LONDON — Mary Berry is quitting as a judge on “The Great British Bake Off” out of loyalty to the BBC, which lost the hit series to rival network Channel 4 in a bidding war earlier this month. But fellow judge Paul Hollywood announced that he would stick with the show.
Berry’s departure means that three of the program’s four regular personalities — whose chemistry has been credited with turning it into a ratings juggernaut — will not be moving with”Bake Off” to Channel 4 after it wraps up its run on the BBC this season.
Berry’s decision to follow hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc out of the “Bake Off” tent adds to the pressure on Channel 4 to maintain the show’s startling success and to justify the millions of pounds it put up to outbid the BBC. The BBC reportedly offered £15 million ($19.8 million) a year to keep the program, but its creators, Love Productions, wanted £25 million ($32.9 million) — four times its existing deal. Channel 4’s successful bid, at an undisclosed amount, covers a three-year contract.
Love Productions tried to reassure viewers Thursday that the program would maintain the homespun, slightly hokey spirit that had made it such a success, despite the imminent departure of most of its recognizable faces.
“We want to reiterate to ‘Bake Off’ fans that the show they love will remain wholly familiar, and that Channel 4 is a great place to make our show. ‘Bake Off’ will be produced by the same team, in the same tent, with the same recipe,” Richard McKerrow, creative director of Love Productions, said in a statement announcing that Hollywood would stay on.
However, Channel 4 has previously said that its first season of “Bake Off” would be a celebrity version of the show, without the everyday Brits whose culinary triumphs and trials millions of viewers have been accustomed to seeing each week.
Tim Westcott, senior principal analyst of TV programming at IHS Markit, told Variety in an interview earlier this week that the change of on-camera talent could prove challenging and that, though an independent production, “Bake Off” was “very much identified with the BBC.”
“It’s not easy to change the formula,” Westcott said. The BBC itself “saw that with ‘Top Gear,'” the automotive show that has fallen in the ratings since the departure of its former hosts.
Public dismay at Berry’s quitting was swift to register on social media. Comedian John Bishop tweeted that Channel 4 had essentially “bought the Beatles without John, George and Ringo,” while television presenter Phillip Schofield commented: “Clang went the wheels as they all fell off.”
In a statement, Berry said: “My decision to stay with the BBC is out of loyalty to them, as they have nurtured me, and the show, that was a unique and brilliant format from day one. I am just sad for the audience who may not be ready for change. I hope they understand my decision. I wish the program, crew and future bakers every possible success, and I am so very sad not to be a part of it.”
For his part, Hollywood said he could not imagine leaving a program that had introduced the delights of baking to so many people.
“It’s been a huge part of my life in the past few years, and I just couldn’t turn my back on all that,” Hollywood said in a statement. “So I am delighted that I will be continuing as a judge when ‘Bake Off’ moves to Channel 4. I want to thank the BBC and Mel and Sue for making my time in the tent great fun and really rewarding.”
Hollywood made no mention of fellow judge Berry in his statement, although he later tweeted his thanks to her and said “she has made the right decision for her.” Jay Hunt, Channel 4’s chief creative officer, risked further alienating fans of the grandmotherly Berry by saying “Paul really is the star baker….His wit, warmth and wisdom are vital ingredients in ‘Bake Off’s’ success.”
“Bake Off” turned both Berry and Hollywood into household names following the cookery show’s launch in 2010. Berry said it had been a privilege and honor to be part of “seven years of magic in a tent” and credited Hollywood, Perkins and Giedroyc with providing her “so much joy and laughter.”
“Mary is an extraordinary woman, loved and adored by the British public, and the BBC is her natural home,” said Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content. “I’ve been very lucky to have had the pleasure of working with Mary over the last seven years, and I’m so pleased that relationship will continue. She is an inspiration to generations, a real icon and I can’t wait to cook up more unmissable shows with her in the future.”
The show drew a respectable audience of 2 million upon its launch in 2010 but steadily built into a ratings phenomenon. The Aug. 24 opening episode of the current season, the show’s seventh, boasted an average audience of 10.4 million, the biggest ever for a “Bake Off” season opener. (Last year’s debut show drew an average 9.3 million.) At peak moments, the 2016 opener topped 11 million viewers — more than tuned in to the Rio Olympics in Britain at any one time.
Last season’s finale achieved an average of 13.4 million viewers, with peak viewing of 14.5 million, giving it the biggest U.K television audience of the year.