TV COLUMN: Great British Bake Off, Great British Menu, Tutankhamun

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television.
James Waller-DaviesJames Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

So, it’s gone. The party and the pasties are over for The Great British Bake Off (BBC1). Britain’s favourite show mopped up its last crumbs with Victoria sandwiches, picnics and tears, and the biggest audience of its seven-year BBC run.

Last women standing, and the 2016 Bake Off champion, was the lippy-clad Candice. She was the best and had looked like being the probable winner for a few weeks. Paul Hollywood acknowledged at the end that she’s been one of the strongest bakers in the show’s history.

There was yet another moving post-win moment, clearly showing that winning had far more to do with just baking for the winner. Her tearful reflection of “I’m good. I’m good enough”, suggested far more and showed why audiences have fallen in love with the show.

Bake Off is the recognition of everyday life. It’s all that most of us can ever aspire to: a bit of appreciation for baking a cake, cooking a meal, growing a garden, bringing up a family. It’s not X Factor. No one ever begrudges the Bake Off winner.

American television has had its M.A.S.H. moment and its Friends finale. This was our turn. This was Britain’s Bake Off bow-out, an epoch-defining, zeitgeist-ending moment of collective cultural congregation.

In an age of multi-channel TV, anytime online streaming, box sets and cyberspace, phenomena like Bake Off – and it has been a phenomenon – will be fewer and farther apart.

Television culture is splintering. It will be harder to capture the nation when the nation’s audience is fractured into the smithereens of narrow-casting and personalised viewing.

The BBC is possibly the only broadcaster that will manage Bake Off style, mass audience, family viewing in the future. Not renewing Bake Off was a mistake. A classic example of understanding price, but not cost.

More niche, but no less important to its contestants, is finals week on Great British Menu (BBC2). GBM has become the premier cooking competition for the nation’s best professional chef.

This isn’t the aspirant Masterchef Professionals, this is the real thing: Michelin-starred chefs cooking the best of contemporary British food in competition with their peers.

Aside from the UK’s gang of four three-star chefs – Ramsey, Roux, Ducasse and Blumenthal – most of the two-star and many of the one-star chefs have competed over the show’s eleven series.

The format is simple and unchanged. To a set brief, chefs cook off in regions, producing a starter, a fish course, a main and dessert. The finalists go through and only one dish per course makes it to a prestigious banquet.

So long the butt of jokes, British food is now up there with the best. It’s rooted in the best of native food production, aware of its traditions, but modern, vibrant and dynamic.

The judges’ panel of Prue Leith, Oliver Peyton and Matthew Fort have a comfortable chemistry and a confidence born of experience well-placed to critique the sort of food of which most of us can only dream.

Fortunately, Great British Menu draws a daily audience of just a couple of million, so it stands a fair chance of staying unchanged on the BBC. One hopes.

Tutankhamun (ITV), the TV mini-series based on Howard Carter’s quest for the lost tomb of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh god-king, is making a good fist of it despite going up again BBC’s Poldark.

No doubt many are catching it on +1, a boon for anyone who can’t side between the inevitable head-to-head offerings of the 9pm Sunday evening slot.

If there’s any criticism to be made, it’s the pacing, with the first two episodes needing editing into just one.

The narrative has dragged a little too sluggishly and for two weeks the trailer has shown the same clip of Carter poking a candle tantalisingly in the dark void of the tomb. And still we wait. It’s archaeology in real time.

In reality, the King ‘Tut’ find spawned years of international grudge between Britain and Egypt, a supposed Mummy’s curse on the Carter family, endless Hollywood B-movies and a Batman villain. Perhaps, Carter should have just left it all where he found it.

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