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The Enduring Charm of The Great British Bake Off

Paola Bassanese is a freelance author and writer specialising in food, lifestyle and entertainment.

The Cast of The Great British Bake Off

Matt, Noel, Paul and Prue

Matt, Noel, Paul and Prue

The Great British Bake Off Is One of the Most Loved TV Shows

Ever since its start in 2010, the Great British Bake Off (The Great British Baking Show on Netflix in the U.S. and Canada) has been one of the most loved TV shows. Regardless of its changes over time, particularly when it came to the cast as the show moved from the BBC to Channel 4 (similarly to Taskmaster, see article), audiences still flocked to watch each episode with great anticipation.

It’s worth mentioning the cast change briefly: the same cast, made of judges and cooks Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, and comedians Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, featured in the first seven series until 2016, when the show moved channels. The new presenters were initially judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, with comedians Noel Fielding and Sandy Toksvig, but from 2020 Sandy Toksvig preferred to pursue other projects and was replaced by fellow comedian and actor Matt Lucas.

These changes may seem quite drastic, however they didn’t affect the format of the show nor its charm.

The secret? The Great British Bake Off is heart-warming, relatable and features people from all walks of life and different baking abilities. The show’s inclusivity is certainly one of its strongest points. It is in fact the contestants that make the show: we follow their stories unfold over the weeks (well, if they are not eliminated in the first round!) and we see how they interact with each other forming strong friendships along the way.

The show takes representation seriously: there are contestants from Black and Asian backgrounds, LGBTQI+ contestants and contestants with disabilities. Probably the best way to prove this was when Nadiya Hussain, from a British Bangladeshi background, won The Great British Bake Off in 2015. She quickly became everyone’s favourite early on in the show and she has been enjoying continued success ever since as she published a number of cookbooks and has hosted several televised cooking shows.

Get Set, Bake!

Baking is an experience that brings people together

Baking is an experience that brings people together

The Triumph of Amateur Bakers

How many times can complete amateurs not only gain TV exposure (as well as book deals and their own cooking shows) but swiftly capture the hearts and minds of entire nations?

Watching initially complete strangers struggle over floppy meringues or stodgy breads make us feel less insecure about ourselves: mistakes can happen. Of course, it is also inspiring to see beautifully crafted cakes that gain praise from the judges.

There are three types of challenges that contestants need to complete in each episode:

  • The signature challenge is one of their go-to recipes that they are most familiar with
  • The technical challenge is a tricky recipe with very little instructions to assess how confident contestants are at judging the correct ratio of ingredients and baking times
  • The showstopper challenge aims to showcase a contestant’s best creation.

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The best of the bunch is nominated ‘Star Baker’ each week depending on their performance but this is not a guarantee that a star baker will necessarily end up in the final. It surely gives a contestant a bit of a boost, considering that filming each episode takes several hours and takes its toll both mentally and physically.

Sure, there are several spin-offs of the show, from celebrity versions to raise money for charity, to junior editions and also series dedicated to baking professionals, however the original format is still the people’s favourite.

You only need to scroll through social media to see how passionately viewers discuss each bake and contestant: for example, on Twitter you can follow the hashtag #GBBO (Great British Bake Off) and be amused at the amount of GIFs being created at lightning speed. It is a collective experience happening in real time, which is rather atypical considering the ubiquity of on-demand streaming services where people choose when to watch a programme.

Baking Challenges for All Levels

Will all contestants finish their bakes on time?

Will all contestants finish their bakes on time?

Baking Brings People Together

The act of baking cakes either for yourself or others is an act of love: it takes dedication to bring all the ingredients together and carefully bake them at the right temperature.

When The Great British Bake Off airs, each week people are inspired to bake their own versions of what contestants create at their benches. Over the years the bakes have become more complicated but there are still some accessible types of breads and cakes that the average person can make at home.

When people were isolating at home in 2020, baking supplies were flying off the shelves in supermarket (see for example this article about flour shortages). Making your own bread and cakes became one of the most popular ways to pass the time and the opportunity to share something on social media that would help to connect with other people.

The Great British Bake Off Is Not a Cut-Throat Reality TV

We as viewers may have become a little too accustomed to reality television that puts contestants against each other, where hostility and conflict become high-octane entertainment with very little regard to the consequences.

GBBO is, indeed, a family-friendly programme so there is no swearing nor confrontation (however there have been a few tantrums). This may seem a bit too tame for today’s standards, because grabbing people’s attention has become more difficult.

Interestingly, the show has been very popular with the younger demographic of people aged 16 to 34: according to Variety, in 2020 GBBO the audience share was 63.5% of young viewers. That year the series attracted 10.4 million viewers. Comparatively, the last episode of GBBO on the BBC in 2016 attracted 14 million viewers.

Over the course of each series, contestants often help each other when they see that someone is struggling or is behind schedule. Yet, this never comes across as being tactical to score popularity points.

Is this all too old-fashioned for our modern taste in entertainment? It seems there still is interest in programmes that distracts us from the stresses of our lives with soothing content that brings a smile on our face.

Have You Ever Watched GBBO?

© 2021 Paola Bassanese


Paola Bassanese (author) from Ireland on September 22, 2021:

Hi Liz, yes it's an institution! Fair enough, Mary Berry was such a strong cast member, but I must say I am enjoying the new series. Yesterday's first episode was lovely

Liz Westwood from UK on September 22, 2021:

We used to watch this regularly. It is a baking institution. We lost interest when Mary Berry left and the programme changed channels.

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