This week there has been a furore over the sell-out of Great British Bakeoff by the production company to Channel 4. For those who don’t live in the UK, GBBO has become a feel-good TV show where everyone’s nan, uncle, daughter and friend compete to prove themselves this year’s best baker across a range of disciplines. They do this under the maternal gaze of baking doyenne Mary Berry and flirty Uncle Paul Hollywood. Love Productions have produced the show with the BBC and it has become a ratings winner with the same formula series after series. Finally they have ended the relationship and sold the rights to Channel 4 for a reported £25m with the BBC only willing to pay £15m.
Why should it matter that a TV cooking competition has moved from the BBC to a commercial channel? I think it is because of what it stands for. These are universal values of family, tradition, and homemaking under Auntie Beeb which shouldn’t be sullied by money. We should be grateful to Love Productions for the idea and the execution in the first place but it ends there. The Last Night of The Proms is a similar tradition – imagine the reaction if Channel 4 took it on and added some lasers and hiphop. Nothing wrong with lasers and nothing wrong with hiphop but just not here. It’s hard to put into words but baking is something very, very special and it’s something we ‘get’ in Britain far less these days. On our recent trip to Spain we saw the very same behaviours that we see in France, Morocco, India and many other
countries around the world. We even see it with our very own bakers in England. They get up at the crack of dawn to bake the day’s supply of bread. Less so in the UK, but certainly across Europe, families make their pilgrimage to their very local baker to pick up baguettes or whatever the local variety is – you can’t start the day without it. I’ve seen a few breakfast buffets in hotels recently and everyone has a large selection of breads and pastries so that guests can complete their own morning rituals. There has been an unspoken contract between baker and people for centuries – the baker makes and the people buy. There are not many rich bakers in my opinion but they are some of the most popular stalls at markets and seem to derive huge job satisfaction.
You see French teenagers tearing off the end of baguettes to eat on their meandering way home. In England it may be toast and marmalade (two slices lightly browned and buttered to the edges). In Spain it’s a hearty toast spread with fresh tomato and olive oil. In Germany a rye bread with sausage. Woebetide the person who offers the wrong type of bread with the wrong accompaniments – you can’t start your day the wrong way.
But its just bread right? Does it really matter? Marie Antoinette was alleged to have made the comment “let them eat cake”when she heard that the local peasants had no bread. She didn’t understand that poverty meant they couldn’t afford the bread they needed rather than the bakers weren’t producing. She expressed a complete disregard and lack of sympathy with public feeling. She failed to understand the consequences of her stance until it was too late. Love Productions suggested that the decision wasn’t entirely about money – they were concerned that the BBC weren’t going to be able to meet their ambitions for the show – they want to give us cake whether we want it or not! Channel 4 are reportedly attracted by the huge audience but also the demographics of the viewers – they plan more celebrity and professional versions. Understandably, having paid such a lot of money they are going to want to milk their investment.
On July 14th 1789, the French responded to their oppression. Even I think a guillotine would be disproportionate in this case although a bread slicer would be interesting. Instead I hope that a more British response would be:
- Support the show for the remainder of its BBC life
- The BBC to produce their own baking show in competition – with Mary, Paul, Mel and Sue and air it at exactly the same time but using the regional network to produce local versions initially.
- Supermarkets to be banned from selling more than 25% bread, meat, beer, cheese and certain fruit/vegetables that are not produced within a ten mile radius
- Boycott Channel 4 programmes to see how the advertising fees reduce.
- Most importantly, in the spirit of the Olympics Get Inspired programme, join in… On your marks, get set, Bake!