Feature image via The Sun
When I am very old, I will gather my great-grandchildren around my cybernetic rocking chair and tell them about the brief, shining time the world came together to watch a lesbian, her BFF, their grandma and the creepy dad that lives next door come together to make double entendres about cake. Yes, I’m talking about the Great British Bake Off. Because 2016 is malicious and sentient and out to destroy everything you’ve ever loved, there was no way a show this pure could make it out alive. Christmas Day and Boxing Day (aka ‘The Day After Christmas Day’, aka ‘Why Do We Call It Boxing Day, Anyway?’) will see a two-part special hit our screens, after which Bake Off will sail off into night, not to be seen again until 2018. And when it returns to us, we’ll go to embrace it, but wait – something doesn’t seem right. Where’s Mel and Sue and Mary? Why are there ad breaks now? What’s this about sponsorship deals?
If you’re a Bake Off fan – or if you’re British, in which case you’re legally obligated to be a Bake Off fan – you’ll already know what’s happened. In a nutshell, the Great British Bake Off is made by an independent production company and, for the last seven years, sold to and aired by the BBC, the UK’s public service broadcaster. After years of the relationship between the two allegedly becoming increasingly fraught, negotiations about the future of the series on the BBC broke down. The production company quadrupled its rate for the show (from £6.25 million a year to £25 million) and, when the BBC were unable to pay, the commercially funded Channel 4 swept in and signed a three year deal to broadcast it. Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins quickly announced they’d be leaving in one of the best press releases of all time (I mean, it featured the line “We’ve had the most amazing time on Bake Off, and have loved seeing it rise and rise like a pair of yeasted Latvian baps”), and were soon followed by Mary Berry. Paul Hollywood chose to stay on, and was last heard slightly nervously promising that Bake Off would “stay the same” on the new channel.
I’ll be honest, friends – I don’t believe him. Over the last few years, the Great British Bake Off has secured a unique place in British popular culture. It’s kind of hard to explain how a show about randos competing to make the best shortbread became part of the very fabric of British existence, but you can’t dispute the numbers: its finale in 2014 drew more viewers than the World Cup final, the next year’s finale was the most-watched programme that year and 1 million more people – making up more than half of all TV viewers – tuned in this year. You could argue its popularity is due to people looking for comforting nostalgia in the face of an increasingly desperate and divided political climate. But if that’s the case, how has the British-Bangladeshi hijabi Nadiya Hussain become the most beloved and successful contestant to ever appear on the show? If we love Bake Off because of the contestants’ kindness and humility, why did we whip up the series 5 controversy dubbed ‘bingate’ to the point that contestant Iain Watters had to appear on prestigious current affairs show Newsnight to explain himself? And how is the show universally considered wholesome fun for the entire family when it’s also infamous for its sex jokes and that time it featured a squirrel with gigantic testicles as an establishing shot? The Great British Bake Off is a show of countless, inexplicable contradictions, and messing with the formula in any way is likely to go about as well as messing with the recipe in a technical challenge.
As someone with a great deal of personal insight into the business of television production (I went on a tour of the BBC studios last summer), I’ve peered into my crystal ball and come up with a few likely suggestions as to how Bake Off might look in its new home:
Scenario 1: Queers!
Channel 4 realises what really made the show great – queers. Paul Hollywood is fired and replaced by series four runner-up and bisexual queen of my heart, Ruby Tandoh. Sue Perkins may be gone, but hosting duties are taken over by Heather Peace and Jack Monroe, leading to many musical numbers about affordable baking ingredients. Every week is vegan week. Every other week is gluten-free.
Scenario 2: Literally Just Screaming
By 2018, we’ll be halfway through Donald Trump’s term as president and two years into Brexit. Who knows what we’ll have endured by then? Great British Bake Off may very well return as That Mitchell & Webb Look’s post-apocalyptic game show The Quiz Broadcast, but with more genoise sponge. New hosts, Tank Girl and The Fleeting Collective Memory of Better Times, do their best to replace the much-missed Mel & Sue. There’s drama in episode three, as the contestants are forced to fight off raiders intent on their stockpile of eggs. The rest of the series is just a shot for shot remake of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Scenario 3: Everything is Actually the Same
Series eight of the Great British Bake Off premieres in Autumn 2018. Paul’s right – everything is more or less the same. Twelve bakers walk into the same old tent and complete the same old challenges. It’s impossible to ignore the absence of the show’s former hosts, or the new advert breaks, but everyone gets used to it after a few episodes. Ratings are promising at first, but drop steadily over the next couple of years, and Channel 4 quietly decides not to renew the show when the contract’s up. The BBC launch their rival show with Mel, Sue, and Mary; it’s a modest success, but Bake Off‘s time in the sun has passed, and the world’s moved on to the next big thing. I hope it involves dogs, or something.
Whatever we end up with, we have two precious hours left with Bake Off as we know it. Hold them close to your heart as we venture through this dark winter together, and may your bottoms never be soggy.