In Bake-Off’s first ever Tudor Week, most of the remaining contestants seemed – disappointingly – to be searching for inspiration in the rather more recent past. Like 2015. The episode was so littered with references to last year’s finalists that they could have re-named it ‘Nadiya Week: bakes inspired by the series’ most popular winner ever’ and no one would have been any the wiser.
First out of the blocks was Candice, with a peacock show stopper that recreated in sponge form the same bird crafted by Nadiya in last year’s now out-of-favour Chocolate Week. Hard on her heels was Benjamina, shamelessly cribbing Nadiya’s tip from last year’s final, of making icing form melted marshmallows. I seem to remember that at the time, this was an idea so original that even Mary had never thought of it.
Only Selasi went a bit off-piste, giving us a totally unwanted (by me at least) Ian tribute. Thanks for that, S. I’ve just spent the last year trying to expunge every memory of Ian and his sodding guinea fowl from my mind, and you had to go and bring them all back again. It’s probably just as well Tom wasn’t there. Remembering that Tamal’s day job was in anaesthetics, he would probably have tried to recreate a Tudor hospital, complete with graphic recreations of Henry VIII’s suppurating leg ulcers.
In the spirit of the much-married monarch, potency was also something of a recuring theme. Standing over the stove in the signature round, Mel declared to an inevitably relaxed Selasi that the filling for his game pies was releasing ‘potent smells’ – by which I think she meant ‘rank’. But it was, predictably, the show stopper round that produced the hard-core phallic symbols.
First we had Selasi’s ‘fruity (you said it) Tudor marchpane’. Around a circular round cake, six marzipan standards bowed swooningly inwards They represented, Selasi explained, the six wives of Henry VIII. Into the cake itself meanwhile, plunged a long, upright marzipan sword topped with a golden crown at a jaunty angle. This represented, or so he said,‘the Battle of Bosworth Field’. Really? The Battle of Bosworth Field that ended the Wars of the Roses and saw Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII, ascend to the English throne? You do mean that Battle of Bosworth field? Or is there another one? Because that one took place six years before Henry VIII was even born. So I think we all know what it really symbolised.
But all this was nothing compared to Andrew’s ‘jousting knights’. I mean, seriously, what was going on inside his head when he equipped them with yellow caramel ‘lances’ issuing direct from the crotch? The joust looked as if it had degenerated into some kind of Tudor horseback pissing contest. After some audible off-screen guffawing, Paul for once seemed lost for words. Fumbling for one of his stock phrases, he started with an upbeat ‘the idea’s good – !’ but then petered out into an uncomprehending ‘- jousting…er…pole’ and ended in a desperate ‘really, that should have gone on the hand…’ You reckon? I think that might have made it worse. In the end, Mary spared everyone’s blushes by diverting attention to some supposed untidiness round the back.
Actually, I’m beginning to find GBBO quite boring now. Even without the move to Channel Four, it seems already to be in decline. I think we might look back on 2015 as its high water mark. Never was this more obvious than in this year’s quarter final, in which contestants seemed to have so literally run out of ideas that they started re-cycling last year’s series.
Or maybe that was the point. Maybe Candice’s peacock was meant as a direct challenge to the reigning champion, a bold cry of ‘look at me, I’m the new Nadiya!’. Except that she isn’t. Nadiya had that endearing human quality that effortlessly got the audience on her side. Candice, on the other hand, is so obviously all about herself that she becomes divisive. As Lloyd Bentson once almost said to Dan Quayle, and might say yet if Channel Four decides to re-boot the series as a one-on-one Vice-Presidential-style debate about cakes: ‘Candice, you’re no Nadiya Hussain’.