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TV: Strictly Come Dancing and Great British Bake Off return

Benjie Goodhart / 16 September 2021

This autumn some of the most popular reality shows return, with Strictly Come Dancing and Great British Bake Off starting this week. Plus The Hairy Bikers hit the road and explore the north of England.

Strictly Come Dancing, Saturday 18th September, 7:45pm, BBC One The Great British Bake Off 1/10, Tuesday 21st September, 8pm, Channel 4

There are those who find Autumn a somewhat depressing time of year. The summer has passed, with all of its attendant sunshine and warmth, gin and tonics on the terrace, barbecues and picnics, languid evenings in beer gardens, early morning walks in flower-strewn meadows. It all begins to face as the nights draw in, and the leaves slowly brown and start to fall from the trees.

Poppycock and balderdash. Did you actually SEE any sun during the summer? August was about as sunny as Murmansk in December. And broadcasters don’t show any of their really popular shows in summer, because they think everyone is out having barbecues or in beer gardens. Nah, summers are overrated.

Autumn is where it’s at. We always seem to have nice weather in September, plus the kids have gone back to school, and it’s my birthday (today, as it happens, though all gifts will be accepted belatedly, please send to Saga HQ. I’m fond of superyachts). AND, the broadcasters break out the big guns. And this week sees the return of two of the biggest of all – family-friendly viewing that never fails to raise a smile.

First off, we have Strictly Come Dancing, back this Saturday at 7:45pm.

By now, you will know what to expect. Sequins. Claudia cracking jokes. Tears. Sequins. Incredible performances. Dreadful performances. Great music. Sequins. Enough fake tan to supply Essex for a decade. Tess getting emotional. Craig being grumpy. Sequins. Controversy as someone terrible gets loads of votes. Oh, and I almost forgot: Sequins. What’s not to love?

The judging panel is joined this year by Anton Du Beke, who is taking the place of Bruno Tonioli, who is still unable to attend due to Covid restrictions. The contestants are the usual motley crew of people you’ve heard of, people you may vaguely recognise, and people who you wouldn’t know if they’d been camped in your front room for a decade. They are as follows:

Adam Peaty: Very fast swimmer and national hero
AJ Odudu: Presenter from The Voice
Dan Walker: BBC Breakfast presenter
Greg Wise: Actor and Mr Emma Thompson
John Whaite: Winner of Bake Off, 2012
Judi Love: Comedian and one of the Loose Women
Katie McFlynn: Actor, Sinead on Corrie
Nina Wadia: Actor, Zainab on EastEnders
Rhys Stephenson: Presenter on CBBC
Robert Webb: Actor (Peep Show) and author
Rose Ayling-Ellis: Actor (Frankie in EastEnders)
Sara Davies: Dragon. (In Dragon’s Den, she’s not an actual dragon)
Tilly Ramsay: Daughter of Gordon, social media influencer (bleurgh)
Tom Fletcher: Lead singer of McFly
Ugo Monye: Former England rugby player

So there you have it. I gave up predicting how people would do last year, having been convinced Bill Bailey would be terrible.

Then, on Tuesday, we have the return of The Great British Bake Off, one of my favourite shows on TV. The series continues to be a colossal success on Channel 4, with last year’s final notching up a remarkable 11.5 million viewers, making it the broadcaster’s second biggest audience ever.

Last year’s winner was effectively still an embryo – student Peter Sawkins was only 20-years-old. At that age, all I knew how to do was smoke, drink, and fail to pick up girls. In the intervening years, I’ve given up smoking. But Peter was an excellent and deserving winner.

I can’t tell you anything about this year’s bakers, because they’ve not been announced yet. But even if I could, what would I say? They’re not celebrities, so beyond their names and ages, I could probably just tell you if they had a moustache or came from Winchester. Besides, all you need to know is that the glorious, enchanting Bake Off is back. As ever, it will be a festival of kneading, Hollywood handshakes, proving, Prue’s colourful specs, greasing, Prue’s colourful jewellery, rolling, Noel’s surreal flights of fancy, cutting, Matt’s gentle humour, assembling, off-the-wall pieces to camera, collapsing, innuendo, judging, soggy bottoms, weeping and winning. And, as is always the case, and always will be, the bakes themselves will be the stars of the show.

