Jonathan Meades

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Jonathan Meades
Jonathan Meades reading on Sterne's grave 2012.jpg
Meades reading on the grave of Laurence Sterne
Born (1947-01-21) 21 January 1947 (age 70)
Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
Education King's College, Taunton
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
  • Journalist
  • Author
  • Critic
  • Film-maker
  • Visual artist
Television See TV works

Jonathan Turner Meades (born 21 January 1947) is an English writer and film-maker, primarily on the subjects of place, architecture, culture and food. His works include several anthologies of journalism and essays, two novels, a short story collection, a memoir, a cookbook and over 50 highly idiosyncratic television documentary films, mostly for the BBC. His entry into the world of visual art, the 2013 postcard collection Pidgin Snaps, was followed in 2016 by a London exhibition entitled "Ape Forgets Medication: Treyfs and Artknacks".[1]

After 40 years of living in London, he moved to France with his third wife in the mid-2000s, initially to the countryside near Bordeaux and then to Marseille, where they live in Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse apartment block.[2][3]

He is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society[4] and a Patron of the British Humanist Association.[5] He has four daughters.[6]


Meades was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and educated at King's College, Taunton, which he described as "a dim, muscular Christian boot camp".[7] Unsure of what to do next, he decided to become an actor after meeting Charles Collingwood on a train. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) from 1966 to 1969, but the experience deterred him from joining the profession.[8][9]


Meades began writing for the now defunct magazine Books & Bookmen, which set him on a career as a journalist. He went on to work for Richard Branson's short-lived magazine Event, for The Observer and as Features Editor at Tatler.[10] He wrote reviews and articles for The Times for many years and was its restaurant critic from 1986 to 2001.[11] He was voted Best Food Journalist in the 1999 Glenfiddich Awards.[12] An anthology of his restaurant reviews entitled Incest and Morris Dancing: A Gastronomic Revolution was published in 2002.[13]

In an interview with Restaurant magazine, Meades estimated that he had put on 5 pounds per year during his 15-year reviewing period, which worked out at around one ounce per restaurant. In his 2003 series Meades Eats he described how he managed to lose a third of his body weight over the course of a year, having been pronounced 'morbidly obese'.

His first collection of short fiction, Filthy English, was published in 1984, followed by the anthology Peter Knows What Dick Likes (1989) and the novel Pompey (1993), which was widely praised and compared to Sterne, Scarfe, Steadman, Dickens and Joyce amongst other great stylists.[14][15][16] A second novel, The Fowler Family Business, followed in 2002.[17]

A book of essays and TV scripts on the built environment, Museum Without Walls, was published by the crowd-funded imprint Unbound in 2012.[18]

Meades' memoir of his childhood, An Encyclopaedia of Myself, was published in May 2014 by Fourth Estate. It was long-listed for that year's Samuel Johnson Prize and won Best Memoir in the Spear's Book Awards 2014. Roger Lewis of the Financial Times said of the work that "If this book is thought of less as a memoir than as a symphonic poem about post-war England and Englishness – well, then it is a masterpiece."[19]

A book of recipes, The Plagiarist in the Kitchen, was published by Unbound in 2017.[20]

In June 2017, Meades was invited to speak at the annual dinner of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. In his speech he declared that "the arts have usurped art" and denounced the seizure of power by "a managerial caste which exercises patronage, commissions rather than creates, edits rather than makes, inflicts its off-the-peg taste, does deals and builds empires", excepting from his criticism, however, the Royal Academy itself, which is, he said, "founded by artists and which is to this day run by artists in the interests of artists." An edited version of the text was published in the TLS.[21]

Television work[edit]

Meades' first foray into television was the six-part 1986 series The Victorian House, for Channel 4. This was followed in 1990 by a five-part BBC series on the built environment, Abroad in Britain, in which he cemented his unique presenting style of inscrutable delivery, dense language, dark suits and dark glasses, offset with comic and surreal sequences often performed by Meades himself. It spawned four sequels: Further Abroad (1994), Even Further Abroad (1996), Abroad Again in Britain (2005) and Abroad Again (2007).[22] These innovative, irreverent, "slightly bonkers" documentaries[23] looked at often neglected locations and architectural forms such as shacks, garden cities, megastructures, Belgium, caravan parks and golf courses, and at the place that more famous buildings hold in the popular imagination.

Over a period of 22 years, he produced a trilogy of films on the architectural legacy of 20th century European dictators: Jerry Building (Nazi Germany, 1994), Joe Building (Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, 2006) and Ben Building (Benito Mussolini's Italy, 2016).

His 2001 documentary Surreal Film sought to expound on surrealism in a manner befitting the subject.[24]

A three-part series on food culture, Meades Eats, aired in 2003. Many of his films from around this time featured the actor Christopher Biggins in a variety of comic roles.

The 2008 two-part documentary Magnetic North celebrated the culture of Northern Europe, examining why the North suffers in the English popular imagination compared to the South. Meades travelled through the slag heaps of northern France, Belgian cities and to the redlight district of Hamburg, musing on the architecture, food and art of the places in which he finds himself.[25] Writing in The Daily Telegraph, James Walton praised the programme as "Sparkling, thought-provoking, constantly challenging the accepted view, Meades seemed at times inspired, at others deranged. The only thing he never was, thank heaven, was obvious."[25]

A 9-DVD box set collecting all of his BBC work to date was due for release in April 2008, but was then reduced to a 3-disc "Best of..." due to licensing problems and the expense of the music used in the programmes.[26]

In 2009, Meades toured Scotland in a three-part BBC Scotland series entitled Off Kilter. He visited the Granite City (Aberdeen), the Isle of Rust (Lewis and Harris) and a number of less-renowned Scottish footballing towns, guided by his "Scotnav".

