Monday 22 January 2018

Television review: The Great British Bake Off and the Great Irish Race Off

* The Great British Bake Off (BBC 1)
* Laytown Races (At The Races)

Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc have resigned from the Great British Bake Off. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc have resigned from the Great British Bake Off. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Mel Giedroyc, one of the co-stars of The Great British Bake Off, was in our house once. She happened to be going out with a friend of ours, and one day they dropped in for a while to say hello. She seemed like a nice person.

And as a result of this strong personal connection, I have of course taken a keen interest in her career down through the years, rejoicing in particular at her rise to stardom, and that of her GBBO partner Sue Perkins, who have only found themselves co-presenting one of the biggest TV hits of the age.

Therefore I was devastated to learn that the BBC has let it go to Channel 4, and that Mel and Sue will not be going with it. Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood are likely to make the switch to Channel 4, but it just won't be the same - for a start, neither of them were ever in our house.

Other viewers will have their own reasons for declining the move, not least the oldest and the most mysterious one, whereby things that work on the BBC just don't seem to work as well on the commercial channels, for reasons which have never been rightly understood - though I feel that if we could somehow understand why, for example, people prefer to watch a football match on the BBC, even when the exact same match is on ITV, we would be close to knowing everything there is to know. About everything.

What we do know, is that once the creative arts of television turn into a numbers game, with the BBC in its traditional position of failing to match the figure being offered by a commercial rival, many of these subtleties are just swept off the table.

Like the titans of "the markets", these TV rights operators don't want to have anything to do with uncertainty, so they fail to engage with the fact that the success of a GBBO in the first place is largely incomprehensible - it has to be, otherwise everyone would be successful.

So they can't ever admit this, but they don't know - they really haven't a clue - what made it a hit in the first place. And yet they are prepared to move on without two of the main aspects of the show, the fact that it is co-presented by Mel and Sue, and the fact that it is on the BBC.

And it's not just the absence of ads that makes the BBC innately more attractive, perhaps in some deepest part of the Great British psyche there is a feeling that the BBC is like a form of comfort food in itself, that this fusion of the baking and the BBC connects the viewer to some childhood vision of a lost TV paradise.

Which means that like Eric and Ernie, like Jonathan Ross, like Parkinson, like Des Lynam, like taking Match of The Day to ITV and calling it the Premiership, you can buy the thing and put it on somewhere else, but it just ain't the same.

Stir in the feelings of resentment at the perceived injustice perpetrated against my old friend Mel and Sue, and frankly I think we're looking here at another classic study of the money men ignoring the one thing above all that the viewers really wanted them to do - which was, basically, to do nothing.


Laytown Races offers a magnificent lesson in this regard, this actual race meeting run on the strand which was seen last week on the "At The Races" channel - interestingly this is a channel watched almost exclusively by people who back horses every day, so while the pictures were glorious, most of the viewers hardly even noticed them, consumed as they were with their incessant punting.

But there is something clever about this as well, about having it televised, but on a minority channel. Because if a "general" audience was looking at this racing on Laytown Strand, it might just become too popular - at which point there would be demands to make it different, to change whatever they've been doing since 1868.

Indeed I've never quite understood why RTE doesn't cover Laytown, since it is a wonderful sight. Still...whatever they haven't been doing, has clearly been working.

Sunday Independent

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