Overview

This baking show is massively popular in the UK, where it’s known as The Great British Bake Off. It originally aired on BBC Two, but eventually moved over to Channel 4 – changing many of the presenters in the process.

In the US, The Great British Baking Show aired on PBS and now streams on Netflix.

Each season features a different set of contestants competing in a variety of baking challenges – some known to the contestants ahead of time, and some not. The judges make decisions on who is the ‘star baker’ of the week and who is going home.

Unlike other cooking competitions, The Great British Baking Show doesn’t emphasize competitiveness or deliberately dial up the intensity. Instead, the series takes a more gentle and compassionate tone, with the contestants shown getting on and growing close across each season, and regularly chatting to and joking with the presenters and judges.

This makes for a charming, delightful treat of a show – perfect as soothing comfort viewing for the winter months.

If you’re a fan of Sugar Rush or The Chef Show, you’ll probably love The Great British Baking Show.

Premise

Contestants – usually between 10 and 13 of them – all compete in a large marquee style tent in a picturesque garden to be crowned the winner of The Great British Baking Show.

Each week they’re given 3 challenges to complete: a signature bake, a technical challenge and a showstopper.

A signature bake gives the bakers a chance to show off their skills with a well-known recipe, and all the baked goods are taste tested by the judges after cooking.

The technical challenge is where the competition starts to heat up. The bakers are challenged to cook the same recipe, and must create a set number of perfect, identical goodies. The bakers don’t get to know this challenge in advance, so it’s a true test of their aptitude.

The showstopper calls for a creation as visually stunning as it is tasty. The bakers really get to show off their talent, and often go for whacky bakes with unusual flavors. For example, a previous showstopper challenge called for cakes made to look like a celebrity – with hilarious results.

Each week, a star baker is chosen as the baker who performed the best across the three challenges that week – and another baker is chosen to go home.

If a baker really impresses, they might be treated to the famous handshake, where judge Paul Hollywood shakes their hand.

Cast and characters

The line-up of judges and presenters changed when the series made the jump from BBC Two to Channel 4 – which is also when PBS stopped airing the show and Netflix took over.

Originally, the judges were Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, with Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins presenting.

On Channel 4, Mary Berry departed the show and was replaced with Prue Leith. The new presenters were Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig. In the most recent instalment, Tosvig left the series and Matt Lucas joined as the second presenter.

In the US, series 5 of the British broadcast was aired on PBS as season 1, series 4 as season 2, series 6 as season 3, series 7 as season 4, and series 3 as season 5.

Netflix then streamed series 8 of the show as Collection 5, as well as the PBS seasons. They also feature series 3 as The Great British Baking Show: The Beginnings.

The most recent series, series 11, currently streams on Netflix – with new episodes arriving just 3 days after they air in the UK.

As for the contestants, these have been:

Season 1/Collection 1:

  • Chetna Makan
  • Claire Goodwin
  • Diana Beard
  • Enwezor Nzegwu
  • Iain Watters
  • Jordan Cox
  • Kate Henry
  • Luis Troyano
  • Martha Collison
  • Nancy Birtwhistle
  • Norman Calder
  • Richard Burr

Season 2/Collection 2:

  • Ali Imdad
  • Beca Lyne-Pirkis
  • Christine Wallace
  • Deborah Manger
  • Frances Quinn
  • Glenn Cosby
  • Howard Middleton
  • Kimberley Wilson
  • Lucy Bellamy
  • Mark Onley
  • Robert Smart
  • Ruby Tandoh
  • Toby Waterworth

Season 3/Collection 3:

  • Alvin Magallanes
  • Dorret Conway
  • Flora Shedden
  • Ian Cumming
  • Marie Campbell
  • Mat Riley
  • Nadiya Hussain
  • Paul Jagger
  • Sandy Docherty
  • Stu Henshall
  • Tamal Ray
  • Ugnė Bubnaityte

Season 4/Collection 4:

