04th Oct 2019
Some people aren’t meant to giggle because giggling is a sign of warmth. A giggle is a release from strict self-control and some people, well, they’re all about a stone-cold exterior. One such man is Paul Hollywood, the appointed ‘tough guy’ on the Great British Bake Off and this year, his giggles are giving his soft side away but he’s not the only thing that’s lightening up in the tent.
Now in its third series as a Channel 4 production, the former BBC stalwart has slowly been adjusting to its new home and hosts and these subtle changes have become glaringly obvious this year. While it was always a show that had loveliness and sponge cakes at its core, there was something very stiff-upper-lip about it on BBC.
Hollywood was stern and Mary Berry was soft but she would still rap you on the knuckles like a feared school principal (in a dazzling jacket) if she couldn’t taste the booze in your pudding. Mel and Sue, as always, were the support team. There to offer help if the timer was going against a baker and there to swear if they cried, deeming that footage unusable so that no one was red-faced and puffy-eyed on d’telly, they monitored the emotions on the floor.
But this year… we’ve had tears and it’s been kind of refreshing.
Friendship is the real star baker
As Channel 4 hosts, Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig aren’t just sturdy pillars of comfort, they’re a reliable source of comic relief and oddities, allowing everyone else on set to loosen up.
We’ve had multiple tears from Michael, passive aggression from the usually pristine Alice, silent and verbal rage from Henry — “Not now,” he barked at Noel when he made fun of Henry’s matching shirt and tie as he wobbily carried his tray to the judge’s table in the technical round — and heartbreak when Helena the Halloween lover was booted off ahead of her time.
Friendship has also been reigning high this series. Usually, we pinpoint the true friendships among contestants when the series is over and they can post whatever they like on their socials but this year, every week friendship is the star baker. D’awwww.
This week’s episode saw two gleaming moments of friendship between the bakers. Hanging out by the fridge, Henry, Michael and David discussed the setting temperature of gelatine in a way that only best friends can. That’s not how you spend your time with your pals? No, me neither…
But more tellingly, as they awaited the verdict of the challenges, David, Steph (a mini Claudia Winkleman) and Henry had a quiet moment outside. Curled up on a couch, the three displayed how comfortable they are with each other and even though it was just a few seconds, it was a snapshot into how they interact when they don’t think the cameras are on.
The BBC version was strictly a baking show and it was very BBC: polite, reserved and jokes about soggy bottoms were uttered with a “Dare I…?” restraint. The Channel 4 version, well, it’s now a show about people who bake.
— Scott Bryan (@scottygb) October 1, 2019
Paul has learned to smile…
Most remarkably is the transformation of Paul. Like a silverback gorilla who’s been observing humans visiting the zoo for years, Paul has learned how to smile, laugh and dish out more than one compliment an episode.
Where he once walked into the kitchen and struck fear into whoever he conversed with, he’s almost at the mercy of Noel, whose charming weirdness unhinges Paul. It’s safe to assume that Paul has never met anyone like Noel before and he, like the rest of us, has fallen for his gothy charms. Head over bread heels.
Prue Leith, Paul’s sage and stylish co-judge, is a warm feline of a human whose constructive feedback is always given with a gentle purr. Rather than either of them playing the bad guy, they equally share the roles of supportive mentor and unyielding pastry critic.
A winter’s tonic
The Great British Bake Off is one of autumn’s greatest pleasures; a warmth of goodness when the gales are blowing outside, it’s a tonic against the darkness of winter. Pleasant as it has always been, the Channel 4 format may look the same but it feels different. While the BBC version kept its edges tight, the new era of GBBO lets reality sneak into the camera frame. And with that, it has the added glory of being so inviting and so silly that even the iceberg that is Paul Hollywood’s heart is softening like raspberry sorbet.
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