The Great British Bake Off reached new levels of popularity this season, opening with nine million viewers in the UK. International viewing figures were equally impressive, and the general mood of global nostalgia is arguably responsible for this in part.
The show itself is a slick production, utilizing all the usual elements of a competitive reality show to hook viewers in, but it also offers something more, something quintessentially British. Really, it all comes down to the atmosphere the show creates in modern living rooms.
The Great British Bake Off, when you look past the basic mechanics of baking preposterously ornate cakes against the clock, harks back to the Britain of the 1950s, replete with bunting, cheeky innuendos (Paul Hollywood’s “soggy bottom”
anyone?) and half decent summer weather. While this is comforting in a sense, the real ingenuity of The Bake Off is that it recreates the 1950s for the Britain of the 2010s; a multicultural, gender balanced 1950s where one’s only worry is whether the gateaux has been left in the fridge long enough to properly set.
This is precisely what allows the Bake Off to thrive year on year. It’s an idealization of our past as a country, and fuses the best of the modern and past eras. That is not to say, however, that the show is not without its problems. One that comes from the viewers, rather than the program itself is the routine singling out and online bullying of at least one contestant per season. This somewhat bursts the show’s light charm.
While women and men of all backgrounds happily cook alongside each other and create the illusion of a progressive, contented society, the treatment of Ruby Tandoh, in particular, would suggest that the viewing public still had some way to go. All in all, the behaviour of the viewers in that instance, and subsequent years like the bin disaster of last year, show that a fusion of 1950s attitudes to women, and modern technology can sometimes end up less than rosy.
Overall, the popularity of the show would appear to be the result of a global yin for traditionalism, taking form in a fairly harmless way. The existence of a few bitter Twitter trolls shouldn’t take anything from this triumph of British
light entertainment. Putting Simon Cowell’s viewing figures to shame with nothing more than a large marquee and some buns alone is something to be celebrated. May the reign of The Great British Bake-Off continue.