THERE I was yesterday pretending to be a TV critic and praising the lovely Nadiya Hussain – and this morning the Great British Bake Off is all over the newspapers.
Turns out the stolen recipe makes its debut on Channel 4 one week today. You will recall that the channel dough-hooked the series away from the BBC in a row over, well, dough.
I watched every episode of the BBC version, paying keen attention to the bread section. The transfer didn’t please me, as the way favourite programmes suddenly disappear from one channel is annoying – especially if they migrate to Sky, when watching requires the payment of the Rupert Murdoch TV licence (much more expensive than the BBC version).
The broadcaster Mark Lawson, reviewing the first episode in the Guardian this morning, also watched every episode on the Beeb – and concludes that the new version “is as strong as any previously made”.
High praise, so let’s hope that Mark isn’t being half-baked. He is usually a good guide to cultural matters, able to scoop low and rise high. His regular stint at launching the crime-writing festival in Harrogate each year showcases his talents – talents mysteriously abandoned by BBC Radio Four’s Front Row arts show, following a falling out and some reported nastiness.
Over on the BBC website, there are “33 things you need to know about the Channel 4 version”. That’s a lot for a baking show, although it does maintain the list habit of having an odd number of items – more catching to the eye, apparently.
One of the ‘things’ is that veteran cookery writer Pru Leith – in the Mary Berry role – told everyone that they should record the show and skip the ads (16 minutes’ worth from a 58-minute show). More ads than ever before in a Channel 4 show, apparently, causing this morning’s edition of The Sun to shout: “Dough Nuts”, adding “C4 milk hit show for cash”.
That seems a little unfair, as well as hypocritical from a commercially owned newspaper, but their sauce is never consistent and often comes with lumps.
The usually reliable Lawson reckons that the ad breaks give the show better shape than those “rather Blue Peter-ish drop in films”. He is also won over by the new presenting team: Sandi Toksvig is always a safe but sufficiently cheeky pair of hands, but the rogue element here is Noel Fielding, who came to prominence being surreal in the sketch show The Mighty Boosh. Lawson says he is an inspired choice, encouraging to the contestants and respectful of the show’s cosy record.
Fielding is no Mel and Sue, of course, but only Paul Hollywood has made the cross-channel swim, reportedly with twinkling ego and celebratory handshake intact.
Fielding and Toksvig are said to work well as a curious double act, with Fielding telling reporters: “When we did our chemistry test we made love straightaway.” He’s referring to the screen tests presenters do to make sure they’re a good fit on camera. “Sandi is the quickest comedian I’ve ever worked with,” he adds, fan-boyishly.
On radio shows such as I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, Sandi also has the longest, maddest and most breathless laugh ever broadcast, but perhaps she’ll keep that in check on Bake Off.
According to those 33 things, there are 12 contestants and “their names are Liam, Stacey, Yan, Steven, Tom, Flo, Kate, Julia, James, Chris, Sophie and Peter” (seen above in a photo borrowed from Channel 4).
As the contestants are basically the whole point of these shows, we will get to know them well enough.
Will I watch? Not sure yet. The first one perhaps, but then we’re away for the next three. Maybe I’ll be able to kick that flour-drenched sugar high after all this time.