To stop Great British Bake Off going stale, add a little Matt Lucas aid
28th September 2020

OF all the indignities impersonators have heaped on Freddie Mercury since his death, none have been quite as brutal or funny as those added by Laura’s show-stopping “tribute” cake last week.

A hideous little wedge of lemon and elderflower, with the regulation moustache and yellow jacket, was this creation.

It had one enormous beaver tooth as well, but no neck or chin and the eyeballs had been glued permanently shut by Laura’s fondant icing.

So it looked more like Frank Sidebottom had spent the last 40 years in Dennis Nilsen’s bread bin.

Yet judge Paul Hollywood looked “Freddie” straight in the blowhole and said: “You can identify who it is.”

You can? From what? His dental records? Remains found under the tent?

I’d have had “Freddie” down as Tosh Lines from The Bill if I’d dropped in on The Great British Bake Off half way through.

Fortunately, I didn’t. I was ready and waiting for this series 11 opener and for the first time ever, enjoyed an episode from start to finish.

A breakthrough that owed quite a lot to “Freddie” and the other tribute cakes, of course, but far more to the welcome change in personnel, who’d previously stopped me seeing the point of Bake Off. It is “only a bloody cake”, after all.

The hardest battle, obviously, was the BBC’s whimsical period from 2010 to 2016, with Mel & Sue, who appeared to be performing for the benefit of no one except their own nosediving careers.

They were followed by the improved combination of Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding, who’ve been sharing a slightly better private joke among themselves for the last three years on Channel 4.

Then on Tuesday, new host Matt Lucas pinged to life impersonating Boris Johnson hosting a Covid briefing and I was converted from the moment he stuttered: “We are now approaching phase 46, which means that from Tuesday morning, or Wednesday evening, depending on your height, we-we-we-we we are saying . . . ”

A pitch-perfect takedown which, even if the entertainment had ended there, would’ve made Bake Off one of the best things on television last week.

'NATURAL COMIC TIMING'

It didn’t though. Matt Lucas kept up the pace almost throughout, whether he was balancing a rolling pin on his head during one oven-gazing lull, or bursting into a chorus of Roger Whittaker’s Durham Town for no good reason at all.

One glaring contrast to the previous presenters was that Lucas was performing for the benefit of the viewers, instead of his co-host.

Another was that he had natural comic timing, rather than the forced or non-existent variety we’ve suffered before.

So instinctively, he knew that silence was by far the best option during the celebrity hero round, which has already entered Bake Off folklore.

Freddie Mercury stole the show here, I thought, just as he did at Live Aid.

However, there was solid support from: Marc’s chocolate sponge tribute to David Bowie (the Ziggy Clarkson years), Lottie’s version of Louis Theroux, who looked like he’d leapt straight out of a National Socialist propaganda poster in 1936, and Peter’s Chris Hoy sex doll, which had Prue Leith admitting: “I love the helmet.”

Obviously I could’ve done without Loriea pretending her “celebrity” hero is a Jamaican poet, Louise Bennett-Coverley, but for this brilliant 90 minutes of television Matt Lucas and Bake Off were rewarded with several hundred complaints to Ofcom about the Boris sketch.

I hope they’re all ignored.

Television has more than enough things worth complaining about without political obsessives trying to shut down another laugh.

Upheld or not though, absolutely nothing will change the surprising and wonderful outcome of Tuesday’s show. For once in my life I actually understood the appeal of The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4, Tuesday, 8pm).

Unexpected morons in the bagging area

Tipping Point, Ben Shephard: “The name of which high street coffee chain translates from Italian into English as Coast?”
Roger: “Dolce & Gabbana.”

The Chase: Celebrity Special, Bradley Walsh: “Which former Prime Minister stepped down as an MP in October 1964?”
Michelle Ackerley: “John Major.”

Ben Shephard: “When recited in order, what is the fourth vowel in the English alphabet?”
Roger: “D.”
Doh.

Steph a proper dummy

ANOTHER long, lonely vigil in front of Steph’s Packed Lunch started, last week, with a burst of wishful thinking from the host.

“I’m forever getting mistaken for people like Sophie Webster from Coronation Street,” Steph began, before briefly returning to planet Earth by adding: “I get Clare Balding a few times as well. But the one I get the most, though, is (brace yourselves) Princess Diana.”

Her old Spitting Image puppet, maybe, I thought, until I remembered Channel 4 had mistaken Steph McGovern for a daytime TV presenter, rather than a jobbing reporter who shouts random things at random people, like: “Is it worth talking to plants?”

