Paul Hollywood: Hero or Villain?

  • @MattChorley

No matter how distraught King Alfred was at burning his cakes, he will have been grateful not to have had Paul Hollywood standing over him, stifling a laugh and commenting helpfully: "Do you think you can rescue those with icing?"

From the moment Mr Kipling set his bar so exceedingly high, baking has been a serious business.

And Hollywood is the Simon Cowell alpha-male, passing judgement with an arched eyebrow and occasionally reducing contestants to tears on the BBC's phenomenally successful The Great British Bake Off, which returned last week.

Record numbers tuned in, and then immediately went online to complain about how rude Hollywood was about an undercooked sponge or overworked dough.

Each week, the middle-class master bakers are tasked with following one of Hollywood's signature recipes. Each week, they foul it up. There is no limit to the emotional investment a woman or man can make in a rum baba. One aproned clot got in a bit of a muddle and lined his tins with salt, instead of sugar. Another was so hard that Hollywood stood over it, sawing with a knife like a lumberjack who'd met his match.

Everyone knows their job. Hosts Mel and Sue are on standby to say "ooh, matron" if anyone mentions having a large portion.

Mary Berry, officially the nicest woman in the world, smiles apologetically and tries desperately to find something positive to say about an upside-down tomato cake.

And Hollywood is you and me. Only with a goatee. He speaks his mind. He says what we'd say, only in the car on the way home, if someone served up a cake so vast and dense the lower tiers turn to clay.

With seemingly innocuous remarks – "That's ambitious" or "Are you all right for time?" – he can send young mums, Jarvis Cocker lookalikes and WI veterans into a tizz.

It's not rudeness. This is a one-man crusade to spare us "clever" cake combinations, so you will never again have to choke down a pear and piccalilli surprise. If you can't stand the heat, get off Planet Hollywood.