Well, this series is on BBC1, rather than BBC2. For those watching from abroad, that means that Mary Berry et al have become prime time stars rather than appearing on the subversive (as far as the BBC gets subversive) sister channel. It's not before time, but there had been some anxieties that it would change them. Putting aside the fact that they probably had no idea which channel it would be on when it was filmed, the opening shots are reassuring. Mel and Sue leap out from behind a wall, and it's only moments before Mel is saluting 'Queen Mary Berry' and 'that angry man with the expensive blue contact lenses'. The bakers loom behind them, clearly not having been instructed by the producers whether to have their hands behind or in front.
|Iain's rogue hands-in-pockets is an omen of what is to come.|
The breathy "here's what's been happening on BBC2 while you were watching National Lottery Live and Ant & Dec Take Out Pet Insurance, you dullards" voiceover is delivered by Mel while the contestants share such pearls of insight as 'today it starts!', 'I've been baking for sixty years!', and 'The thing that worries me most is opening the oven and discovering that I've burnt EVERYTHING.' It's also the only time in the episode that you'll see Claire smiling, so... treasure that.
|That's not fair, really. She was quite cheery before the first judging.|
Let's skip through all the intro - which is filled with coy innuendo from two of the older contestants, essentially saying that they will wink-wink-nudge-nudge their way through the competition.
This year the competition is held at Downton Abbey, and Mel and Sue lie on the lawn to ponder the definition of 'cake'. It might be the first time that the words 'love dungeon' have been mentioned on BBC1. I keep worrying that this show will go full-circle into being so self-aware that it's not aware at all, but... I think we're safe for now. If Paul starts turning to the camera and winking after every comment, then we're in trouble.
The intro to the first challenge - making Swiss rolls - also gives us the first glimpse of Jordan's facial expressions. I should be careful what I say about contestants, after lovely Howard started reading the recaps last year, but my friends and I found Jordan decidedly haunting. His profile on the website says he has pet yeast called Yorick. As I said to my friend, "I'd be more surprised to find out he wasn't a serial killer."
It also gives us our first sight of the lined-up judges. Somewhere there is a blazer seller who knows where the bodies are buried - we have another selection here, from pastel pink to Mary's trademark patterns. And, bless Dame Mary (well, she should be a Dame), she's joining in with this clawing action.
|Paul is having none of it.|
Jordan starts singing "It's only a cake" over and over to himself. Christine from last series, who thought she'd cornered the market in talking madly to herself in the tent, sticks a pin in a mini voodoo Jordan, complete with mini voodoo hair clips.
Speaking of, it's a really eccentric bunch of bakers this year. Usually there are so many of them around at this stage that they all blur into one baking behemoth, but this series they're nearly all mad as a box of badgers. But not in the usual reality show way (where everyone will scream at each other and push each other down the stairs) but in a village fete sort of way (where someone will probably start wearing a jam jar as a hat, or insist on inundating the bric-a-brac stall with home-crocheted leg-warmers).
Mary very sweetly says that she learns a lot from the bakers, and that she's looking forward to finding out what she'll 'absorb' this year.
Diana is the oldest contestant ever to be on the Bake Off, and she tells tales of Swiss rolls being the Sunday treat at home, while they waited for the telegraph boy to bring news of the Boer War. She's this year's contestant who refers to her food as 'homely' and 'rustic', 'plain' and 'simple', which means that she refuses to make anything with more than one flavour or four ingredients. But I do love her already.
|"You see, pistachio hadn't been INVENTED yet."|
She also gives us our first glimpse of those oh-so-pointless three second snippets of people's home life. Her free time is apparently spent prodding the ground with a hoe, while her husband needlessly moves paving slabs around.
She's making quite a simple Swiss roll, which is a bit of a relief given that a lot of people are making very complicated things. (Tell me, have you ever had a Swiss roll with a sculpture on top? Or a tree on top?) It takes nothing more than Luis mentioning Spain and aniseed to get these looks from Bezza and Hollywood:
Luis keeps bees, because of course he does. It's not quite Rob's foraging-for-mushrooms, but it delights Mary. And gives us the line "His wife Louise gave him his first bee hive five years ago."
