With the viewing nation eagerly looking forward to tonight's final of The Great British Bake Off, even the Today programme devoted an item to it. As this is going to be an all-male final, Today chose to talk about men and baking, asking why the men had shone in this amateur baking contest, apparently beating the women at their own game. The answer's clear enough, and applies equally to all forms of cooking: while women do far more of it than men and are generally better at it, they mostly lack the testosterone-fuelled drive to excel, compete and win*, the drive that leads to male domination of most fields of activity 'at the highest level'. What is more interesting about Bake Off is that it has been such a massive, wholly unexpected hit. After all, it's only a baking contest - on the face of it the kind of thing that would be more at home in the afternoon schedules than prime time.
I think the key to its success has been its relaxed attitude, its refusal to take itself too seriously. Unlike just about every other contest on TV, there's no ratcheting up of tension to ludicrous levels, there are no teary emotional back stories, the 'narrative' and the 'jeopardy' are touched in lightly, everybody is unfailingly polite and nice to everyone else, and the presentation by Mel and Sue is jokey and affectionately subversive. The result is a relaxing, but not soporific, show that proceeds at a gentle pace, with a gentle tone, and leaves you feeling that the world isn't such a bad place - especially when it's full of such amazing cakes. Like much of the most successful television - and unlike so much of what is offered - it is, to use Ronald Firbank's favourite term of commendation, 'restful'. We all need rest. Also cake.
* Needless to say, this characterisation of masculinity does not apply to me or, I imagine, most readers of this blog.