Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding hailed as the ‘disruptive change’ Bake Off needs

Nadia Khomami
‘Sandi Toksvig is edgy or establishment Radio 4, and with Noel Fielding you have this disruptive creative comic figure.’ Photograph: PA

It’s been referred to as “the stuff that LSD trips are made of”, but analysts believe the new lineup of The Great British Bake Off will be a hit when it launches on Channel 4 precisely because it’s different from the show audiences have grown accustomed to.

On Thursday, the comedian Noel Fielding, best known for The Mighty Boosh, and Sandi Toksvig, the QI host, were announced as the replacements for hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, who left GBBO after its move from the BBC.

While Toksvig’s appointment was widely expected, Fielding’s was a surprise to many, after big personalities in TV including Miranda Hart, Geri Horner, Claudia Winkleman and Davina McCall were linked to the job in previous months. “This week’s theme on Bake Off is conceptual cakes baked with emotion and the idea of apathy,” comedian Matt Richardson joked on Twitter.

“My mum went right off The Beatles when they ‘went a bit weird’ in ’67. Noel Fielding is going to be, frankly, upsetting,” another user wrote.

But PR agent and communications expert Mark Borkowski said: “It’s commercially imperative for Channel 4 that they do something different and start with a disruptive change of presenters. Bake Off will never be as successful a programme on Channel 4 as it was on the BBC: audiences don’t move away from traditional broadcasters. Channel 4 are taking the show and making it more applicable to their audience – they have to.”

The revamped Bake Off will go head to head with a rival cookery show on the BBC called The Big Family Cooking Showdown, hosted by the 2015 Bake Off winner, Nadiya Hussain, and Zoë Ball, with the chefs Rosemary Shrager and Giorgio Locatelli as judges. To make Bake Off financially viable, Borkowski said, Channel 4 will have to get 7-8 million viewers.

“They can’t be half-pregnant in the way that Top Gear was half-pregnant – it could never leave behind what it was and therefore it became a critique of what it was,” he said. “Toksvig is the older comedian and a very interesting woman who has done QI and gone on from Radio 4; she’s edgy or establishment Radio 4. And then with Fielding you have this disruptive creative comic figure who is quite playful and sweet.

“Those two are the biggest indication of what Channel 4 are going to do with the show. But if they’re going to put them in the role just like Matt Le Blanc and Chris Evans were shoved into the role of May and Clarkson, then they’ve got a problem.”

Tom Harrington, a research analyst in the broadcasting team at Enders Analysis, said: “Channel 4 has its remit that it has to fulfil: it needs to be distinctive, innovative, and focus on minority audiences. It’s supposed to distinguish itself from the BBC. But it also doesn’t want to change Bake Off. So you’ve got Toksvig who seems like the stereotypical BBC host, and you’ve got Fielding who is for that youthful demographic that they will be hoping to maintain.”

The new line-up will also include cookery writer and presenter Prue Leith, who will step into Mary Berry’s shoes as a judge alongside Paul Hollywood, who was the only member of the original team to move channels with the programme. On Friday, former Bake Off contestants Selasi Gbormittah and Jane Beedle praised Leith, Toksvig and Fielding as the perfect ingredients for the revamped show.

Appearing on Good Morning Britain, Selasi said: “It’s not surprising news, to be fair, because [Toksvig and Fielding] are both really good presenters in their field and you’ve got Noel Fielding who is very funny which is what we need in the tent, or what the bakers need in the tent.”

Asked whether Fielding, whose previous experience in presenting is limited to a two-part Channel 4 documentary about Damien Hirst, had enough experience to host a show as big as Bake Off, Selasi said: “Well, that’s his new challenge now so we just have to wait and see. Again, we can’t knock it till we try it.”

Beedle said: “I’m really, really excited about it. Prue’s brilliant. I’m old enough to have known Prue for years and years and years. She has all the gravitas that’s needed to take over from somebody like Mary.”

Borkowski said that because of its stature people would inevitably pull apart the new version of the show. “It’s a poisoned chalice for everybody, really. The BBC are laughing because Channel 4 can never get the figures and they went out on such a high,” he said. “You could put Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as presenting the show, they still would have got criticism.”

Harrington said: “But it’s more than the sum of its parts, it’s more than just the hosts. The major talent is the casting of the contestants, having a good mix of them who work well together. When most of the hosts left, people made the joke that all Channel 4 had bought was a tent. But the tent is genius. There’s something about being in a tent, the colour palette, the way everything faces, that will all be familiar. That’s what Channel 4 bought.”

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