  • Andrew Smyth
  • Benjamina Ebuehi
  • Candice Brown
  • Jane Beedle
  • Kate Barmby
  • Lee Banfield
  • Louise Williams
  • Michael Georgiou
  • Rav Bansal
  • Selasi Gbormittah
  • Tom Gilliford
  • Valerie Stones

Season 5/The Great British Baking Show: The Beginnings:

  • Brendan Lynch
  • Cathryn Dresser
  • Danny Bryden
  • James Morton
  • John Whaite
  • Manisha Parmar
  • Natasha Stringer
  • Peter Maloney
  • Ryan Chong
  • Sarah-Jane Willis
  • Stuart Marston-Smith
  • Victoria Chester

Collection 5:

  • Chris Geiger
  • Flo Atkins
  • James Hillery
  • Julia Chernogorova
  • Kate Lyon
  • Liam Charles
  • Peter Abatan
  • Sophie Faldo
  • Stacey Hart
  • Steven Carter-Bailey
  • Tom Hetherington
  • Chuen-Yan Tsou

Collection 6:

  • Antony Amourdoux
  • Briony Williams
  • Dan Beasley-Harling
  • Imelda McCarron
  • Jon Jenkins
  • Karen Wright
  • Kim-Joy Hewlett
  • Luke Thompson
  • Manon Lagrève
  • Rahul Mandal
  • Ruby Bhogal
  • Terry Hartill

Collection 7:

  • Alice Fevronia
  • Amelia Le Bruin
  • Dan Chambers
  • David Atherton
  • Helena Garcia
  • Henry Bird
  • Jamie Finn
  • Michael Chakraverty
  • Michelle Evans-Fecci
  • Phil Thorne
  • Priya O’Shea
  • Rosie Brandreth-Poynter
  • Steph Blackwell

Collection 8:

  • Dave Friday
  • Hermine
  • Laura Adlington
  • Linda Rayfield
  • Loriea Campbell-Clarey
  • Lottie Bedlow
  • Makbul Patel
  • Marc Elliott
  • Mark Lutton
  • Peter Sawkins
  • Rowan Williams
  • Sura Selvarajah

Filming locations

Season 2 and 5 were filmed in Harptree Court, Somerset, England.

The Great British Baking Show has been filmed in Berkshire in England since 2014. The iconic tent was pitched in Welford Park, Newbury.

In 2020, the location switched to Down Hall Hotel in Bishop’s Stortford, which is on the border between Hertfordshire and Essex, England.

The location change was necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure that everyone involved in the show – including members of the hotel staff, producers, and even dog-walkers – could quarantine together.

Production

Contestants who apply for the show must be a resident of the UK and can’t have ever worked as a cook, chef or baker, or have achieved any qualification in cooking, catering, food preparation, food production or baking in the last 10 years.

According to one baker, the application is lengthy and is followed by a phone interview, then successful applicants go on to meet casting executives and producers with two bakes for them to try. The next stage is a filmed technical challenge.

Filming can take over 12 hours each day. Nothing is staged, but according to one baker if the cameras don’t film something the bakers might be asked to redo it or repeat what was said – and retakes during judging can happen. The baker also explains that no bakes can be put into the oven or taken out without someone there to film it.

Bakes are illustrated to give us an idea of what they should look like before we get to see the finished product – and Tom Hovey is the illustrator.

One of the most infamous incidents in the show occurred when Iain Watters threw the melted ice cream intended for his Baked Alaska into the trash and left the tent, which led to him being disqualified.

Recently, Sura Selvarjah knocked 4 of David Friday’s cakes onto the floor by mistake, just as they were being prepped for judging. Luckily, there were still 2 cakes left over to judge.

Episodes and reception

The Great British Baking Show has run for 11 seasons in the UK. It’s very well reviewed, although some commentators noted changes between the BBC and Channel 4 editions of the program.

Many love the light-hearted nature of the show and its escapism, especially during the pandemic.

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