The Great British Bake-Away


Hit BBC shows - and stars - being snatched away by commercial rivals is nothing new, and neither are indignance and outrage at it happening. Back at the very dawn of ITV, there was an episode of The Goon Show in which all of the characters defected to the flashier new advertising-funded service one by one, leaving just the ever-loyal Bluebottle to man the entire BBC by himself. In the early nineties, Chris Morris launched into a ferocious rant against his former colleagues from GLR who'd upped and offed to the newly-launched Virgin Radio the second that Ian Virgin waved a huge cheque under their noses. And it's worth stressing that it has sometimes worked in the other direction too, as anyone who has made it through an edition of H&P@BBC will tell you. If such people actually exist, that is.

So it's not really any surprise that the makers of The Great British Bake Off should have taken the bait and airlifted the entire show to Channel 4. In fairness they really had the BBC over a barrel with this one, and the extra TEN MILLION they were demanding for the right to keep hold of the rights to the show would have provoked all manner of mouth-foaming and collapsing in the gutter about RA RA LICENCE FEE, so the BBC just couldn't win. Not that we should have expected any better from the production company behind Why Don't You Speak English? but that's by the by. This is the Brave New World of broadcasting that Rupert Murdoch has been promising us in badly punctuated lower-case tweets for a while now, and with the BBC on the back foot and unable to do right for doing wrong we're probably going to be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing in the near future. In fact, the only BBC Stars we can be certain won't defect to commercial channels are TV 'Girl' and 'Clown', and that's probably just because everyone's too scared to ask them.

In amongst all the controversy and debate and GIFs of Paul Hollywood having his cake and eating it, though, there's one important detail that's been missed - it almost certainly will not work. The Great British Bake Off is a show that has caught the imagination of viewers precisely because of how it had to fit around the restrictions, resources and general 'house style' of BBC television, becoming distinctive and engaging viewing almost by accident. Over on commercial television, much like David Dickinson not so long ago, it will almost certainly get lost amongst the hours and hours and hours of similar fare, and its character - which, let's be honest about it, was what drew viewers in rather than the actual format itself - will be gone. Chances are it will fall flat on its face and they will only have their own greedy selves to blame. In the meantime, the BBC - if they have any sense - will have found a new unlikely subject area to successfully shoehorn into their schedules.

Why am I so certain of this? Because there is a long history of performers, presenters, writers, producers and even entire programmes moving from the BBC to commercial television and vice versa, seemingly unaware that their creative niche and indeed their audience had derived entirely from the structure and atmosphere that they were working in, and losing both almost before the ink had dried on the contract. But I'm not going to bore you by going on about them. At least not as part of this article. Instead, here's me on the radio a while back, talking to Mark Thompson about the notable and notorious failures (and the count-them-on-one-hand successes) of the Great TV Defections, from The World According To Smith And Jones to Bruce Forsyth's Big Night, and of course a certain Mr. Parkinson. After which I will be signing an exclusive contract with Channel 5.


If you've enjoyed this, you can hear me talking to Mark on an edition of Looks Unfamiliar here.