BBC’s Bake Off – a popular TV institution that, let’s face it, had gone a bit stale around the edges. After seven series, much of the drama of collapsing gingerbread constructions had been wrung dry, Mary Berry looked like she rarely knew if she was tasting macaroons or dog food and few of Mel & Sue’s wet arse innuendos were still hitting home. It was due a shake-up, and Channel 4’s opportunistic and hugely controversial purchase of what turned out to be basically a big tent for £75 million might actually make it even more unmissable telly.
Why? Two words. Noel. Fielding. Sandy Toksvig might be a safe pair of charmingly Mel & Sue-like hands, but with the announcement that Noel is to co-host, the red-faced cooks crowding into the famous tent trying to prove that they’re the best in the country at peering through an oven window looking concerned will now face even greater challenges. They’ll have to deal with a sci-fi man-witch creeping up to their perfect pyramid of profiteroles and declaring that they taste “too mauve”. They’ll have to create showstoppers that don’t merely have to be a “great bake”, they’ll have to look good when Noel wears them down the Groucho. They’ll have to be able to work out in a split second if that chocolate unicorn on their bench has fallen off their cake or off of Noel’s cape. They’ll have work out where on earth their bake has gone wrong when he claims their lemon meringue pie has a “foggy bottom”.
And God help them if Noel gets to set the challenges too. We look forward to Wool Week, or contestants being tasked with baking a pristine victoria sponge using only a bucket of elk’s toenails, a tractor axle and a drizzle of creosote.
Noel’s Neptunian humour is often at its best when dropped unexpectedly into down-to-earth situations – be it a zoo, a second hand shop, a panel show or a fete-style cookery competition – rather than set adrift in its own unfathomable Luxury universe. He seemed an awkward presence in Eric Idle’s misfiring Xmas science musical The Entire Universe, for example, but came into his own on Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man as the pair toured a Copenhagen beer museum with Noel describing the scent of various offerings as “old money”, “being punched by a tiny scented fist” and “like having a stroke”. So with the Bake Off traditionalists no doubt intending to boycott the new series and stick with Berry and co. on some new BBC show called The Great Brexit Cake Contest or something, it’s refreshing that C4 have decided to throw a curveball at the format and totally screw with your gran’s recipe books. Just wait until nana’s trying to make “one of these new Bake Off Battenbergs” but doesn’t know where she can get hold of a cupful of curiosity.