Which one are you? This week marks a change in the BBC schedule – goodbye Mary, hello Sir Alan. But more than that I wonder whether it marks an ideological divide in our country. The Sun predictably complained about the victory of Nadiya Hussein, a Muslim woman from Luton as a victory of political correctness. If they are right then perhaps Samantha Cameron, who we are assured keeps an eye on the cultural scene for her husband, needs to have a word in his ear.
Because the Bake Off is huge: almost 11 million watched the semi-final and many more will have watched the final, more than twice the number who would have watched the highlights of Mr Cameron’s conference speech on the News at 10.
The Guardian review pointed to a deeper difference between Bake Off and the post-watershed Apprentice: “nice is the new nasty”. Many commentators have pointed out that the competition, such as it is in the Bake Off, is gentle, supportive and civil. This may be because the people involved care more about the baking than the competition; it may be the skill of the hosts, Mel and Sue, or the gentle encouragement of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood; it certainly bears witness to the skills of the TV producers, the happily named Love Production. Most of all, the clue is in the title – The Great British Bake Off. We like to think that no other country in the world could make and appreciate this show. The Britain’s Got Talent format has been exported all around the world: The Great French Bake Off? Probably the most successful version: but the French “Mary Berry” said that her visit to the British set made her “physically ill”. Not very nice.
I, for one, hope that Bake Off is the future (even though I personally find it dull as the dishwater and only hear about it from my family). I look forward to the hubris, schadenfreude and (damn, run out of foreign words) sheer comedy of The Apprentice. But just because I enjoy the spectacle of The Apprentice doesn’t means I want to live it: it is escapist drama for me. Even I have to admit that The Apprentice is looking increasingly tired. I still long for Margaret’s World-Class Eye-Rolling (“look out, Margaret, the wind will change!”). But the show increasingly looks like something out of the 1990s or even the 80s. No number of of female, disabled or minority contestants will change the fundamental social darwinist dynamic of the show.
But this is the truly scary thought: maybe people like The Bake Off because it is not like their real lives. Maybe Bake Off has become for many people the new escapism. The Apprentice is how they live: the Bake Off is how they would like to live. I was speaking to a supermarket checkout operator last night who was telling me about the level of abuse they had suffered this week as a result of the 5p charge for carrier bags. Supermarkets should stock the selfie sticks next to the checkout just so their customers can take a good, hard look at themselves.
Neither of them are real life : as someone one remarked, the least real thing on TV is reality TV. But I hope that people will take away from the Bake Off more than just hints about how to keep their pastry light. I hope that the qualities which Bake Off embodies, gentle humour, humility, inclusiveness, support and love may be the ones which dominate our British public life.