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TV review: Great British Bake Off is warm, lewd loveliness

I'd never watched Great British Bake Off before but, after last night's indyref extravaganza, I felt the need for something light.

For the first few minutes I loathed it. It was an unrepentant barrage of twee: sunshine, frolicking lambs, jaunty bunting, buttery pastel shades everywhere and a white tent on a smooth green lawn. It was all so preposterously genteel it would have given Jane Austen the boak.

This was too much. I flinched. I felt bloated with sweetness, as though I'd eaten all of the cakes on display and I wanted only to limp into a corner and wait for the nausea to pass. But then the sickness, and my natural aversion to gaiety and gladness, waned and I started to slowly adore this programme.

For those who haven't seen it (that's me and perhaps six others in the country) GBBO features a collection of amateur bakers who are set challenges and are then eliminated one by one.

We know that reality TV is usually aimed at morons and specifically features morons: think of the freakish and the deluded who trail across the stage on XFactor, thinking their gran's recent cancer death has suddenly made them a great singer; think of the fake-tanned and under-educated who have muffled, pre-arranged fumbles under duvets in the Big Brother house.

The Apprentice came along and changed all that: its contestants had - in theory - skills and qualifications and character, but even that gradually faded. Sarah who worked in Recruitment looked just like last year's Jenny who worked in Sales.

GBBO turns this on its head. The contestants are 'real' people. They have unkempt hair and squint teeth. Their glasses are askew and they straighten them with a nervous, shaky hand.

And then they lead you into a gentle world of nostalgia, where achievement is to making your own jam, not hiring and firing. Pride glows on their faces when they produce 36 identical tiny cakes, not when they've flogged more wind-up ducks from a market stall in Notting Hill than the other team. No, this show is about people making something, being creative and inspired and daring, all whilst trembling under the glacial stare of Mary Berry.

And there is genuine feeling involved. When a Oxbridge buffoon on The Apprentice does something wrong his team-mates roll their eyes and say 'oh my god mate what is, like, wrong with you?' In GBBO, when someone makes a mistake there is real terror on their face. They blush and their hands quiver and Mel or Sue bounds over to their table to pat their arm. It's just so bloody nice and good and decent! The things which threatened to make it boring are the things which, by the end of the show, have you suffused with light and kindness and the urgent desire to send your other half out to the 24 hour Tesco to buy vanilla essence and candied stars. You joyfully bake in a mist of flour and fragrance only to send him back out, two hours later, to buy some shop-bought cakes because yours lie burnt, saggy and warm in the bin.

This week on GBBO was 'Biscuit Week', but there were no sissy biscuits: no ginger snaps or custard creams. Instead, the contestants created biccies of za'atar and fig, parmesan and apple, fenugreek and carom. Then they moved on to creating 3D biscuits, producing alpine scenes complete with edible chairlifts; a gingerbread boat with a peanut butter island; a carousel and an 'interlocking' George and the Dragon. This is not the hazy pastel pleasantness you might have feared. This is hardcore!

Then of course, there is the show's infamous innuendo which further removes it from any silly softness. Who knew that baking was such a source of bawdiness? No doubt there is clever editing at work which transforms harmless comments by the contestants into alarming double entendre, such as when Diana, a nice old dear in an apron, proudly exclaims, 'I'm ganaching my buns!' Someone will tut at their 'soggy bottoms' and then Enwezor might quietly confide, 'I do this on the floor because, oh, it gets so stiff.' This is brilliant - throughout the niceness there is woven a scarlet thread of smut. Suddenly, everything is suggestive. My only wish is that they'd leave it at that, subtle and sly, but the hosts, Mel and Sue, constantly rush about the place, making loud clunking jokes, dragging the innuendo into a harsh light where its little nuances wither. The innuendo simmers away nicely then they grab the knob (see, now I'm doing it!) and force it to the boil. This brashness is unnecessary as GBBO is surely about gentility and sweetness laced with a hint of smut but, in the happy land of cakes, this galumphing pair tend to over-egg the pudding.

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