The Great British Bake Off is the epitome of Britishness. A dozen mild-mannered people in a tent get stressed over their soggy-bottomed cakes. They hug and help each other when things go wrong. They burst into tears when a silver-haired man shakes their hand. And we cannot get enough of it.
In 2020, an average of 10.6 million Brits tuned in to the show’s 11th series. It’s undeniable that the nation adores Bake Off – but is it truly representative of Britain?
Like a lot of UK television, Bake Off is overwhelmingly English.
And no, English and British are not the same thing. All the presenters and judges have been from England, aside from South African Prue Leith. Last year in series 12, every single contestant resided in England. Not a single Scot, Welsh or Irishman in sight.
The information provided by Channel 4 (and previously the BBC, before GBBO moved channels) only details the bakers’ hometowns (where they currently live), not always where they were born or grew up. For simplicity’s sake, this is the data that has been used. If someone is referred to as Scottish, all that means is that they lived in Scotland at the time of filming.
The English have dominated in every series.
A whopping 138 bakers have hailed from there over the course of the programme’s twelve-year history. Eight have been Scottish, five Welsh, and only three from Northern Ireland. A further two were stated as having a hometown in both Northern Ireland and England, so a separate fifth category has been included for them.
Edinburgh man Peter Sawkins is the only non-English resident to have won the competition so far. Sadly, fellow Scottish baker Kevin Flynn will not be joining him as a winner this year after going home in the seventh episode.
Whilst England’s population is much greater than that of the other UK countries, GBBO’s representation is still disproportionate. 88.5% of Bake Off contestants come from England, but only 84.3% of the UK’s population lives in England. This small difference may seem trivial, but it says a lot about British TV in a wider context and the relationship between our four countries.
A 2018 Ofcom report found that just 39% of Scottish people think that a good variety of broadcast TV programmes represent them and where they live. People in Northern Ireland also desired more content involving people from their area.
This dissatisfaction with English centralised TV also links to dissatisfaction with centralised government policy and spending. And in a post-Brexit Britain, with a Prime Minister no one voted for, where Scottish and Welsh independence and Irish reunification is brewing, that dissatisfaction is seeming increasingly common.
In these times of political unrest, and with a long cold winter ahead of us, Bake Off is a beacon of joy and escapism. If only it was a little more British.
Feature Image Credit: Channel 4