Series / The Great British Bake Off

Sue, Mary, Paul, and Mel

Master Chef for amateur bakers, basically. Hosted by comedy double act Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, and judged by British celebrity pastry chefs Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.

Episodes are set in the Bake Off Tent—pitched in the gorgeous grounds of a stately country manor—and span a series of ten weekends divided into themes, including Bread, Pastry, Biscuits and Patisserie. Twelve participants must complete three timed baking challenges in each program. Rather than being judged against one another, they are expected to build their own skills and noticeably improve their performances or maintain a consistent standard.

The challenges are, in order:

  • Signature - Each contestant must produce an original take on a standard type of that week's theme (crackers, breadsticks etc).
  • Technical - Either Mary or Paul provide the bare outline of one of their own recipes, then both leave the tent while the contestants interpret it via their own baking knowledge. The judges then return and, still unaware of who made what, rank their efforts against the standard.
  • Showstopper - Like the Signature, but considerably more, well, showstopping. Often involves a towering 3D creation, as contestants are expected to show off genuinely complex skills and ingenuity.

Each week the best performer overall is named "Star Baker", while the poorest is eliminated. The ultimate winner of each series is given an inscribed plate and the knowledge that upwards of a fifth of their countrymen have just watched them prove themselves the nation's greatest creator of home-baked creams, cakes and pies.

Deliberately and completely eschewing the typical manufactured melodrama of many reality-show competitions, the program takes a more lighthearted and friendlier approach, with the hosts in particular given free reign to indulge their love of comic accents and bad puns... among many other things. Any drama that arises is generally because of individual mishaps or lack of time rather than interpersonal conflicts (though they have occasionally occurred).

Despite this—or perhaps because of it—the show has become a massive hit and is credited with single-handedly reviving the long tradition of baking in Britain, having inspired a huge increase in participants along with the inevitable economic implications, through cookery classes, books etc. Several of the winners and runners-up have gone on to carve out thriving celebrity baking careers from the notoriety.

Having spent its first four series on BBC2, the fourth receiving the best ratings yet (and by that, we mean the best ratings for a regular series on that channel in at least twenty years) means the fifth onwards are to be shown on BBC1. Also starting with the fifth series, each episode is accompanied by An Extra Slice, a follow-up hosted by Jo Brand that takes a humorous look at the latest episodes with various celebrities in front of a live audience.


Tastes strongly of these tropes:

