News broke this week that viewer-magnet The Great British Bake Off is no longer going to be shown on the BBC, after Auntie was unable to afford the new contract fee. Instead the baking competition will air on Channel 4 in 2017 and beyond, but without its hosts Mel and Sue. “So what?” some may ask… Well, a closer look at the production structure surrounding the show reveals important and almost allegorical machinations.
In 2014 the majority stake in the company that makes Bake Off – Love Productions (which, incidentally, also makes Channel 4 “poverty porno” Benefits Street) – was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s Sky. The show was under contract to the BBC until now – 2016’s series is the last before a contract renegotiation was required – and we’ve seen this week that Love Productions asked for a staggering £25 million of licence fee cash, many times what they have been paid previously. It is reported that the BBC offered £12.5 million, double what they’ve been asked for previously, but Love Productions were having none of it. Eventually, Channel 4 swooped in, paying “around the £25 million mark” for a three year contract.
It’s lose/lose for the BBC; if they don’t cough up they lose one of their biggest hits, if they do fork out the £25 million demanded they’ll be slammed from the Right for “irresponsible spending” of the licence fee.
Presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins have decided not to travel channels with the show, stating they “made no secret of our desire for the show to remain where it was… we’re not going with the dough”. If Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry also decide to call it a day it would appear that Channel 4 have just paid £25 million for a big tent and little else.
But the most unpalatable thing about this is that we’ve seen this kind of greed before. What’s happening here is similar to what’s happening to the NHS, in effect we’re seeing a private company undermine the very home that made its product what it is, for profit. We’re seeing destabilising tactics of the most heinous nature:
The Tories slam excess spending while Murdoch’s company demands over four times the current asking price for something that has relied on the BBC for many years, knowing full well there’s little chance of them being able to afford it. Thus, the show is lost to a commercial station (likely to be bastardised and diluted until it’s all but unrecognisable and largely charmless) and the papers (also owned, largely, by Murdoch) and those daft enough to fall for their guff blame the BBC for “losing” one of their highest-rated and most-loved shows. The BBC is unable to pay the price due to attacks and demands for them to “spend less” from criminally hypocritical Tories, who are out for Auntie’s blood as it is. A pressured BBC is then widely denounced as a failure: if they can’t even hold on to their flagships, what’s the point in them at all?! And we move closer to losing the Beeb entirely. This is planned.
Within the NHS we see similar dirty tricks at play: The Tories slash NHS funding and slam them for “overspending” while private companies (like Virgin Care, etc) demand ever more money for their “contracting” services. Publicly-funded NHS services are squashed thanks to cuts and the private companies swoop in to “save the day” (for a price, of course). Meanwhile, the papers (Murdoch-owned) slam the NHS for providing shitty services. Without really having a say in the matter, the NHS (well, the government) bring in the private health companies to mop up. The NHS are blamed for being unreliable, barely-functioning and not fit for purpose while Junior Doctors have unfair, unsafe contract imposed on them. Medical student numbers drop as Juniors are vilified in the same newspapers mentioned above. Idiots, again, blame the NHS rather than those actually inflicting the harm through greed and profiteering. If they can’t even provide decent services, what’s the point in an NHS at all?! And we move one step closer to losing our NHS entirely. This too is planned.
Blame the BBC for “losing” the show if you want to. Blame the Junior Doctors too, by that logic, for “being greedy and lazy”; blame the NHS for being shit. Ignore the attacks both institutions are facing from a deeply cruel and barefaced Tory Government if you like, but know that you are then a very real part of a very serious problem. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is dangerous. It might be just a baking show to many, but this issue isn’t about baking cakes. Nobody’s truly cross that they’ll have to watch cake making on Channel 4. What they’re upset about is having to sit back and watch, once again, while public institutions – national treasures in the truest sense – are effectively pillaged by private companies for corporate greed.
You might not personally miss Bake Off but, when the BBC is gone altogether, I wonder if you’ll miss the channel’s sports coverage, its radio stations, its other great shows. I’ll give the last word to comedian and musician Mitch Benn:
I’m proud of the BBC, if we let it go, then it’s gone perpetually
and even if you don’t always choose it
you’ll know what you had if you lose it
and it wouldn’t be the same without it
no doubt about it.