The nation’s favourite TV show is not suited to the switch to a commercial broadcaster, says Stephen Jardine
Jonathon Ross did it, Morecambe and Wise did it and David Frost did it more than once.
Programmes moving between rival broadcasters is an age-old tradition and for that reason really shouldn’t be a big deal. Through the Keyhole switched from ITV to BBC to Sky without anyone even seeming to notice and still retained an audience. But then came The Great British Bake Off.
It’s move from the BBC to Channel 4 and the departure of its main presenters ranked somewhere between a national crisis and full-blown catastrophe. It even ended up as the second story on the BBC Ten O’Clock News on Tuesday. Sandwiched between the Labour leadership crisis and the international doping scandal it seemed an odd choice until you realise The Great British Bake Off is not just a TV smash, it is a cultural event.
On paper, that is surprising. It is not some cutting edge series using the latest technology to produce ground breaking, must-watch entertainment. Instead it is a simple extension of the kind of Women’s Institute home baking competition that has taken place for generations. For the BBC to be offering £15 million for the next series of that format and still to be losing out sounds incredible … until you look at the viewing figures.
The opening show of the current series was watched by an average of 10.4 million viewers. Last year’s final was the most watched TV programme of the year pulling in over 15 million viewers. In this multi-channel age with mobile and view-on-demand competing for our attention, those are phenomenal numbers harking back to the golden age of television.
Such viewing figures are a rarity nowadays but advertisers crave them, hence why Channel Four was so quick to pull out the cheque book. Discussions with the BBC were still underway on Monday but by Tuesday, Channel Four had been signed and sealed. Now the ink is dry, reality must be dawning on the often controversial broadcaster.
The channel notorious for Naked Attraction and Sex Box has tasked itself with curating a programme which looks straight from the archives. With it’s pastoral scenery and gentle pace, it is an idyllic vision of Britain where the only thing we need to worry about is fitting in another cup of tea before the timer tells us the scones are ready.
At a time of terrorism, recession and depression, The Great British Bake Off was the perfect antidote to all that. With so much going on all around us every moment of the day in reality and on screens, we needed a show to bind us together as a nation where simply not very much happens. It offers something for everyone but nothing to offend anyone.
Add a sprinkle of proper gravitas from Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry and some sniggering innuendo from Mel and Sue and you have the perfect recipe for Bake Off. And anyway, who doesn’t like cakes? So will it survive the move to zany Channel 4? No, of course not. They may have had the dough to secure the rights but the broadcaster has none of the other ingredients required to cook up a success out of this.
Their speciality is cutting edge controversy, not burnishing a fragile national treasure. They will also face huge commercial pressure from upstairs to recover the cost of Bake Off through product placement and endless commercial tie-ins. Expect Bake Off branded aprons, spatulas and mixers in a cook shop near you anytime soon.
But over and above that, the BBC brings a lightness of touch that commercial broadcasters always struggle to emulate. So goodbye Bake Off, it was lovely while it lasted. Now the focus at the BBC will be on finding a worthy successor. Anyone for the Nation’s Favourite Homemade Soups?