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'Great British Bake Off': The show's biggest controversies over the years

Amy Johnson
·6-min read
Great British Bake Off judges and presenters Paul, Matt, Prue and Noel. (Love Productions/Channel 4)
Great British Bake Off judges and presenters Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas. (Love Productions/Channel 4)

Despite all the disruption to TV schedules due to the coronavirus pandemic this year, the Great British Bake Off has managed to film a 2020 series.

Arriving a little later than usual, GBBO kicks off on Channel 4 on Tuesday after a huge behind-the-scenes operation ensured it was safe to shoot.

While viewers supposedly won’t be able to tell the show was filmed in unusual circumstances, there will be one obvious change as Matt Lucas has replaced Sandi Toksvig as a presenter.

As summer unfolds into autumn GBBO is reliably comforting fare for this time of year and a welcome distraction but that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to always be plain sailing.

Watch: Channel 4 teases The Great British Bake Off's return to screens

Read more: Matt Lucas says GBBO schedule was gruelling for bakers

Contestants interfering in each other’s bakes and blunders from the judges have raised the stakes – and undoubtedly blood pressure – for both bakers and viewers alike in past years.

While the programme is a tried and tested formula, human unpredictability means drama could still be afoot even in the most gentle of shows.

So while viewers wait to see if there will be any cake catastrophes or dough disasters this year, let’s revisit the controversies of years gone by.

Paul Hollywood’s favouritism row

Paul Hollywood rejected claims he was giving Ruby Tandoh preferential treatment. (Love Productions/Netflix)
Paul Hollywood rejected claims he was giving Ruby Tandoh preferential treatment. (Love Productions/Netflix)

The fourth series of the show in 2013 saw fans levy accusations of favouritism against Paul Hollywood as it was suggested he gave preferential treatment to then 21-year-old contestant Ruby Tandoh due to her looks.

He denied the claims with little tact, implying it couldn't be true because he found another contestant "far prettier".

Tandoh, who was runner-up to winner Frances Quinn, came out as gay in 2015 and criticised the “misogynists” who accused her of flirting with Hollywood at the time.

"For those who thought I fancied Paul Hollywood or that I'd ever bang him to get ahead – JOKE'S ON YOU, YOU MASSIVE S****ING MISOGYNISTS," she wrote.

Watch: Recreating Paul Hollywood's cornish pasties from taste

Custardgate

Deborah was distressed when she realised her error, though Howard took it well. (Love Productions/Netflix)
Deborah was distressed when she realised her error, though Howard took it well. (Love Productions/Netflix)

Deborah Manger was a dentist-turned-baker-turned-accidental-thief when she unwittingly took poor Howard Middleton's custard in series four.

She owned up to the mistake to Sue Perkins after pinching from her competitor, who took the news rather graciously, as they made a trifle for their first challenge of Dessert Week.

Read more: Noel Fielding and girlfriend expecting second child

Middleton used Manger's custard for his creation as it was too late to retrieve the one he’d made but the judges were made aware of the mistake and so they were judged on the custard of their own making.

He managed to make it through to another week while Manger left the tent for good.

The baked Alaska fiasco

Diana was accused of sabotaging Iain's Baked Alaska. (Love Productions/Netflix)
Diana was accused of sabotaging Iain's Baked Alaska. (Love Productions/Netflix)

Diana Beard stirred up a storm on series five when it appeared she had taken Iain Watters' Baked Alaska ice cream out of the freezer.

A frustrated Iain threw his creation into the bin and even presented said disposal unit to the judges when it was time to bring his bake up to the front of the tent.

It provoked national outrage though as Beard’s apparent devious actions hit the headlines.

However, all might not have been as it seemed as in the wake of the backlash Sue Perkins stated the ice cream had barely been out of the freezer.

"Iain's Alaska was out of the freezer for 40 secs. That's it. No sabotage. 40 secs of normal temp would NOT be enough to reduce it to liquid," she wrote.

Beard quit the show – which had been filmed in the spring – before the next episode due to reasons unrelated to the dessert drama with Iain later expressing dismay at the way she had been treated online.

Although he did also tell The Guardian he didn’t believe the programme-maker’s claims the dessert was out of the freezer for only 40 seconds.

Channel 4 change-up

Paul Hollywood, Mel Giedroyc, Mary Berry and Sue Perkins arrive for the British Academy Television Awards BAFTA, in London, Sunday, May. 12, 2013. (Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP)
Paul Hollywood, Mel Giedroyc, Mary Berry and Sue Perkins arrive at the 2013 Baftas. (Invision/AP)

GBBO found great success on BBC Two and so was promoted to BBC One after four series, but in 2016 the programme's makers Love Productions jumped ship to Channel 4 after a disagreement over price.

Mary Berry, Perkins and Mel Giedroyc stayed loyal to the BBC while Hollywood followed the programme to Channel 4.

The split in the original GBBO team appeared to be a source of friction for the foursome as Hollywood claimed Berry, Perkins and Giedroyc had "abandoned" the programme while he became "the most hated man in the country".

Read more: Candice Brown’s husband says Paul Hollywood kiss put strain on marriage

Earlier this year, Perkins reflected on the divide, describing the fallout with the baker as "painful" although didn't delve into the nitty-gritty of what went on.

Speaking on Jessie Ware’s Table Manners podcast, she said: “When we were there, Paul was really good fun - and stuff happened that made us incredibly sad and incredibly hurt.

“But he was always like family for years and years and years, and it’s painful when those things end, especially in the way that they did end.”

Noel Fielding’s fridge antics

Noel Fielding caused mild controversy when he got inside a fridge. (Photo by Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage)
Noel Fielding caused mild controversy when he got inside a fridge. (Photo by Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage)

Noel Fielding was brought onto the programme on its move to Channel 4 but he got off to a bit of a rocky start on his debut season.

While playing around in the big white tent, his co-star Sandi Toksvig opened a fridge to reveal the comedian crouched inside in a move that prompted 55 complaints to Ofcom.

Some feared the joke could prove harmful if children attempted to copy his actions, however, the broadcasting watchdog decided the programme did not need to be investigated.

Watch: Sandi Toksvig's best bits as she QUITS The Great British Bake Off

Prue Leith's premature announcement

Prue Leith attends a photocall during the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2019 on August 10, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images)
Prue Leith attends a photocall during the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2019 on August 10, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images)

The first series of GBBO to air on Channel 4 had its finale overshadowed somewhat by a Twitter blunder made by new judge Prue Leith.

Ahead of the airing of the final episode which saw Sophie Faldo win the coveted cake stand, Leith congratulated her in a tweet.

Read more: Prue Leith says UK is the 'most unbelievably class-ridden country'

After realising her error the cook apologised and explained she was in a different timezone as she holidayed in Bhutan.

She later described her mishap as "the most idiotic thing in the world" – but it can't have been too bad in Channel 4's eyes as they kept her on for more.