GBBO is not about gender. It's a kitchen-sink drama

IMHO: Not really. No one in their right mind makes their own puff pastry, let alone their own rococo gingerbread birdcage

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The Independent Online

Who will win? Will it be Seventies throwback Brendan with his Stepford-perfect buns? Or knitted student James with his intellectually superior macaroons? Or laconic John with his alarming shorts? I'm talking, of course, about The Great British Bake-Off which reaches its soft-peak climax on Tuesday.

I love everything about GBBO (as its true fans call it). Well, almost everything - I can take or leave those segments about the history of the pork pie. I love the arcane terms - genoise, croquembouche, rough puff - and the cult chat of the judges - soggy bottoms, nice crimping, even bake. I love the upstairs-downstairs pairing of Mary Berry (spry, posh, elegant - the tarte au citron of judges) and Paul Hollywood (spivvy, Northern, no-nonsense - the oozy syrup pud of judges).

I love Mel and Sue, and their Radio 2-friendly innuendoes. Most of all I love the way the contestants pretend to chum along but as soon as they think the camera is off them they sit on the floor and stare into their ovens like Gorgons.

I don't love baking. Not a bit. But baking is not the point of GBBO. Not really. No one in their right mind makes their own puff pastry, let alone their own rococo gingerbread birdcage. It's a kitchen drama with some fantasy cakes thrown in. Every week someone will hubristically talk about how much their family loves their fig-and-peppercorn pie before coming a cropper. Every week there will be unbearable jeopardy around cracked crusts and wobbly bits that won't set but come good in the end. And every week there will be gold stars for the judges' pet and tearful goodbyes for the loser. As television recipes go, it's tried and tested.

Next week's final will be an all-male affair which has been greeted in some quarters as a great reversal in gender stereotyping. Only if you subscribe to the notion that all women like baking and all men like barbecuing. Last year's final was all-female. In fact an all-male final could be a cause for anxiety, a reflection of professional kitchens where men still outnumber women 10 to one. The nice thing about GBBO, though, is that it's not about men vs women, it's not even a popularity contest, it's about who can cram choux buns and caramel neatly into a traffic cone and still keep their cool. And somehow that's enough.

* Boffo biz for Variety! The film trade's newspaper has been sold to Penske Media Corporation for $25m. The new owners aim to turn around the 107-year old publication's creaking fortunes and bring it whizzily up to date for 21st-century film fans.

Whammo news but the new owners would do well to leave the old Varietyese alone. This curious in-house lexicon, where X is inked to pen a sudser helmed by Y, is one of the last vestiges of old Hollywood, an exclusive, daft code which conjures up images of megaphones, pan-stick and dancing girls. For newspaper journalists, taught from day one to avoid jargon and silly synonyms, it's a particular guilty pleasure.

Most famously the paper's Morse-style abbreviations gave rise to the headline "Sticks Nix Hick Pix" (a story about audiences in rural areas not wanting to watch films about rural life) but it's the made-up words that really sing - where hit films are "hotsy", applauding becomes "mitting" and "toppers ankle" [chiefs quit] their posts. Let's hope the Prez at PMC doesn't nix the slanguage. That would be too floppola.

* This week the world's arterati descended on London for the Frieze fairs. At Frieze Masters event, Helly Nahmad was boldly selling a giant Alexander Calder sculpture for £12.5m, while Acquavella flogged a Picasso for £5.9m, but in between the big sales there were signs of financial malaise. Namely, the free champagne was harder to track down than Saatchi himself and the canapes doing the rounds for the VIPs? A platter of radishes. Austerity bites, indeed.