Last Night: The Great British Bake Off, BBC2

John rises to the occasion in a final that mixes it up

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The Independent Culture

"People think that bakers are these dainty little housewives but they're not," said John at the beginning of The Great British Bake Off. "They're quite controlling people who want to be told that they're loved... that's why I'm in it." And after 10 weeks of sweat, tears and even blood, John got what he wanted, securing the judges' vote with a near flawless showstopper.

The contest itself had been perfectly baked, as far as the producers were concerned. What you don't want in such things is an over-enthusiastic rise followed by a sudden collapse, but here the tension and uncertainty held up to the very end. It might, in fact, have been plotted by a scriptwriter with first one contestant riding high and then another hitting the crest. First Brendan appeared to have pulled out a commanding lead in the first round Signature Bake but then it was dramatically cancelled out by what came next.

The finalists had started with a Pithiviers, a puff pastry classic that allowed Sue and Mel to do some comic lisping and the competitors to show off their rough puff technique.

James, who usually conceals his competitive streak behind an outward show of blithe, give-it-a-whirl amateurism, admitted he'd been doing some scholarly research in preparation. "Knowledge is power," he said.

But Brendan, who generally conceals his ambition beneath pink icing wisteria and Seventies piping, trumped him with a textbook example. John's was perfectly baked but rough in the wrong way and James's – horror of horrors – had a soggy bottom. At this stage it looked like an irreversible error.

The fondant fancies turned it round though. Deceptively simple on the outside but very tricky to assemble, the fancy turned out to be a nightmare for Brendan, whose final specimens looked as if they'd been pebble-dashed by an effete builder. By now James was pretending to be insouciant – "Nothing to it really" – with an effort that virtually made the sweat bead on his forehead. But in the blind judging he came in ahead of the other two. John, something of an also-ran at the beginning of the episode, had seemingly confirmed his plucky underdog label and Brendan could only take comfort in the fact that all three finalists were ticked off by Mary Berry for falling short.

In the final round the cakes got philosophical. Asked to create a kind of biographical chiffon cake, all three competitors pushed the communicative possibilities of an egg and oil sponge. "I want this cake to capture the importance of family reunion," said Brendan, who has always understood that a heaped tablespoon of emotion is an essential part of The Great British Bake Off recipe.

John had cooked a Heaven and Hell cake to represent a year divided between the pain of university exams and the pleasure of becoming an uncle. And James came down firmly against Scottish independence with a cake that made the case for union through pistachio and rose flavouring.

I'm guessing that most viewers' mouths will have been forming themselves to say Brendan in the obligatory hiatus that preceded the result. But it was John whose name was eventually pronounced. He'd had the sympathy vote all the way through – among the most nakedly needy of those who made it through to the late stages. Perhaps now he won't need it anymore.