You could rely on The Great British Bake Off – unlike Downton Abbey

You always know where you are with Bake Off, says Alison Graham - but the rape of Anna has made me wary of Downton

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I am bereft and tragic. Lord Byron would have to write a poem about me if he were still alive. Dear reader, it’s not just the approach of winter that makes the days feel darker, the night’s that bit chillier. It’s because The Great British Bake Off has finished with the anointing of the winner.

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What am I to do? I don’t even bake, but that’s never mattered. Through its four series Bake Off has always been about so much more than pies and pastry. It’s about good manners and kindness, about seeing nice people do their best and if they don’t quite make the grade, well, never mind. It’s only a competition.

You always know where you are with Bake Off, it’s dependable and predictable in ways that are wholly welcome. I don’t want unpleasant surprises to shake me out of my cosy complacency. I quite like being cosy and complacent, I’m not doing any harm. I like to watch talented people make cakes. So there. I know that Bake Off will never shock me. I know that Paul Hollywood, tough though he is, would never burst into the Tent of Dreams with a chainsaw and proceed to lay waste to a sub-standard croquembouche. Mary Berry, lovely Mary Berry, would never wield a flamethrower and frazzle to destruction a particularly soggy savoury picnic pie. Like I said, predictable. I don’t have to be wary of Bake Off. Whereas I do have to be wary of Downton Abbey (Sunday ITV) after the rape of sweet Anna. Oh Downton, what’s happened to you? As with Bake Off, I give you not just my attention for an hour every week, I also give you my feelings and I expect you to be a gentle custodian.

But Downton writer Julian Fellowes, who has had to defend his storyline, threw my feelings and my faith right back in my face with some terrible, brutal scenes and now I approach it was I would a panther: very carefully. Anna’s attack belonged in another series altogether, not Downton, which is about unspoken longing, the sadness of broken hearts and huge dinner parties. Quite apart from the fact, as we have discussed before, that rape is the most hideous real-life crime and is used too casually by writers who have run out of options for a popular female character. Making plucky, brave, resourceful Anna unhappy for the rest of her life just seems cruel, not just to Anna but to Downton’s audience.

Once a writer breaks an audience’s trust it’s a very hard thing to win back. I’m not daft enough to think nearly ten million people will suddenly decide they have something much better to do at 9pm on a Sunday night. But the feeling of betrayal will linger over the rest of the series. The damage is done.


My BBC, my rules

I gave a little cheer when BBC director-general Lord Hall announced the launch of a BBC + 1 channel. About time. I’ve frequently made good use of ITV and Channel 4’s + 1 services over the years. It’s perfect for an impatient technophobe like me because it’s such a simple idea that involves no recording or any effort on my part.

Lord Hall also wants us, the licence fee payers, to become “owners” of the BBC, which is nice. So, if the BBC really is mine, my first act will be to end the arch little practice of local news presenters and weather forecasters congratulating/commiserating with each other about the weather. It’s annoying. Thank you. 


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