The Great British Bake Off

Channel 4 ****

WE don’t have trains that run on time and World Cup qualification remains a distant memory, but if there is ever a contest for kitchen mishaps, Scotland is in with a shout.

That was one takeaway from The Great British Bake Off, which began its tenth season last night. Can it only be two years ago when it seemed the world was about to end because Bake Off had left BBC1, the dependable Victoria Sponge of broadcasting, for those fondant fancies at Channel 4? And here we are again, watching folk baking cakes while the Amazon burns.

Most of the baker’s dozen of contestants were tender in years, with one chap so young his voice broke during the showstopper round. At the other end of the age spectrum was Phil, 56, an HGV driver, and in the middle stood a vet, a student, a fashion designer, a teacher, and a motley crew of other well-scrubbed, chirpy types. At this stage in the game their characters remain an eggy blur.

One standout was the representative for Scotland, Michael, 26 (as in nursery school, no one has a surname on Bake Off). Michael was born in Newcastle and lives in Stratford-upon-Avon where he is a theatre manager/fitness instructor. He considers himself Scottish because the family moved to Scone (destiny or what?) when he was seven and he studied in Edinburgh. Welcome aboard, mate.

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Before we got to the first challenge, making a fruitcake, judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, and presenters Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding, did the now traditional opening skit. They opted for the Wizard of Oz, which involved Noel, as Dorothy, wearing a gingham dress. Sandi asked, “Is it weird I fancy you now?” Paul chipped in: “So do I.” Paul, as you may have read in the papers, is currently going through a messy divorce and a split from his younger lover. He is bearing up remarkably well. Must be all that sugar.

Michael, in honour of his Scottish/Indian heritage, was making a “Cup of Chai” fruitcake. His mum had texted him at 5am that day to tell him to “Be calm, be slow, and be confident.” Wise words, to which every other mother, having seen Michael chop fruit with giddy abandon, added: “AND BE CAREFUL WITH THAT BLOODY KNIFE!” Sure enough, he cut himself. His fingers were already covered in plasters. “This has to be the last one,” he sighed, “I don’t have any left.” Whether he was talking about fingers or plasters it was not clear. By episode three we can expect a nationwide call for blood donors.

On we cantered to the technical challenge, angel cake slices, which had to be made according to Prue’s 15-stage recipe. If your instinct on hearing the phrase “15-stage recipe” is to drive to the nearest petrol station for a Battenberg, applying to take part in Bake Off probably isn’t for you.

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In keeping with the show’s naughty but nice traditions there were several servings of double entendre with whipped filth on top, as when Paul thought one contestant was going to make a furry garden rather than a fairy one for her showstopper birthday cake. “How big is your furry garden?” he giggled. Steady on, fella, you’re in enough hot water.

There were some calamities, but only minor ones like forgetting to switch a timer on. We hope for bigger, better, worse, in the nine weeks to come. As for who was named star baker and who was given their marching orders I cannot oblige, because TV reviewers are not trusted with the final seconds. As if anyone would be daft enough to give the game away, eh Prue? Whoever triumphed, I’ll bet victory was sweet.