There are too many bakers for me to write about all of them, so here are some highlights:
-- Richard is a builder. This will be mentioned every time he is mentioned.
--Jordan has a ridiculous bike, and no colleagues in his office.
--Enwezor has four adorable children
--Everyone apart from Diana seems to be madly putting in every flavour they can think of - including one with pistachio, raspberry, and praline in one, which sounds disgusting.
--Diana 'never uses a timer at home'. She's making the jokes too easy for me.
This series' theatrical contestant is... no, can't remember her name, but she looks like Alex Kingston. This action is not for a moment explained. Unless you count the fact that she's from Brighton and restores furniture as an explanation.
Her white chocolate/red velvet cake sounds delicious though.
For some reason we are treated to a montage of trainers, presumably because nobody has had the decency to drop anything on the floor or cut their fingers off.
Martha has hit the headlines by being the youngest ever contestant, at 17, and falls into the Ruby school of so-young-she-apparently-can't-use-a-desk. She seems rather lovely (in an off-to-the-pony-club sort of way) and I wish her well. (Her bio on the website says she is the youngest by 14 years... that means everyone else is at least 31. Surely not?)
|Is it just me, or does the 'dream' sign seem like a terrifying instruction?|
Oh, Iain. He tells Mary that scoring the sponge is the best way to make sure it rolls properly. Oh, Iain. That may become a mantra. Mary has to be forcibly removed from the horrendous scene, because obviously it goes horribly wrong. Sue applauds, and Mary can't bring herself to do anything but look faintly wounded.
And then we're introduced to Norman. Those who predicted he'd become a favourite of mine were not wrong. He battles it out with Nancy, but he is a gem. We first see him informing us in detail that the Black Forest isn't in Switzerland, in a thick Scottish accent, and showing us the pottery skateboard he's made to display his Swiss roll, but things will get even better later.
"A traditional Swiss roll is rarely decorated. Something most of this year's bakers are planning to ignore." So declares Mel in the voiceover, while Diana (presumably) air punches in the background.
We swiftly move on to my other favourite baker, Nancy, who looks, sounds, and acts like a stallholder from a 1990s episode of Eastenders. She's got wry wit down pat. She's also completely unfazed by anything, to the delight of Mel.
Iain's Swiss roll is a mess. My housemate was cheering him on, because they're both Northern Irish, but even she had to concede that he had brought shame on Belfast. And he put basil and apricot together, which doesn't sound good.
There are some very impressive Swiss rolls, however, with lovely decoration and excellent spirals. And then there is Norman, who stares, bewildered, at his Swiss roll for what feels like half an hour.
|Where am I? What IS this?|
It's time for the first judging. Too many bakers to consider, again, but highlights are...
--Chetna's chocolate sculptures
--Jordan's strawberry pattern
--Mary and Paul say Claire's cream is 'nondescript', and she replies that it's a matter of opinion, and she likes it. Oh, Claire. Never disagree with the judges. They don't like it. They don't like it at all.
--Norman declares that his Swiss roll 'is for men'. Which makes it sound like a cologne. "Swiss Roll. For Men."
--Alex Kingston's swirl is great, but apparently the sponge is dry.
We can't go any further without talking about Iain's beard. Oh, Iain. At least, if - sorry, when - he gets knocked out, he can play Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
|"A daughter of EVE?"|
It's time for the technical challenge - a cherry cake. "Good luck, and do your very best," says Mary as she wanders out of the tent - sounding precisely as though she were a Forces' Sweetheart sending out a message to our Brave Boys on the eve of Dunkirk. Which, doubtless, she once was.
(The least said about 'pop Mary's cherry... cake into the oven', the better.)
|Should we read anything into the St George's flags,|
in place of the Union Flags?
"Why have you picked this for the first technical challenge?" says Paul. Mary resists replying "It had nothing to do with me, it was a team of producers in Salford", and instead waffles on about the suspending of cherries and the distribution of cherries. If you're given to drinking games, take a sip every time they say 'distribution of cherries', and you'll be horrendously drunk before long. Paul asks her if the cake is better than her mother could make. "Yes!" says Mary, "but don't tell her!" Can she possibly still be alive??
