THERE’S MANY A PUN TWIXT OVEN AND BUN

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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.)

Harry’s balls

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

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