  • Berserk Button:
    • For Paul, any basic mistake such as missing an ingredient—as David did in episode four of series 1, when he missed the eggs from the technical challenge (a souffle)—or accidentally substituting salt for sugar (which has actually happened twice in as many series) means you're automatically out of the competition. The souffle episode in question was framed to make it look as if there was more to it than that, but Paul's anger at the error was completely clear, especially at the end.
    • For all her comparative gentleness in getting it across, Mary can be as much of a perfectionist as Paul, and does not appreciate flaws in basic technique. Hilariously demonstrated in the first episode of series 5, as she watches a contestant try to achieve a tight Swiss roll by scoring it across beforehand. Of course it simply breaks apart at the cuts, and as this becomes more and more obvious Mary gets more and more tight-lipped, shaking her head in disapproval. Paul(!) and Sue have to bodily escort her away ("Now, now, come along and leave the nice boy alone...") before the stern lecture she's clearly dying to give can erupt.
  • Blatant Lies: James's claim in the biscuit week of series 3 that his derelict gingerbread barn was the intended outcome. Unfortunately he'd already showed the judges and by extension the audience the plans for the intact barn, so wasn't fooling anyone. Except perhaps Paul, who genuinely seemed to think he might have been leading them on with the complete version.
  • Boring Invincible Hero:
    • Brendan in series 3 made it to the final having been pretty much perfect in every week, only not being Star Baker every week due to moments of genius from the other contestants (James in particular). His safe but efficient style wasn't enough in the final, but his being there was almost guaranteed from the start.
    • Arguably Ruth, the runner-up of series 1, who was so calm and composed, she would often finish ahead of time while everyone else was rushing to meet the deadline.
    • And perhaps series 4 finalist Kimberley as well, who showed few weaknesses in the contest but ended up on the wrong side of a Technician vs. Performer battle with Frances.
  • Bragging Rights Reward:
    • The weekly Star Baker title confers absolutely no prize or benefit to the recipient whatsoever, and—as several of the finalists have discovered to their chagrin—even winning it several times in a row is no guarantee of ultimate success.
    • The overall series title, as noted, is also a Bragging Rights Reward, though at least the winner gets a trophy. The exposure and associations of having won such a competition often bring their own rewards, of course.
  • Brutal Honesty: Paul can and will tell contestants their creations are completely and utterly awful. Mary almost always sugarcoats to some degree, knowing that Paul will get the message across anyway.
  • Butt Monkey: Poor Howard in series 4. He accidentally cut his fingers in week one (forcing him to drop out for that week after the gloves he was wearing were filled with blood while he kneaded his dough), Sue flattened his muffins in the second week, then Deborah mistook his custard for hers and put it on her trifle before realising it was his (to be fair she was mortified and he was allowed to use hers). He forgave Deborah and Sue, but he did audibly wish for just one uneventful bake.
  • Call Back: Weirdly, a callback to a brief cutaway shot included in the final of series 2, of a squirrel displaying rather prominent male genitalia (shots of squirrels near the tent had featured as scene-setting throughout that series, but this particular one had clearly been held back for the final). When a series 4 contestant chose to decorate her cake with icing squirrels, Mel suggested that the one on top be tranformed into "the Bake Off Squirrel" by the addition of two large nuts. The contestant (Frances) acquiesced to this, though it's not entirely clear she'd got the reference... though given it was Frances, she probably had.
  • Carrying a Cake: More usually involves the cake mix or other ingredients—although it's not uncommon for finished products to collapse as well, notably Rob's Genoese sponge disaster in series 2. Luckily, when things end up on the floor, it's usually early enough in the round to start over—or in Rob's case, miraculously rescue two of the three delicate cake layers and end up being highly praised for their quality.
  • Catchphrase: Several.
    • "On your marks, get set - bake!" from Mel and Sue.
    • "You've got a soggy bottom" and many variants, from Paul.
    • "Ooh, I really like that!" and many variants, from Mary.
  • Celebrity Edition: Runs in January for Comic/Sport Relief. The first series featured three 'heats' with the winners of each progressing to the final, whilst the second and third's episodes were each standalone competitions, with the third also having different substitute hosts for each episode as well.
  • Compassionate Critic: Paul always, and Mary sometimes.
  • Cooking Duel: Strictly speaking there's no one-on-one duels, though it's quite common for two particularly bad bakers to be desperately fighting for survival, with everyone else more or less safe, in the showstopper challenge.
  • Cool Old Lady: Mary Berry CBE, the eighty-year-old undisputed grande dame of British baking with more than 75 cookbooks to her name. Despite all of which, refuses to put on haughty airs or otherwise intimidate the contestants, instead playing a supportive, everybody's-favourite-grandma foil to Paul's terrifyingly perfectionist Science Hero.
  • Double Entendre:
    • Paul's obsession with looking for moisture affecting the crispness of pastry bases - "soggy bottoms". Mel and Sue don't exactly dissuade him from using the term at every possible opportunity, and will do so themselves if he doesn't.
    • Inevitable in any episode featuring tarts.
    • Successful Madeira cake should show a prominent crack. Mel and Sue pass up no opportunity for a crack-related comment.
    • Sue is generally very good at creating innuendos out of perfectly innocuous dishes.
    Sue: We've run this one past the double entendre department: for this week's signature challenge, you've got to make Paul and Mary a cream horn.
    • Mary pulls off a totally, hilariously innocent one during a challenge, inspecting a contestant's plans to use hemp flour: "What is hemp, exactly? A kind of grass, is it?"
    Sue: (clearly desperate to keep a straight face) It's, uh, the legal kind of grass, Mary, yeah...
