Watching an 80 year old man in drag bake deliberately badly could have been desperately unfunny, hammy and try-hard. I was sceptical.
But last night’s Comic Relief Bake Off may have been the best ever episode of BBC1’s hit show – and it was largely thanks to the purple-spectacled, purple-haired Dame Edna Everage.
As Barry Humphries’ alter ego flung unmeasured ingredients into bowls (and out of bowls) with wild abandon, knocking over eggs with her low-hanging pink sleeves, it was impossible not to laugh. There was something joyful in watching someone be so careless in a show usually reserved for only the most meticulous, passionate bakers.
And it was made all the funnier by Mary and Paul’s kind but straight-faced critique of even the messiest of creations. When Dame Edna’s first try was so over-baked that it was welded into the aluminium cake tin and the metal had to be hacked into with pliers, Mary commented only on the texture, and the “informal” appearance. The only time Paul dropped his professional act was when he was offered one of Dame Edna’s mangled fruit tarts. “Do we have to?” he sighed.
Throughout her haphazard stirring, throwing, spilling and crashing, Dame Edna maintained that she was a genius cook, and that she was “deliberately muffling” her culinary excellence, and that her Sydney Opera House-inspired cake was meant to look like an “iconic building after a nuclear attack”. There was a rare glint in Paul’s eyes when she looked him right at him and said “I’d love to taste one of your biscuits.”
But Dame Edna only worked so well because she was baking alongside the equally hilarious Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Saunders and Lulu. The combination of the four females worked brilliantly, with Saunders and Lulu taking it just seriously enough (Saunders was crowned star baker) and Lumley being wonderfully dramatic and, like Dame Edna, quite useless at baking. Having declared that she would make a cake version of the Northern Lights, she then realised that this was “quite hard” and ended up with a rubbish Christmas cake.
Of course, what makes the real Bake Off so brilliant is the jeopardy – those bakers really, really want to win – and that wasn’t last night’s focus at all. Instead, this was just refreshing, unexpectedly good comedy where four women (yes, I’m including Barry Humphries in that) got together and made cakes that for once you were glad you didn’t get to taste…