OPINION: Best antidote to lockdown? Watch The Great British Bake Off and then get baking yourself

Matt Lucas joins Paul, Prue and Noel in the new series of The Great British Bake Off. Picture: Mark

Matt Lucas joins Paul, Prue and Noel in the new series of The Great British Bake Off. Picture: Mark Bourdillon/Love Productions - Credit: Archant

The Great British Bake Off is back on our screen this week providing autumn comfort and inspiration to get baking, says Andy Newman

After three months of summer in which we were finally allowed out of our homes and to lead something approaching a normal life, it would seem that as autumn arrives we will once again be spending more time at home. Even if we venture out for a meal or a drink (and please do, our hard-pressed pubs and restaurants need you), the 10pm curfew means there will be no late-night carousing – at least not away from home.

As a 54-year-old man who doesn’t much fancy not being able to breathe and being intubated, I am being more cautious than someone half my age might be, but nevertheless one of my main pleasures is eating out.

If I want to do that now, it will have to be earlier to ensure I have finished my dinner by 10pm. The second half of my evenings at least will be spent at home. I’m not complaining; I recognise that these measures are necessary for the good of society as a whole.

They may seem annoying when you live in a county where the infection rate is (relatively) low, but unfortunately coronavirus doesn’t recognise local authority borders, and for the sake of easy-to-understand messaging, a consistent national approach is probably right.

There is at least one bright spot on the horizon for food-lovers. Just as it looks like we are to be confined to our homes again, the new series of The Great British Bake Off hit our screens this week. At a time when we need comforting, and reminding that life goes on, this most feelgood of TV programmes returns to bathe us in a sea of good-humoured, traditional, home-baked deliciousness. It couldn’t be better timed.

Even if you don’t watch it, you will appreciate that things are not quite the same as usual this year.

Most Read

For a start, filming was done during a six week period in a bio-secure ‘bubble’. This is sure to have had an effect on the whole atmosphere in the tent. Normally, competitors get a whole week between episodes to practice their bakes for the next round; this year they had just a day or two, and this in specially-constructed practice kitchens rather than in the comfort of their own homes.

I suspect the intensity of the schedule and the surreal lack of normality of the surroundings will make the experience of being sent home even more traumatic. The competitors will not just have been seeing each other in the tent during filming once a week, they will have been living and eating together for weeks. Expect to see more tears when favourites find themselves being eliminated by Paul and Prue.

I was sorry when it was announced that Sandi Toksvig was leaving the show, and a bit unsure when her replacement was named as Little Britain’s Matt Lucas. Not because I have anything against him – he is a talented comedian and generally likeable chap – but the chemistry between Sandi and fellow presenter Noel Fielding was a major part of the show. But I’ll watch with an open mind, and hope the new presenting team can create the same warm feeling.

When the show first hit our screens in 2010, it was credited with a renaissance in home baking in the UK. Home cooks everywhere rediscovered the comforting joy of making cakes, biscuits and bread.

If ever we needed that comfort and reassurance that life will go on, it is now. Expect to see an explosion in home baking during the next 10 weeks (assuming you can get hold of flour, of course). If we have to spend more time at home, there are few activities better placed to bring families together, provide a soothing balm for anxiety, and to help food-lovers stay in touch with their passion.

One more thing: baking a cake or making a loaf for a neighbour who is on their own or who is shielding is one of the loveliest gestures you can make – and it will make you feel good as well. While our vacuous politicians dither and fail to deliver their ‘world-beating’ response to Covid-19, it may just be the home-bakers who save the day.