

However, typical of yet another example of "winging it", which we media folk are so keen on, we had failed to ask any formal permission to present these fine foods, let alone produce a large broadcast video camera in public.

If you've ever been to the Roscoff market, you'll know its set right by the quayside - basically in a car park. Roscoff is a pretty town - frequently overlooked as we all turn a sharp left after leaving the ferry.

So, being fundamentally British and desiring to play "un bat straight", we tried to find the appropriate authority.  Apparently, as we had gleaned from a rather clumsy conversation with our French hotelier - £40 a night and clean - the Hotel that is, not the man who runs it - we needed to find the local policeman who represents the co-operative. I think that's what he said.

I managed to ask a man preparing a huge pan of steaming paella where we might find the man. The reply was totally confusing to me, but I nodded politely and said "merci" and walked off. Damn. I must stop being so English, polite and pathetic.

When we did find him, we explained that we wanted to film "pour l'Angleterre" a report on the market. He was extremely obliging and seemed positively pleased at the prospect.

As we tv types tend to do - give us an inch and we'll take 50 kilometres. Next, we asked if he would let us have a modest pitch in the market. He agreed. A few further "bons mots" here and there and we had purloined ourselves a couple of boxes, a tray, and a real site to operate from. Bien.

I set out the provisions lovingly on the tray and then the three of us set off to mingle. The Producer, doubling as the sound recordist, was there to stop me going on too long or looking stupid. I suggested he must feel free to stop me anytime he felt. "Be brutal", I said. He was.


Now television, always undergoing a bit of a bashing about its honesty, needs to collect a lot of material to edit it down to something watchable. This is a totally subjective process, which is where the disputes can arise. However, I took some solace from the point that what we were doing was shamelessly trivial and was sending me up more than the French.

With bare-faced cheek, I approached poor unsuspecting French shoppers and asked them to taste my wares. The results were wonderful. More than a few would approach the tasting with great caution. No hypocrisy here. The French tell it like it is - particularly where food is concerned.

Take Marmite for example. (Interestingly Marmite is the French word for "pot".) Holding a rather forlorn piece of cracker, many would look at me with a piercing side-long gaze, deep with suspicion, and ask "Qu'est ce que c'est?" I would reply. More looks, as if to say "I suspect this is poison you are offering me, that will induce a long, slow and painful death".


Lots of punters told me, after tasting, that it was too salty for them "at this time of day". That rather threw me. Fine if you don't like it - or if you do like it (many did) then just say so.

Which of us here at home, when approached in a supermarket to try something would say "If it's savoury it's too early for me"? Nobody.

There was a mixed response to the baked beans and some pretty honest opinions about French food being so much better. The English fry-up got some votes though.

I didn't choose my goods wisely it seems. The English Farmers Market is much more switched-on these days. More crave matured cheddar and organic goats’ milk. Not a baked bean in sight. You can get them in French supermarkets anyway. Pah!