In 2012, BBC4 screened Jonathan Meades on France, a series in which he explored what he called his "second country". The first episode, "Fragments of an Arbitrary Encyclopaedia", focused on the Lorraine region, using a miscellany of words starting with the letter V. The second episode, "A Biased Anthology of Parisian Peripheries", focused on Frenchness and its major traits. "Just a Few Debts France Owes to America" was the third part.

A one-off documentary, The Joy of Essex (2013), examined that county's little-known history of utopian communities.

A two-part series on Brutalist architecture, Bunkers, Brutalism, Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry, aired in 2014.

According to his website, his next television project is to be Jonathan Meades on Jargon.[27]

Published works[edit]

TV works[edit]

  • The Victorian House (6 x 26 mins, 1986) Channel 4
  • Building Sights: Marsh Court (10 mins, 1988) BBC Two
  • Abroad in Britain (5 x 30 mins, 1990) BBC Two
  • Further Abroad (5 x 30 mins, 1994) BBC Two
  • Jerry Building: Unholy Relics of the Third Reich (37 mins, 1994) BBC Two
  • Vanbrugh in Dorset (30 mins, 1995) BBC Two
  • Without Walls: J'Accuse - Vegetarians (26 mins, 1995) Channel 4
  • Even Further Abroad (5 x 30 mins, 1996) BBC Two
  • Heart Bypass: Birmingham (30 mins, 1998) BBC Two
  • Travels with Pevsner: Worcestershire (50 mins, 1998) BBC Two
  • Victoria Died in 1901 and is Still Alive Today (65 mins, 2001) BBC Two
  • tvSSFBM EHKL: suREAL FILM (44 mins, 2001) BBC Knowledge
  • Pevsner Revisited (44 mins, 2001) BBC Four
  • Meades Eats (3 x 30 mins, 2003) BBC Four
  • Abroad Again in Britain (5 x 60 mins, 2005) BBC Four
  • Joe Building: The Stalin Memorial Lecture (78 mins, 2006) BBC Four
  • Abroad Again (5 x 50 mins, 2007) BBC Two
  • Jonathan Meades: Magnetic North (2 x 60 mins, 2008) BBC Four
  • Jonathan Meades: Off Kilter (3 x 60 mins, 2009) BBC Four
  • Jonathan Meades on France (3 x 60 mins, 2011) BBC Four
  • Jonathan Meades: The Joy of Essex (60 mins, 2013) BBC Four[28]
  • Bunkers, Brutalism, Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry (2 x 60 mins, 2014) BBC Four[29]
  • Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments, Modernism and Marble (90 mins, 2016) BBC Four[30]

DVD releases[edit]

  • The Jonathan Meades Collection (2009) BBC


  1. ^ " Ape Forgets Medication". Retrieved 17 November 2017. 
  2. ^ "Jonathan Meades: 'If I'd been in England, I'd be dead'". The Guardian. UK. 19 March 2017. Retrieved 27 November 2017. 
  3. ^ "Jonathan Meades interview". The Telegraph. UK. 28 September 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2017. 
  4. ^ "National Secular Society – Jonathan Meades". Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  5. ^ "British Humanist Association". Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  6. ^ "Jonathan Meades interview". The Telegraph. UK. 28 September 2012. Retrieved 11 December 2017. 
  7. ^ Sunday Times Culture, 27 April 2014
  8. ^ "Jonathan Meades: 'I find everything fascinating and that is a gift'". The Guardian. UK. 10 November 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2017. 
  9. ^ "You ask the questions: Jonathan Meades – Profiles, People – The Independent". The Independent. UK. Retrieved 19 November 2010. 
  10. ^ "Jonathan Meades: 'I find everything fascinating and that is a gift'". The Guardian. UK. 10 November 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2017. 
  11. ^ "Meades bites". The Times. London. 5 February 2004. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  12. ^ "Wine&Dine : Winners of the Glenfiddich Awards 1999". Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  13. ^ "Books". 
  14. ^ "A bugging device in boy form: Jonathan Meades, the early years". The New Statesman. UK. Retrieved 30 November 2015. 
  15. ^ "Pyrotechnics of loathing: Pompey - Jonathan Meades". The Independent. UK. Retrieved 30 November 2015. 
  16. ^ "Pompey by Jonathan Meades: Book review - a startlingly filthy read that shows Meades on top form". The Independent. UK. Retrieved 30 November 2015. 
  17. ^ "Books". 
  18. ^ "Museum Without Walls". 
  19. ^ "Books". 
  20. ^ "The Plagiarist in the Kitchen". 
  21. ^ "In The Loop". The Times Literary Supplement. UK. 18 October 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2017. 
  22. ^ Abroad Again in Britain
  23. ^ Teeman, Tim (10 September 2009). "The Last Days of Lehman Brothers Jonathan Meades Off Kilter". The Times. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  24. ^ OFF THE TELLY: Reviews/2001/tvSSFBM EHKL Archived 16 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  25. ^ a b Last Night on Television The Daily Telegraph, 16 May 2008. Retrieved 15 December 2010
  26. ^ "Interview on the Little Atoms show on Resonance FM". 11 May 2007. 
  27. ^ "". 3 December 2017. 
  28. ^ "Jonathan Meades: The Joy of Essex". BBC. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  29. ^ Beanland, Christopher (14 January 2014). "Concrete buildings: Brutalist beauty". The Independent. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  30. ^ "Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments and Modernism - BBC Four". BBC. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 

External links[edit]