There are, as you will have seen if you watched the tantalising final, plans for a fourth series of the Great British Bake off. Auditions may even be under way already. My initial reaction to this news was a petit mort. A ‘little death’, just like the one the French refer to when they use this phrase, for the moment that some poor souls apparently suffer, of sang froid after sex.
I may be over-stating it to say that the final of the GBBO was orgasmically thrilling, as it clearly was not. The Great British Bake off is struck deeply by the terrible flaw that the viewers cannot either taste or smell the baked goods being produced. This is perhaps why the former is commented on blandly or briefly and the latter not at all. This is in contrast to the appearance that gets a good deal of comment. Inevitably, however, the food must be judged partly or even mainly on flavour.
It is perhaps vaguely peculiar therefore that the show works at all. Of course it has beautifully able and contrasting judges, the tough-guy Paul Hollywood and the gentle but powerful Mary Berry. The presenters number Sue Perkins, who provides witty wordplay and thinly-scripted narration clearly written by someone else, and Mel Giedroyc who does, well, something. Not sure what. Knows the names of tedious types of polish bun? Talks in an unnecessarily dramatic tone about trivial occurrences? I am not sure.
What it also has is someone a bit canny who does the auditions. They know they have twelve contestants and they seem to think, probably rightly, that it will not work that will if the standard is too high or too low. So they choose about six people who are a bit crap and will clearly be the first half to go (you can virtually write the list in week one) and about six who are competent but may or may not have the stamina to last it out. Certainly they have some assessment system whereby they can ascertain whether potential bakers know their stuff or not. There are clearly a number of people who are proficient in things I have never heard of and they cannot fail to check this before the whole thing kicks off.
Someone relatively senior of the production team, probably the director and the producer in fact, select rushes that edit together into something that manages to be both informative and watchably entertaining. There are not endless tears and embarrassments, nor are there the sorts of humiliating and undignified scenes that appear in every other piece of reality television I have ever seen. I call it reality television because the GBBO consists of amateurs doing a difficult thing, rather than a competition between seasoned professionals. So much of the point of putting ‘ordinary’ people on television in a setting that some arse has called ‘reality’ is the schadenfreude for the viewer of watching someone who is at best ill-qualified and at worst as stupid than they are, fail or almost fail at something. Those programmes are then designed to carry the supposed tension of the obvious outcome from the outset until some moment near the end, with an ‘emotional rollercoaster’ along the way.
Despite its faults, the GBBO manages to avoid any of this dross. In that respect I find it a breath of fresh air. It has made the celebrating of achievement by people who are able but not formally trained on television acceptable. It means I can watch something that is not comedy, drama, documentary or crap, on live television, and for that I am grateful. But where will it go next? The flavour-flaw in the format can never be done away with and unless at least one of the judges or presenters dies, preferably during filming, the GBBO piping bag will flow steady for a while yet. I am vaguely tempted to watch the next series, as long as it is not on too soon. It is almost a compulsive urge: partly because it seems to be good television, and partly because I do like baking. And eating. Perhaps those things are the allure for me. This sets up an uncomfortable paradox: the one place where those things can be satisfied is if I actually become a contestant on the programme itself.
I suppose that means I have a crème patissière to practice. Just as soon as I find out what that is.