There is a new presenter on The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4). Alison Hammond has escaped (temporarily) from the chip pan fire that is This Morning, and found sanctuary in the tent.
She’s a good signing. The show had lost its way in the past couple of years. The joy had gone out of it, challenges were too hard, moments of meanness were sneaking in. Change was needed, and Hammond is a lovely, sunny presence. A little Alison goes a long way, but she’s deployed at just the right level here.
The only problem is that, beside her, co-host Noel Fielding now looks creepy. What seemed quirky when paired with Matt Lucas, or even Sandi Toksvig, is just plain weird in this new context. He doesn’t supply any comedy, but merely wanders around being vaguely supportive and resembling an ungainly Chrissie Hynde. Elsewhere, the producers have gone for cuteness, both in terms of the contestants – Saku and Keith will become instant social media favourites – and the bakes.
The showstopper challenge was to make a cake in the shape of an animal; for Bake Off aficionados, this summoned fond memories of Cecil the Bread Lion in series six. Only Amos chose an animal that could kill you – an orca – and he was first to go home. Safer to go for something adorable. Elsewhere there were fluffy dogs, a sheep, a cow, a robin and a cartoon beaver. There was much sniggering about the word “beaver”, but let’s pass swiftly over that.
Dana made a banana and peanut butter-flavoured version of her pet cockapoo. “It’s quite flat,” ventured Paul Hollywood. “She’s quite a flat dog,” replied Dana. It’s to be noted that Hollywood is being significantly kinder this series, after viewers criticised his manner last year and suggested he’d got too big for his boots. He even gave Saku a hug. And were he and Prue Leith being more generous with their praise or was it just that the challenges were relatively straightforward?
The best thing about this show is, and has always been, the contestants. On this first viewing, they’re a charming bunch. And it’s inclusive in the pure sense of the word: Tasha is the show’s first deaf contestant, accompanied by her British Sign Language interpreter. Tasha is one to watch – her robin design was fantastic. “I’m hiding the terror through a smile,” said Matty, as his buttercream curdled. But there was little to be scared of here. Bake Off, thankfully, has returned to its warm and unthreatening ways.