Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The great British piss-off

We Brits are, in many ways, a pretty stoical lot. Matters that would, in other countries, lead to cars burning in the streets or lorry-loads of cow dung being dumped outside council offices, often elicit an online petition or a sternly worded letter to The Times here.

You don’t need to look too hard for examples of our usually measured response to things we don’t like. In the south at least, we put up with an utterly laughable ‘service’ on Southern’s rail network. Certain areas like London and Brighton voted heavily in favour of Remain, only for the rest of the country to disagree. Result of these two things? Protests, yes, but hardly human sacrifice and mass hysteria.

I wonder how long it’s going to be, though, before the masses march on the offices of Love Productions with burning torches because there are some things which are guaranteed to incite British ire, and messing with the Bake-Off is one of them.

Just look at the front covers of the press and you’ll see the country’s response to what’s clearly a national catastrophe. A frenzy of punning the like of which the tabloids reserve only for the most important matters. ‘Going, going, scone’, ‘Stick your dough’, ‘Bake Off starts to crumble,’ etc. Pretty serious stuff, then.

In that spirit, you have to wonder if Channel 4 have bought a soufflĂ© which is going to collapse the minute it’s served. The two presenters, Mel and Sue, have already stated they’re not going to move with the programme. I suspect the two experts, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, will follow suit. What exactly have C4 paid so many millions for, if they haven’t bought the very pillars around which the show’s character is built? A format which they’ll no doubt change anyway, and into which they will have to insert adverts and possibly those irritating sponsorship devices which bookend ad breaks.

The BBC, meanwhile, shouldn't find it beyond their wit to put together some other show with this same gang of four and a competition format. A colleague suggested, as a spin-off from Masterchef, it could be called 'Masterbake', but I fear that may be too strong a pun. I think, frankly, C4 have been sold a pup. Which the previous owners have put down before they deliver it to them, knowing they can always breed another one.

The fact is that, even if all four of the main ‘characters’ came over, and the format was left entirely unchanged, it sill wouldn’t deliver the same viewing figures it commands on BBC1 - people simply don’t watch Channel 4 in the numbers in which they do the Beeb, pretty much regardless of what they’re showing. Neither the channel nor the production company may give a damn of course, if they can monetise the programme in a way which you’re unable to on the BBC, but that will serve only to drive even more people away from it and make it even less the show that they’ve supposedly bought.

I’m not afraid to confess that I watch and enjoy Bake Off. I certainly won’t bother doing so on Channel 4 because, to reflect a criticism which I’ve seen more than once on the show when something’s gone badly wrong, the baker seems to have forgotten at least two of the main ingredients. They’ve taken a tried and trusted recipe for a reliably moist, delicious sponge, and they’re going to deliver a half-baked sourdough instead. You need only have a look at Channel 4’s Twitter feed to see that the British public are not amused. The online petition which I mentioned typifies the British response to such things has already started, but I fear that when they see what's actually served up the viewing public may, in this case, behave out of character and go straight to the 'sticking the heads of those responsible on spikes and parading them around London' stage. If they didn't know beforehand what the likely reaction would be, it must already be pretty clear to them what they've done.

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