So that’s it. The Great British Bake Off has been dismantled overnight. The nation’s favourite television show will soon depart from its BBC1 home, leaving its fans wide-eyed and breathless and wondering, “What the hell just happened?” We’ve been mugged, the lot of us, that’s what’s happened.
The whole debacle is unprecedented. A show that won more than 15 million viewers for its final last year, the most-watched television programme of 2015, has slipped away from the BBC even as its seventh series is on air. Thus the remaining five episodes are now freighted with sadness as we realise what we’re about to lose.
Wednesday’s sixth episode reveals everything that will vanish when Bake Off heads to Channel 4 with its heart torn out. Like Mel and Sue saying “bake” in that strangulated way in “Ready, get set…” and their gentle ribbing of Paul Hollywood. Or “the whimsical yet maniacal Uncle Paul,” as Mel describes him.
There were the inevitable thick-eared comments on radio phone-ins and on social media, the haughty, patronising dismissal that it’s “just a baking show”. Well actually, you know, it isn’t just a baking show. It’s “just a baking show” like Top Gear (with Clarkson et al) was “just a driving show” or Match of the Day is “just a football show”.
Bake Off was so brilliant because it almost transcended its subject. There were times, when it was really flying, when Bake Off could have been about ironing or dry-stone walling.
What it did was create a world of kindness and good manners, and of comfort. It was a talent show (I’m talking about it in the past tense, I can’t help it) but without the ruthlessness of talent shows. No one was humiliated and though Paul Hollywood could be a tough judge he wasn’t a sadist. If a contestant had a sniffle then that was more about him or her than it was about Hollywood.
Its new home will be on a channel with ad breaks and the whole Bake Off rhythm will be broken. There will have to be peaks in the “action” every ten minutes or so, little cliffhangers to bring us back after the ads. Bake Off will no longer be a delightfully delicate meander, it will be a motorway journey with too many loo-breaks.
(And, oh dear, we’ll have to have flipping recaps every time we return to the tent.)
Most importantly, we’ll lose our lovely gang of four, Mel, Sue, Paul and Mary. I’ve visited the set and I know they are all friends off-camera, too, chatting, laughing and drinking tea between takes. Mel and Sue bring with them a tiny sense of the absurd, and those little knowing nods that tell us, yes, we really are watching people baking sponge cakes on prime time television. But isn’t it fun? And we join in with the conceit, we suspend our usual jaundiced selves and have fun along with them.
I’ve watched every episode from the start. I’ve met lots of the contestants, including the very first winner, lovely Edd Kimber, and the great Nadiya Hussain, last year’s champion. I’ve stroked Paul Hollywood’s hedgehog hair twice (he was fine with it, I’m not weird). I’ve been in the tent and eaten the bakes when the filming’s stopped and I’ve panted up to the Bake Off table after its Bafta win to shower it with my congratulations.
It’s been a big part of my life both as a critic but, mainly and most importantly, as a fan. And now it’s lost, I’m sadder than I can say. There’s no point in launching campaigns, the damage is done, the Bake Off will be taken from its warm and proper home into a cruel adoption no one who loves it would ever want to see.
Besides, we’re Bake Off fans, which means we’re far too polite to be unpleasant. So what can we do? Eat scones in its memory? Or just remember a perfect show that made us feel good and treasure it as a true TV rarity.
The Great British Bake Off continues tonight at 8pm on BBC1