In a move that has baffled practically everybody, Channel 4’s Chief Creaive Officer, Jay Hunt, recently paid £75 million to move The Great British Bake Off from the BBC to C4. It will almost certainly prove to be a financially disastrous move – but she may yet think it was worth it. Why?
A lot of the reporting on the uprooting of the Great British Bake Off and its scheduled shift from the BBC to Channel 4 has been focused on the money involved. Specifically, how the £75 million that C4 ponied up for the show didn’t even manage to secure them the show’s hosts (Mel and Sue: one of the Bake Off‘s essential ingredients) nor one of the two judges (Mary Berry: who we’re told turned down a £7m offer to move with the show).
However, this is TV. There is always more than just money at stake.
There’s professional pride to consider. There’s personal reputation. A channel’s heritage and legacy hangs in the balance. Plus, there’s all manner of long-standing grudges against former colleagues and petty vendettas against your previous employers to help cloud your judgement too.
So to fault Jay Hunt purely for spending way, way, way over the odds for a tent, some ovens and a Scouser is to do her a disservice.
There’s a number of other reasons she’s at fault here.
As we mentioned in a recent Popbitch mailout, part of the reason Hunt was so keen to land a jab against the BBC is that she is still mad about very publicly being made the focus of the BBC’s ageism scandal in 2011.
For the benefit of those of you who haven’t been stewing about this incident non-stop for the last five years, here’s what happened. The presenter of Countryfile, Miriam O’Reilly, was let go from the show (along with three other women over 40) when it went primetime in 2009. These presenters were replaced by the (then-)32 year old Matt Baker and (then-)39 year old Julia Bradbury.
O’Reilly was told she lost her job because she didn’t have enough primetime experience, but she called bullshit and took it to a tribunal. Jay Hunt was called to give evidence at this tribunal and, during that time, became the most visible face of the corporation – finding herself being accused of ageism, sexism and misogyny.
In a cruel twist of timing, the tribunal upheld O’Reilly’s complaint on the very same day that Hunt started her brand new job at Channel 4 – something which left such a bitter taste in Hunt’s mouth that her tongue is still clacking five years later.
So it makes sense that Hunt would grab any chance she could to hit the BBC where it hurts. If some enterprising production company is trying to squeeze you for a few extra million in the process, so what? It’s just money.
But in her haste, Hunt has lined herself up for a bit of a fall. She has become so synonymous with this GBBO deal that should anything go south, she is going to be the one held responsible for it. And now that Mary Berry has decided that she’s going to follow suit with Mel and Sue and quit the show at the end of this series, this is not going to help Hunt rehabilitate her reputation as an old lady hater…
Cakes And Pains
Still, even being painted as the person who tossed Mary Berry out into the cold may be a price Hunt is willing to pay – such is the depth to which her anger at the BBC runs.
In part, this is to do with the ongoing animosity between Hunt and her successor Charlotte Moore – a beef which is extremely well-documented. The two butted heads constantly when they were both at the BBC, and now that Moore has taken Hunt’s old job (the pair of them now controlling competing channels) their rivalry hasn’t been put to rest.
That’s not the whole reason though. Though the Moore element shouldn’t be discounted in all this, Hunt has plenty of other enemies within the BBC – some of whom are enemies she didn’t realise she had made until she left.
Television insiders tell us that when Danny Cohen left the job of Controller of BBC1 back in 2013, there was some talk of the Beeb bringing Jay Hunt back from C4 to resume the position.
According to industry rumours, discussions with Hunt got to a pretty advanced stage but as soon as some of her would-be colleagues got wind of the fact she might be returning to the BBC they dug their heels in. Four senior members of staff allegedly threatened to walk if Hunt ever came back, which was not a threat the Beeb took lightly. They retracted the offer, and Hunt – who was said to have already prepared her notice – was cut loose, left to stay at C4.
Hunt, we should say, dismisses this rumour as “utter horseshit” and says she “would never go back to BBC1”.
Which is fair enough. Why would she bother? Especially if she can buy all the things she wants and bring them over to her new digs. What would be the point in going back?