What is happening in Britain? First there was Brexit, and now — far worse, it could be argued — comes the slow toppling of Britain’s greatest cultural achievement bar none: The Great British Bake-Off. Or, as it’s known on these benighted shores, The Great British Baking Show.
First, the BBC announced Monday that it had lost its license to air Bake-Off. And today it announced that the show’s much-beloved hosts, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, will not be returning to their posts next season.
Combined, these two revelations have many Bake-Off fans mourning the show, even though it hasn’t technically been canceled: The show’s production company, Love Productions, signed a deal with Channel 4 to air future seasons of Bake-Off. But as the series’ admirers know, a Bake-Off without Sue and Mel is probably not a Bake-Off worth watching.
Bake-Off depends on its hosts for its warmth and sweetness
Bake-Off has a simple and winning formula: Every season, a group of amateur bakers from throughout Britain compete for the honor of being named Britain’s greatest amateur baker. There is no prize money, just a title, and no one ever declares that they are not there to make friends. (On the contrary, all of the bakers seem delighted to make friends.)
The contestants gather together in a white tent while lambs frolic adorably outside, and as one they proceed to sublimate all of their repressed feelings into the fine art of baking. You’ll sometimes see bakers gently weeping as they stir together their Victoria sponge, or tremble as they check the lamination on their croissants.
That’s where the hosts come in. Warm and exuberant, Mel and Sue are always ready with a hug and the reminder that "it’s just a cake" if one of the contestants falls apart.
And when they’re not offering a shoulder to cry on, they’re delightedly stealing scraps of food from the bakers and making as many dirty baking-related puns as they possibly can. (Bake-Off loves saying "soggy bottom." You could make a drinking game out of it.)
Mel and Sue are fundamental to Bake-Off’s sweet, pastoral charm, the kind of charm the Guardian, quoting Orwell, describes as "old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist." They are the friendly, cheeky answer to the judges’ politely disappointed sighs; whenever Mary Berry purses her lips in disapproval as a contestant pre-scores the cake for his jelly roll, Mel and Sue are there to cry gaily, "Mary, don’t be inscrutable!"
But no longer. And that’s because Bake-Off is leaving the BBC.
The BBC lost the Bake-Off bidding war
First, some background: The BBC does not produce Bake-Off. It bought a three-year license to air the show, which is produced by Love Productions. Reportedly, the two companies have been negotiating a license renewal for a year, but negotiations broke down yesterday.
According to the BBC, it offered 15 million pounds per year, but Love Productions was not willing to accept anything below 25 million pounds. Love signed a new deal for an undisclosed fee with Channel 4 later that day.
It’s a major loss for the BBC. Bake-Off was the most-watched show in Britain last year, averaging 13.4 million viewers a night. So this is more or less the equivalent to American Idol abruptly leaving Fox right at its height — and leaving Ryan Seacrest behind.
Mel and Sue said in a joint statement that they remain loyal to the BBC, which "nurtured the show from its infancy and helped give it its distinctive warmth and charm, growing it from an audience of two million to nearly 15 [million] at its peak."
They couldn’t resist throwing in some of their signature baking puns as well. "We've had the most amazing time on Bake-Off, and have loved seeing it rise and rise like a pair of yeasted Latvian baps," they said. "We're not going with the dough."
There’s no word yet as to whether judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry will follow the show to Channel 4 or stay with Mel and Sue. But even if they do decide to make the transition, Channel 4 will find itself with a Bake-Off that is, like a baked Alaska with no ice cream, missing certain key ingredients.