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Shows like Great British Bake Off prove reality TV producers need to get out more

Programmes that just repackage daily chores as entertainment have passed their sell-by date, writes Gail Walker

Published 20/09/2016

Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

Few of us will ever forget the sights and sounds of last week. We know that, decades from now, we will bore and baffle young people as we recount our personal take on The Story That Shook The World.

The empty streets. Families gathered around the radio. The determined cheerfulness of many refusing to be bowed down by the dreadful news. Work colleagues telling of broken-hearted husbands and wives weeping uncontrollably when they heard the bulletins.

And the newspaper headlines, with the shocking reality of big, bold, black type ... no, not David Gordon becoming our very own Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It, but BBC LOSES GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF. SHOW TRANSFERS TO C4. WORLD LEADERS REACT.

And then the raging conflict of loyalties. Will Mel & Sue (the Poundland French & Saunders) stay loyal to THE THOROUGHLY British BBC, or will they elope to those shady money-grubbers over at C4 (under whose tutelage the show will evolve into The Naked Sex Cake, if you were to believe the critics).

Finally, the icing on top of all the speculation: What about Sainted Mary Berry and the only slightly less venerable Paul Hollywood? To read some commentators, The Great British Bake Off was like the monarchy, democracy and Earl Grey - a slender thread holding this disunited kingdom together.

Forget "Wither Goest Great British Bake Off" (henceforth to be referred as GBBO), the reaction to the show's decamping was akin to first hearing the distant thunderous hooves of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Naturally, Brexit was dragged into the discussion. As was Donald Trump. It was a metaphor about how the world was going to the dogs.

Could we all get a grip people? The show will either transfer well and be a success, or - like Des Lynam and Adrian Chiles before it - fall victim to the curse of commercial television and will wither and die.

Either way, the sun will still come up and, somehow, life will still go on.

Now, confession time: I don't know an awful lot about GBBO. I've caught a few minutes here and there, but mostly it has passed me by. But I have certainly had enough of that type of television - the type of television that is basically ... erm ... the mundane chores of living repackaged as entertainment.

First of all, we have buying houses/refurbishing non-houses into homes: Location, Location, Location, A Place in the Sun, Grand Designs, Escape to the Continent, whatever you call that show with that Geordie bloke and dozens of sadder versions of the same. And all such shows are driven by cliche bingo. "I couldn't live with that colour", "I can see friends and family coming round for a few and a barbeque on the rootop/patio/terrace/decking" at which - if it is a woman speaking - they will have a "few glasses of white", or if it's a man they will "crack open a few tins with my mates".

People will be looking for properties with - if they are pretentious - "modern, clean white lines" (for which read an upmarket dentist's waiting room), or "character" (for which read a house that Willy Wonka, or Wemmick and the Aged Parent, would feel at home in). Upper-class couples called Caspar and Penny will be described as "brave" for converting an underground public urinal into a fashionably chic pied-a-terre for successful urban living, while less posh couples called Brian and Kate will have been warmly described as "barmy" for turning a 1950s double decker bus into a mobile sushi restaurant.

And, of course, all house offers are "cheeky".

But after you've bought your house, what else is there to do but sell it? (The House Doctor).

It is cheap television at its worst - the bogus drama (will Victoria get her sauna, or Mattias get his planetarium?), the endless recaps, the relentless barely hidden desire of the presenters to become celebrities by offering a slice of their personalities.

And from there it is just a short skip to turning all aspects of domestic life into programmes: Gardening (Ground Force), Cooking (Masterchef, Can't Cook Won't Cook), having a few friends round (Come Dine With Me - the twist being that you actually invite three strangers to come round to sneer not just at your food, but your decor and indeed just you), getting knick-knacks (Bargain Hunt, Kirstie's Fill Your House for Free, whatever David Dickinson is on these days), getting rid of the knick knacks you have accumulated (Get Your House in Order) and, of course, cleaning all those knick-knacks, or denuded spaces (How Clean is Your House?)

And if your idea catches on, you can always have the odd celebrity special - "Gaby Roslin is looking for an art deco table for her London flat".

Indeed, the only domestic areas left untouched by programme-makers that I can think of is grouting ("What's it all A-Grout?") and roof repair ("When Your Tiling" ... with Len Goodman?).

Enough already. GBBO is just the apogee of this type of programme - albeit wrapped in a charming Women's Institute/Agatha Christie/village fete type of kitsch-y Britishness that for some reason is universally adored.

But, at the end of the day, it's about baking. Even if you - like I do - bake and derive enjoyment from being elbow deep in flour (and eating the results), it is a fairly mundane thing.

It existed before GBBO and will, no doubt, continue after the programme has shuffled off its mortal coil.

Maybe programme planners should get out of the house once in a while. There's a whole big world out there.

I mean, what about a new version of Changing Rooms ... with David Gordon?

Belfast Telegraph

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