The Great British Bake Off on the BBC was about as edgy as a Victoria sponge.
But now the tent has been dealt a slice of anarchy. The pastel tweed is being swapped for heavy eyeliner and skinny black jeans.
Yep, the Bake Off line-up has been confirmed and Prue Leith, Sandi Toksvig and – most surprising of all – Noel Fielding are joining Paul Hollywood in the tent.
I felt prepared for Prue. As I previously stated, she isn’t and will never be Mary Berry. But after she revealed that she had attended several meetings with C4 and was down to the final two for the role of judge, her signing has not come as a surprise.
But what has left Bake Off fans like myself feeling as blasted as a batch of crème brûlées is this strange presenter pairing of Toksvig and Fielding.
I should start by saying I have nothing against Fielding. He’s a very talented comedian and performer, and The Boosh was a revolutionary, irreverent, anarchic show that redefined comedy of the early noughties. But that’s the opposite of everything you want when you settle down for a serving of Bake Off.
If for a moment we take (to quote The Mighty Boosh) A Journey Through Space and Time back to September last year, C4’s chief creative officer Jay Hunt said that Bake Off would stay “just as it is” on the channel when it moved from the BBC.
Obviously as soon as Mel, Sue and Mary Berry handed in their notice, that was clearly not going to be the case. But that sentiment doesn’t marry up with the statement that was released which confirmed the judges and presenters on March 16th. In it, Hunt said that this was “just the sort of innovative line-up audiences expect from Channel 4” and that the show will “have a uniquely Channel 4 take when it airs this autumn.”
“Innovative” is probably one of the last words I’d use to describe Bake Off and it’s not what 14 million people tuned into last year’s final for. They come for cake, bunting and the knowledge that the worst you’ll see happen is some dough fall on the floor. By signing up Fielding, the knee-jerk reaction is that it feels a bit like asking Russell Brand to present Strictly Come Dancing and expecting it to be the same. Channel 4 just couldn’t resist making their own mark – and causing a mild amount of controversy along the way.
Sandi Toksvig will no doubt recreate some of that vintage Bake Off feel. She’s got a prim and proper façade that quickly gives way to a twinkly, pretty cheeky comedian who can deliver a quick quip and who isn’t afraid of the odd innuendo. I’m in no doubt that she’ll go down well with the broad demographic of Bake Off fans, but what I’m yet to be sold on is her chemistry with Fielding (who, additionally, hasn’t had too much presenting experience).
The very harsh lesson that Top Gear taught TV execs last year is that presenter chemistry should never be underestimated. It can make or break the success of a show.
We presume there was a spark in the screen tests between the two comedians, and they probably get on like a tent on fire. But that second nature and easy rapport that Mel and Sue, Ant and Dec or even Paul and Barry Chuckle have isn’t something that you can whip up or concoct in TV meetings. It comes after years of honing a companionship and a craft.
By hiring two comedic presenters, it’s inevitable that viewers are going to weigh up the chemistry, the interactions, the warmth between Toksvig and Fielding. And, most likely, it will be found wanting when compared to Mel and Sue. Because yes, comparisons are going to happen. They will be abundant and all over Twitter, but it’s almost as if C4 are courting parallels to be drawn between ‘old’ and ‘new’ GBBO.
It’s arguable that the broadcaster was insistent on having two presenters owing to the fact that, particularly at the beginning of the competition when you have 12 bakers in the tent, there are a lot of people to film with. But this isn’t necessarily a two-person job.
For Sport and Comic Relief Bake Offs, solo celebrity presenters have been drafted in. OK, so there might have been fewer bakers to contend with, but the likes of Jennifer Saunders, Sarah Millican and Ed Byrne more than held the fort by themselves.
Even Mel presented an episode solo last year when Sue had to miss filming due to a family bereavement. It was a bit odd, of course, but only because we were seeing Mel without Sue, not because Bake Off was being helmed by one person.
In fairness, we haven’t seen the chemistry between Sandi and Noel. It could well be up there with the best. Individually they’re very lauded and respected talents. Plus, opposites attract and all…
I’m willing to hope this is the case. I want nothing more than the show to grow and improve like a particularly yeasty sourdough – and it’s possible that Channel 4 might come good. But we’ll have to wait until later this year to see if this new-look Bake Off is a roaring success – or whether it’s as doomed as Iain’s baked Alaska.