The moment he was announced there was uproar: you couldn’t have a comic so surreal, irreverent and so Channel 4 taking over our hallowed baking show.
But something magical happened, the likes of which Vince Noir would be proud. He popped up, ate a marigold and instantly won me over. He’s been on the up ever since, showing himself to be heartfelt and witty, causing minor havoc climbing in a fridge and accidentally smashing a teacup with a wooden spoon.
Noel has made me laugh more than I ever have at Bake Off, and although I couldn’t have imagined him in the tent, now I can’t imagine the tent without him.
Former Great British Menu judge Prue Leith had arguably an even tougher challenge than Noel and Sandi Toksvig when she signed up to Bake Off.
Whereas the presenting duo essentially started with a blank slate, Prue had to slip seamlessly into a partnership with Paul Hollywood. Akin to fans’ reactions to Noel, a vast majority of Bake Off viewers clutched their Mary Berry commemorative tea towels and pledged never ever to watch the show again.
Yet it quickly became clear that Prue was the judge who bakers were now out to impress; the judge whose comments held the most merit. Her phrase “it’s not worth the calories” has already entered my lexicon for describing something under par.
Whilst her Twitter blunder is truly “mortifying”, her firm yet fair approach and bad cop, bad cop dynamic with Paul has worked wonders. The ‘Prue Pat’ (as coined by Noel) became even more revered and sought after than the Hollywood Handshake. Arise, Queen Prue.
The format changes
Changes? What changes?
Rumours had swirled like a raspberry ripple about what changes Channel 4 were going to introduce. Would the rounds be altered? Were we going to be overwhelmed with logos, baking products and contestants repeatedly referencing a particular brand of golden syrup?
Thankfully, none of that came to pass. Each ad break fell at a suitable juncture, give the show much-needed breathing space (and the chance to grab a cup of tea).
Yes, there were annoying idents (I won’t be sad to see the back of those sodding singing barbershop bakes) but really, the addition of adverts did little to no harm to GBBO.
As for the show itself, the best thing Channel 4 did to The Great British Bake Off was nothing at all.
The nation fell in love with the likes of Yan, Julia and Liam, just like they had with previous fan favourites like Val and Selasi.
The class of 2017 were wholesome, kindly bakers who just wanted to be on the telly to show off their love of cakes and pastries. Nothing more, nothing less.
Its continuing popularity
There was a genuine danger when GBBO moved to Channel 4 that the viewers wouldn’t follow. Before the first series aired, Channel 4 revealed that they would be happy with – and break even on their £75 million investment – if around three million people tuned in.
However, the overnight ratings have far surpassed this, edging up to the 5.5 million and even six million mark – figures that C4 could usually only dream of. With Twitter lighting up every Tuesday at 8pm with memes, outraged reactions and a nation collectively sobbing when Liam was sent home, Bake Off has been as much of a part of the national conversation as ever before.
The Soggy Bottoms
Noel Fielding (when he’s scripted)
Noel Fielding is fantastic on Bake Off… apart from when he’s given things to say.
His narration proved even more sickly sweet than the whole of Caramel Week. It’s as if he’s using his telephone voice in the sound booth to record the voiceover, which in the end just felt false. His narration just didn’t fit with the personality we know and love, and I wish he’d have been told to ditch the weird, overly-polite vocals.
I also haven’t been bowled over by Noel and Sandi’s opening segments and skits, or even many of the scripted bits in between the baking. And yes, I include their use of ‘bowled over’ in this, where Sandi hit Noel in the chest with a bowl. And he fell over. Classic.
Mel and Sue got away with it (just) because they are Mel and Sue. That’s ‘their thing’, and we love them for it. But forcing that sort of camaraderie between Sandi and Noel whilst giving them irksome puns to parrot just felt meh.
They’re two very fine, very quick comic talents and should be left alone to ad-lib rather than perform stilted chit-chat.
Specifically, Paul Hollywood’s ego. Following Mel, Sue and Mary’s decision to leave the tent, the bread maestro was the only familiar face left standing. And sadly, he seemed to know it.
On BBC Bake Off, Paul was the newbie. In series one, he was the most unknown face in the line-up, with mother figure and grande damme of baking Mary Berry ruling the roost. She gave him a good scolding if he stepped out of line.
But now? He’s the one who bleeds Bake Off. He’s the one who’s done this show for eight years. He’s in charge – or at least, he seems to sometimes think he is. During this series there have been occasions when he’s more puffed up more than proved dough. Noel has tried ribbing him for it, but it’s seems to have had little effect.
The history segment
Is it in the show? Is it not in the show? After thinking that the mini foodie history lesson had itself been consigned to the history books, it made a surprise reappearance in episode four where we got to learn about the dampfnudel. It then had another outing during episode six.
Just two appearances in ten episodes is a bit weird. Why not every other episode? Or a special one-off?
It’s nice to hark back to the twee early series of the show, but the producers need to decide whether we’re going to have it every week, or whether it needs to be scrapped altogether. Personally, I could live without it. If I wanted history, I’d be hanging out on BBC4 with Lucy Worsley. But I want baking, drama and top reality TV, not Noel confusing a somewhat perplexed German baker for three minutes.
The final three
Some of the decisions along the way have been… questionable, at least in the fans’ eyes.
The fact that Liam left over Kate in week eight left viewers baffled, while it was something of a miracle that despite so many disaster-filled bakes Stacey made the semi-final.
Of the three finalists, Steven would arguably be the most worthy winner, but even he has sparked controversy when he was labelled a “secret pro baker” when his stunning bakes were revealed on Instagram. Meanwhile Sophie has been so good throughout that viewers have never had a chance to find out who she really is under pressure.
Of course Bake Off wouldn’t be Bake Off without a sprinkling of controversy, but with many of the bigger characters lost in a haze of flour along the way, the finalists perhaps don’t pop as much as in former series.
The 9.15pm ending
My hat is well and truly off to C4 for not tampering with the runtime of the episodes and instead altering their schedules in order to incorporate a 58-minute Bake Off with adverts. But I do have a minor gripe: each Tuesday the show started at 8pm and finished at 9.15pm.
It meant that if you wanted to watch another programme at 9pm, you were faced with a dilemma. A gigantic, Doctor-shaped dilemma.
Doctor Foster – one of the BBC’s most talked-about programmes of the year – was scheduled at 9pm on Tuesdays for five weeks. For exactly half of the Bake Off run, viewers were faced with a big decision. Miss the start of Doctor Foster, or miss finding out who left the tent. It was basically Sophie’s Choice.
This awkward time could be solved by Bake Off kicking off Bake Off at 7.45pm next year. It might be seem very strange, and viewers would take time to adapt – but isn’t that what Channel 4 and Bake Off have done so successfully this year anyway?