TV & Radio

The Great British Bake Off, review: Like the monarchy, it needs to adapt to retain its appeal

It’s back then, and it’s probably just as well. Such is the comforting power of The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4); it seems unthinkable it would have been cancelled or postponed merely because the Queen had passed on. Indeed, that very fact, and the emotional trauma it has inflicted on a nation and a Commonwealth of about 2.5 billion people, makes it imperative that judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood and their sweetly charming contestants get the mixing bowl out to salve the collective hurt.

This they cheerfully attended to with lavish application of buttercream and lame jokes. In the GBBO tent, nestled in its warm, exquisitely verdant setting, the real world, and its horrors feel far, far away. No one ever asks aloud how much the gas bill will be for making 168 cakes, or remarks on how much the price of flour and raisins has gone up lately. There is no cost of living crisis in Bakeoffland, and that is how we like it. Even if we can’t afford to make an apple strudel or a Belgian bun, it’s nice to watch people who can indulge themselves. If you think about it, it’s also the basic attraction of most things the royal family gets up to.

Anyway, cakes and contestants. Once again it features a multicultural and socially mixed cast so diverse it almost invites Nigel Farage to come down and picket the tent. Myself, I can’t see the problem with the ever more diverse background of the contestants and their correspondingly adventurous creations. In the “showstopper” round, the 12 bakers are asked to make cakes based on their own homes or somewhere they have lived.

Maisam made one inspired by the lemon trees around her childhood home in Libya, Abdul’s had some mango jam recalling his origins in Pakistan, and Syabira’s Malaysian ingredients were unknown to me. Janusz – my tip for this year’s winner – crafted such a superbly detailed reproduction of his mum’s place in Poland it looked like an architectural model and rightly helped him to victory as star baker in the first round.

So that was all very refreshing and mouth-watering, but the presenters and judges were, well, a bit claggy – a word that cropped up a lot in this edition. Matt Lucas seems to have lost his sense of humour, and think I prefer Noel Fielding when he moped around the worktops like a lurcher looking for scraps.

He’s chirpier these days, and it just doesn’t suit him. His new persona is about as appealing as Marmite in a baklava – and don’t tell me that’s a way of achieving umami, though I’ll take the credit if it is.

Prue is as kindly, fair-minded and expert as ever, but Paul just looks bored now – a man who’s tasted all the amateur red velvet cake he ever needs to. Sadly, he seems to have mislaid the recipe for his own signature dish of lightly spun spicy scorn, and how we miss it.

Rather like her late Majesty, the GBBO has had a very long run, and it’s much loved – how could we cope without it? But I’m thinking Bake Off, like the monarchy, needs to adapt to retain its appeal. There are too many contestants making too many cakes, strange to say, which makes viewing harder work than it needs to be, and, if I were king, I’d bring back Mel and Sue and their merciless innuendo. For now, it’s all getting a bit claggy in the big marquee.

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