Bake Off: I was appalled. But I wasn’t going to stop watching

Donald Clarke: No hiding place for ‘Bake Off’s’ poor Prue Leith even in Bhutan

There is no hiding place. Nowhere offers us calm from chatter. Okay, this isn’t true. Apparently, some people live happily in sheds. They eat cow dung, commune with ravens and do whatever country dwellers do to dispel the appalling rural boredom.

There is no hiding place if you allow the 21st century into your life. Consider Prue Leith's recent embarrassment on Twitter. The cookery writer has done well since The Great British Bake Off turned from the BBC and set up its Vichy-regime at Channel 4. Obviously, the move constituted a massive betrayal, but the show's new broadcaster took the cunning decision to change nothing they weren't forced to change. Watching the show was like opening the door in a hotel corridor to find your own bedroom recreated in every familiar detail. A few million fans turned away. Most guiltily took the soup and nodded as Paul Hollywood outlined the absurdities of transubstantiation (stay with me here). I was appalled. But obviously I wasn't going to stop watching the greatest light entertainment show of the 21st century.

Leith, metropolitan glasses and clipped humour, just about managed to overcome the disadvantage of not being Mary Berry. She is sterner. She is less likely to be mistaken for Mrs Miniver's aunt. She made the role her own.

On Tuesday, hours before the thrilling final was to be broadcast, she did something very unfortunate and very modern. Visiting southern Asia, she got in a muddle about the time and tweeted celebrations to the winner. Dan Wooton, the Sun's gossip columnist, made an eejit of himself by retweeting the error before it had been deleted. You're making no friends there, pal. Prue's eventual response confirmed that, though the show looked much the same, the move to Channel 4 had brought in certain changes of tone. "I'm in Bhutan. The time difference is massive," she said. "I thought that they got it six hours ago. I'm in too much of a state to talk about it. I f***ed up." You didn't get that from Mary Berry.


There is no hiding place. That phrase reverberates as the title of the most famous episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? Broadcast in 1973, the story followed Terry and Bob, two friends from Newcastle upon Tyne, as they sought to avoid hearing the result of a football match that had not yet been broadcast. Every passing friend could spill the beans. The televisions in the window of an electrical store also threatened revelation. If you are still avoiding spoilers from a 45-year-old sitcom then look away now: it turns out the match was cancelled due to bad weather.

Terry and Bob were lucky. They had to deal only with 1970s Newcastle. They need only stay away from newsagents, pubs, bookies and all other public spaces. The option of locking themselves in a room and unplugging the phone still existed.

That choice is still theoretically available, but too many of us live somewhere with no doors and not a moment of quiet. When the internet first arrived, a few forward thinkers risked describing its inter-connected pathways as a place that humans could visit (or maybe get trapped). The idea seemed fanciful. We could no more visit the online world than we could visit a telephone or a video recorder. Technology was something that sat outside us. Now such descriptions are commonplace. Many users speak more often to unseen associates than to humans they can touch and smell. Relationships develop, mature and wither without any participants actually meeting.

It is no coincidence that the new obsession with avoiding "spoilers" – plot points from TV series or films – developed in parallel with the growth of social media. In the past, like nerd versions of Terry and Bob, the movie fan need only set aside reviews until after he or she had seen the film. Setting aside Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat is not so easy. It becomes more than a way of communication. It becomes the clogged soup through which we swim and from which we – often without noticing – suck up most of our information. We take a break from work by plunging into a morass of anger, gossip and mad speculation. A human's natural resting state was once silent calm. A human's natural resting state is now positioned amid a nest of chattering tornadoes.

Prue Leith's mistake was a predictable consequence of giving into the exhausting advance of the information weather systems. Every inhale must be followed by an exhale. It's not enough to take in facts and half-truths. We need to spit them out as well. Rosebud is a sled. Bruce Willis died at the beginning. Sophie won Bake Off.

Sorry if you hadn’t watched it yet.