Ready, Steady, Bake. And keep dancing.

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The Hairy Bikers Go North 1/8, Thursday 23rd September, 8pm, BBC Two

TV cookery shows have come a long way since Fanny Cradock waltzed around the kitchen in a chiffon ballgown shouting at poor husband Johnnie and piping vegetable mousses all over the shop. Just what the one-time grande dame of TV cookery would make of two bearded Geordies criss-crossing the nation on motorbikes, eating, cooking and carousing as they went, is anyone’s guess. It’s fair to say, she would not have approved.

Fortunately, we live in more enlightened times, and over almost 20 years, The Hairy Bikers  Si King and Dave Myers have become a TV staple, bringing their enthusiasm, bonhomie and love of food into homes everywhere. For this new eight-part series, they’re going back to their roots, exploring the north of England and encountering the food producers who are revolutionising the British culinary scene. For those who think the northern diet consists of nothing but pies and beer, this should be an education.

The first episode sees them exploring Lancashire from their base for the week, a delightful 17th Century farmhouse in Clough Bottom. They visit a gastropub in Newton in Bowland, which specialises in… oh… pies. Mind you, the pies look absolutely incredible. They are taught how to make a curried mutton pie which is now part of my bucket list. It is a thing of unspeakable beauty, the Mona Lisa in pastry form.

Next up, it’s off to Kirkby Lonsdale, to sample some beers in a local micro-brewery. Okay, maybe Northern cuisine does largely consist of pies and beer, but when both are of such undoubted quality, who’s complaining? Maybe the northerners are on to a trick. Fortified with some excellent ales, the boys return to the farmhouse, where they cook up a steak and ale pie.

After such unabashed hedonism, the pair retreat to a local temperance bar, the last original one in the country. These institutions were once commonplace, teetotal bars where people could meet and sample tonics such as Dandelion and Burdock and Sarsparilla.

After a nod to the past, the boys plunge headlong into something altogether more novel: Cheese. Cheese isn’t exactly new, but Carron Lodge buffalo farm is producing cheese made from buffalo milk that is quite remarkable. Dave and Si are intrigued to discover that buffalo milk can be used for far more than the humble mozzarella. As a thank you to the farmers, they make a lasagne unlike any you’re likely to have seen before.

Then, in somewhat marked contrast to their temperance bar experience, they visit a distillery where they make their own gins. It’s all about adding various botanicals and spring water to pure alcohol. Their subsequent creation of a gin and key lime pie looks utterly sumptuous.

Finally, no visit to Lancashire is complete without dropping in on Blackpool. And no visit to Blackpool is complete without a treat from the Notarianni ice cream parlour, where you can have any flavour, as long as it’s vanilla. But the recipe is a closely-guarded secret, known to only two members of the Notarianni family.

Like the ice cream, this programme is a simple, uncomplicated and delightful treat. Part travelogue, part food documentary, part cookery show, it is beautifully shot and gently absorbing. Much like another BBC Two hit, Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing, it is as much a gentle rumination on friendship and nostalgia as anything else, and the warmth between the two genial hosts is a delight.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 18th September

The Murder of Lord Mountbatten: 3 Days That Shook Britain, 9:30pm, Channel 5: Royal insiders, journalists and victims’ family members remember the tragic day in 1979 when Lord Mountbatten was assassinated on his boat, Shadow V, off the Irish Coast.

Sunday 19th September

The Who Cares Wins Awards with the Sun, 7:30pm, Channel 4: Davina McCall presents a star-studded awards ceremony celebrating the healthcare heroes who have helped the public through one of the most difficult years in living history.

Sean Connery: The Man & the Movies, 9pm, Channel 5: Profile of the man who went from Edinburgh milkman to Hollywood star.

Monday 20th September

Manhunt 1/4, 9pm, ITV: New four-part fact-based drama starring Martin Clunes as a detective investigating one of Britain’s most prolific rapists. Continues over the next three nights.

Wednesday 22nd September

Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers, 9pm, BBC One: This programme was not available for preview, but will feature members of the royal family paying tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh, the longest serving royal consort of all time.

Thursday 23rd September

Taskmaster 1/10, 9pm, Channel 4: Return of the enjoyably daft show in which hosts Greg Davies and Alex Horne subject five comedians to a series of ever more daft and ridiculous challenges.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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