The Great British Bake Off is back!
I love the Bake Off. I always have.
Actually, that’s not quite true.
In the first series I thought they were just taking a really long time to establish the suspects in a Miss Marple murder set in a village fête before I realised it was a real baking competition.
I feel there should be more competitive shows on TV where the contestants drink tea and chat in the quieter bits. But part of me loves the ridiculous seriousness; where people can blow their chance of winning the competition, a book deal and a spin off series simply because their butter melted.
In a tent.
In a heat wave.
Or spend an hour in the stocks for jumbling Italian and French Meringue.
This isn’t just knocking out a loaf of lockdown banana bread and thinking you’re Paul Hollywood.
On which topic: the presenters are fab (though Mel and Sue have let themselves go a little bit based on the recent trailers) but I love the judges. I love the fact that they can rate thirteen egg custards, without irony, into order of technical expertise rather than arbitrarily dividing them into two piles marked “good” and “godawful”.
It’s the fine lines – facing triumph and disaster – that get me every time.
“Oh, that is moist!” = star baker
“Oh, that is damp!” = straight home
Non even the fattest baker with the fattest thesaurus has been able to explain the difference to me.
If only there were some kind of a scale*…
*Hint: Don’t worry – Prue and I have written you one.
I give you the Bake Off Wet-ometer.
But dig deeper yet beneath the slightly posh people making eclairs: you’ll find the Bake Off is a piece of gritty social commentary of the highest order.
Why is it always women who were encouraged to come on the show by colleagues because they bring cake into work as a needy form of high-calorie attention seeking?
And is it just men who combine sourdough starter with flour and water then stand back and spread their arms commanding “RISE!” like Baron Frankenstein, or Emperor Palpatine re-animating Darth Vader?
Or maybe just me.
Whether your contestants are playing football, eating bugs or being thick and promiscuous on holiday in the hope of gaining more Instagram followers; the trick with reality TV is to get us to care who wins.
And that’s why the GBBO uses the same cast of characters every time.
Once you notice it, you can’t un-see it, so feel free to skip the next bit.
Imagine Scooby Doo is running down a passageway and the same background goes past over and over again: Ming vase… suit of armour… portrait of an admiral… Ming Vase… suit of armour… portrait of an admiral…
With the bake off it can be hefty, cake-baking nans with massive corned-beef forearms, honed from fifty years of kneading.
Hyper-enthusiastic students or sparkling retirees.
Tediously meticulous engineering types who measure things by the millimetre or gram rather than by the dollop, slosh or glug, and 3D print their own moulds.
Scarily intense home-counties housewives who you always feel are one collapsed macaron away from going on a rampage through the tent with an egg whisk.
But you always know where you are. At any point, in any series.
Which is how they can (and, if the football’s on, occasionally do) cut in old episodes from previous series and no one but me ever notices.
And the big secret to that is that, since the lockdown episodes in 2020, the producers decided to use actors and a script. The casting director now ensures there’s the right balance of every Bake Off type, and the script ensures the right number of shocks and twists per series. And it’s this perfectly familiar blend of ingredients that keeps us coming back season after delicious season.
They can’t use anyone too famous but if you look closely you’ll recognise the bakers as walking wounded from “Casualty”, traffic wardens from “Midsummer Murders” or whores pulled out of canals in early episodes of “Taggart”.
Sometimes they make a bit of a continuity gaffe like when they had to replace the actress who plays Mary Berry a few years ago but I think I’m the only one who noticed.
You’ll remember when I was in the final, in the last year it was on BBC2.
Using her profiterole vision (the ability to see a choux bun out of the corner of your eye) the director senses TV gold.
“What have you got here?” asks Dame Mary.
“It’s a sourdough boule, made using a starter cultured from the yeast scraped off Paul Hollywood’s toenails while he slept!” I announce proudly.
Paul reaches out a hand.
Was this it? Was this the first ever Hollywood handshake?
I realise he’s not offering a handshake.
He’s pointing to the door of the tent.
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