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The Great British Bake Off is the exact cosy comfort TV we need as a second wave hits

When the flan hits the fan or the cookie crumbles, there are tears but also much needed hugs all round - thanks to the cast and crew who endured a six-week Covid bubble for the show

Matthew Jenkin
Tuesday 22 September 2020 13:19 BST
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Great British Bake Off trailer released

Lockdown was traumatic for everyone – the fear, the isolation, the great toilet roll famine. But most excruciating of all for working families like mine was endlessly hearing about all the “bored” people “with so much time on their hands” bingeing on 10 season-long Netflix dramas or debating how best to watch the entire Marvel film series (chronological or release order – who cares?), learning a new language (or two) and baking sourdough.

My husband and I barely had time to peel a banana, let alone turn it into bread. Every day was an endless battle to feed, entertain and care for two small, demanding children, all while trying to meet deadlines, attend shaky Zoom meetings and remembering to breathe. Worst of all, there were smug parents who did find the time to do all those things – WhatsApp and Facebook groups were overloaded with borderline professional pastry and cake sculptures of Elsa, rainbow unicorns and pink fairies.

It was irritating, but secretly I wanted to join them in their self-satisfied celebration of cakes and biscuits. So I joined the socially distanced queue around the block to buy a rolling pin, scales and flour – only to find the panic buyers had swiped all that off the supermarket shelves too. But even after life returned to some sort of normality, I’ve toyed with the idea of equipping myself with the tools and ingredients needed to start my very own patisserie should we end up stuck at home in lockdown again.

As bad luck would have it, that might be happening sooner than expected, with a second wave of Covid-19 on its way and restrictions tightening once again. So the return of The Great British Bake Off on Channel 4 tonight feels like a little bit of serendipity. Its delicious blend of nail-biting tension, warm innuendo-heavy humour (soggy bottoms and bun gags galore) and cuddly – but never saccharine – camaraderie between competitors, presenters and even judges, makes it the perfect inspiration and comfort TV for aspiring bakers and cake lovers alike.

When the flan hits the fan or the cookie crumbles, there are tears but also much needed hugs all round. There aren’t many shows where the contestants will stop what they’re doing to rescue their competitor from the brink of a baking disaster.

Of course, all that embracing and touchy-feely affection now has people instinctively reaching for the hand sanitiser. But instead of following the lead of other programmes by introducing strict social distancing measures during filming, the producers went to extraordinary lengths to make the Bake Off look and feel as “normal” as possible. Contestants, cast and crew were placed in a “Covid bubble”, spending six weeks all living together at the hotel in Essex where the latest series was filmed.

It was a Herculean task, but a necessary one for the show. It wouldn’t be much of a Bake Off without that closeness: replacing the famous Paul Hollywood handshake with a congratulatory thumbs up or elbow bump just wouldn’t cut the mustard really.

Sure, it jars with our current reality, but realism is not what I want or need from television at the moment. Bake Off, with all its promised pre-Covid cosiness, is the lockdown TV we never had the first time round. It offers viewers a slice of pure escapism, an antidote to the socially distanced shows which feel hollow and heartless without an audience or physical closeness.  

Bake Off is a feel-good hour of cake and companionship. It perfectly fills the depressing content gap which television is currently facing due to the pandemic putting the brakes on productions. It’s the pick me up we need as we begin what looks to be a long, difficult winter.  

If we do end up under house arrest again, I’ll be turning to the bunting-festooned Bake Off tent for my inspiration and encouragement to pop my baking cherry rather than the mum-bots of Instagram with their picture perfect cupcakes. But if like last time I never make that showstopping pavlova or even a single gingerbread man, that’s fine, I’m happy to bake vicariously through the efforts of this year’s 12 contestants.

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