Over 13 million people tuned into the final episode of The Great British Bake Off last week. So enormous are its viewing figures that you’d have to live under a rock not to have caught wind of Nadiya’s tear-jerking victory just last week. Mary Berry cried. On national television.
But it turns out there are some yet to get acquainted with BBC1’s baking contest which is watched by viewers in almost 200 countries and has been remade in 20 territories. One such individual is Salman Rushdie who, when questioned about Bake Off at the Cheltenham Literature Festival this weekend, admitted, “I’ve never heard of it.”
The author of Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses resides largely in New York (which goes some way to explaining the gap in his knowledge) but was nevertheless the subject of laughter among the audience, prompting him to add: “I feel embarrassed now not to have heard of it.”
Rushdie was in town to promote his new novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, which was published last month. But he explained he ended up doing a chunk of preparation for the book thanks to a sci-fi drama series he spent time developing for US network Showtime.
“I learned the great lesson of Hollywood,” he recalled, “which is they ask you to write: ‘we must have you’. So then you offer them an idea and they say ‘that’s amazing’. And then you start writing it and you write a draft or two of the pilot and you have these meetings with them and they say ‘this is the best idea I’ve ever heard, there’s nothing like this out there, we’re so committed to this, we’re 100% behind it.’
“You do that for a year, you write three or four versions, and then they say ‘we’ve decided we’re not going in this direction’. And they don’t tell you why, they just say no – they’re like the Chinese government. There is no why.”
The 60-minute pilot Rushdie wrote was called The Next People, a project he says shared common themes with his new novel: “It was useful preparatory work for what this book turned into.”