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For a master class in double entendres, the British public tune in to a surprising outlet: a BBC baking competition. Here, in the most genteel setting imaginable, where drama is concocted out of making a Victoria sponge cake, contestants are marked down for their “soggy bottoms,” congratulated on “hot baps,” and asked to refrain from “fiddling with [their] pirates.”
The spicy innuendo is routinely doled out by the BBC’s most prominent lesbian presenter, Sue Perkins. And with silver-bearded judge Paul Hollywood (a big hit with the bears), it’s little wonder that the reality show has become an LGBT favorite worldwide, sold to over 20 territories globally.
Though baking was once thought the preserve of middle-aged straight women, the show allows aspiring bakers of all persuasions to come out in the kitchen. Like Edd Kimber, the season 1 champion and one of two male winners, both of whom are gay. “I wasn’t the sporty or popular kid growing up, and baking was a bit of an escape for me,” he says. “It was something
I did with my mum, so doing it on the show almost felt like bringing it full circle.” But perhaps the power of Bake Off is exemplified in runner-up Ruby Tandoh’s journey. Pretty, young, popular, and female, she was vilified for appearing to flirt with judge Hollywood, an accusation unmasked as simply misogyny when she came out as gay in April.
While Bake Off revels in cheeky, old-fashioned innuendo, its freshness lies in challenging old-fashioned recipes of what it means to be a baker, be that middle-aged lady, gay boy or girl.
The Great British Baking Show also airs in the U.S. on PBS.