You know when late summer has arrived because conkers are starting to form on the horse chestnuts, your eagerness to get the kids back to school has reached fever pitch, and another season of The Great British Bake Off (BBC1, Wednesdays) has begun.
If it feels like there has never, ever been a time when GBBO wasn’t on, this is because there hasn’t. Here are some key facts about our favourite telly comfort blanket you won’t find on Wikipedia.
1. Mary Berry has barely aged at all since the show’s first edition was broadcast in 1946 immediately after Muffin the Mule. Mary was 11 at the time and was chosen for her cut-glass vowels, her English rose complexion and her sweet nature, designed to counterpoint the earthy manner of her rough-diamond co-presenter Stanley Holloway.
2. Each series only lasted two episodes in those days because the amount of edible stuff you can make on rationed sugar and powdered egg is very limited.
3. It was known, snappily, as ‘Competitive Bakers’ and Patissiers’ Half Hour’. Holloway presented in black tie while young Mary wore a taffeta ball gown and a tiara.
4. Where today the programme seeks to recruit candidates from as broad a range of classes, age groups and ethnic backgrounds as possible, competitors in the first series came from a much narrower field. The first series was won by the Duke of Rutland’s pastry chef, Maurice Dufour.
5. At the beginning of this week’s episode — no word of a lie — co-presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins can be heard cracking a joke which goes like this:
Mel: ‘I’ve got Kate Moss, Cate Blanchett, Kate Middleton, Kate Bush...’
Sue: ‘Can I just stop you there? Did you mishear my voice message? I said “Cake Week”.’ Collapse of stout parties, etc.
Amazingly this is not the worst pun to have been made on the GBBO. That honour goes to the moment in series 52 when Mel appeared dressed as Batman with a black forest gateau draped from her shoulders. ‘I thought I told you to come as the Caped Crusader,’ commented Sue.
6. In the late 1960s, Mary Berry was deemed insufficiently ‘groovy’ for the programme’s youthful audience and was replaced briefly by Marianne Faithfull, whose infamous, never-broadcast hash brownie episode has attracted over 18 million views since a pirated copy made its way on to the internet.
7. In real life, sourpuss Liverpudlian bread dictator Paul Hollywood is a lovable, cuddly, cheeky chappie with a kind word for everyone. But the producers were worried viewers might confuse him with MasterChef’s Gregg Wallace and so gave him a radical makeover. Before each show, he now sits in a bath of ice while sucking a lemon and watching endless reruns of High Plains Drifter to perfect his laconic dialogue.
8. The winner will have been decided months in advance. Top reality shows these days are far too valuable to risk unscripted moments. Before each episode, contestants spend several days rehearsing every soggy bottom/forgotten ingredient/uncooked sponge disaster to give the required sense of ‘jeopardy’. An RSC coach is always on hand to help contestants, girls especially, perfect their meltdown moments — and, if all else fails, to waft a raw onion discreetly beneath their tear ducts.
9. Details of the final result are as jealously guarded as the secret of the new Harry Potter show or the identity of which major characters are next going to be eaten alive by wild dogs in Game Of Thrones. Still, the smart money at this stage has to be on Ghanaian-born Selasi, who looks suspiciously good for someone who allegedly works as a ‘client service associate in a financial institution’ (whatever the hell that means).
10. If you don’t believe it’s all faked, just ask yourself what you’d do if you were a contestant. You’d work your way painstakingly through the entire oeuvre of Berry and Hollywood, wouldn’t you, till you’d got every technique off pat? Also — just like in exams where your most important job is ‘Read the question’ — you wouldn’t go off piste. For example, if asked to make a drizzle cake, you wouldn’t — as one candidate did this week — risk Paul’s contempt by making a ginger cake, would you?