The guilty pleasure that is Bake Off

Many people took up new hobbies during lockdown, eighteen months ago. One young man (real name Will Chirag, but now known to millions as Chigs) decided to take up baking.

On Tuesday 23rd November, he amazingly reached the final of the Great British Bake-Off, which is a TV show on Channel 4, competing against fellow amateur bakers Crystelle and Giuseppe.

(For those who don’t know… each series of the GBBO starts off with twelve amateur bakers in a tent. Each week’s programme follows them in three baking challenges, which they take over a themed weekend. The theme could be Bread, or Patisserie, or Free-From (gluten etc.) The challenges are Signature (a fairly normal concept such as brownie: personalise it); Technical (hand the contestants minimalist instructions for some fiendishly obscure bakery item they’ve never heard of) and Showstopper (basically make a delicious and astonishingly artistic ornament. Skills in engineering and painting are often required.) They can practise for the first and third challenges.

All the time they are doing this for TV, and they have to smile while being entertained/comforted/annoyed by the resident comedian presenters.  The impression given, which may not be correct, is that the judges assess how long one would expect to take to complete the challenge, and then reduce it by half an hour, to induce maximum exciting panic.

The “bakes” are judged by household names Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, who apparently know everything about baking. One person each week is told they are Star Baker, and another is eliminated from the contest. They all then hug.)


Giuseppe won. He comes from Milan, and in his other life is an engineer.

Like everyone watching I suspect, I was awed by the skills of all three finalists (not forgetting the losing semi-finalist Jurgen) and delighted to spend time with them. Zoe Williams in the Guardian waxed lyrical: “Giuseppe Dell’Anno is a lovely man, but why are they always so lovely, the cast of Bake Off, series after series? Is the genius in the casting: a nationwide manhunt for the 12 nicest people in the land? Or is there something about being creative and engrossed that brings out the best in everybody?” (25/11/21)

As a person whose baking skills are small but who can just about follow a recipe to make a Victoria Sponge, I am always astonished by the talents and good-humour-under-pressure on display.

Of course I’m not quite so naïve as to think there isn’t editing going on, and when we see a contestant asking “How much time is there?” and then immediately cut to Noel Fielding’s announcement, “Bakers, you have half an hour,” I know the question and answer may not have directly followed each other in actual life. And when I talk of good humour… I haven’t been watching long enough to recall the infamous Baked Alaska calamity of 2014 , when good humour definitely failed.

Any way, I look forward to each series of Bake Off, and I am sorry it is over.

But why, you may ask, is this a Guilty Pleasure? It’s not because I feel guilty about cakes and puddings, as such.

But… long ago I once watched the somewhat similar “Master Chef” with my mother. I remember finding it fairly distasteful. Talented people, adults, worked hard to make something beautiful and delicious (they hoped) and then had to present it with such nervousness, such grovelling, as if the judges were not merely kings, but kings of divine descent.

Bake Off has a more friendly vibe, but it’s still painful to watch the nervous faces. It’s still distasteful (to me) to watch the senior judge milking the desire for that longed-for and rarely-bestowed accolade, a Paul Hollywood Hand Shake. I hope he’s not as smarmily domineering in real life as he appears on the show.

Secondly, there’s the whole Channel 4 thing. Bake Off is produced by a company called Love Productions. It started on BBC 2 in 2010, which presumably did all the initial promotion work, in the days when a baking competition reality show might have seemed odd, and later moved to BBC 1. After seven series, when the programme was enormously popular, Love Productions signed a deal to move it to Channel 4, presumably for more money. (I know, this happens all the time, and the BBC are not above such poaching. They had also seriously annoyed Love Productions by using the idea in other shows, such as the Great British Sewing Bee.)

Three of the four presenters, Mary Berry, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, resigned from Bake Off in protest.

The one who didn’t resign was Paul Hollywood, who remains effectively for many people the face of Bake Off. For its new incarnation, he acquired a new co-judge in Prue Leith, and new presenters in Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig (later Matt Lucas.)

At this time, 2017, I had never watched an episode of Bake Off, and I admired the stand of the three who resigned. I was rather sorry that the show was set to continue.

But then for family reasons, I started watching for the first time, and was hooked. I fell right off the moral high ground (into a cake?)

So that’s why I feel my admiration is a bit morally tarnished.

Love from the PPI Blogger

PS Talking of morally tarnished, is last year’s Christmas party the last straw for an electorate thus far surprisingly tolerant of Boris Johnson? One can hope.

  • Judith Renton

    10th December 2021 at 5:21 pm Reply

    I read in the Radio Times that Mel and Sue would go and stand behind someone who was really having a panic or meltdown and audibly swear so that those parts could not be shown on TV. I do hope the new comedians are doing
    that…what a kind way to use bad language.

  • Clint Redwood

    10th December 2021 at 6:00 pm Reply

    I ceased following the Bake Off when they move to C4, since the profiteering seemed like the last straw in watching a program I was already somewhat uncomfortable watching.

    I have long held that the popularity of reality TV, be it X Factor, Strictly, I’m a Celebrity, or Bake Off, kept the public amused and distracted while the dark forces that control our lives drip-fed us the misinformation and fear-mongering that facilitated Brexit and put Trump in the White House.

    Roman poet Juvenal decried the ease with which poor governments could keep the public from revolting, just by providing superficial appeasement in the form of “Panem et circenses”, that is bread and circuses; Bake Off is unique in providing both in one format.

    If we don’t want to end up in a society like “Panem” in the Hunger Games, which was named from this concept, or perhaps more topically, a world like that of Squid Game (which I’ve never watched, but sounds particularly gruesome), we need begin to question why exactly the media are quite so happy to keep us distracted with reality show after reality show.

    That said, I must confess that I was watching “Masterchef the Professionals” in-between starting and finishing this comment, so my high-horse is rather hamstrung.

  • Stephen Hall

    21st December 2021 at 4:44 pm Reply

    Wow, you are a latecomer to Bake Off Penny. I used to watch, then I didn’t (though other family members continued), then I started again when Covid-anxiety caused me to be in need of comfort viewing. I still prefer Masterchef, though I only watch it in its best format – Masterchef: The Professionals.

    Boris would seem to be on the way out. Conservative MPs will forgive many foibles, but not trailing 9% in the polls. What we needed in Covid was a boring collegiate PM who ‘did’ detail and listened to experts – if only Theresa May had got her soft Brexit deal through …

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