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  1. Culture
12 August 2015updated 12 Oct 2023 10:19am

How the Great British Bake Off took over the world

The show’s iconic combination of union jack bunting and food porn has become a British institution, yet the format has also been sold to 20 countries worldwide.

By Helen Thomas

Last week The Great British Bake Off hit our tellies once again. Boozy gâteau, big nuts and chocolate mousse mud pie were all assembled for viewers to salivate over and journalists to enjoy detailing. This iconic combination of union jack bunting and food porn has become a British institution. Paul Hollywood’s shirt sleeves are part of our national psyche. The only way the nicest reality TV show of all time could deliver cuter nationalism is if the marquee walls were adorned in “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters and all the scones started apologising to each other.

But you’d be arrogant to think that getting a load of randomers to pipe icing in front of the camera is something with purely British appeal. Like the Jeremy Clarkson of yonder years, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood are invaluable to the BBC not only for the ratings they garner in the UK, but for the cash they bring in around the world. As of July this year, GBBO has been sold to 196 territories worldwide. It would appear that Mel and Sue’s “Ooh pardon you” humour translates well.

It’s not only the show itself that is getting exported; the competition format has been repeated in 20 different countries (with rabbits and marquee panoramas in tow). Those title credits with the little girl prodding bread and the close up of a raspberry being stuck onto a chocolate cake are used almost universally, although Turkey uses a cake with strawberries instead. Go figure.

A recipe posted on the Ver Fırına (Turkish Bake Off) Twitter page. Are they… garden peas in a flan?

France has Le Meilleur Patissier with judge Jacqueline Mercorell, a food blogger and author who goes by the name “Mercotte”. She’s only seven years younger than her British counterpart (Mary Berry is 80) but did not experience widespread popularity until Bake Off-mania hit France. Australia even had the audacity to call Kerry Vincent the Queen of Cakes when she judged the Aussie version of the show. Kerry Vincent – a woman who doesn’t even appreciate the power of a floral Zara bomber.

Exported British TV formats have to adapt to their market. When X Factor hit the US it was even louder and more headache-inducing than it was in the UK. What’s cool about global Bake Off, though, is how little it changes between countries, not least in content, but attitude. The beauty of this programme is that it’s one of the few competitive reality shows which isn’t 70 per cent watching people being utter arseholes and 30 per cent watching people with the competence of a slug attempt to establish if the French are “very fond of their children”.

Check out this super awkward dance routine performed by contestants on Bake Off Italia to “Venus” by Bananarama:

As you’d expect, The American Baking Competition and The Great Australian Bake Off are more competitive and have fewer hugs (although if Ice Cream Gate taught us anything, it’s that the UK contestants can also have a dark side). GABO has loads of pop music and this weird opening which involves hundreds and thousands falling from the sky onto a CGI cake on the beach. TABC has borrowed Paul Hollywood and replaced the cake from the opening credits with a cherry pie. It’s also the only other Bake Off to put the national flag in the bunting – with the exception of Ukraine. The American Baking Competition offered the winner a cash prize and book deal, but was cancelled in 2013.

Here’s Paul Hollywood as a quite astonishing shade of orange on The American Baking Competition:

Denmark ditches the pastel aesthetic for Scandi-noir décor in Den Store Bagedyst (The Great Bake Fight). Both judges wear chef’s blacks and the Bake Off tent, far from fitting its usual toy-town colour scheme, is decked out with Nordic wood, white surfaces and black floors. The real question is if there are any dead bodies hiding in the double door steel fridges.

Here’s what global Bake Off teaches us about humanity: The Turks have a problem with raspberries. No one is as fabulous as Mary Berry. The Danes are edgier than everyone else. And most importantly, everyone speaks cake.

The Great British Bake Off episode two is tonight at 8pm on BBC One.

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