You might as well try, Steph. It really couldn’t be any worse than your interview with singer Billy Ocean, who gave a thoughtful and moving reply to Steph’s question about the Empire and race which rested on his own faith in God and the ultimate decency of humanity, before being hit with this absolute zinger from Steph.

“People will take so much from what you’re saying, Billy, but I must ask you before you go, do you have a third lung?”

“A THIRD LUNG?”

Billy almost choked up his two good ones at that bombshell, before coughing: “No, I don’t have a third lung. I don’t know where that one came from.”

And nor do I. But we can’t rule out the voices in Steph’s head.

Great TV lies and delusions of the month

BBC1 continuity: “We’re turning up the excitement and fun now with Little Mix The Search.”

Celebrity Karaoke Club, Jess Wright: “David (Potts), you’re providing the absolute entertain- ment and bringing us pure joy.”

Steph’s Packed Lunch, Steph: “We’re going to be talking about the rise in STIs among the over-40s.
“See you after the break.”
Click.

TV Gold

  • Matt Lucas and the cake lookalike round on The Great British Bake Off.
  • Tom Hollander’s outstanding performance in BBC1’s seriously annoying drama Us.
  • Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse angling for chub, on the River Wye, to the sound of Mahler, on BBC2’s Gone Fishing.
  • And Channel 4’s fascinating Sex On The Beach documentary taking the most surreal turn of the week, in the Gambia, when presenter Seyi Rhodes said: “We’re joined by Karl Marx. He’s been working on the beach for the last few years trying to make a living from tourists.”And I hope you’ll all agree, he’s changed for the better.

Least surprising news of the week?

Steph McGovern: “Funny you should mention about kids seeing you on telly, ’cos my little one apparently turned me off yesterday.”

Which leaves just, er, me I guess.

Singing club is a drag

AT times like these, viewers desperately need ITV to show a bit of derring-do and wheel out The Masked Singer.

A format that seems like it couldn’t be better suited to social-distancing.

Instead, last week I found myself watching ITV2’s Celebrity Karaoke Club, which takes place in what looks very much like The Last Chance Saloon with a bunch of contestants who are so far down fame’s pecking order not even the 74-letter Cambodian alphabet has a list to describe them.

There was an odd number of them as well, seven, who included ex-Gogglebox star Scarlett Moffatt, DJ Melvin Odoom, Luke Kempner, who can do an OK Bobby Cole Norris impression, and a sweating colossus called David Potts, who appeared on Ibiza Weekender many years ago and has refused to go away.

A bit like Big Brother’s Courtney Act, who’s a drag act, though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Plus the two other women, who aren’t drag acts, though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

There was also a special guest appearance by Jason Donovan – who Potts didn’t recognise, what with all the Hollywood glitterati surrounding him – as well as some absolutely murderous singing, a lot of drinking and a vote-off, which was always going to descend into a popularity contest with so many fragile reality TV egos in one room.

The first victim was a shark-eyed little try-hard by the name of Tallia Storm, who was doomed from the moment she started dropping names to Scarlett, who spluttered: “I can’t believe Elton John knows who you are.”

Nor can I, frankly.

Elton, please share . . . 

TV name of the week

The head of production from Sex On The Beach, C4’s investigation into older British women who fall for young Gambian conmen – Peter Badcock.

Random irritations

Little Mix’s Jesy “Don’t judge me on my looks” Nelson telling the very first bloke to appear on The Search: “I was very distracted and wasn’t listening to your vocal.”

Steph McGovern stopping Packed Lunch to pick food out of her teeth (not a spectator sport).

Frankie Boyle’s “adorable” habit of corpsing with delight at his own material on New World Order.

Alesha Dixon missing the point of everything on Britain’s Got Talent.

And the nauseating pox of virtue-signalling adverts from all the least sincere corporations on the planet – but particularly Starbucks, which seems to have misunderstood the most basic concept about its product. I want a cup of coffee, not a lecture on transgenderism.

Great Sporting Insights

Martin Keown: “Watford have found a way that works. Although it got them relegated last season.”

Chris Wilder: “I’m not one for saying we’d like to finish 17th, but that’s the aim.”

Matthew Upson: “He’s a very good talker. And vocal with it.”

INCIDENTALLY, TV clash of the week was of course Celebrity Karaoke Club/Killing Michael Jackson.

Lookalike of the week

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