Here’s The Truth Behind Why The Great British Baking Show Takes Place In A Tent

The Great British Baking Show is a beloved fixture of British TV, pulling in an audience of millions each week. Just as iconic is the famous tent that hosts the baking competition. However, conditions inside the marquee can be intense, and a lot of that has to do with the structure itself. And yet, producers keep it as the backdrop for the show regardless – and their reason why may surprise you.

Now, American viewers have taken to The Great British Baking Show, especially since it was added to Netflix in August 2018. Indeed, many U.S. fans told the BBC in 2019 that they love the show because it’s an escape from reality. For instance, they find it soothing to watch the contestants bake their confections in the midst of a seemingly endless news cycle.

However, those who have watched The Great British Baking Show from the beginning know that the series has changed over time. Yes, the first seven series had bakers presenting their creations to judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, while hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc kept the laughs going.

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But when Channel 4 bought the rights to the BBC show, the series saw some changes. For you see, while Hollywood stuck around, the famous veteran Berry quit. And new judge Prue Leith stepped in next to him. Instead of the Perkins and Giedroyc hosting team, Sandy Toksvig and Noel Fielding now bring the humor.

However, both versions of The Great British Baking Show have charmed viewers in America and beyond. That’s because the core of the show has remained the same – contestants simply bake for glory, not for prizes. And they do it all from a tent built on an English estate for one very surprising reason. On that note, let’s first go back to the start of this popular program.

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So, Anna Beattie created The Great British Baking Show – called The Great British Bake Off across the pond – and it first aired in the U.K. in 2010. She told The Guardian three years later that she initially imagined her show as “an old-fashioned baking competition with people who only wanted to bake a good cake. It was as simple as that.”

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But the jovial nature of Beattie’s vision didn’t speak to television executives – at least not at first. She recalled, “It took us four years to get anybody at any channel to take any notice. Nobody wanted it. Nobody liked it.” But she persevered, she said, because she “knew it was a good idea.”

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Eventually, the BBC caught onto the genius that was The Great British Baking Show. And they aired the first ever episode on August 17, 2010, and the rest, as they say, is history. But where the series was originally based differs greatly from what viewers see today, as we’ll find out.

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You see, the first season saw the show’s contestants shuttling around the U.K. to cities linked to the confection they’d bake. So, bread week took them to the Kent town of Sandwich, while they baked scones and cookies at Perthshire’s Scone Palace. For the final, the contestants still standing prepared their last confection in London’s Fulham Palace.

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After the first season, though, the show put down roots – at least, for each year’s production. Yes, rather than shuttling contestants around the U.K., they started baking in tents built on the grounds of beautiful British estates. For example, season two was based at Valentines Mansion in Redbridge, while series three and four were at Harptree Court in Somerset.

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However, from the fifth season onward, Welford Park in Berkshire has painted a stunning backdrop for the show’s famous tent. Indeed, the private residence quickly transforms into the set for the series. And Deborah Puxley, who lives there, told The Sun in 2019 that it only takes three days to build the marquee.

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Regardless of location, every series of The Great British Baking Show has followed the same format, as far as the challenges go. That’s correct, each episode presents contestants with a trio of hurdles – a signature bake, a technical challenge and a show-stopper. Furthermore, all of these will fall in line with a different weekly theme.

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In the signature challenge, bakers present judges with their personal go-to recipes – the ones they’d make at home for loved ones. Next, they complete the technical challenge, in which they receive a new recipe and have to bake it as best they can. Crucially, the judges evaluate and rank each confection without knowing who made it.

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Finally, the contestants have to complete the showstopper challenge, which is just as it sounds. You see, they are briefed over what they have to bake, but must do their best to infuse it with professional-grade flavors and decorations. And, once that’s done, the judges decide who’s that week’s Star Baker before eliminating one person from the contest.

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As mentioned briefly earlier, although these challenges have stayed the same, those presenting and judging them have changed over the years. When the BBC produced the original show, it had hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc to narrate the scenes. Meanwhile, when bakers completed their confections, they presented them to judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. As you may know, the foursome earned rave reviews from fans and critics alike.

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As Meredith Blake of the Los Angeles Times put it, “Like a souffle, The Great British Baking Show relies on the very precise chemistry between its personalities. The firm but kind Berry, often clad in flowered jackets and pearls, is the undisputed heart and soul of the show.”

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Then, Blake came on to Hollywood saying, “A master bread baker with stiffly gelled hair and a goatee. Though he clearly sees himself as the show’s ‘bad cop,’ Hollywood is not quite as tough as he initially seems.” And the hosts rounded off The Great British Baking Show’s perfectly gelled cast.

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You see, Blake wrote, “Perkins and Giedroyc are the show’s zany but sharp-witted everywomen, providing frazzled contestants with much-needed moral support while making lots of bawdy puns about frosted buns.” Together, the hosts, Hollywood and Berry – along with the contestants – would make a hit out of The Great British Baking Show.

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In fact, it first aired on BBC Two and remained there for four years, eventually becoming the channel’s most popular program. Then, the BBC moved it to their main channel, BBC One. By 2015 – and into 2016 – the baking program surged to the number one spot in British television. What’s more, the viewing figures were enough to stun anyone.

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Yes, to put its popularity into perspective, the finale of its sixth season roped in 15 million viewers. Now, that was more than double the amount of Brits who watched the series finale of Downton Abbey. And the same number of people tuned into the 2014 World Cup finale in the U.K. too.

