Great British Bake Off 2016: Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood are back to set tasks, judge and entertain the viewers

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Great British Bake Off 2016: Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood are back to set tasks, judge and entertain the viewers

Who needs medals in Brazil when we’ve got a marquee in Berkshire? Arriving in the nick of time to haul the nation out of its post-Olympic slump came The Great British Bake Off (BBC One), back for a seventh series of waistline-endangering creations and compelling competition.

Last year’s contest was the top-rated TV show of 2015, pulling in 15 million sweet-toothed viewers, and duly delivering its most popular champion yet in Nadiya Hussain. Could the franchise maintain its seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory, which has seen ratings steadily self-raise since 2010’s launch episode was watched by a trifling 2.2 million over on BBC Two?

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The other crucial question is whether BBC keep hold of its prized asset? The corporation’s deal with programme-maker Love Productions expires after this series and there will be no shortage of rival bidders keen for, well, a slice of the cake. Bake Off on a commercial channel is too horrific a prospect to countenance. Imagine Mary Berry’s aghast face. It was bad enough when Paul Hollywood dunked one of her home-made Jaffa Cakes in his tea. “We don’t do that in the South,” sniffed the Dowager Countess of dough.

Diana Henry: there’s something about Mary Berry

Does this year’s 12-strong field include sufficient stand-out characters? Early signs were promising. Retired head-teacher Val was endearingly scatty, Ghana-born Selasi charmingly laid-back, gardener Jane was a Coronation Street character come to life. Lee, a pastor at a Baptist church, had crinkly eyes and a burbling Bolton accent. Young pup Andrew resembled a cross between Eddie Redmayne and Prince Harry.

The male intake lacked variety, though, with five of the six aged under 30. Three ticked the “baby-faced prodigy” box when one would have sufficed. Middle-aged men have proved some of the most memorable bakers in previous series (who could forget Howard and the custard?), so their absence might be an oversight. Casting is key to such shows and it would be a blow if Bake Off was to get it wrong for the first time.

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Val Stones Credit: BBC

We began with Cake Week (isn’t it always Cake Week?), which meant a drizzle cake, Jaffa Cakes and a mirrored glaze cake.

Towards the end, as the clock counted down on the bakers’ showstoppers, tension built and panic set in. There were dropped tins, spilt jugs and muttered oaths. Timers beeped, hands shook and bakers peered anxiously into ovens. Several abandoned their dough and started afresh. Pouty PE teacher Candice threw her “horrendous” Genoese sponge out of the marquee window – which was zipped shut at the time, so it splatted pathetically to the tent floor.

Great British Bake Off contestant Reverend Lee Banfield has God on his side

Jane pipped Selasi to Star Baker and blinked back tears, while Reverend Lee suffered the indignity of being the first contestant sent home. Paul and Mary might share their names with New Testament figures but showed the pastry pastor no mercy.

Apart from the odd lick of paint, it was a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The judges slipped straight back into their good cop/bad cop routine, while presenters Mel and Sue pepped up proceedings with double entendres and downright silliness. Bake Off’s format is a well-oiled (well-buttered?) machine and it would be foolish to change a winning recipe. If this opening episode was a cake, it would have earned the coveted “Hollywood handshake”. Good bake.

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