Thursday 29 September 2016

The Great Pottery Throw Down wheels out enough innuendo to be a match for Bake Off

Deep cracks are applauded for their beauty, humps are thrown about and there is a challenge dedicated to pulling

Daisy Wyatt

Published 04/11/2015 | 07:17

The Great Pottery Throw Down amateur potters, such as Sandra, are all nice, normal people, which makes for comforting viewing BBC
The Great Pottery Throw Down amateur potters, such as Sandra, are all nice, normal people, which makes for comforting viewing BBC

The Great British Bake Off furore has died down just in time for a sister incarnation of the surprise television hit. From the same production company comes The Great Pottery Throw Down, an altogether earthier programme.

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The scope for innuendo alone suggests the BBC2 show has got what it takes to live up to the Bake Off hype. Deep cracks are applauded for their beauty, humps are thrown about and there is a whole challenge dedicated to the art of pulling.

A familiar format makes for comforting viewing. The 10 amateur potters are all nice, normal people chosen to be as representative of Britain as possible. The usual smug female contestant and the male builder destined to do well have already emerged. And viewers can adopt technical terms such as “wedging” into their vocabulary, just as every Bake Off fan knows about “proving”.

But unlike Bake Off and Love Productions’ other show The Great British Sewing Bee, The Great Pottery Throw Down is not afraid to get down and dirty. There is nothing quaint about its setting in Stoke-on-Trent in the Potteries, where you’re more likely to see a factory worker than a whiff of bunting. Nor do the eccentric judges hide behind any British reserve.

Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood have truly met their match in ceramic artist Kate Malone and master potter Keith Brymer Jones, who is similar to his well-set, steely-eyed baking equal. Brymer Jones shares Hollywood’s liberal approach to hair gel, and an almost sadistic pleasure in harsh judging. But while the brooding baker offers the cold shoulder, emotions run high for Brymer Jones. Within minutes of barking at the potters, “Come on, get them cleaner! Don’t do it again,” the gentle giant was reduced to tears by contestant Jane’s efforts in the final challenge.

Malone shares Brymer Jones’s passion for pottery, but could not be more different from her prim and proper Bake Off equivalent. If Berry is the one-nation Conservative championing the baking revival, Malone is the Green Party advocate auctioning her sculptures at fundraisers. Her relaxed bohemian way makes her a likeable figure.

Household name Sara Cox offsets the judges as the series’ presenter. She showed warmth towards the contestants, even offering to hug contestant Rekha at one point. Her deadpan lines made a welcome change to Mel and Sue’s insufferable gags, and she came across as genuine, unlike the comedy duo’s relentless clowning.

But the sharp editing of Bake Off helped to make it a runaway hit. The fact that clay takes so long to dry may not lend the show to such nail-biting moments as a bread basket falling apart as soon as it’s taken out of the oven.

The Great Pottery Throw Down does not feel as polished as its predecessor yet, but it has all the right ingredients to become a breakout success.

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