It’s an odd episode of The Great British Bake Off tonight. As revealed on Thursday in the wake of Bingate, 69-year-old Diana Beard leaves the contest at this stage, adding extra drama to last week’s episode, in which she appeared to remove fellow contestant Iain Watters’ baked Alaska from the freezer, causing it to melt and him to have a meltdown.
Of course, all was not as it initially seemed. Other contestants, and Bake Off host Sue Perkins, testified that Iain’s ice cream had been left on Diana’s worktop for less than a minute and would never have set anyway, so the resulting runny mess was his fault, as was his elimination after he moodily chucked the whole thing in the bin and stormed out.
Diana did complain that the broadcast show had been poorly edited, but this could not possibly be the reason for her leaving, since Bake Off was filmed several weeks ago. The truth is less titillating, although still quite dramatic: a fall the night before the recording of tonight’s edition left her unable to taste or smell, forcing her to withdraw from the competition.
This news is broken briskly but gently at the start of the episode, with Mel Giedroyc announcing it in voiceover for the benefit of viewers who have been living in a cave and don’t already know. Then we see some quick tributes from the bakers. “I’m going to miss Diana so much!” says Martha Collison. “She’s my grandma in the tent and I don’t have her. What am I gonna do?”
After that, everyone forgets about Diana and concentrates on making a massive custard tart. But there’s a question hanging in the air. What’s the point of tonight’s show if misfortune has eliminated Diana before we start? Will everyone just cook a load of pies and tarts for fun and then come back next week for a proper contest?
The Bake Off has been in a similar position before: in 2012, future winner John Whaite stuck his hand in a Magimix during pudding week and had to go to hospital, leading to the surprise announcement that nobody would be eliminated. In the following episode, two bakers were sent home to maintain equilibrium.
Now we have the reverse situation, because effectively two people went last week. Will there be an immediate amnesty? It has to happen sometime. GBBO can’t exactly say to BBC1, oh by the way, one of your biggest shows is going to be missing an episode this year.
But it doesn’t have to happen straight away, so there’s an extra dimension to the judging now. It’s not just: who goes? It’s: does anyone go at all?
There’s one baker in particular for whom a reprieve could be good news. No-nonsense Scottish pensioner Norman Calder has been increasingly criticised by Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry for his plain baking, and would almost certainly have been ejected last week had Iain not deserted his dessert. “I just don’t think it looks very attractive,” was Paul’s blunt comment on Norman’s rough-hewn sticky toffee pudding.
Could a pause in the relentless culling of amateur bakers give Norman the time he needs to find his style? Perhaps, although he’s already promised to “raise my game” and has at least three bakes in which to do it, which is plenty, even without an elimination amnesty – everything can change very quickly in the Bake Off tent. There are some particularly tricky tasks on the table tonight that see former high-flyers reduced to serving up leaky, burnt disasters…
Whatever happens, there’s more drama to come in this year’s GBBO.