TV blog: Great British Bake Off: The Professionals

Benjie Goodhart / 03 May 2018

Bake Off spawns another riveting spin-off, this time it’s the turn of master bakers. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.



Great British Bake Off: The Professionals 1/10. Sunday 6th May, 8pm, Channel 4

Nobody can say that Channel 4 aren’t getting their money’s worth. After the triumph that was GBBO’s 2017 debut on Channel 4, it was only ever going to go one way. A hit is a hit, and an enormous cash cow like Bake Off must be assiduously milked, churned, and turned into a fabulous butter cream icing in a huge cash cake that can be taken all the way to the bank. And so we had the four celebrity specials earlier this year, in aid of Stand Up to Cancer, before the arrival of this new ten-part series, featuring pairs of professional bakers from restaurants, hotels and small businesses. Expect to see further spin-offs including Young Bake Off, Veterans Bake Off, Tall People Bake Off, Bake Off For People Who Don’t Like Baking, and Bake Off: Pets.

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Of course, there is something slightly cynical about the broadcaster’s determination to cash in on their crown jewel, but on the other hand, if the appetite for the programmes is there, and the quality is maintained, where’s the harm? Certainly the Celebrity Bake Offs were an absolute triumph, and a delightful illustration that we might think famous people are perfect at everything, but most of them sure as heck can’t bake.

So what of the Professional version? Well, the first thing to say is that it is different. Very different. There’s no Prue and Paul. There’s no Sandi and Noel. There’s no tent. There’s not even a hint of gingham. I mean, Bake Off without gingham is like fish without chips – it might work all right, but it looks all wrong.

The setting is what is wrong with the show. Why oh why did they not set it in the tent? Presumably because it’s winter. I don’t care. Bake Off belongs in a marquee, just stick in a couple of heaters and get on with it. Actually, filming it in a tent in December might mean, for once, that we didn’t get a constant stream of complaints from the bakers about how conditions are too warm for them to layer their mille feuille or sculpt their spun sugar.

Instead, things take place in a cavernous kitchen which appears to be in some stately home or other. Maybe it’s just in comparison to the light and airy tent, but this feels dark and oppressive, introducing an almost sombre feel. Also, it’s early days, but the fact that everyone cooks in pairs feels to me like we are less likely to get as involved with their characters. After the first episode, the only thing I could tell you about any of them is that one of them is allergic to eggs. 

All of that said, there’s an awful lot more that’s right than wrong here. The hosts are comedian Tom Allen, and Liam Charles, the 20-year-old student who charmed everyone who watched the most recent series of Bake Off. Charles may not be a comedian, but he’s been there, done it, got the t-shirt, and covered the t-shirt in flour, jam and icing sugar, so can relate to the contestants. He’ll grow into the role. Meanwhile Tom Allen, of whom I was completely unaware before this, is as sharp as a cake slice and as pleasingly acidic as a preserved lemon.

The judges are pastry chefs Benoit Blin and Cherish Finden. Blin is all French swagger, while Finden is a tiny assassin, a pocket-sized judge who thinks nothing of tossing contestants’ dreams in the air and slicing them to ribbons before they hit the ground. Honestly, I’ve not seen a more brutal judging performance in all my days. She makes Simon Cowell look like Barney the Dinosaur.

But what really keeps the show’s oven cranked up to its hottest setting is the quality of the baking on display. These are some fearsomely talented bakers. I mean, obviously there are a couple of chancers who look like they don’t know a rolling pin from a nappy pin. But some of them – wowee! Whether they’re creating 24 identical Tartes Aux Fruits and 24 Conversations (which must be said in a French accent) or coming up with a series of quite astonishing modern interpretations of a Black Forest Gateau, this is baking turned into high art. Another hit, then. Time to start training those hamsters, people, Bake Off Pets could be a reality sooner than you think.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Saturday 5th May, 9:15pm, ITV

The steam engine. The railway. The television. The computer. The internet. The lightbulb. The jet engine. Chicken tikka masala. The toothbrush. Each one a British invention, each one has changed the world. With the possible exception of chicken tikka masala, but it’s changed my world, so it makes the cut. But undeniably the greatest British invention of all time is Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The world’s most popular quiz show made its TV debut in September 1998, so ITV is bringing the show back for a special commemorative anniversary run. (Although as it’s on in May, it would seem to be the 19.66th anniversary.) Since that day, international variants have aired in over 160 countries worldwide. It really was the gameshow that conquered the world.

I well remember the first time I saw it, coming into work the next day to tell everyone there was a show they had to watch. It was, in its own way, a masterpiece. Everything about the show was designed to create tension. The lighting, swirling around excitedly before suddenly going dark and spotlighting the quizmaster and contestant. The brilliantly atmospheric music. Chris Tarrant’s enormous pauses, long enough sometimes that you could nip off to make a cuppa and come back before the answer was revealed.

