Belfast Telegraph

Poll: What did you make of The Great British Bake Off's return?

By David Gordon

There's certainly no shortage of depressing and disturbing events around the globe to grab at our attention.

But last night it seemed the number one talking point was a TV show about 12 people in a big tent making cakes. Yes, the Great British Bake Off was back on our screens.

But it wasn't the same and can't be the same ever again.

Losing Mel and Sue as presenters was bad enough. But Mary Berry was the living embodiment of the programme's enduring appeal. Can it survive without her?

Well actually, judging by last night, it probably can.

For the Bake Off purists, there was much to fret about.

The move to Channel 4 was a major gamble. The show always seemed made for the BBC - already a venerable institution almost on a par with Test Match Special and The Archers on Radio Four.

It can be safely assumed that it has faithful viewers from the very middle of Middle England - people who have only watched Channel 4 once, when the cat grabbed the remote.

And now the programme makers have taken a massive money deal to abandon Auntie Beeb.

It's a small miracle there weren't riots in Tunbridge Wells.

But here's the thing.

There's still a lot of the winning formula left. The music, the scenic setting, the three challenges, the jaw-dropping technical expertise and the occasional oven disasters - they are still there.

The programme makers are smart enough not to mess about with what works.

They have also selected a lively bunch of contestants this year, with real star quality. That's not to say the new line-up is perfect.

It's very early days, but there's no sign of any chemistry between presenters Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

They started the show with a lame gag in a hot air balloon, and further humour efforts fared no better. As expected, there were some double entendre moments, but they seemed scripted. File under trying too hard.

Fielding is a strange choice. He seems to have forged a career in comedy without actually being funny.

But maybe his main Bake Off failing is that he doesn't look like the sort of bloke who loves cake.

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Paul Hollywood with Sandi Toksvig, Noel Fielding and Prue Leith

While everyone watching at home is drooling and hoping there's something decent in the biscuit tin, he's just standing there looking a bit out of place.

In the end, I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. But what about Prue Leith, who's taken Mary Berry's place alongside Paul Hollywood?

She was actually okay. It was a low key debut, which was just the way to play it.

Paul Hollywood divides opinion, but it was absolutely essential for the show to retain him.

He's the Simon Cowell equivalent, the tough task master who has always been difficult to please.

Last night, however, he dished out not one but two congratulatory handshakes.

In a single show!

If Paul Hollywood starts being too nice, then all is truly lost.

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