No, I’m not talking about Brexit (that would take a whole lot of cake to fix!), but instead The Great British Bake Off‘s move from the BBC to Channel 4, with a new series set to air in 2018. Never has such drama and controversy surrounded a show about cakes, pastries and soggy bottoms, hosted by an 81-year-old baker and an irritable bread baron (I actually like Paul Hollywood, by the way; just find it funny when he’s being extra harsh). It’s all a bit bonkers, really, but it usefully highlights a lot about our attachments to television shows and, in particular, to series that comfort us.
For literally weeks now, Bake Off has been front page news (seriously?!) after it was announced that, despite a substantial bid by the BBC to keep hold of their flagship show, made by Love Productions, the series would instead be moving to Channel 4 for a hefty £75 million. Immediately, there was a massive outcry from dedicated fans of the series in its current format (series 7 is currently on BBC One), fearful that Channel 4 will completely miss the mark and unravel everything that made The Great British Bake Off great to begin with. As the story has continued to develop, it has since been revealed that co-hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc will not be making the move to Channel 4, waving goodbye to the Bake Off tent for the final time at the end of this series. Similarly, Mary Berry, one half of the show’s judging panel, and inadvertent queen of innuendo(!), has also announced she will stay “loyal” to the BBC and not transition to Channel 4 along with the next series. All of which leaves Paul Hollywood, the only member of the Bake Off dream team to stick with the show and make the leap to Channel 4.
In what’s been labelled “TV’s worst ever deal” (Boshoff, Mail Online), with Channel 4 effectively spending £75 million on just a quarter of the hugely popular Bake Off team and a large, empty tent, and the BBC’s reported “holdback” clause dictating a new series cannot air within 12 months of the previous one finishing, Channel 4’s Bake Off is widely predicted to be a flop before it has even gone into production (Midgley, The Telegraph). To make matters worse for Channel 4 and Love Productions, there’s also mass speculation that Mel, Sue and Mary Berry – possibly even accompanied by James Martin, if Saturday Kitchen fans get their way (Tonkin, Mail Online) – will make a rival show before the new version of Bake Off goes to air (Topping, The Guardian). So, it looks like the Bake Off battle lines are almost set and the BBC and Channel 4 are readying to go to war…over cake.
Now, as fascinating as this continuing drama is – on reflection, the world of Bake Off really has crumbled away in such a short space of time(!) – what I find most interesting of all is how attached audiences have clearly become to the show, to the extent that its takeover has dominated headlines and social media feeds. In many respects, Bake Off has become more than just a regular TV show for its most dedicated fans, offering something far richer and far more responsive that at once entertains them, involves them, imparts good feeling, has nurtured new communities, and that perfectly encapsulates some of the best of British culture; lush green countryside, tea and cake, ridiculous innuendo, heartening displays of camaraderie and that can-do spirit (starting to feel all patriotic!). The Bake Off is almost an idealised version of Britain when you look at it, harkening back to a simpler time of country fetes and community bake sales, a world without the consistent pressures and stresses of work, politics, finance, media, and so on. All that matters in this quaint show is making delicious bakes that others enjoy, creating something that satisfies others and brings a smile to your face. What Bake Off offers, then, I would suggest, is an altogether more satisfying world for viewers to immerse themselves in and experience – as evidenced by the number of audience bakes in The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice, the Bake Off review show hosted by Jo Brand on BBC Two, week after week – and, sadly, that world (as we know it) is now under threat.
It’s not surprising that Bake Off fans are outraged by this financially-driven upheaval, one which has not been motivated by what’s good for the show and its viewers, but instead by which broadcaster had the biggest chequebook. In Channel 4’s defence, they are a very capable broadcaster that simply saw an opportunity to acquire a globally renowned property and make it their own. When they previously secured the rights to broadcast Formula 1 for the 2016 season, there were similar fears from petrol heads that this was set to mean the end of F1 (on free to air) as they knew it. However, Formula 1 on Channel 4 has been a welcome breath of air, injecting some energy into the hosting lineup and bringing a new edge to the sport’s coverage which makes it far more accessible and appealing, particularly for younger audiences (you can check out my previous blog on F1’s move to Channel 4 HERE). The same could happen for Bake Off, yet, just as the show’s format is embedded in this nostalgic reimagining of the Britain of old, so too does it feel perfectly at home with “Auntie” Beeb and its historic legacy.
Perhaps the best analogy for this comes from an episode of Ray Romano’s sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, when in one particular episode Ray purchases CDs for his father of all his favourite old jazz records that Ray inadvertently ruined as a child (see above). While the digital restoration and cleanup of these classic records made them sound crystal clear and better than ever before, as though Frank (Peter Boyle), Ray’s father, were at their original recording rather than listening decades later, they didn’t sound like his records. Subsequently in the episode, Ray’s brother, Robert (Brad Garrett), in an effort to outshine his younger sibling, gifts Frank a collection of original LPs, which he acquired from various thrift stores and charity shops. When played, the records crackle and pop, there’s a constant hiss in the background and, to the ear of a listener without Frank’s connection to them, they sound just generally awful. But to Frank they’re perfect, transporting him right back to listening to them in his youth and when he had a young family; his escape from work, a very vocal wife (Doris Roberts as Marie consistently steals the show!), and the antics of his boys. These records sound exactly like Frank’s, the ones he’s lamented all this time, and by reacquiring them he not only owns the records once again, but also takes ownership of that particular time in his life once again, something that was purely his.
Bake Off might have been running for seven series with the BBC, it might have stuck to a fairly similar format, it might be in need of a refresh in the eyes of some, but it’s the show that dedicated fans know and love, and they don’t want to see its cutting edge, pristine equivalent on Channel 4. Like Frank’s old jazz records, Bake Off belongs to its viewers; it offers them the perfect escape from 8pm-9pm every Wednesday night, to enjoy a world where all that matters is if your sponge rises or not, or your gingerbread house stands up. It might sound silly, but people love it, and they’re willing to go to bat and fight for the show they love, which is so satisfying to see. They’re not just disgruntled fans, they’re passionate viewers who don’t want to say goodbye to this amazing little show that makes them feel good; and that in itself is ridiculously comforting, to see that TV can mean so much and do so much for its viewers, capable of changing the shape of their world for the better.
As for Bake Off‘s future, all I know is that my fiancee and I will be stuffing our faces with cakes at 8pm this Wednesday and eager to see how the bakers get on in Botanical Week – I don’t know when I became this person…but I’m quite happy that I am! Also, #TeamCandice!