Hannah Pollard provides a personal commentary on this year’s edition of ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ and explains why you should be watching it too.
When the news came out in 2017 that The Great British Bake-Off would be moving to Channel 4, I swore that I would stop watching it. This was out of solidarity with the BBC, and if nothing else to not betray the trust of the magnificent Mary Berry. But Mary’s doing fine without the show, and the series itself is virtually identical to how it was on the BBC, so here I am watching it. Two seasons in from the handover, and eight since the show began in 2010, I am just as intently invested in soggy bottoms and star bakes.
One of the biggest controversies of the Channel 4 takeover was the according shift in cast. Along with the loss of culinary goddess Mary Berry, Mel and Sue have gone too. The comedic duo provided perfect comic relief and emotional support during the show’s tensest moments, and really served in reminding the contestants that, hey, it’s just baking! Coining some of the greatest baking innuendoes ever heard, their departure was a sore loss. But their replacement by Sandy Toksvig and Noel Fielding, while slightly unconvincing at first, have now proved that they are equally as lovable, and just as inept in their knowledge of baking. Last year Noel proved himself to be hilarious, quipping lines such as “unfortunately, time isn’t an illusion,” when bakers became stressed. And, if you can’t find it in yourself to love Noel and Sandy, at least love Noel’s array of colourful shirts! Feisty new co-host Prue Leith stars alongside the one constant in the show, Paul, who continues to exude a nauseating mixture of spray tans and toxic masculine energy. Season Four contestant Ruby Tandoh described him as a “peacocking manchild”, and this description seems apt more often than not. In Vegan Week, during a conversation with Prue about the nature of vegan baking, he smugly sat in silence, an eyebrow raised as though to say, what a waste of time veganism is. The themes this season were more diverse than they had previously been, with ‘Vegan’ and ‘Danish Week’ serving as new additions to the plethora of classics and despite Paul’s seeming reservations, it’s refreshing to see that the show is evolving with the ever-adapting culinary landscape.
The contestants this year demonstrated a varied mix of personalities. Manon exerted a strong technical precision from the very first episode. Her French nationality was a target for some xenophobic viewers, but for most she was loveable and talented, also fostering one of my favourite moments of the season – the accidental naming of Wagon Wheels as ‘Wheely Wagons’ during Biscuit Week (Wheely Wagon is a far better name). Like many other viewers, I’d pinned her to win, but she went home in ‘Danish Week’, despite the fact that Rahul’s bakes were just as problematic. Dan, who was also expected to last longer than he did, had one of the most comedic bake-off moments of the season – a cake in the shape of a baby turned out looking considerably more phallic than hoped for.
Ruby, who amongst a sporadic array of great bakes, found time to challenge Paul when he got too cocky. However, she was the victim of the dramatic climax the audience had been waiting for all season: her towering cake toppled over in Vegan Week. I for one was on the edge of my seat and emitted an audible gasp. It may be a heartwarming baking show at the core, but I’m not complaining if a few moments of crisis are injected amongst the group hugs (anyone else remember the fateful baked-alaska saga?). It is this unpredictability and lighthearted drama that leaves the audience craving more each week.
One of the contestants that has caused the most division is Rahul. Having self-confessed that he baked his first cake at twenty-nine, he bakes with the jittery confidence of someone who’s never seen a baking tin before, despite a clear talent. By some miracle, he produced some of the most complex bakes in the show, although seemed like he didn’t really want to be there. Other contestants often reminded him to smile, not grimace; however, I don’t think I would be particularly enthusiastic either if Paul commented on my “chubby little face”. The final episode of the Bake-Off concluded with his surprising win. After what can only be called a questionable technical bake, in which the contestants had to keep an outdoor fire pit lit by blowing through a long pipe, the playing field was completely equal. At first, this outcome left me a little disappointed as I felt that Ruby and Kim-Joy had been more consistent in the latter half of the season. But I also found his win heartwarming despite my reservations, and his complete shock at his name being announced made him ultimately lovable. Here is a baker who started late and managed to win the biggest baking show in Britain – there’s definitely a lesson to us all in that. And at last he cracked a smile, which in itself, made his win worth it.
Whenever anyone dismisses Bake-Off as trivial reality television, I tell them to actually watch it. Don’t expect a TV show in which your political consciousness will be awakened, or a morally challenging show that develops you as a person. But you will experience an hour of pure escapism from a world that is becoming increasingly disturbing, and you witness a tent of people who support and help each other (apart from Karen who tried to distract people with salt and vinegar crisps). Bake-Off really has inspired generations of people to go out, buy some eggs, sugar, and flour, and make something delicious. I watched the show as an eleven-year-old in 2010, and my love of baking has been nurtured with each season. As a show, it is everything we want from television; a little bit of drama, some believable relationships, and most importantly, incredible shots of food that tickle our tastebuds.