The Great British Bake Off (BBC One, 8pm, Wednesday) puts me in mind of The Prisoner, that 1960s telefantasy about a spy who wakes up to find himself in an English village that is too perfect to be real. Rolling hills. A marquee. Bunting. And 11 English people so English that they just have to be KGB. A vicar, a housewife. A saucy spinster who makes innuendos about her spatula. An older lady with a beefy henchman – she approaches our hero’s table and hisses: “Zu hast two hours to maken einen lardy cake … iftz zu wanten to live!”
If the camera lingers too long, too fondly on a Bake Off contestant, then you know they’re being set up for a fall and won’t win. So it’s curtains for Selasi, the chilled-out, motorcycling banker. Keep your eye instead on Benjamina, a classroom assistant, and Andrew, a Northern Irish boy who apparently spent his years at Cambridge baking. As a fellow graduate of that institution, I’m surprised to discover that it had ovens. Like most students, I lived on a diet of KFC and things I found in the fridge marked “Do Not Touch”.
Now I am in my early thirties I do bake, and I can confirm that it’s a contest between recipe and reality. One out of every two sponges I make looks like it’s been run over by a JCB. But it’s this lack of serious error, of humanity, that makes Bake Off so odd. Little swearing, no red wine. No shouting furiously at an oven as if it’s done you a grave injustice. The show desperately misses a dog hoovering up the mess on the floor.
In Bake Off land everyone is a bit too nice. The surfaces are way too clean. And the winning entries look like Ascot hats. There’s no place here for a sunken birthday cake that might be pea green but was made with a lot of love for a very loved person. It’s as if someone said: “Bake me the most English thing you can imagine!” And what they come up with is so sugary that it’s totally inedible.
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