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But The Great British Baking Show in its most popular iteration wouldn’t last forever. Instead, Channel 4 bought the rights to air the show for a reportedly hefty $32 million price tag. Given that, season seven of the series would be the last to air on the BBC. And with this came several personnel changes on the show.

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For one thing, Berry decided not to make the move with the program from the BBC to Channel 4. And she explained her decision in a statement via the BBC saying, “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.”

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Soon, Perkins and Giedroyc followed suit, sticking with the BBC instead of the show itself. So only Hollywood remained as the series premiered its eighth season in 2017, this time on Channel 4. That wasn’t the only difference, of course – the show had a new judge and two new hosts.

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Now, the new judge was Prue Leith, who’d played the same role on the Great British Menu on BBC Two. Actually, that show has been going for 11 years on British TV and was a hit in its own right. As for the hosts, comedian Noel Fielding and broadcaster Sandi Toksvig signed on to the newest iteration of the baking series.

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Surprisingly, The Great British Baking Show didn’t quite take off in the U.S. as quickly as it did in the U.K. Firstly, there was the question of what name to give the series. You see, the U.K. version is called The Great British Bake Off, but the American version couldn’t use this title. Why? Well, the Pillsbury company has a trademark on the phrase “bake off”, after its own famous competition in the U.S.

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So, the program took on a new name, The Great British Baking Show, but even that didn’t solidify success. Instead, the series aired on PBS, and the network played the show out of sequence. Obviously, episodes of an elimination-centric competition viewed in random order wouldn’t appeal to viewers.

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To boost interest in the series, TV producers kicked off The Great American Baking Show, too. However, U.S. audiences soon made it clear which version they liked better. Yes, they preferred the original Baking Show from Britain, and more and more people got on board when the program hit Netflix in August 2018.

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Nowadays, Americans love The Great British Baking Show just as much as British audiences. The BBC revealed in 2019 that U.S. audiences appreciated the show’s politically neutral entertainment value. And they said they decompress while watching the baking competition without thinking about the non-stop cycle of sensational news headlines.

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As Christine Wang Dickson wrote for Fansided in 2018, “Nobody shared their views on Brexit or gave their opinion on Theresa May. Hardly anyone even mentioned personal hardships […] All that outside noise, is left where it belongs – outside. […] The Great British Baking Show became the perfect set of arms to run into.”

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Plus, as Blake wrote for the Los Angeles Times, the show turns everything we know about reality TV on its ear. Namely, the contestants don’t fight against each other for a massive cash prize. Instead, they engage in friendly competition with the top baker taking home an engraved cake stand. As you might expect though, the winner usually succeeds in going on to greater things, having been declared the best.

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Furthermore, the low-stakes atmosphere means that the show’s contestants don’t typically plot against or argue with one another. Instead, they become friends as well as competitors, even helping one another during their challenges. Viewer Chrystina Cappello cited this as her reason for loving the program, as we’ll now find out.

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Yes, Cappello, a Philadelphia native, explained to the BBC, “The producers focus on the moments that the team are working together – when someone helps someone take something out of a pan, when someone has a suggestion on how to fix something, or just gives a much-needed hug. It’s endearing, and it’s exactly what the world needs right now – more feel-good television.”

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As such, The Great British Baking Show has continued through its tenth season, which kicked off in August 2019. Even with nine seasons in its wake, this go-round marked a first in the show’s history. That’s right – David Atherton, a contestant who had never been named Star Baker throughout the series, won the competition.

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And Atherton was presented with his trophy just outside of the famous Great British Baking Show tent in October. Interestingly, watching the bakers toil away in the marquee has lead viewers to wonder why they work in such a space instead of, say, a proper indoor kitchen.

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Well, the main reason the show’s competitors work in a tent goes back to series creator Beattie’s original vision.Yes, she told The Guardian that she imagined the baking competition to be akin to a fete in rural parts of the U.K.

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Therefore, The Great British Baking Show’s tent is designed to invoke the feeling of a traditional British village fete. A fete is a type of fair, with activities such as food and commodities stalls, raffles, skill games, Morris dancing and, of course, baking contests. On top of that, although the show’s location has changed over the seasons, it’s maintained familiarity with the iconic tent.

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Plus, as a Great British Baking Show fan noted via Quora, the tent represents the U.K. way of life, too. They wrote, “It’s really all part of the production design. The idea is to reflect that typically quintessential British tradition of taking afternoon tea on the lawns of some great country house.”

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Over the years, baking in an outdoor tent has posed problems for the contestants, though. For instance, Frances Quinn, who won the show in 2013, explained that the unpredictable weather outside of the tent had a huge effect on what was baked inside of it.

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Yes, Quinn explained to Cosmopolitan in 2019, “The temperature fluctuates – you’d be making a meringue and it would start raining, or we’d try and make pastry and it would be 27℃ outside. The technical challenges and lack of time and lack of fridge and work space are the enemy on that show.” And don’t expect the production crew to add air-conditioners to help with this, either.

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For The Great British Baking Show’s production team, adding air-conditioning would create too much background noise for filming. So, contestants have to deal with the heat of the show’s famous tent, put in place because it evokes the feeling of a traditional British competition. And, now, so does the sight of the white marquee on the lawn for those who watch the series – mission accomplished.

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