Barely has the furore around Nadiya Hussain’s Great British Bake Off victory subsided and the nation is about to set off on another heart-wrenching journey following fretful contestants cooking under immense pressure. Although this time, it’s ceramics rather than a chocolate soufflé entering the flames.
Presented by Sara Cox and judged by renowned potters Keith Brymer Jones and Kate Malone, The Great Pottery Throw Down will take a team of amateurs through a series of technical tests and challenges until one slip-stained and possibly tearful potter emerges as the victor.
The show comes from Love Productions, the same outfit that brought us Bake Off and they’ll be hoping to tap again into the public’s ever-abiding desire to see other human beings triumph under pressure or, more likely, spectacularly cock up. Cox – once of Radio 1’s breakfast show and now the voice of Radio 2’s Sound of the 80s – admits the appeal of the programme is seeing what comes out when the doors are opened after a firing. “That’s why it works,” she says. “You can’t guess what it is going to be like at the end, because anything can happen, really, with the pressure of time and the kiln.”
The BBC has form here: previously the corporation has attempted to apply the Bake Off format to needlework (The Great British Sewing Bee, BBC2, also Love Productions), hair – yes, hair, or at least, hair-dressing – in Hair (originally BBC3, then BBC2), and, remarkably in retrospect, with agricultural smallholders guided by a veg-loving Fern Britton (The Big Allotment Challenge, BBC2). They were all brave but ultimately less successful attempts to re-create the elusive magic of the original. The Big Allotment Challenge even saw Britton take a tilt at Sue Perkins’s position as the nation’s saucy pun queen; there’s a lot of comic mileage, after all, in a marrow.
However, there will be no soggy bottoms in The Great Pottery Throw Down – Cox has declared the show a naughtiness-free zone. “You don’t need to add puns in if you’re discussing making pottery, because you’re already talking about cracks and rims,” she says. “I got so used to chatting about somebody’s rim on the show that I just wouldn’t laugh at that sort of humour, or make a thing of it. And obviously kids are watching as well, so you don’t really need to do any of that.” None at all?
“Mmm…” Cox trails off. Understandably, because there is an elephant in the room and we both know it’s called Patrick Swayze. Ever since he guided the tremulous hands of Demi Moore to shape a spinning slab of wet clay in the 1990 movie Ghost, pottery has had a sexual undertow that baking doesn’t. After all, he didn’t help her mix the ingredients for a fruit loaf.
“Yes, Ghost is kind of there in the show,” Cox says. “When you use the potter’s wheel it can be quite physical?’ Physical? “Well, quite phallic-looking. So we definitely don’t need to add anything to that. But the thing is,” says the woman known as one of the hard-drinking “ladettes” of the 1990s, “watching someone work at the wheel is really entertaining.” The BBC knew this as long ago as the 1950s, when it ran the black-and-white “Potter’s Wheel” film set to The Young Ballerina by Charles Williams as an interlude during breaks in service.
Like Bake Off, the Throw Down contestants are not professionals, and, happily for us, there was heartbreak for Cox’s potters. “There were times when they’d collect their piece at the kiln and it had been a complete disaster,” she says. “I would joke, ‘Don’t accidentally-on-purpose try and drop that on the way back to the pottery!’
“But my attitude is, look at the positives, don’t look at the rubble!”
The Great Pottery Throw Down begins on BBC2 tonight (Tuesday 3rd November) at 9.00pm