I came late to The Great British Bake Off, because I am a) foreign and b) an idiot. It just sounds really… English, I thought. Baking? In a tent? For the Queen? (It’s for the Queen, right?)
Then I watched four minutes of it and I ate my humble pie – my humble, delicious pie. I now think it’s the best show on British TV and I have no doubt – none at all – that if it had been on in June, instead of August, last summer, Brexit never would have happened.
That is because, watching it, all the depressing things we’ve been told about Britain before and since the referendum – generations of immigration has divided the country; urban freewheelers and regional malcontents boo and hiss at each other across the M25 – are simply impossible to believe.
In the world of GBBO, people of different backgrounds, faiths and ages get along splendidly, everyone has mad skills and there is always one apple-cheeked young prodigy with truly inexplicable abilities (when do they find the time to sext?) who render ludicrous the idea that the youth of today are anything to worry about. Unlike most reality TV shows, there are no sob stories and no one, thus far, has exhibited the fame-mongering desperation of a Jedward – there are tears, yes, but never histrionics. That such gentility still manages to be so riveting is a small but beautiful miracle that I can’t quite explain.
After this week, I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to focus on, and think about, all of the things that are great about this country
The news about the show moving from the BBC to Channel 4 made fans nervous, but last week’s announcement that Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding are to take over from Mel and Sue is an intriguing – and promising, I think – proposition.
Noel Fielding’s anarchic but gentle whimsy and Sandi Toksvig’s no-nonsense head-girl humour has the potential to be a match made in TV heaven. It’s canny casting on the part of Channel 4 – Fielding for the scoffing urbanites, Sandi for the shires (yes, she’s gay and a bit foreign, but she seems like the kind of woman who might make a good vicar). They each represent two of the most loveable strains in British culture: the spirit-of-the-Blitz-let’s-all-have-fun-ness of Sandi Toksvig and the arrived-at-Glastonbury-a-few-days-early-to-drink-cans-and-talk-to-the-blackbirds vibe from Noel Fielding. Toksvig is Mary Poppins, Fielding Monty Python. Noel is a weekend at the Hacienda in 1995 where things get trippy, but in a sweet kind of way; Sandi a trip to the Brontë museum, where she cracks dirty jokes about Michael Fassbender. Sandi is Hermione, but with better lines; Noel Tarka The Otter. Neither are Love Actually and they are both Alan Partridge, obviously.
After this week, I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to focus on, and think about, all of the things that are great about this country. And this pairing, on this show, promises to be one of them. It’s nice to think that maybe, at this exact moment, a whole new group of nervous bakers are giggling uncertainly as Noel Fielding tells them their meringue tastes like calico and moonlight, and Sandi Toksvig twinkles like the prime minister in a movie where everything turns out to be just fine in the end.
I can’t wait.