The British ‘Bake Off’ is off. That’s not great

‘The Great British Bake Off’ is a terrible idea for a series. But it’s already an institution. Now it’s off to Channel 4 is the cream set to curdle?

It was important that reports of The Great British Bake Off’s departure from the BBC made it on to the news pages. Nothing stirs the spirits more than imagining the red faces on the comments jockeys as they hammer the words “Why is this news?” beneath every available block of text. (You’re doing it right now. Aren’t you?)

Also, it gives people like me the opportunity to point out that we feel the same when news about so-called football makes it on to the front pages. But I digress before I have even properly begun.

It was worth including the news because many people care about the show and – although the red faces would disagree – those people are quite capable of prioritising such trifles (literally, in this case) behind the genuinely significant information about economic turmoil and global catastrophe.

The Great British Bake Off is a terrible idea for a series. It’s barely an idea at all. Competitive-cooking shows have been a staple since MasterChef arrived, a generation ago. Bake Off adds just a twist of The X Factor’s judgmental cruelty – weeping is generally followed by lovely group hugs here – to create something that should have proved wearily familiar.


TV “creatives” hack up more promising concepts after the first Gitanes of the morning. Don’t let the door hit your arse on the way back out into Soho Square.

The show offers the best imaginable example of the way television professionals can make something delicious of even the least promising material. Bake Off is so beautifully made that one yearns to display it in a museum. (Maybe the V&A rather than Tate Modern.)

Its presenters, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, although a little too keen on silly voices, offer a perky contrast to the more sober judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. The latter two then offer their own internal complement: he is brash and slightly sleazy; she is prim and immaculately polite.

The people who pick the contestants deserve a hatful of Baftas. Somehow or other, each year they find a group of people who, initially unimpressive, gradually reveal interesting angles and colourful eccentricities. There is something of reality television about it, but almost all the cruelty of that format has been expunged.

The moment, in 2014, when that Northern Irish fellow furiously bunged his baked Alaska in the bin was, in this context, more shattering than the shooting of JR Ewing in an earlier TV smash.

The series is also gorgeously shot. Allowing fleeting glimpses of a damp, green countryside to seep into the tent, the producers conspire to create an English idyll that would have warmed John Betjeman. Yet it was Bake Off, admirably diverse, that made Nadiya Hussain, a young Muslim from Luton, the most admired TV personality of 2015.

The format has sold throughout the world. It has done well enough in Ireland. It was a flop in the United States. But nowhere outside the UK has it become an institution to rival the nation's national holiday. There is a delicate harmony to the British production that defies easy reduction to formula or recipe. One feels that the removal of any element risks bringing the construction clattering into ugly chaos.

So the news that Love Productions, the independent company that produces Bake Off, had failed to reach agreement with the BBC and was bringing the show to Channel 4 triggered understandable unease among fans. When it was confirmed that Mel and Sue, admirably turning their backs on wheelbarrows of cash, would not be making the move it seemed certain that the cream was set to curdle.

In the 1970s this wouldn’t have been a worry. The notion that The Generation Game or The Good Old Days – both made in house by the BBC – might travel to ITV would have seemed as absurd as the Giant’s Causeway moving to Sweden or Lake Windermere popping up near Barcelona.

Now everything is for sale. It seems astonishing that, a little over a decade ago, you left your rubbish out and somebody would pick it up. That’s for sale. In the horrible world of social media, “influencers” receive payment to lie about their affection for unguents and pantyhose. If it’s not nailed down they’ll . . . well, they’ll prise it free before buying it and taking it to Arizona.

To quote the late Edward Heath, this incident displays “the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism”. I can overreact if I want to. I’m allowed.