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by Dick Hobbs
T he taste was that
of the little crumb
which my aunt Léonie
used to give me, dipping
it first in her own cup of real or lime-
Like most of us, the only Proust I have
read is his section in the dictionary
of quotations to look up the famous
line about baked goods triggering
memories. Marcel is right, incidentally:
at one time I had a regular Wednesday
evening routine of the supermarket
shop, pick up a takeaway at Pizza
Hut and watch The Bill. For years
afterwards I only had to hear the
theme tune to smell melted cheese.
Given that food is all about taste
and aroma, how can we explain the
huge popularity of cookery shows on
television? And more important, how
do we explain the concept of cookery
competitions on television? How can
we, the audience, feel a part of the
process if we cannot experience the
factors which mark good from bad. It
is like watching athletics with the finish
line rubbed out.
Inevitably producers have to resort
to gimmicks. One programme has a
former greengrocer who shouts at the
contestants “cooking doesn’t get any
tougher than this”. I think it probably
does. Which brings us, inevitably, to The
Great British Bake Off, a programme
which is the very epitome of niceness.
It is hosted by the two nicest people in
the world who were once comedians.
One of the judges is an official national
treasure, and if the other is a bit up
himself, he does it in a very nice way.
It is filmed in a tent, in an orchard,
in Somerset, on the three scorching
sunny days we have each summer.
And most of all it is about cake. Cake!
Is there a nicer concept than cake?
One of the high spots of a wedding
is when they cut the cake. From the
98 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 83 NOVEMBER 2013
age of three we are conditioned that
birthday equals cake.
they are cooking, so we have to put
our trust in the judges who can.
So how, then, do we explain one of
the finalists in this year’s GBBO taking
to the pages of a national newspaper,
writing an article headed Why did our
show attract so much vitriol?
Raymond Blanc, who is a proper chef,
waded into the Twitter war, tweeting
“Not much skills, female tears”. Yes,
if you are a Michelin-starred chef,
you might look down at some of the
techniques on show, although you
look a chump if you do. But “female
tears”? Are they somehow less
valuable than other sorts of tears?
“I am surprised at just how much
nastiness was generated from the
show,” she wrote. “An extraordinary
amount of bitterness and bile has
spewed forth every week from
angry commentators, both on social
media and in the press. How did a
programme about cake become so
divisive?” There was an astounding amount of
casual cruelty. To the review of the
final on the website of Britain’s leading
conservative paper, an early comment
was to the effect that he hoped the
winner would spend some of the
money on getting her teeth fixed.
At least, I assume he was a man:
the comment was of course under
whatever is the electronic equivalent of
a nom de plume.
A columnist in Britain’s leading
conservative tabloid paper earned her
fee (which I am sure is considerably
more than TV Bay can afford to pay
me for this page) with a piece under
the headline “You let the wrong
woman win Bake Off”. That is not
only nasty, but it is hard to understand
where it comes from. Remember that
we cannot taste, touch or smell what
(An aside here, but recently I heard
on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 a
discussion about “the male penis on
television”. I am still waiting for the
sequel about other sorts of penises).
The BBC admits it runs psychological
checks on potential contestants for
GBBO. “It is our responsibility to
ensure they are going to be all right,” a
spokesman said. “We are not going to
put someone in front of the cameras if
they are not going to be able to cope
with it.” Which suggests the concern
is more for the production budget than
the contestant’s well-being.
Social media is here to stay, and for
services like Twitter, which largely
depend upon anonymity, it is a charter
for people to be nasty, to say things
they would not in person. I guess we
have to live with it, even if personally
I do not like it. I wrote last month
about big data projects using social
media to canvas audience reactions to
programmes: clearly it has to be done
with a great deal of care.
For, as finalist Ruby Tandoh said in her
newspaper article, “if a show as gentle
as Bake Off can stir up such a sludge
of lazy misogyny in the murky waters
of the internet, I hate to imagine the
full scale of the problem. But it’s not
something I’m willing to tolerate. Sod
the haters. I’m going to have my
cupcake and eat it, too.”