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • The first couple series are much more subdued and conventionally focussed on the competition aspect. In place of the hosts' comedy bits and enthusiastically dubious 'help', we get the judges giving contestants long, earnest lectures on technique. The now-signature lightheartedness erupts in Series Three so fully formed that it's pretty clear a deliberate decision was taken to loosen things up a bit.
    • Mel and Sue didn't do the voiceovers in the first series, a male narrator, Stephen Noonan, did them instead.
    • The first series took the contestants all over the country - to places as far apart as Mousehole in Cornwall and Scone in Perth & Kinross. This aspect was dropped from subsequent series as it was pretty much pointless.
    • Although the Showstopper has always been the final round, it didn't gain the name until series 2. In the first series it was just called "the final challenge". Likewise the "Star Baker" award didn't get introduced until series 2.
    • Mary Berry wearing spectacles in the first few series.
  • Elimination Statement: And also by those who came closest to elimination but survived, implying they are flat out told this. Even if they aren't, they usually know anyway and the judges are frequently seen saying things like "You'd better improve for next week or you're gone" as the camera pans away after the result.
  • Everything's Better With Chocolate: A common choice, though the difficulty in baking with it (particularly with bread) is frequently noted and contestants have met with mixed success. Naturally, the judges enjoy including particularly difficult chocolate-related tasks, such as tempering, as part of the technical challenges. In series 6, it finally became an entire week's theme.
  • Follow the Leader: The Great British Sewing Bee, launched in 2013, is very obviously an imitator. Of course, it's made by the same company (who don't seem to make much else).
  • Food Porn: The show never misses an opportunity to showcase the contestants' offerings in close-up, high-resolution, slowly-rotating shots that give the audience a good look at every individual flake of a pastry. And even when the food itself doesn't turn out quite as intended, they preface each challenge with a stylized drawing of each contestant's intended offering, which is often nearly as mouth-watering as the real thing.
  • Foreshadowing: In the biscuit episode in series 3, James notes after the first round that everyone relies on luck to some degree, him more than most. In the episode's showstopper challenge, he miraculously turns a gingerbread barn that has fallen apart into a gingerbread derelict barn. It isn't clear if Paul has even noticed it was a patch-up job (he said that it was perfect if intended, and great even if it wasn't), and it wins James Star Baker.
  • Friendly Rivalry: The contestants almost never show any antagonism towards each other, being incredibly friendly and helpful.
    • Contestants who finish their bakes early will frequently pitch in and help those who are struggling to complete their own bakes within the time limit, as when Richard and Chetna of series 5 stepped in to help colleague Martha recover from a mishap during the Pastry Showstopper.
    • In one incident in series 1, David's oven shorted out and Ruth offered to share her own (which would have hurt her own cooking due to having to open the oven door more than necessary), though it didn't ultimately prove necessary to do so.
    • Sarah-Jane and Cathryn in series 3 became close enough that they actually went into business together after the series ended.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: The hosts—particularly Mel—spend a good chunk of their time motivating despondent or calming stressed-out bakers. Keeping series four contestant Ruby in particular out of meltdown mode became a full-time obsession, to the point where Mel finally just snapped out "Get a ruddy grip!"
  • Gingerbread House:
    • Done as a Showstopper in series 3—although it was specified that the building itself should not be a house, leading to the aforementioned gingerbread barn, a bird house and a Roman coliseum.
    • Returned in series 4, though "structure" wasn't specified, leading to, of all things, a gingerbread Dalek.
  • Golden Snitch: Defied Trope - at least in theory. The format is such that a disaster in one task need not prove fatal if the other two are done well. Paul and Mary have admitted that the showstopper is generally all that separates the contestants, though contestants in the bottom half of the technical challenge automatically become candidates for elimination. Proven most notably in series 3; Ryan was heading towards the exit after a disastrous first day, only for his key lime pie showstopper to prove so amazingly excellent that he was named Star Baker that week, ahead of bakers who had consistently delivered in all three rounds.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Mary and Paul, respectively (and very effectively) as a judging team. They only rarely disagree on the actual quality of a bake, but when critiquing it Paul comes across as much more brusque and insistent on the flaws, while Mary adopts a more sympathetic tone.
  • Gratuitous French: If a bake deals with a specific nationality Mel and Sue won't just imitate the accent, they'll speak in the language of the country of origin when making announcements. French is just one of the many languages they've spoken... sort of... in the Bakeoff Tent.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Iain from series 5 had one of these, eventually culminating in a moment where he angrily threw his Baked Alaska in the bin after discovering that Diana had inadvertently caused it to melt, in turn causing Iain be eliminated.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The hosts spend much of their time coming up with ways to pun on the theme of the episode.
  • Ironic Echo Cut:
    • During the Baked Alaska challenge in series 5:
      Contestant: I'm okay with today's task. It's a sponge base and ice cream, so what can possibly go wrong?
      (cut to)
      Paul Hollywood: There's many things that can go wrong in a Baked Alaska.
    • During a vegetable cake challenge in one of the Comic Relief specials, a contestant remarks that in his opinion you'd have to be crazy to think a beetroot cake would be a good idea. Immediate cut to another contestant preparing a beetroot cake.
  • Lame Pun: If there's one to be made, Mel and Sue will make it. Contestants will either laugh or groan depending on how much pressure they're experiencing.
