TV COLUMN: Bake Off, Great British Menu, This is England and Hidden

James Waller Davies
James Waller Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies takes a look at this week’s television.

Well, it’s all over. The final of Great British Bake Off (BBC1) rose to the occasion, like a perfect WI Victoria sponge and 13.4 million of us watched Nadiya Hussain take the title of Champion Baker.

It was well deserved. Fellow finalists Tamal and Ian had threatened a challenge in the earlier rounds – Ian even won Star Baker for the first three weeks – but for the last month, Nadiya had ‘proved’ herself the queen of the Bake Off tent.

It’s hard to pin-point Bake Off’s appeal and ratings success. It is on one level so quintessentially British. On another an old fashioned anachronism.

It is a memory of a bygone Britain. A Britain of Miss Marple, of flag waving in faded black and white photos, of hand-churned butter and fetes on the village green. Bake Off is the world of which poet Rupert Broook asked “Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?”

So what does it all say about where we all are now? Why are we all so keen to be carried back to the past on the wing of a fairy cake? Are we really so discontent with our present?

Bake Off’s secret recipe lies in the blend of family architypes we all recognise. There’s lovely Grandma Mary. Uncle ‘don’t quite know where you stand’ Paul, and the two cool cousins of Mel and Sue.

It’s a weekly family reunion with guests who bring comfort food cakes. And everyone is just so ‘nice’. Not a family row in sight. Not even a huff.

Times will inevitably change. The day will come when we’ll pack up the tent and put the cake tins to the back of the forgotten cupboard, but for now, just like a good scone between meals, Bake Off fills a corner.

Also coming to an end after its 45 episode run is Great British Menu (BBC2). This annual cooking competition has become the British championships for top professional chefs.

This year’s competition brief has been to cook a banquet to celebrate the centenary of the Women’s Institute and it’s been the best brief so far, bring a grounded sense of reality to most of the food.

Unlike a lot of modern Michelin starred food, GBM’s food this year has had a passing resemblance to dishes we might eat at home. There have been pies, roast chickens and even a cream and custard trifle.

One exception to this has been first time contestant, Michael O’Hare. O’Hare looks like a T-Rex glam-rock throw-back, all long hair and glitter aprons, and his food looks like avant garde art. “I don’t know whether to eat it, or hang it on the wall”, was the response of judge, Matthew Fort, when O’Hare’s fish course was served.

O’Hare can cook though and during the course of the series the latest Michelin guide awarded him his first star. Remember his name: Michael O’Hare is going to be the Heston Blumenthal of his generation.

In a week of endings, This Is England ’90 (Channel 4) came to its conclusion in a slew of recriminations, reconciliations and violent retribution.

Combo, the racist, violent skinhead and defining figure of the initial film, was finally released from prison for a killing he did not commit and emerged a repentant man.

But a more tangible justice comes to all in director Shane Meadow’s world and Combo was abducted and disappeared as revenge for his violent attack on Milky. He loomed like a Banquo’s ghost over the series-ending wedding.

A show which unfortunately hasn’t yet come to an end is Hidden (Channel 4). The latest reality offering which shows member of the public go on the run in an attempt to stay ‘hidden’ from the forces of Big Brother back in the incident room.

Contestants clearly haven’t been following the Edward Snowden revelations in recent years or seen any one of a zillion conspiracy thrillers, as invariably they all give in to the temptation to telephone home within a couple of days and walk down a street full of CCTV cameras.

It still baffles me why no one has thought to run away to the Fens, where there’s barely any mobile phone signal, no CCTV and the broadband is so slow it can be outrun by a man in clogs. Hidden for 28 days? You could vanish out here for ever.

James Waller-Davies is on Twitter: @JamesWallerD