With this new series of The Great British Bake Off Channel 4 is spoiling us. Can you remember way back to last year when we watched the first series after Love Productions split from the BBC through our fingers as the nation waited to be able to say “I told you it would be rubbish!”. Can you remember our collective confusion, bewilderment and joy because it was still good, maybe even better than before? It was very much the London 2012 Olympics of food-based competitive TV shows. What a glorious time to be alive (and able to properly digest gluten)!
And with Sandi, Noel, Prue and Paul making a glorious return to the tent on Tuesday nights there’s a new generous helping of sister show An Extra Slice on Fridays. Fortunately Jo Brand, the consummate professional that she is, was fine with the move from the Beeb to Channel 4 and nothing much changed at all. But now the show is settled the programme makers can confidently make some long-overdue changes. Extra Slice suffered because it always felt very rushed in the half hour format that Channel 4 inherited from Auntie Beeb, and of course the adverts we were all loath to accept ate into that time, so it was 23 minutes of telly at best. Speaking of adverts in Bake Off, who would have ever guessed we’d miss Dr Oetker and his choir of irritating singing cakes. Amazon spent £5 million on the prestigious slot to advertise the Echo and all they can come up with is forgettable line drawings? “Alexa show me an advert worthy of 6.1 million viewers”.
With a whole hour to play with (minus ads) we have time for jokes, bloopers and general silliness from the cutting room floor. There’s more time for viewers photos with the laugh-out-loud inevitable hedgehog horror show. These days I’m hoping a bake goes so wrong I can be famous for five minutes. There’s also more time for cakes brought in to the studio by fans excited to show off their skills on national TV. This segment is now hosted by co-presenter Tom Allen (who fronts Bake Off: The Professionals, a show where all the joy of the original is dried out, desiccated, deconstructed and generally forgotten about). Well done to Tom on making audience interaction another highlight; his teasing barbs are perfectly crafted to add a sourer flavor to what can be an overly saccharine show. There’s much less eating of said home-made cakes though and no space for a chef on the panel each week. Maybe even with a big budget Channel 4 couldn’t afford the insurance needed to feed celebrities beetroot, garlic and haddock sponge cake or whatever terrifying concoction Mandy from Liverpool had brought all the way to London.
Like jam and cream, cinnamon and apple, chocolate and more chocolate, An Extra Slice is the perfect accompaniment to the Bake Off. And it’s on tonight, as a tasty reward for making it through the week.
An Extra Slice is on Friday nights at 8pm on Channel 4. Catch up on the series so far on All4.