David Pritchard, who has died aged 73, was the producer-director who recognised the latent potential of Keith Floyd and Rick Stein to become two of Britain’s most popular and identifiable television chefs. His methods were unconventional – what might be called laissez-faire television – in that he worked without script, with a single hand-held camera, while allowing his presenters’ characters to emerge naturally as they grew into the medium.
The process was most marked with Floyd, never less than in his first outing, when he was filmed talking, drinking and cooking on a bucking trawler in the middle of the Channel in 1985. “This is probably the worst programme ever to come out of Plymouth” was the snap judgment of some of Pritchard’s colleagues as they watched, horrified, a somewhat drunk Floyd cooking up a monkfish tail for sceptical fishermen. But Pritchard knew, or hoped he knew, better, as he succeeded in promoting his work from local television to the BBC’s national network.
Viewers took to the drinking, the constant banter between the chef and the film crew, the substitution of the camera lens for the audience’s eye and the downright unexpectedness, if not disaster (cue the hot-air balloon crash-landing over the French Vosges mountains) of the scenario. After relations with Floyd soured, Pritchard worked his familiar magic with a second south-western chef, Stein.
Stein was not an immediately natural choice for media stardom. Again, the producer allowed him to be himself, to act naturally, to always film on location, never in a stultifying studio setting, and to embrace unlikely developments (the eruption on screen of Stein’s dog Chalky) as well as occasional upsets. The partnership was enduring, with more than a dozen series and one-off programmes to its credit since the first airing of Taste of the Sea in 1995.
While Pritchard’s style was not without some precedent in British cookery television, it took it to new heights, as well as more successfully. It was the genesis of a certain school and left its watermark on many household names such as Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Nigella Lawson. Floyd always complained that he had spawned a nightmare, though no one, of course, could be more nightmarish than him.
David was born in Southampton. His father, Arthur Pritchard, was a customs officer based along the coast in Weymouth, and his mother, Charlotte (nee Bee), later worked as an administrative assistant at Southampton University. They divorced in 1955, while David was still at the boarding school in Sussex to which he had been sent by Hampshire county council on account of his asthma. Returning to his home town to attend Mayfield Road secondary modern, he left at 16 with a single O-level, adding a second at technical college.
After he had spent a few months working on a building site, his mother suggested a job with Southern, the local independent television company, as a film vault porter, definitely entry-level, carting large spools from one section to another. Evincing an interest in film editing, he taught himself the craft by emulation and imitation of his better-paid and senior colleagues.
At the end of the 1960s, by now an assistant film editor, Pritchard sought better prospects in Newcastle upon Tyne at Tyne Tees Television. Other than teaching himself to cook from Katharine Whitehorn’s Cooking in a Bedsitter, sharing a house with the journalist and presenter John Craven and briefly marrying for the first time, his northern sojourn taught him enough about film-making to gain him wider possibilities with BBC Bristol.
Some training in presenters’ eccentricities may have come from accompanying the author Beryl Bainbridge in a revisit of JB Priestley’s English Journey, but his most memorable involvement was with a magazine series called RPM, which once featured Floyd (cooking rabbits in the French style). This managed to garner the judgment “the worst television programme ever broadcast”, this time from the Bath Chronicle.
A move to BBC Plymouth as features editor was the prelude to Pritchard’s exploration of the possibility of working again with Floyd, in a programme demonstrating the wealth of seafood in his home region. Floyd on Fish went out in 1985 and was an immediate, if unlikely, success, and the first of eight expeditions at home and abroad, from the Somerset Levels to Bangkok and Malaysia; the partnership was not dissolved until 1993.
In 1990 Pritchard ceased to work for the BBC and went freelance. After 1993 he joined the independent company Denham Productions, headed by the ex-BBC Plymouth presenter Chris Denham, where he was creative director.
Pritchard had already encountered Stein when he joined Floyd for dinner aboard another trawler in that very first series of 1985. But after Floyd’s mercurial demands had become too much for both of them in the far east in 1993, Pritchard turned to working with Stein in a series of his own, once more highlighting fish and its potential. The plain-speaking yet unassertive character of Stein, the charm of the locations and the immediately appetising nature of the cookery meant the first series, Taste of the Sea, was well received, but they would not work together again until the end of the decade, while Pritchard worked on other projects, including Antonio Carluccio’s series Italian Feast in 1996.
The rich partnership with Stein has been severed only by Pritchard’s death, and its absence will be regretted by many. My own small memory of it is of having lunch on the seafront at Arcachon, south of Bordeaux, one summer when striding along the promenade came a posse of bulky Englishmen who turned out to be Pritchard and the crew assessing the location for their next series, Rick Stein’s Long Weekends. The encounter was jolly.
Pritchard is survived by his third wife, Fiona (nee Johnston), whom he married in 2012, and his daughter, Lucy, from his second marriage, to Judith.
• David George Pritchard, TV producer and director, born 19 November 1945; died 13 January 2019