The Great British Bake Off’s move to Channel 4 arrived in the middle of a fairly quiet news cycle and prompted a bitter public row between two of Britain’s publicly-owned broadcasters.
The battle has continued ahead of the new series, with the BBC shifting its Bake Off replacement, The Big Family Cooking Showdown, from Tuesday to Thursdays in response to Channel 4’s “cynical” scheduling of the revamped show.
However, after the jokes about spending £75 million on a glorified tent and attacks on Paul Hollywood subsided, Channel 4 have prepared a programme which feels remarkably familiar.
Arriving at the stately home where filming has taken place for the past three series, the inside of the vast white tent looks the same. Rows of workstations, busy bakers, Hollywood lurking ... what was all the fuss about?
But of course, look closer and there are differences. Sporting an extraordinarily loud lime green jumper, Noel Fielding bounces across the set, hopping from station to station in silver platforms. Sandi Toksvig strolls past wearing a wide smile.
She laughs with the bakers before filming a quick link. “Half an hour to put that welly in your jelly,” she bellows. One has to blink a couple of times before realising it isn’t Mel or Sue.
It’s the same show, same format, insists Hollywood, as the new line-up of talent, including co-judge Prue Leith, sit down after filming.
The 51-year-old thought it would feel a little strange, arriving back without Mary Berry or Mel and Sue. “But then we turned up in the tent and do you know what it hasn’t even crossed my mind,” he says. “I expected it to but it just didn’t, it feels like I’ve been working with these guys for ages and it actually feels like I’ve known them for years.”
Six weeks or so into filming, the three newcomers look fairly relaxed.
Fielding says the first day was like “going back to school” while Leith was relieved Hollywood was not the “scary guy” she expected.
The veteran cookery writer and chef admits to immediately wanting the job after learning of Berry’s departure.
Preparing for her second audition, she decided to impress producers by taking along a Gugelhupf, a rich Austrian dessert cross of bread and cake.
“So I made one and I turned it out and my husband came and had at look it and went ‘That would never pass Paul Hollywood’.
‘Why what’s the matter with it?,’ I replied and he said round the side there was a little nick.’
“So I never took it,” she says before Fielding interrupts, “That was his lunch taken care of” and the four fall about laughing.
But in terms of talent, the new additions are certainly behind making the show work. Fielding, in particular, has visibly fallen in love with the show. He says he keeps finding himself offering advice he didn’t think he knew, “that’s the wrong kind of gelatine”.
“You become a big family,” says Toksvig. “It sounds a bit soppy but you do. A large dysfunctional family ... well Noel’s the dysfunctional part.”
“I’m the dog,” he says to the familiar sound of laughter filling the room.