An invasion of wasps, the first topless man on the high street, and The Great British Bake Off – these are the signs of a British summer in full swing. Tonight the most pleasant of the three returned, this time promoted to a BBC One primetime slot. Co-presenter Mel Giedroyc had a swish new hair-do, but there was little other acknowledgment of the series’ new elevated status. As with a successful sponge, GBBO’s secret is in its comforting consistency.
This year’s batch of contestants may be the most amusing and instantly likable yet. They range in age from youngest-ever contestant, Martha, 17, to 69-year-old Diana, a WI member and baking veteran of 60 years. Neither age nor experience is any indication of aptitude however, and a tricky signature challenge soon began sorting the dedicated from the dilettantes.
“There are two ways to make a Swiss Roll,” said co-presenter Sue Perkins. Most contestants opted for the method which didn’t involve pushing Roger Federer down a hill – although it’s only a matter of time before someone tries something bravely “conceptual”.
That wasn’t Nancy from Hull’s style, however. She emerged early as contender for star baker by being canny enough to stop cherries sinking to the bottom of her Classic Cherry Cake in the technical challenge, but also obliging enough to cook with innuendo-friendly ingredients like nuts. Sue’s per-episode gag quota is higher than ever and she can use any help available. Norman from Buckie in north-east Scotland also formed an instant rapport with the presenters. Would he be dressing up in lederhosen to serve his Black Forrest Gateau German Roll? “Jawohl!” was Norman’s cheerful response.
GBBO makes no apologies for its tweeness or its terrible puns, but detractors sometimes forget that these are not the only ingredients in the show’s success. The contestants’ creativity is ever-impressive and this episode featured innovative home-made baking gadgets like a mini-guillotine for ensuring an identical finish.
It also makes for surprisingly gripping viewing. Structural engineer Iain’s theory that pre-scoring was the best way to prevent cracks seemed logical, but Mary Berry was unconvinced, and after a moment of nail-biting tension it turned out she was right to be. Spoiler: Mary Berry is always right.
Long-time GBBO viewers know that proper deference must be paid to the judges at all times. Claire from Cheshire marked her card early by talking back. If Paul Hollywood says the orange in your Chocolatey Orange Swirly Roll is too strong, then it’s too strong, okay Claire?
And there’s no point appealing to Mary’s mercy either. After four series working together, they’re an unbreakable team, as proved by the moment when their two voices pronounced a sponge “too dry” in perfect unison. It’s all about consistency, isn’t it? And now that The Great British Bake Off is back, it’s like it never went away.