Channel 4’s much-loved competition The Great British Bake Off is set to air from Tuesday 22nd September, thanks to a “mammoth sacrifice” made by the show’s cast and crew to make it happen despite the coronavirus pandemic.
So how did they do it?
Speaking to Broadcast, the Channel 4 competition’s producers revealed that show’s production staff, which consists of 120 people, had to live in a self-contained biosphere for six weeks to safely film the upcoming series and allow the cast to disregard social-distancing guidelines.
Kieran Smith, creative director at Love Productions, said: “So many people rely on Bake Off for work that we knew we had to work out a plan.”
He joined forces with managing director Letty Kavanagh to hire a South-East hotel, which housed all cast and crew alongside 20 hotel staff members, 80 Love producers and around 20 “children, chaperones and dogwalkers,” according to the publication.
Everyone on the team had to self-isolate for nine days and take three COVID tests before entering the hotel, while producers worked out ways to transport people to the hotel “so people wouldn’t need to use any public toilets”, Kavanagh said.
Production on the series began in July, with cast and crew reportedly commencing with a “gruelling” six-week shoot consisting of “two days on, two days off”. Throughout the process, the show only went through one coronavirus scare which turned out to be negative, the publication reported.
“It was a massive operation, we even build 12 practice kitchens for the bakers to use on their days off,” Smith told Broadcast, with Kavanagh adding, “It felt like the safest place in Britain.”
Deputy Director of Programmes at Channel 4, Kelly Webb-Lamb, also spoke about the changes that had to be made to show.
During the Edinburgh TV Festival, she said: “What we’ve done is created protocols with the production companies that absolutely there are protocols, we’ve worked hard with them to put testing and quarantining regimes in place beforehand for all talent, all cast, all crew, so that when we go into the bubble we know that everybody there is negative.
“And that comes down to minute details, like the car that you’re driving to set has to also have been quarantined. Nobody can have been in it for the time of the quarantine. You can’t stop on the way. And then everything that comes onto set has to be completely disinfected.”
The attention to detail allowed for things to run on set more normally, with Kate adding: “The details, really minute details to protect everybody there and the production. And that then means that that set is covid- secure, and that then enables a little bit more flexibility.”
So will Bake Off be the same?
“In the tent what you will see looks like normal Bake Off, because it is normal bake off and we’ve been able to do that, ” she explained.
“In terms of what actually went on in the tent, the challenges that they did, the amount of time they had to prepare, those things were the same as they always are. So it’s been an incredible feat from Love to pull that off.”
While all the extra precautions allowed for the show to be kept as normal as possible once in the tent, Kate admitted that having to isolate prior to the show definitely had an impact.
“It did mean that the talent, the cast and the crew lived in that bubble for the duration of production which is obviously different to how we normally would make Bake Off,” she said.
In a later interview with the Observer, Webb-Lamb revealed even more of the changes that had been made – and how they had allowed the show to remain the same Bake Off as ever.
“The whole point of the bubble [was] being able to be close to each other or pat people on the back, or it wouldn’t be Bake Off,” she explained.
Football matches and cinema and bingo nights were held in the biosphere for the cast and crew’s entertainment – with new presenter Matt Lucas even hosting one himself.
Speaking about Lucas’ intense introduction to the much-loved baking competition, Kavanagh said: “He was practically living with the bakers. It felt like he had always been there.”