So there you have it, the game has come to a close. It was John, in the tent with a hairdryer that did it. But what did he ‘do’?
Inevitably there has been considerable debate regarding the choice and whether he ‘deserved’ the title or whether other candidates were more worthy winners. If GBBO were managed as this year’s Tour then there is no doubt that James was the Mark Cavendish of the piece, more wins on each stage of the competition and good on bread and pastry but as suspect on cake making and decoration as Cavendish is known to be on the hills. Ultimately by choosing a chiffon cake as the showstopper for the Final, then James was hampered by his relative lack of skill in this area if the pack were still together on the Final hill climb.
Similarly as far as many of us were concerned during filming, Brendan was the Brad Wiggins of the piece. Fewer stage wins overall than Cavendish but just so consistent and able that if GBBO had been assessed in its totality like the real Tour, then Brendan was clearly ahead. Like Wiggins, Brendan had a good all round ability that meant that he could tackle anything and in the entire 30 bakes he really only had 4 that were shaky and put him anywhere near the bottom. Brendan is more of a cook than a baker (as am I) and we both approach baking as a sub-discipline of the genre (we are foodies with all the good and bad connotations that term brings). Both boys by contrast had considerably more ‘near failures’ over the totality of their baking, but were able to soar ahead of the pack when the conditions suited them (James in doughnuts, John in the plaited loaf) as they are both truly bakers at heart.
If however that was the case, why did Brendan not win in the way that Wiggins won the Tour? We can all look for the hidden gunman on the grassy knoll (Paul’s alleged dislike of ‘older’ or ‘professional’ contestants who make him feel threatened, the desire of the TV company to provide a personable, attractive winner who might go on to a media career and improve the image of the GBBO product are two of my favourite motives for the assassin’s shot) but there is no need to apportion ‘blame’ anywhere else other than ourselves.
GBBO is not a competition that rewards consistency or even finds the ‘best’ amateur home baker, despite journalists and judges sadly on occasion, playing fast and loose with those terms. It is a knockout baking tournament filmed for a TV audience and with associated merchandising. It is a business and the tournament option suits the format better. Independent TV production companies are businesses although within their portfolios they may have certain themes and emphases (Love productions does, as outside of GBBO it has concentrated on social programming), and the BBC as the public service broadcaster is buying their product using our money. With that kind of business arrangement it is important that the time and effort put into the product development is returned by a successful series and further BBC commissioning. Even though I was gripped remotely by the Tour, it is a different sort of experience following a cumulative event, more one of worrying if Wiggins could really win barring technical disasters with the bike (read dropped cake on the floor) than providing an environment for jumping up and down on the sofa and shouting at the TV. I didn’t need to see the race to follow the results and the way the race was developing. We however want a competition that engages us right to the end and the TV company are shrewd enough to know that the only way to provide that and grow a TV audience over a 10 week show is to build cumulatively. We don’t want a coronation, we want sport and preferably a little bit down and dirty. Middle class mud wrestling anyone?
Do you remember the first time Boris Becker won Wimbledon? His route to the Final had been a little shaky and no one could quite understand how a completely unseeded 17 year old could have got there when his World ranking was so low. I still remember that Final and he was a worthy winner having played quite incredible tennis that day. When it came down to Championship point, John had served an ace with his cake: it was a style and a concept that had “Paul Hollywood” written all over it as surely as his choice of actual words, and it was baked to a standard that Mary approved of. Judges, journalists and public have all misused terms like ’best’ and ‘most consistent‘ when discussing how the winner of this year’s GBBO will be identified. Our contracts (legal documents with carefully chosen words) only make mention of the fact that a person will be chosen who is deemed to be the winner (and there’s no money or direct book deal associated with winning), to allow for the fact, that like in the Olympic Final, Andy Murray can meet Roger Federer and completely justify winning the gold medal on his performance in that match regardless of their world rankings, the beauty of their tennis, or the apparent ‘likeability’ of their characters.
That is why John is the winner of series 3 of GBBO. He was not the most consistent baker in the tournament and the tournament is not really finding the ‘best‘ amateur baker (that person may never enter), but he is the winner of the Bake Off tournament for 2012 and has every right to that title. I wholeheartedly and publicly offer him my congratulations. Baking is not an easy field to enter, the hours are long and compared to the professions poorly paid (even PH’s alleged BBC salary does not compare to a partner in a London commercial firm), and when our 15 minutes of fame are up, it will be difficult to avoid looking as purposeless as the empty Campbell’s soup can. He is a young man with considerable ambition and drive and the people around him will hopefully help him focus that to turn his ‘shock’ win into a sustainable career. Boris became a star in the tennis firmament for the quality of his playing and focus in training. John will hopefully do the same in his chosen career by following up his stated plan of further patisserie training to give him credibility as a professional and not just a very talented amateur that will sustain a career. Good Luck John, it would never be my choice, but I admire you for wanting to try something different for yourself and I hope it continues to bring you happiness and contentment.
BTW the lovely Team BB picture was done by Tom Bowler http://www.sparkyshark.com and sent to Brendan via twitter and now on his FB page.