Channel 4 sticks to the Bake Off recipe

Mark Lawson
The Great British Bake Off’s new look. Composite: Getty/Rex

When cooking, it is normally thought advisable to follow the recipe as closely as possible. Love Productions, in remaking The Great British Bake Off for Channel 4, has observed this principle by sticking as strictly as it can to the proven list of ingredients.

In terms of generation and reputation, Prue Leith is about as near to a like-for-like Mary Berry replacement as it would be possible to find, although her slightly spikier style suggests that she and Paul Hollywood will be more of a spice-and-spice combination than his salt-and-sugar double-act with Berry.

And, although Mel and Sue have not been replaced by another established pairing, their successors are comedian-presenters who come from a similar age group and area of the schedules. Having replaced Stephen Fry on BBC2’s QI, Sandi Toksvig will become one of the few presenters to have high-profile gigs on two channels.

The wild card is Noel Fielding, who, although he has often appeared on panel shows under his own name, has spent much of his career, notably in The Mighty Boosh, as a character comedian. So it will be intriguing to see whether he adopts fictional disguises. This would be a risk when presenting but might be a benefit if the new version keeps something like the films on culinary history that were part of the BBC show.

Unlike with recipes, though, the view in TV is that it is often unwise to remake the same treat exactly, as the BBC calamitously discovered when, recasting Top Gear, it decided that Chris Evans was the same cut of meat as Jeremy Clarkson.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the reshuffle is that Channel 4, which has had the best diversity record of any mainstream British broadcaster, has ended up adjusting the gender split from 3-1 female-male to two men and two women. And, racially, the cake is still iced white, although any criticism on this issue should be tempered by the fact that Love and 4 would almost certainly have involved Nadiya Hussain, the former Bake Off winner, if the BBC had not tempted her with a portfolio of shows first.

As the network and the production company must know, the displaced Bake Off will automatically be declared a disaster by much media and social media, almost regardless of content. Differences in reach mean that a high audience on Channel 4 (4-6m) is scarcely half of what Bake Off was regularly getting on BBC1, and so comparative ratings failure is guaranteed.

But, even at those lower levels of viewership, the series would be lucrative for 4 in terms of advertising revenue and corporate profile. And, though mindful of what happened to the BBC with Top Gear, the franchise hostage-takers have gambled that Mel and Sue were not synonymous with the cooking format in the way that Clarkson, Hammond and May were with the car show.

Toksvig and Fielding are distinctive and talented enough to bring something new to the table. And it will also help that the naturally gentle Berry is highly unlikely, in contrast with Clarkson, to tweet or write pieces teasing her successor.

While some will think that the mix could have been stirred up more, these selections give the show a fighting chance of remaining to the taste of the public.

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