PAST MASTER; He May Seem an Unlikely Champion for British Heritage, but Loyd Grossman Tells Rhodri Evans Why Museums Hold the Key to Our History - and Future

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Byline: Rhodri Evans

AN American best known for peeking into the homes of minor celebrities, fronting a cookery show and making pasta sauce, Loyd Grossman has reinvented himself as a crusader for British culture.

He has quit Masterchef and is now involved with a plethora of cultural organisations. He is chairman of the Campaign for Museums, a commissioner for English Heritage and chairman of the Blue Plaques Panel, which marks the homes of famous names from the past.

Grossman moved to the UK from his native United States to study for a master's degree at the London School of Economics, where he is now one of the governors. He began his career in journalism with jobs on Harpers and Queen, where he was design editor, and The Sunday Times. He then moved into television, first appearing in Through the Keyhole, a series he helped devise in 1983. Last week he dipped his toe into Wales, with a visit to Chepstow Museum to launch Museums and Galleries Month.

He seemed even more at ease among the exhibits and displays than he generally appears on the small screen.

His enthusiasm for museums is obvious, and while he is probably best known for the popular television shows it should perhaps come as no surprise that he has taken to this vocation quite so well. On closer inspection his involvement with the museum sector appears as more of a reversion to type than a recreation of himself. He is, after all, from a family of art lovers. He is a man with varied interests and has had a varied career. In his free time he is a keen scuba diver and backs severalmarine and environmental charities, and such is his reputation as a gourmet that the Government even enlisted him as a sort of NHS food tsar, asking him to come up with ideas for improving the quality of hospital food. He toured a hospital last December to see what the patients made of it all, and reported back that the macaroni cheese was very good.

But his first loves were art and his-tory. ``I was trained to be a historian,'' he said. ``My dad was an art dealer who dealt mostly with museums in the United States. Over the past 10 years I have been very involved in all aspects of museums and sit on quite a few public bodies. I'm pretty involved with it; there's so much to do. I just love doing it.'' With a twinkle in his eye he adds, ``I spend a huge amount of my time on museum matters and I am very happy about that.'' In his museums role he has one main worry, that people in the UK are taking the history and culture of this country for granted.In 1998 he was asked to help create the24 Hour Museum, an internet gateway site linking UK museums, galleries and heritage attractions. The 24 Hour Museum was launched in May 1999 and is the world's most comprehensive museum and gallery site as well as the only national museum to exist in cyberspace.

Although he is originally from Boston Grossman has lived in the UK for the past 30 years and is now a British national.

``I think when you arrive as a foreigner or an immigrant you just see things slightly differently,'' he said.

``I think there is a danger that because there are so many museums and galleries people can get blas about them. We take them for granted. We shouldn't take them for granted. We all pay for them one way or another and they are an important part of our culture and heritage.''

Grossman used the example of the looting of the museum in Baghdad to show just how important museums are as repositories of cultural identity.

``Quite often people feel museums are good for school trips, but they are really for all of us,'' he said.

He stressed the importance of local museums and the dedicated staff that bring the exhibits to life.

``This amazing network of small and local museums is one of our greatest resources, often overlooked and always underfunded. No one ever went to work in a museum because they wanted to get rich and famous. …