THERE’S MANY A PUN TWIXT OVEN AND BUN
The Great British Bake Off has always been on Channel 4. Some people remember it otherwise, but I have very fond memories of the early days in 2010. In those days, GBBO was squeezed between episodes of Channel 4’s Don’t Forget
Your Toothbrush and Hollyoaks, and each week we would watch younger versions of Prue, Noel, Sandi and Paul wowing us with forbidden cake-knowledge while overseeing the victory of the first Bake Off winner, Terry Christian from The Word.
Since then Bake Off has become an unmissable piece of televisual furniture on its forever home, Channel 4, with its forever cast, Paul, Prue, Sandi and Noel, who have always been on Channel 4 – possibly even before 2010 now that I think about it. Was GBBO originally in black-and-white? I remember it being in black and white now, too.
Of course, like the rest of you, I also have “the dreams”. In “the dreams”, I see the terrifying “other hosts”, a strangely serene white-haired cake-sage named after a fruit, flanked by two giddy yet deadpan women uttering double entendres. “Don’t forget us!” they wail from somewhere called “the Beeby Sea”. But when I wake up I find that Paul Hollywood is perched on my chest, mopping my brow and staring at me with his mesmerising blue eyes.
“I have always been on Channel 4 with my Channel 4 wife, Prue, and our Channel 4 children, the Twins, Sandi and Noel,” he says. “Here, have some cake.”
And I know it to be true, for Paul Hollywood cannot lie and his sugary confections are truth. “I love you, Paul Hollywood,” I say, through a mouthful of bread while spitting cake and crying icing sugar.
You get the drift. Bake Off on Channel 4 is great, as it’s always been great, a treasured national institution. Without it, it is unlikely Britain would have won all those World Cups, held onto its empire or kept safely out of the Europe Union (“We’ve decided that’s not for us,” declared Ted Heath on a very special episode of GBBO on Channel 4 in 1973).
This week’s Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up to Cancer (Tuesday, Channel 4, where it’s always been) features, in its first episode, two comedians (Harry Hill and Roisin Conaty), an olden-days popstar (Martin Kemp) and a jolly television host with a Shakespearian name (Bill Turnbull). It’s okay to let celebs bake. It’s not irresponsible like that weird Celebrity Surgery show featuring the Chuckle Brothers or that time ITV let Grumpy Cat fly a plane.
Evil mirror universe
The most worrying thing about this first episode is Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp, who with his steely blue eyes and snow-white hair looks the image of Paul Hollywood – albeit a Paul Hollywood from an evil mirror universe where there is no baking and there are no goatees. Gazing at them, I think: “If this programme doesn’t finish with this duo wrestling topless amid the cake mix, then it’s a terrible waste of the Beeby Sea’s TV licence.” Then I think: “What is the TV licence?” And: “What is the Beeby Sea?”
Anyway, it’s good fun watching famous people making a hames of things. “Not so clever now, Mr Live Aid,” we scream shrilly at the screen as Martin Kemp accidently burns his cake icing, falls to his knees and cries, “I put the wrong stuff in the wrong thing!”
It’s a reminder, lest we had forgotten it, that celebrity skills are not necessarily those you’d seek out if you were making civilisation anew. When the apocalypse happens, we’d probably trade in the jokesters and new romantic bass guitarists for more useful people, like surgeons, farmers and television reviewers.
My favourite thing about this celebrity iteration of the show is that it takes me back to the halcyon days of my youth when, as a grubby-fingered toddler, I would “bake” a smudged, fingerprint-stained “jam pie” for my father when he returned from work (this is true).
“That’s delightful,” my father would choke, as he fell to his knees, his eyes streaming, his body going into shock. “Oh Jesus,” he’d add, as I stared at him impassively with my toddler eyes. “What . . . what are you?”
The judges, Paul and his bespectacled cake-wife Prue Leith, often remind me of my father at such moments, as they sample a crumbling cake-ruin created by comedian Roisin Conaty or the barely cooked cupcakes of Other Paul Hollywood (Kemp). The Twins are very funny. The smallest, Sandi Toksvig, regularly whips the lanky clown person, Noel Fielding, into a cake-themed flight of whimsy with just a floury one-liner. It’s all for a very good cause and all of the participants take a moment to discuss their own connections to cancer. (Turnbull, very sadly, learned that he had cancer himself after the show was made, and a moving short film about this follows the show.)
Ultimately, alliterative absurdist Harry Hill is deemed the best baker after he creates a triumphant gingerbread tableau representing an island holiday he supposedly took with Camilla Parker Bowles, but Roisin Conaty is crowned winner in a misguided attempt to encourage terrible bakers. The cake purists in the audience scowl but are easily distracted. “Your balls look good,” says Paul Hollywood of Harry’s balls and we all laugh, for Harry’s balls do indeed look good – as they have done for time immemorial, here on Channel 4.
I like lifestyle television. For ages, I’ve thought that the creators of The Walking Dead (Monday, Fox) should spin-off the fathering insights of zombie-killing single parent Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) into a parental advice show called The Walking Dad. This programme would include tips on the best age to talk to your child about cannibalism or to explain why Daddy is stabbing a drifter. Unfortunately, it’s become clear that Rick, long established as the worst leader in fiction (everything he does makes things worse), is a bad father even by post-apocalyptic standards.
A recent episode culminated in the tragic, drawn-out death of his son, Carl, which would be sad except that – spoiler alert – this is a terrible TV show. Anyway, Rick has spent so much screen time being emotionally tortured that there’s nowhere else for him to go, dramatically speaking. He does the only thing he knows: he hoarsely threatens to kill someone. This person, accurately, points out that Rick is a terrible father (pivot: The Walking Deadbeat
Dad?). Could this sprawling, joyless dirge possibly last much longer? The Walking Duh. Yes. Yes, it could.
Despite what our fevered dreams might tell us, The Great British Bake Off has always been on Channel 4, and has always been this great
Roisin Conaty and Harry Hill ponder the pastries on this week’s Great British Bake Off. PHOTOGRAPH: CHANNEL 4