Patrick Freyne: Paul Hollywood’s handshake is like being gripped by the full force of your father’s love

Who could replace Mary Berry, named after both the mother of Christ and a popular cake filling?

The Great British Bake Off: the programme trades on mild peril

The Great British Bake Off: the programme trades on mild peril

 

The Great British Bake Off (Tuesday, Channel 4) is how Britain likes to see itself. Each year the show presents us with a bunch of polite, eccentric, multicultural craftsfolk in a big tent replete with food, fuel and Union Jack bunting and implies that this is the real Britain. Then we turn on GB News and see the actual citizens of that blighted isle, light-headed with supply shortages and Facebook memes, sucking Soylent Green from a pipe in the fulfilment centre where everyone works now in the absence of employment law, trade deals or hope.

The real Britain gets Boris Johnson, a prematurely aged toddler pumped full of regret, lies and leaking attic insulation. Bake Off gets the veteran judge Paul Hollywood, his eyes as blue as sadness and his beard as white as an angel’s wing. Johnson’s faithless handshake is like being grazed by some strands of wet hair. Hollywood’s affirming handshake is like being gripped by the full force of your father’s love.

The Great British Bake Off is soundtracked by whimsical string motifs. The real Britain is soundtracked by a shock jock moaning into a water pipe in a basement flat. Britain is basically The Great British Bake Off’s portrait in the attic

In the real Britain, people come to blows over supply shortages. On Bake Off they’ve so much food they’ve thought of some fanciful experiments to do with it. The Great British Bake Off is soundtracked by whimsical pizzicato string motifs. The real Britain is soundtracked by a shock jock moaning into a water pipe in a basement flat. Britain is basically The Great British Bake Off’s portrait in the attic.

I doubted the Channel 4 iteration of GBBO for a time. I thought the pairing of Matt Lucas, who is short and smooth, and Noel Fielding, who is long and shaggy, might cause us all to overdose on comedic whimsy after so long in the company of the no-nonsense joke symbiote Mel-and-Sue.

Similarly, I thought no one could replace the ethereal gaze of the former judge Mary Berry, a woman named after both the mother of Christ and a popular cake filling. In reality, it was strangely fitting when she was replaced by a middle-class woman in quirky spectacles named Prue. I mean, are not all British campaign managers, advertisers and demagogues trying to appeal to middle-class women in quirky spectacles named Prue?

This week in the big Bake Off circus tent it’s bread week, quite literally bread and circuses for the people at home who forgot to stockpile bread and are looking hungrily at their least favourite child (probably David). Bread is Paul Hollywood’s speciality. He is a bread king from the land of bread, and I’m fully prepared to believe he has, in his home, a perfectly baked “bread wife”.

If not, I imagine there will be a future episode in which people are tasked to make Paul a bread wife. And if not, I am now pitching a television drama called Paul Hollywood’s Bread Wife, which will surely be a smash hit (think The Snowman, but on HBO).

There’s nothing quite like the Irish middle classes for an old-fashioned frenzy of speculation. They’re magnificent when they let themselves go. I do love nature programmes

Anyway, the first test of the day is to create the Italian savoury treat focaccia. This round is won by an Italian called Giuseppe, which feels unfair somehow, like me winning at microwaving soup. But Paul Hollywood is impressed and delivers one of his much-coveted handshakes. For the rest of his life Giuseppe will think of this moment and yearn to be back there, his slim hand clasped in Paul’s comforting flesh bindle, all things well with the world.

The big task of the episode is to bake food that looks like other food – chicken, pork, fruit, fish, a baby – but is in fact bread. And so the plucky bakers of Bake Off set to the creation of their “food lies” while Matt and Noel get in their way with food-adjacent clowning and Paul Hollywood and Prue intercede with penetrating stares and judgment.

The Great British Bake Off trades on mild peril. What is at stake here is the possibility someone might bake something less than perfect and will thus be evicted from this cakey idyll, forced to return to the cursed badlands beyond the big tent (Essex). In The Great British Bake Off only the least useful people are asked to leave. Those who can bake well or have an HGV licence are invited to stay.

I know people in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones. Unless, of course, there’s a bull market in the old stone-throwing business and a financial adviser has suggested you fling a few stones in your own glasshouse for $$$.

This is more or less what happened in Sold: The Eircom Shares Saga (Monday, RTÉ One), a documentary reminder of a time when the Irish middle classes gleefully spent all their savings buying something they owned already (as one trade unionist notes in the programme).

It is nice to see all the talking-head financial types again – in the flush of our mania we had celebrity economists – and to see footage of the ancient 2000s, when the Irish first stood upright and walked the earth investing in pyramid schemes. There’s nothing quite like the Irish middle classes for an old-fashioned frenzy of speculation. They’re magnificent when they let themselves go. I do love nature programmes.

In the first episode 456 people with insurmountable debts find themselves forced to play children’s games for money or, more likely, death. Yes, the creators of Squid Game definitely owned Eircom shares

Squid Game (Netflix) tells more or less the same story, although they set it in South Korea for legal reasons. In the first episode 456 people with insurmountable debts find themselves in an unknown location where they are forced to play children’s games for money or, more likely, death. Yes, the creators of Squid Game definitely owned Eircom shares.

In a less interesting drama, the writers would have left this scenario stand alone as the simplistic metaphor for capitalism that it is (see: Hunger Games), but its writer-director, Hwang Dong Hyuk, spends just as much time grounding this core idea in muted but realistic depictions of poverty, debt and human frailty. He also redeems the darkness with warmth and humour, largely thanks to the inherent sweetness of the bumbling gambling addict at the heart of the story (the great Lee Jung-jae).

So you root for him and the other oddball losers the baddies have assembled for their warped pleasure. In fact, because you’re Irish you start wondering about buying shares in the Squid Game or, indeed, talking to your financial adviser about taking part.

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