The Great British Bake Off’s history segments are essential viewing – not a chance to put the kettle on

You should never skip Sue and Mel's history of baking, says Thomas Ling


You know the drill. The technical challenge has been challenged, Paul’s raked a fork through each bake in the style of a disgruntled dinner party guest, and Mary’s announced that – contrary to their disastrous signature bake – this week’s outsider is actually this week’s winner. Shocked faces all round.


Now cue the introduction to the showstopper: a three-minute package from Sue Perkins on the history of Ukranian crumpets. The perfect excuse to grab a cup of tea (decaf; it’s gone 8:30pm by this point) and a Jammie Dodger. At least, that’s what most people think. But not me…

You see, the history segments are one of the best bits of Bake Off, if not the best. They’re the smooth buttercream holding together the sponge of the show, the caramel swirls on the series’ croquembouche, the pearl decorations on the side of Naydia’s winning lemon drizzle.

To be clear: they’re bloody brilliant.

Why? Because these little historical video vignettes are the key ingredient in creating the cosy atmosphere that makes Bake Off so special.

Bake Off, the epitome of Britain that it is, should be leisurely and polite. It should be soothingly entertaining; not relentlessly serving up stolen custard after #BakedAlaskaGate, non-stop. That’s too rich for our palates.

Us Brits need calm before the storm. We need Mel staring at a slowly revolving donor kebab made of Battenberg before we’re faced with the horror of Dorret’s collapsed gateau. And without that buffer, Bake Off would lose the tranquillity you can’t find in any other show.

Looking forward to X Factor this weekend? The only break you’ll get from the constant bombardment of lens-flared montages and an X-encrusted meteor plummeting into your eyes is a taxi-bound ballad from the Go Compare man. Soothing, it ain’t.

However, Bake Off is relaxing. And as those homely history lessons remind us, it’s a show about baking, a hobby you can do without socks on. It’s a hobby invoking memories of stuffing yourself with cookie dough while gran’s not watching. Just lovely.

But take out Sue’s film about an eight-foot-wide pie and it becomes just another talent show. Granted, a talent show where you’d gladly go on a two-week canal boat holiday with any of the contestants, but still a show built around personalities rather than cheery childhood memories.

Yes, there are already indications that the show has become more about the bakers than the baking, but it’s the history videos that have firmly pegged GBBO in the ‘Food’ genre and away from ‘Reality’.

That way the show remains a family-friendly British jewel. That way, Bake Off leaves you laughing at Paul Hollywood’s latest bromance and a fact about how earplugs used to be made out of marzipan. That way the show remains wholesome.

And if all that doesn’t convince you to sit through the Mel’s history of eel pie, then just think: what would Mary Berry want you to do? Would she want you to learn about the Cumbrian coal-mining village saved from destruction by a sturdy pork pastry? Or would she want you to pop to the loo before raiding the biscuit cupboard?

The Berry has spoken: the Jammie Dodgers can wait. It’s time to learn about the Corn Laws repeals.


The Great British Bake Off is on Wednesdays at 8pm on BBC1