Something happened this week that upset and angered me. The BBC list the rights to show The Great British Bake Off from the end of this current series. The reason? As reported by BBC news, Love Productions, the independent production company that makes the show, along with others, like The Great British Sewing Bee and Benefit Street, asked for at least £25 million per year in fees. The current series cost the BBC £7 million. Channel 4 made a larger bid and won the rights to the show. Subsequently, hosts Mel and Sue resigned. Whether judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood will start on has yet to be determined.
This has been big news in the UK and there are few people who don't already know it. There was much dismay expressed on social media. An immediate backlash commenced, with professional trolls like Julia Hartley-Brewer calling everyone cry babies or something similarly derogatory. Political campaigners were quick to wonder why people were so unhappy about changes to a TV cooking competition when so much if being done to undermine the NHS. Still more pointed to the systematic cuts to the BBC budget imposed by the current government. "Suddenly you're worried now it's affecting a middle class show that you actually like", they spat. When there's so much misery caused by austerity and the worship of money, surely a silly TV show shouldn't matter?
And yet it does matter. And it bothers me greatly. And I'm sure that I'm not alone. I am hugely concerned about the BBC being run down since the conservatives achieved power in 2010. I've lost sleep over the NHS and the cuts affecting the poor and disabled, including those that will affect me. I've spoken up. I've complained. I've joined various forms of protest. I've felt utterly ignored. As we've been forced into brexit and had our public services decimated and sold off with inevitable price rises and deterioration in service I've felt utterly powerless. My health has got steadily worse. One of the things that has helped to distract me from the awfulness had been a cheery TV show about baking. I've looked forward to Bake Off season each year. It has lifted me during a very dark period in our history. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's made living worth while, but it has made life a bit less crappy. And that's important.
What's tragic about this episode is that Bake Off served to take us away from the realities of austerity Britain and yet the very same greed that drove those in government and the finance sector to unleash such misery had done for the show. To hike the price by nearly fourfold is daylight robbery. Clearly Channel 4 was prepared to pay this and we live in a supply and demand world. The problem with going for the money in this way is that the programme has to change for it to move channel. C4 is still a public service broadcaster, for now, although the government intends at least a partial privatisation in the near future. But its model is commercially supported, being paid for by a mixture of adverts and sponsorship. So there would need to be room made for commercial breaks. The short educational documentary parts would most likely face the axe. They aren't hugely popular but I loved them. They give the show a distinctive feel and Mel and Sue present them well.
Love Productions clearly didn't consult their presenters as Mel and Sue expressed shock and dismay in their resignation. Their loss is significant. While some of the spin off versions of the show for comic and sport relief have had different faces fronting them, Mel and Sue really did make Bake Off, even more so than the resident judges. If Berry and Hollywood do jump ship then all that's left is a fairly bland format. In effect, the greed that has come to represent the worst of post crash Britain is what has killed off one of its most popular distractions.
Naturally the channel 4 version will go ahead and who knows? Maybe it will be very watchable. I'm going to find it hard not to think about the naked greed that forced the change though.
Even the Romans weren't so decadent as to allow greed to finish off Bread and Circuses for the masses.