Dear Bake Off,
Since you came into our lives in 2010, you’ve been a cosy comfort blanket in an increasingly confusing, and often terrifying, world. Under Mary and Paul’s stewardship, we learnt the simple pleasure of a stiff peak and how to avoid a soggy bottom.
Over the years, you became emboldened, everything becoming a bit more polished and Mary Berry’s bomber jackets making her a Style Queen as well as a Domestic Goddess. The innuendo was tongue in cheek, end of the pier, pantomime fair but it did make us giggle – we were wrapped around Mel and Sue’s little finger. If Mary was our fairy godmother, with Mel and Sue playing the role of the Cinderella and Buttons, then Paul fulfilled his role as Panto Villain with aplomb – never have the words “it’s underbaked” filled us with more terror. But even the villain can be redeemed and with a nod of the head and a shake of the hand, Star bakers were made.
“Bake Off” mania peaked in 2015, with Nadiya Hussain stealing our hearts with her imaginative bakes, and a tear-jerker winning speech about never putting a limit on your own ability. Truly a star was born and the BBC struck gold as several spin off shows featuring Nadiya were rolled out (Honestly, whoever came up with the pun-tastic title “The Chronicles of Nadiya” should be given a knighthood now).
And then 2016 happened – Brexit, Bowie, Trump. In the midst of it all, Bake Off was our little weekly pick me up, a safe harbour in the storm of our lives. We marvelled at Candice’s bakes, argued over which Mac lipstick she’d be wearing that week, and generally thirsted over Selasi. Yet the rug was quickly pulled out from under us with the announcement that this was the last year it would appear on Good Old Auntie, instead transferring to the Millennial upstart, Channel 4. Whilst we were recovering from the tremors, the aftershock hit – with Mary, Mel and Sue would be no longer, preferring to remain loyal to the Beeb. Only Paul Hollywood would follow the show across the channels and speculation was rife as to who would join him.
Bake Off, I admit I was with the naysayers when you announced Noel Fielding. Having watched him on Mighty Boosh and several panel shows over the years he was just too unpredictable, too off the wall, not “GBBO” enough. I accepted Sandi quickly enough, but wondered how well she’d gel with Fielding – the magic of Mel and Sue was their genuine friendship, formed over decades, where all they wanted to do was make the other laugh. I have to admit that whilst it’s not perfect yet, more of that later, Noel and Sandi have a gentle joy about them and Noel’s quietly absurd humour did wonders to dispel any jitters our bakers were having.
Prue Leith proved to be another master stroke, stepping out from her role as the calm rational one at Great British Menu. She is assured, knowledgeable but with a hint sparkle about her that is yet to be fully realised. I’m not sure she’s found her role in the Bake Off family quite yet but then rewatching early GBBO, it took Mary a couple of series to morph from friendly gran to the gin-swigging Mezza Bezza we fell in love with.
If Prue is all at sea, it’s Paul who has chosen to redefine himself in this new Baking age. Gone is the steely glare of BBC Paul, Channel 4 Paul is all smiles, dishing out the Hollywood Handshake™ as if they were Halloween sweets. It’s a weird transformation and the praise he is extolling is, perhaps, a little too liberally spread, at least for my liking.
Similarly the adverts jarred and instead of heightening tense moments, just left us cold, as another singing cake told us which brand Baking Soda we should buy for the perfect rise. I mean, I guess it was handy to be able to pop to the loo, grab a cuppa and ferret around in the cupboard, determined to find that pack of biscuits you were convinced you’d bought in special. Okay so maybe we got used to the adverts but don’t tell anyone, we have a reputation to maintain.
The main criticism levelled at new Channel 4 era was the loss of three bakers with big personality, one after the other. The nation took Julia, with her tightly knitted brows, experimental Yan and cheeky Liam to our hearts. Yet like dominos, they toppled one by one. Twitter was INCREDULOUS, especially at Liam’s dismissal in a week where eventual finalist Kate has dropped her bake, the aptly named Bedfordshire Clanger, onto the floor. A thousand memes were born, declaring Liam the true winner and dismissing the fact that actual winner, Sophie, had been quietly and consistently turning perfect bakes out week after week. Was Liam robbed? Or was Sophie the victim of the edit. The simple fact is Bake Off is filmed weeks in advance, with no way to anticipate that we would take Liam to our hearts so enthusiastically.
But don’t think I’m letting you off the hook, Bake Off. We need to have one final chat about something quite serious. As I said, we all know deep down that you are filmed months ahead. We all know that when we interact with this year’s stars online that they “know” the outcome. They have always been game enough to keep the secret, not show us what is behind the curtain and ruin the illusion. So when Prue tweeted her congratulations to Sophie ON THE MORNING OF THE FINAL the whole thing was ruined for many thousands of avid fans. I was probably the only person in the entire UK who, through a family emergency, was offline that day and managed to watch the final episode without seeing the result. Yet whatever apologies Prue put out and talk of time zones being at fault, it was a major slip and left a lot of people, who had initially been sceptical of the move, with a bad feeling.
I am so sorry to the fans of the show for my mistake this morning, I am in a different time zone and mortified by my error #GBBO.
— Prue Leith (@PrueLeith) October 31, 2017
So where does this leave us with the end of term report. For a “first” series, you did pretty good. You need to work on the character arcs a bit better, perhaps relook at the edit. A few less Hollywood Handshakes™ please, save them for the genuine star bakers. Prue, you did okay but you need to find your niche and perhaps a social media class or two wouldn’t go amiss. Noel and Sandi, your friendship will grow, it will become more natural and don’t be afraid to push our boundaries a bit. This is Channel 4, after all. All in all, not a bad effort. B+