Grace Dent on TV: Four years on, The Great British Bake Off remains a warm slice of escapism, rising to the occasion

This week Grace watched... The Great British Bake Off, BBC 1

The first time somebody described The Great British Bake Off to me – back in 2010, when it quietly appeared on BBC2 – I refused to believe that it was a real show. Some amateur bakers concoct a rum baba in a Home Counties marquee, while Mel and Sue look on jovially and an elderly lady comments on the baba’s moistness before the least-moist baba’s owner is tearfully dispatched. “It’s totally compelling,” I was told. But how? It sounded, literally, like 60 televised minutes of watching glaze set, or someone kneeling by an oven peering gingerly at a rising walnut loaf. And where is the jeopardy? I’ve made cakes many times. Even if they’re bad, they’re still good. It’s cream, fat and sugar for God’s sake. And if the contestants unveil good cakes, how will we really know as we can’t ruddy taste them?

Clearly, I was an idiot. In a cruel world where each news bulletin is a bleak catalogue of human suffering, there is a warm, snuggly space for the light peril of overly chewy meringues. Or the faux-stoic musings of a floppy-haired youth who has burned his pistachio cookies, allowing only one silent tear to drip onto a cotton tea towel. Now in its fifth series – and with an affably twee new spin-off show, An Extra Slice, fronted by Jo Brand – GBBO shows no signs for me of, ahem, going stale.

There was a moment in last week’s opening episode where contestant Nancy from Hull – a retired GP practice manager, five kids, eight grandkids – was so unflappable in the face of a Swiss-roll sponge while others flapped around her, that I thought, “God, I love this woman.” She reminded me of that Victoria Wood observation about the non-sentimentality of British women under extreme pressure: “In India, if a man dies the widow flings herself onto the funeral pyre... In this country, the woman just says, ‘72 baps, Connie, you slice, I’ll spread.’”

 

Two episodes in, and with this series set to run until October, it’s hard to choose a possible winner. However, I’m slightly fascinated by Iain the construction engineer from Belfast, who could very possibly be being played by surly Bafta-winner Sean Harris in a prop-department beard. Iain’s decision to use a knife and score his Swiss roll with deep lines to assist in its rolling seemed to deeply sadden Mary Berry. My advice would be that any time Mary Berry overlooks your baking while silently pulling a face as if she’s just discovered that the raisins in an Eccles cake were mouse poo, change tack immediately. Iain tarried on regardless, however, and the Swiss roll cracked. At times like this, the casual onlooker may feel one is better off buying a Birds Eye Arctic roll and eating it alone in a darkened room. No faff, no fuss, no scornful gaze and nitpicking from Paul Hollywood.

Audiences are bound to root, this series, for Bake Off’s youngest ever contestant – Martha, aged 17. Young Martha’s inclusion is possibly one of the reasons why all contestants have reportedly been told by the BBC to be cautious with their social-media interaction during the course of the show. It’s odd to think that the way in which a soft-mannered AS-level student makes lemon-and-thyme drizzle cake might inspire viewers to take to the internet to fling spiteful messages at her – but this is indeed how we live. Perhaps there is a direct correlation between the wild success of Bake Off, which allows humans a temporary respite from terrible news headlines that they cannot change, and the innate feelings of bitterness towards the world which viewers then direct at someone on the internet for the crime of displaying light-hearted conceit about a Victoria sponge. 

Still, for more well-adjusted viewers who simply enjoy the show and want a little more cream on their scone, An Extra Slice on BBC2 is a jolly way to waste half an hour. Think The Apprentice: You’re Hired but with the audience in gleeful raptures over clips where Mary Berry makes inadvertent double-entendres about nuts, or the Mr Sniffles egg separator – a porcelain face, where the albumen pours through the nostrils like snot.

The BBC asked me to take part in a pilot edition of it many moons ago, which sounded fun until I was told I was expected to bring along my own home-made cake to be sampled. The thought of Mary Berry staring sadly at my quadruple chocolate loaf – ripped from the pages of Nigella’s Feast and turned into a house brick by my clumsy hands – gave me a mild heart murmur. Something told me that the visiting panel of judges, Gregg Wallace, Paul Rankin etc, might gaze churlishly at my sachet of butterscotch Angel Delight set over a bed of Cadbury’s Animals in a chipped Pyrex dish (preparation time 3 and a half minutes, no chilling required). I chickened out, which is why I have so much respect for Martha, Nancy, Iain and the gang. Thanks for the macaroons, the millefeuille and the inevitable soggy bottoms.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?