Tips about washing, chopping, and flouring cherries are vouchsafed to us. But Jordan has forgotten to save his cherries for the top.
At this juncture, let's mention the absence of the Learn About Baking segments. They've finally run out of rudimentary things to say about cakes. Thank Heavens, says I.
In Norman News (I'm thinking about calling the newsletter Norman Is An Island) he used to own platform shoes, and is clearly already lifelong chums with gal pal Mel.
It's not the most interesting challenge, as everyone seems to be pretty good at it. The main factor separating them is how they put the icing on the top. Some spread it on, some pipe it beautifully, and the builder goes rogue and puts watery icing on, saying 'you have to go with your instinct'. No, builder man, you don't.
Mary and Paul say 'distribution of the cherries' so often that it no longer means anything. Of course, it didn't mean anything in the first place. A few 'good bake's are thrown in, but it feels a bit half-hearted.
Jordan comes in last, and Nancy comes top, but they all seem to be essentially the same. Iain redeems himself a bit by coming fourth. And the contestants are filmed in the dead of night.
|Let me sleep.|
We go through an unnecessary recap (DID SOMEBODY SAY UNNECESSARY RECAP OH THE IRONY) of the episode so far, and move onto the Showstopper Challenge - which is 36 miniature British cakes. Mel immediately repeats the challenge in the voiceover, for the hard of thinking.
Norman has a lucky spoon.
Quite a few bakers are making things which are in no way bitesize, such as Chetna's four-tier sponges:
|BBC1 hasn't changed the cartoon recipe man. Not one bit.|
Keep doing you, cartoon recipe man.
Nancy has a guillotine to chop her cakes in half - Mel makes an excellent "You can execute cakes well with this!" pun (PUN KLAXON) which entirely goes over the head of our Nance, who just says "Yes" in response. Oh, Mel. Not appreciated in your own time.
Things are going surprisingly smoothly all round, despite Luis's insistence on providing pipettes with his cakes, and Martha's starstruck repetition of everything Paul says. Mad Jordan tells the oven to 'fill your boots', which means nothing. The soundtrack goes curiously musicbox Disney when they put cakes in the ovens.
Mel and Sue show how delightfully they haven't changed at all - they steal Diana's mousse and run around the tent with it. It no doubt reminds her of the vagaries of Marie Antoinette.
Curiously, my favourite moment of the whole episode is Norman saying "I'm just making the jam now." It's so wonderfully dour and deadpan. He then claims to have been paid twopence to pick raspberries in his youth "which was good money in those days". I know that is the expression that people use about any amount of money, any time in the past, but... Norman, no, it never was good money. You were cheated. Call the child labour authorities.
Btw, I'm loving the lamb segues this week. It's going to be adding insult to injury in pie week, though.
And then - oh noooo! Our first baking proper disaster of the day. Series-Two-Rob, wherever he is, is smiling down on the tent.
Paul and Mary stand awkwardly at the side and talk loudly about how horribly wrong it's gone, while Claire bravely (and falsely) believes she can remedy it all. Mel and Sue continue to wander around and eat everyone's off-cuts. There's an unnecessarily long segment of bakers counting to 36.
Again, it's nearly all very impressive. Every series the bakers get better and better.
Mary and Paul continue their different approaches to euphemism (Mary: "It doesn't wow me."/Paul: "They look a mess.")
Mary uses the word 'scrumptious'.
Builder man staunchly keeps a pencil behind his ear.
Mary and Paul claim never to have seen individual battenburgs before. Mr Kipling could tell them a thing or two.
Norman ignores everything they have to say, and is only interested in what they think about his jam. "What did you think of the jam?" he said, with the pride of a man who spent his boyhood making a meagre living picking raspberries.
Here are some of my favourites:
Star baker is:
And going home (following my formula of second-person-they-show-after-the-announcement-pause) is:
Claire. She laughs, but in her website Q&A she says that Paul has the eyes of Satan. So...
Next week - will Norman make more jam? Will Diana refuse to use electricity? Will Sue make an innuendo so inappropriate that the whole series is cancelled?
See you next week! Hope you've enjoyed it :)