Tuesday 17 September 2019

Television review: Power of negative thinking

  • The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4)
  • Pop Goes Northern Ireland (BBC 1)
Rahul Mandal (centre) is crowned champion by judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith on 'Great British Bake Off'
Rahul Mandal (centre) is crowned champion by judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith on 'Great British Bake Off'
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I approach the last episode in the series of The Great British Bake Off in much the same way as the person who doesn't really like football might regard the Champions League Final - I will partake of the sense of occasion, without really getting involved. I will drop in briefly to this world full of the strangest obsessions, and then I will drop out again, and life will go on.

But I have to tell you that I was shocked by what I saw there last Tuesday night, in fact I can't get over it. I feel it may even be some kind of turning point in our culture. Because they gave the prize to the most "negative" person I have seen on TV since old Frazer the undertaker in Dad's Army.

Rahul Mandal is terribly lacking in self-esteem. He does not believe in himself. He always expects the worst to happen, as if he is not worthy of good things. Even when he has just made an obviously superb cake, he seems to be consumed with self-loathing.

It is so long since we have seen someone like Rahul on television in such a prime time setting, we had assumed that there was now a law against it. That you simply weren't allowed to compete in the GBBO or the X Factor or Deal or No Deal or any other such entertainment, without being "positive" to an almost supernatural degree - "positivity" is the spiritual energy driving the whole thing, it is major world religion with its headquarters in every television studio in which people are chasing their dreams and being judged for it.

And yet along comes Rahul, a man clearly tormented by his anxieties and unable to conquer them by the end of the show, a man ruled by the power of negative thinking - and somehow it seems that he is certain to succeed, that everyone wants him to win, swept away as they are by the relentless force of his pessimism.

There were even accusations that he had been given an easy ride by the judges when he screwed up (as he always knew he would), as if they were willing him to defeat all those bakers who had made the mistake of being optimistic, self-confident, and able to accept praise that was rightly given.

And while it must be said that some of these accusations of preferential treatment were simply racist in nature, there was this startling contrast between the demeanour of Rahul and that of another finalist, Ruby, who had all this positivity going on, who was seizing the day.

In every other TV talent competition of the modern era, Ruby would have had the edge there - in an otherwise equal contest, the prize will usually go to the one who is always looking to a brighter tomorrow, who keeps the sunny side up, who goes for it.

Not this time, which must be seen as a massive game-changer in this whole branch of the industry of human happiness.

In fact it was so strange, the only thing that was stranger than it, was actually shown later that night on BBC's Pop Goes Northern Ireland. Which is their version of Reeling In The Years, with the slight downside that most of the years in Northern Ireland were indescribably worse than they were in the Republic.

So it's 1973, and there's violence in the streets, and they're playing Rubber Bullets by 10cc.

There's the bombing of the Old Bailey, to the sounds of David Bowie singing Sorrow. Then Paisley appears, and it's Carly Simon's You're So Vain. An IRA car bomb in Coleraine kills six people, while Elton John sings Daniel.

Elton's gorgeous Goodbye Yellowbrick Road could then be heard as Willie Whitelaw gets on a helicopter and leaves the benighted land.

Republican internees are released, and ye gods, we're hearing Tie A Yellow Ribbon. And to round off this Armageddon of Inappropriateness, there was the last track, the one that would send the viewer away with the right aftertaste - and yes, they really did go for Roberta Flack and Killing Me Softly.

Rahul might have called that a happy ending.

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