bangers n Bill O'Hagan's time is here. His sausages are a prime candidate for leading a quality red meat revival. Kit Davies reports It's a bit disconcerting to interview Bill O'Hagan at first meeting. He seems to know all the questions you are going to ask, and in fact starts to answer them before you ask them. But then all is revealed. O'Hagan may now be Britain's sausage king ­ the official maker of Britain's best sausages ­ but earlier in his life worked for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph newsdesk for 15 years. His domain these days is Bosham and Chichester in West Sussex, postcard territory in many ways, and a gentler world than Fleet Street. Or so you might think. But O'Hagan has in his career as a sausage maker repeatedly been the victim of industrial espionage and intrigue as rival after rival stole his recipes and nearly caused him to go under. "In the early 1990s two girls came into the shop and bought every single variety. I was suspicious, and followed them in a mini cab up to London where they got off outside the offices of a supermarket." A BBC documentary last year, Blood on the Carpet, told his story in torrid terms and he is delighted with how it portrayed the way he has been exploited. Not least because it aroused so much interest in his sausages that it turned around a business that was in trouble because of sales lost to imitators. Now, though, in better times, he is getting more control, with the launch of a franchise operation licensing the brand name and manufacturing process (the recipes themselves cannot be patented). A chain of O'Hagan's Sausage Shops is emerging, with the first franchise underway in Sheerness. Two more on the south coast will open before Easter and 40 more licences are planned. He's also not averse to a multiple taking on his concept ­ if they pay him for it, of course. O'Hagan may make a lot of money out of his franchises because he is now in tune with the times. His sausages are premium fare, stuffed with good quality meat, and they rigorously follow the minimum salt, minimum fat and no artificial anything' ethos. He has come up with more than 2,000 recipes since he opened his first sausage shop in Greenwich in 1988, and in a week turns out more than 160 varieties. He was the first to use real ale in British style sausages and is clearly fond of alcohol as a key flavouring. There is an element of humour ­ or theatre, perhaps ­ in Drunken Duck, Tipsy Turkey and Giddy Goose sausages. Herbs, too, are a great love. "Herbs like tansy, pennyroyal, woodruff, alecost and many others were used in days gone by not only because of the flavours they imparted to the meat but because they are natural preservatives." So even though O'Hagan has been in this game for 13 years, he finds himself in the vanguard of the revival of the sausage. Much of the red meat trade has found itself in the relative doldrums, with certain sectors considered passé and uninteresting, and the sausage has certainly been at the bottom of the desirability list for many people in an added value age. "Someone said to me at a dinner in Fleet Street that I was entering the bin end of the meat industry'," he recalls. Now, however, the sausage is beginning to show credentials that make it fit to meet the demands of the public and the food retailers for convenience, speed, and quality. O'Hagan believes the sausage can be a sexy contender in the hot food to go arena and O'Hagan's Hot Shop in Chichester is due to open soon. There are also intense negotiations for a sausage and mash restaurant franchise. "The profile of the sausage in supermarkets went up in the mid-1990s after everyone copied me," says O'Hagan. "But it is going down again. Price rules. If the public knew what went into cheap sausages they wouldn't buy them." O'Hagan began making his own sausages when he arrived from South Africa 30 years ago. He found the taste of the mass produced supermarket sausage so bland that he turned to the recipes he had used when, as a schoolboy of 11, he worked for a Yorkshire butcher in Natal. He has recently rewritten his recipes to cut down further on the fat and salt and with an eye to the gluten allergy problem, has reformulated those that used to contain bread rusk. They contain only natural rolled oats. Ideas for the sausages come from all over the world, as O'Hagan makes regular research trips abroad, but British regionality is also a key part of his philosophy. In his shop there are the Sussex Savoury Sausage, the Lincolnshire Pork Sausage, the Oxford Pork Sausage, the Cumberland Pork Sausage and, hand in hand with the first franchise, the Swales Sheppey Sausage has been developed. Wild herbs found on the South Downs are now being targeted by O'Hagan in his new quest to find those that were used by the Romans who first introduced sausages to England. Inspiration is at hand in Fishbourne with its Roman villa (not far from his favourite pub). He came, saw, and may well conquer again. n {{FEATURES }}