If Nigel Farage and Brexit are the hard, political manifestation of the never-ending existential crisis of what it means to be British, then the BBC TV show the Great British Bake Off is their gentler, custard-soaked cultural counterpart.
Bake Off, as it is known to its fans, takes place in a tent in the bucolic grounds of a British stately home and features twelve amateur bakers who compete in timed challenges to create the most delicious lemon drizzle cake, the finest breakfast pastry and the best Victoria sponge. It was memorably described by one reviewer as ‘hardcore patisserie’.
But don’t let the words “timed challenge” deceive you into thinking this is baking made sexy. Quite the contrary. Bake Off is not Top Chef. And it has risen as sedately as a homemade loaf of sourdough bread to become a surprise ratings hit.
The fifth series, which was won by a hijab-wearing second generation Bangladeshi immigrant Nadiya Hussein, scored an average of 12.5 million viewers per episode, despite taking a resolutely razzmatazz-free approach to the business of broadcasting.
On Bake Off, people say very British things like, “Ho-hum,” and, “Golly.” As they wait for their walnut and coffee cakes to rise, they drum their fingers on the counter top, drink cups of tea and peer anxiously into ovens. The camera occasionally cuts away to an egg being cracked, or a close up of cream being whisked.
Judges and contestants snicker as they accuse improperly proved Bakewell tarts of having ‘soggy bottoms’. On occasion, contestants have been known to lie down on the floor and have a little snooze while waiting for their biscuits to brown.
The biggest scandal in the on-air history of Bake Off occurred when 2014 contestant Iain Whatters was eliminated after his baked Alaska was taken out of the freezer too early by another contestant. On another memorable occasion, one contestant ‘accidentally’ stole another’s custard and passed it off as their own.
Now, however, like a cream sauce with one too many drops of lemon juice, the magic formula has curdled.
The production company behind the show, tempted by the offer of vast amounts of cash (£75m / $99m over three years) are moving their beautiful cupcake from the BBC to commercial rival Channel 4.
The move has been greeted as an act of betrayal by fans, and while one of the judges – the token baddie, Paul Hollywood, is following the dough and moving to Channel 4, the other three judges on the show – female comedy duo Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins and 81-year old cookery writer Mary Berry - have been quick to announce they would not be moving with the program.
Berry said in her statement, "My decision to stay with the BBC is out of loyalty to them, as they have nurtured me, and the show, that was a unique and brilliant format from day one.
"I am just sad for the audience who may not be ready for change, I hope they understand my decision.
“Farewell to soggy bottoms."
All three have now been instantly conferred with National Treasure status. Mary Berry was already a CBE – Commander of the British Empire – and Mel and Sue cannot now be far back in the queue for a gong.
Without the beloved female presenters, there is a suspicion the show will struggle to retain its appeal.
Richard Burr, a baker on the 2014 series of the show, pithily summed up many fans’ feelings: “Without Mel and Sue, it just isn’t Bake Off. Channel 4 has just bought a tent.”
Indeed, with the rumor circulating that the new series of GBBO would kick off with a ‘celebrity’ version of the show, Channel 4 seems to have comprehensively misunderstood the low-key authenticity that makes the show so addictive.
Needless to say, the BBC is busily cooking up a new show for their three heroines. Content director Charlotte Moore, the executive responsible for commissioning Bake Off in 2009, told the Mirror: “Mary Berry is an extraordinary woman, loved and adored by the British public and the BBC is her natural home.
"I’ve been very lucky to have had the pleasure of working with Mary over the last seven years and I’m pleased that will continue.
“She is an inspiration to generations, a real icon and I can’t wait to cook up more unmissable shows with her.”