‘It Took Four Years Of Pitching To Get Bake Off Commissioned’

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  • Anna Beattie, 47, runs Love Productions, who make The Great Britsh Bake Off for the BBC, with Richard McKerrow. She is the show’s creator and executive producer…

    ‘Richard and I knew there was something brilliant about the fact that there’s a baking competition at every summer fete in every British village – it was just a question of how to make that into good telly. After four years of pitching Bake Off everywhere, we took it to Janice Hadlow who was the controller of BBC2 at the time who got it straight away. But then we had to work out how to do it! 

    We spent hours working out the format: that we wanted three challenges, what they would be, and how they’d work. And we were adamant that we wanted it to be filmed outside, in a tent. We wanted it to feel like an ‘event’ rather than a TV programme.The logistics of getting power, water, and heat into a tent all had to be dealt with, as well as the sound if it rained. But even though it was a protracted process to get it made, the end result was the same as our original idea. I grew up camping in the rain – so when it rains in the Bake Off tent it says ‘English summer’ to me just as much as when the sun is shining.

    As Executive Producer my role is overseeing everything. The two most important things are what the challenges are, and who the bakers are going to be. We work with Mary and Paul on the challenges and they need to work as a test but also make good television. The ideal challenge has a ‘moment’ like when you roll a Swiss roll and the whole audience wonders, ‘Will it crack?’

    Everyone who makes it into the marquee has passed a rigorous series of tests: a lengthy application form, a 45-minute telephone call with a researcher, bringing two bakes to an audition in London, a screen test and an interview. Then there’s a second audition on camera, baking two recipes for the production team, and an interview with psychologist to make sure they can cope with the whole experience and the scrutiny when it airs.

    As soon as a new batch of bakers enter the tent they give each series a whole new and different personality. And the tension when something goes wrong is unbearable. And if someone turns something out that hasn’t set, or if they drop their cake, which does happen, it’s just heart-breaking.

    When Bake Off airs on TV, I’m so involved that I can only watch from behind the sofa. But my kids, who are 11, seven and three, love it and they are avid bakers; my son took two chocolate roulades to school for his birthday this year.

    Of course, none of us imagined the show would become as big as it has, and all that can get in the way if you’re not careful. But one of the most amazing things for me is how much Bake Off is loved by families, and how many people have got into – or back into – baking. I really love that.

    Bake Off high? There are so many – who knew how compelling it could be watching someone trying to get a tart out of a tin! But last year’s final – when Nancy so nailed it – was just brilliant.

    Bake Off disaster? We filmed the final of series one in Fulham Palace in London – right under the Heathrow flight path. We knew the planes would be a bit of an issue, but on the day we had to stop for plane noise every three minutes!

    Bake Off 2015! There’s a big high in this year’s bread show – but I can’t tell you any more than that!

    The Great British Bake Off starts tonight at 8pm on BBC1. Pick up w&h September for more behind-the-scenes interviews.

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