First it made headlines for its astonishing viewing figures. Who knew kneading, proving and well endowed squirrels would be such a TV hit?! But hit it was. And the bigger the buzz around the bakers and their gingham alter, the greater the viewership became, until the good old Beeb was moved to transfer their culinary phenomenon – their number one TV show moved to their number one channel.
Nadiya’s victory was the cherry on their bakewell – a passionate baker with a tremendous range of facial expressions who became beloved of the nation when she fused her family heritage with her adopted country by making the wedding cake she never had. I may have cried at her victory speech. Just a little.
Yet all great empires may fall so they say (much like a flawed lemon souffle) and so rather a different kind of dough has proved to close the curtains on the heartwarming tale of bread, cake and soggy bottoms. Love Productions wanted more money for its BBC baby, or it threatened to sue for sole custody. Of course, the BBC could not match the bottomless pockets of a commercial giant like Channel 4, and so parent and favourite child were separated, just after the Beeb had painted a pretty picture of the bake off stars on its canteen wall.
What is truly startling is that none of the stars of the show were consulted by the production company before they jumped ship. More than any other show the Bake Up is a sum of its key ingredients – without them the recipe will surely fail to rise to its former heights.
Yet the memo got lost in the post, and none of the stars were consulted before the producers followed the money. Within 24 hours of the announcement Mel and Sue had quit in style, declaring ‘we’re not going with the dough’. The public cheered – the Bake Off has never been about glitz, glamour and cash, so their refusal to move from their public funded home proved a hit with audiences.
Then this week the heart of the Bake Off, St Mary Berry, pinned her colours to the mast by also staying with her BBC home, declaring her loyalty. This was no big surprise – Berry is the embodiment of the BBC – its patronus against all things commercial.
I too firmly believe that the Bake Off belongs on its mother-ship. Why? Because no one wants an ad break before the star baker is announced. Because product placement would cheapen the tent’s value. Because Channel 4 is American sit-coms, gritty dramas and the founder of Big Brother, not the wholesome home the Bake Off tent needs to thrive.
However I do not understand why Paul Hollywood is being crucified for ‘following the money’. While it would be nice for the entire team to stand together, Hollywood has the most to loose if he leaves. Brand Berry has lasted for decades, and the BBC will crown her queen before losing her name from their list. Mel and Sue had a great career before the bake off began , and will continue to delight us with their endearing craziness for years to come. Yet Hollywood was unknown before he became the Bake Off Bread Master. Suddenly he was beloved, a ‘silver fox’ and a wealthy celebrity with cookbooks and TV appearances galore.
Do I think the next Bake Off will retain the secret ingredient which keeps viewers screaming for more? No. But I don’t blame Paul for hedging his bets to ensure his next paycheck.
While Paul tucks into his millionaire shortbread, lets hope Berry and the BBC will create their own celebration cake very soon – there is a gateaux shaped hole in my heart.