But most of all, what made Who Wants to Be a Millionaire extraordinary, addictive, and almost unbearably tense, was the amount of money people were playing for. You genuinely had the impression that you could be watching people’s lives changed forever. That’s not something you could say when you were watching Bullseye. Having a half share of a cheap, flimsy speedboat was not going to be particularly life-changing for two blokes from Birmingham and their families. Just a few years before Millionaire, Bob Monkhouse presented a gameshow on ITV called The $64,000 Question. I recall tuning in, because  couldn’t for a moment believe they would ever give away a prize worth $64,000. And I was right. The star prize was £6,400. Yet just a few years later, ITV was offering the chance to win £1 million.

The show became such a part of the national consciousness it contributed to the British lexicon – back in the late 90s, if you ummed and erred about anything for a few seconds, some ‘hilarious’ character would ask you if you wanted to ‘phone a friend’. In 1999, the first maximum prize was won – in America, by a man called John Carpenter. He hadn’t even used a landline before the final round, when he announced that he needed to phone a friend. He then phoned his father, and said: "I don't really need your help. I just wanted to let you know that I'm gonna win the million dollars."

So what of the 20th anniversary run? Well, like the original, it’s streamed across the week, on every night in peak time. But there are differences – chief among them that the show will be presented by none other than amateur boxing’s own Jeremy Clarkson. It’s an odd decision, to replace the puppyish enthusiasm of Chris Tarrant with the world-weary cynicism of Clarkson, and it might be an absolute disaster – but it could also be a masterstroke. Particularly bearing in mind the show’s second major change. There is a fourth lifeline!

The first three, you will doubtless recall, are 50:50, ask the audience, and phone a friend. (Incidentally, with Phone a Friend, each contestant has two nominees. An independent security team is waiting outside of the nominees’ houses, and when the contestant wins fastest finger first to go into the hot seat, the security teams enter the ‘friends’ houses in order to ensure that nobody is sneakily asking Google for the answer if the phone rings…) Anyway, the new lifeline is this: Ask the Host. As Clarkson himself says: “If the contestant chooses that lifeline [Ask The Host], they get to ask me if I know the answer. God help them. Anyone who doesn’t win £1,000,000 is bound, at some point, to ask me if I know the answer. And if it’s 1970’s prog rock music, I probably will. If it’s anything other than that, I probably won’t.” The joy of it being Clarkson is that you get the impression (a) that, contrary to his protestations, he knows quite a lot of stuff and (b) that he’ll be quite happy to guess if he doesn’t know, and hang the consequences. It should make for riveting viewing.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 5th May

Women’s FA Cup Final: Arsenal v Chelsea, 5:10pm, BBC One: The flagship domestic knockout trophy in women’s football reaches its final stage, live from Wembley. It’s a repeat of the 2016 final, as Chelsea pursue a potential double, and Arsenal go in search of their 15th cup win.

Monday 7th May

Genderquake 1/2, 9pm, Channel 4: Once upon a time, you were born with certain bits, and that defined who you were. These days, gender fluidity allows people more of a choice to be who they want to be. But what does that actually mean, and is there a price to pay? These questions, and many more, should be answered in this new two-part series from Channel 4 which sees eleven strangers with different gender identities live together for a week.

Peter Kay’s Car Share Unscripted, 10pm, BBC One: A special ad-libbed and improvised episode of Kay’s fabulous, warm-hearted comedy that he co-stars in alongside Sian Gibson, as supermarket colleagues and car-sharers John and Kayleigh, for whom Cupid has been drawing back his bow for too long now!

Tuesday 8th May

The secret Life of 5 Year Olds 1/2, 8pm, Channel 4: New two-part series of the delightful fly-on-the-nursery-wall show that looks at how little people behave when the grown-ups aren’t watching.

Thursday 10th May

Food Unwrapped: China Special, 8pm, Channel 4: The Food unwrapped team travel to China, and investigate some truly exotic dishes, while witnessing the marriage of ancient farming techniques and commercial mass production.

Red Ape: Saving the Orangutan, 9pm, BBC One: Following the efforts of the International Animal Rescue team as they fight to save the magnificent and heartbreakingly endangered orangutan in the jungles of Borneo.

Discover more about holidays to Malaysia Find out more here.

Friday 11th May

The One Show NHS Patients Awards Special, 7pm, BBC One: For one night only, The One Show extends to a full hour, and dispenses with weird changes of subject and tone, in order to bring us awards for the best and most inspirational caregivers in our much-maligned health service.

The Bridge 1/8, 9pm, BBC Two: The brilliant Scandi-noir police thriller is back. Of course we’re going to recommend it: The lead character is called Saga!

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