  • Multinational Shows: Multiple European versions, mostly with names of the format The (Great) [Country] Baking Competition or All of [Country] Bakes. Also The Great Australian Bake-Off, The American Baking Competition, and Bake Off Brasil.
  • Namesake Gag: Introducing a challenge involving frangipane tarts, Sue tells the contestants that the frangipane filling takes its name from 16th-century Italian nobleman Muzio Frangipanenote  — and that the pastry case takes its name from 16th-century Italian nobleman Giovanni Shortcrust.
  • Non-Gameplay Elimination: Diana in series 5 had to drop out between episodes due to illness. In the episode where this was announced, the judges considered waiving the usual end-of-episode elimination to keep the numbers right, but ended up deciding that one of the competitors had earned elimination. Instead, they waived the elimination in a later episode when Paul and Mary were unable to reach agreement about which of the two worst-performing competitors should be eliminated.
  • Not So Stoic: Paul loves to play doubt-instilling mind games with the contestants, and will often pause meaningfully after receiving a contestant's reply to a specific question about their bake, or stand still at the end of their work bench and silently watch them carry out the challenge. In the series 6 finale, he tries to do this to Nadiya by asking her if she's happy. Nadiya responds that she is, and then asks Paul the same question back—to which he just bursts out giggling and walks off.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted in series 6. One of the competitors is a man named Paul who has white hair and a Van Dyke goatee, remarkably like a certain judge named Paul. Immediately lampshaded by Sue, and led to this Running Gag each episode thereafter:
    Paul: Paul.
    Paul: Paul.
  • Product Placement: Defied Trope per BBC rules, which didn't stop the show getting in trouble for showing the logo of the fridges too prominently by mistake. A deal was reached whereby the editing would be fixed and the makers would stop advertising themselves "as seen on the Great British Bakeoff" on their website.
  • Real Men Cook: Surprisingly—and endearingly—frequent. Most notably Series 6 contestant Paul Jagger, a former Coldstream Guardsman and currently a prison governor, who enjoys not only baking but flower arranging, and can make delicate animal carvings out of fruit. See also ex-RAF rugby enthusiast Simon in series 2, PE teacher Stuart in series 3, and builders Iain and Richard in series 5.
  • Running Gag:
    • Paul's obsession with "soggy bottoms" in any challenge involving pastry (which is quite a lot of them). He checks for it first chance he gets, and will call the contestants on it.
    • Beginning in series 3, Mel and Sue's bizarre accents and intonations when declaring "On your marks, get set - bake!", frequently elongating the last word. By the end of series 4, the notion of the word being pronounced normally was a long-forgotten memory.
    • Also during series 3, the same duo's equally bizarre insistence while dismissing them for the technical challenge that Paul and Mary are leaving to carry on their steamy love affair... despite the fact that Mary is about thirty years Paul's senior.
    • At one point mid-series 5, very Northern contestant Nancy refers dismissively to "him... you know, the male judge," in an aside to Mel. Naturally, both hosts pick this up and run with it over the entire episode. Made even funnier when Paul himself starts playing along.
    Paul: Ah, can the male judge please ask a question?
  • Scenery Porn: Picturesque shots of the lovely manor gardens surrounding the Bake Off Tent are routinely used as transitional cutaways. As a bonus, most also involve adorable animals, including lambs, ducks, bees visiting flowers and—most memorably, in series 2—squirrels.
  • Science Hero: Paul has extensive knowledge of the science of baking and is always explaining the various chemical processes that occur during a bake. Mary is also incredibly knowledgeable but she doesn't go into quite as much detail as Paul, preferring to use more easy to understand expressions.
  • Self-Deprecation: Fairly often among contestants who know they're doing badly, but most famously by Ruby more-or-less endlessly in series 4. The hosts and judges had to tell her to stop doing it (with Mel actually snapping at her), a lesson that only briefly set in before returning a couple episodes later. The hosts themselves often indulge in this, especially Sue, who frequently hangs a lampshade on how bad her puns are.
  • Spin-Off: The fifth series has introduced an accompanying show called "The Great British Bake-Off: An Extra Slice", in which the presenter and a couple of guests console the eliminated contestant and discuss the week's show.
  • Stunned Silence: In an episode of series 6, Mat's royal icing decorations turn out rather... strangely... yellow and brittle. When Nadiya asks what went wrong, he sheepishly replies that he baked them too long. Nadiya just stares at him in shock for a long moment.
  • Technician vs. Performer: Part of the format, since the signature bake allows for and the showstopper requires elaborate decoration according to the baker's own tastes, whereas the technical challenge is all about uniformity and strict accordance to the recipe. There are however specific examples from the series:
    • Brendan (Technician) versus James (Performer) in series 3.
    • Lucy in series 4 made very plain breadsticks ("Grissini with Salt") in the Signature round in the hope that the judges would be impressed with the technical qualities, whilst everybody else was trying much more elaborate recipes. She did this because she knew bread was a weak spot and so concentrated on getting it technically right, rather than being showy - unfortunately, she didn't get it right and, following a similar problem in the Showstopper round with a roasted tomato and garlic bread loaf, she was eliminated.
    • And in the final of that series, Kimberley (Technician) vs Frances (Performer).
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Each series ends by revealing what all the contestants - including those eliminated as early as the first round - are doing. Generally this means becoming bakers (or otherwise working in some sort of baking-related area) for contestants eliminated later, and a bit more community baking for the less successful. There have also been a couple of proper standalone Where Are They Now shows.