I can just picture the BBC planning meeting when The Big Allotment Challenge was first pitched. Some producer trying to convince you why gardening is the new baking in a scene that wouldn’t have looked out of place in W1A.
“Pretty flowers, the twee factor, some good old British competition. Ooh, we could do flower arranging? It’ll be like Bake Off, just with, er, gardening?”
Except it’s not, because you’re missing one crucial ingredient. Jeopardy. The one component which makes The Great British Bake Off just that… great.
Without the pressure imposed by Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry’s elaborate challenges and tricky time constraints, would series two winner James Whaite have dumped salt in his rum babas? Would Deborah have accidentally stolen Howard’s custard in series three? I fear not…
There are many reasons why The Great Allotment Challenge is Bake Off’s poorer cousin. Firstly, the format. Each challenge takes us back twelve weeks in time to when our blooming allotments were mere patches of soil. Where’s the jeopardy in that? Now, I’m not suggesting growing plants in two hours flat is humanly possible but the time lapse saps the series of its pace and excitement.
Secondly, no one can ever replace Mel and Sue, least of all Fern Britton who instead of chipping in wry comments stands awkwardly as the panel passes their judgement. Fern may have once been the queen of morning telly, but she’s a spare part here. There are no cheekily delivered innuendos. No “Ready, set, grow”s.
For me, it’s all a little too wincingly twee. As we watched “Rupert and Dimi adding a fiery twist to their sweet chilly sauce,” everything felt so prim, proper and plummy. So boring.
What did you think, BBC2? That you could simply wheel out your familiar format, add a sprinkle of seedlings and we’d lap it up? Give us some credit. I love baking and while it’s not my cup of tea, I can make my peace with the sewing. But you’re digging yourself a hole here. What’s next? The Great British sheep shearing? Stone throwing? Tea brewing? God help us, paint drying?
I’ve got all the time in the world for Bake Off. Long may it continue. But when Bezza & co make their move to BBC1, don’t replicate their success with familiar formats. Grow a pair, put your heads together and give us something new. Please.