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The splendour of British dining on TV

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The trouble with American television is that almost no one gets much that's good to eat. The folks at Southfork, for instance, no sooner sip their orange juice when the next ''Dallas'' disaster calls.

Not so in England. The magicmakers who create television drama there provide lavishly.

Think of ''Upstairs, Downstairs'' when Mrs. Bridges rolled up her ample sleeves to cook dinner for King Edward VII.

Think of the seductive meals Louisa Trotter dished up for residents of the Cavendish Hotel in ''The Duchess of Duke Street.''

Now there is ''Brideshead Revisited,'' Grenada Television's extraordinary dramatization of Evelyn Waugh's novel, which begins on PBS Jan. 18.

''Brideshead Revisited'' was written in 1943. ''It was a period,'' as Waugh wrote in a later introduction, ''of soya bean and basic English and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony for food, for the splendours of the recent past and for rhetorical and ornamental language. . . .''

Like everything else in the novel, the period of soya bean is faithfully re-created in the film and, in the initial Army scenes where we first see Charles Ryder, played by Jeremy Irons (''The French Lieutenant's Woman''), the fare at the officer's mess is Spartan.

Soon afterward, however, he finds himself billeted at a very familiar place: Brideshead, the home of the aristocratic Marchmain family. Charles's memories of that family, which are the stuff of this story, are never Spartan, but overflowing with the glorious prewar food.

There is the spectacular luncheon party at Oxford where in the early 1920s Charles first meets Lord Sebastian Flyte.

Along with the Sevres vases, the Daumier drawings, and Aloysius, Sebastian's teddy bear, there is Lobster Newburg and plovers' eggs in a nest.

''The first this year,'' says Sebastian, played by Anthony Andrews (''Danger UXB''). ''Mummy sends them from Brideshead. They always lay early for her.''

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