TV Critic Emily Chapman explains how the SU2C Bake-Off special fits into the tradition of TV charity specials
“Life is a competition” says Kaiser Chiefs frontman, Ricky Wilson at the beginning of episode two of the celebrity special series of Channel 4’s The Great British Bake-Off. This comment seems especially relevant in a charity special in support of Stand Up To Cancer, as around 360,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK (that’s around 990 every day). We see the ongoing battle that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children across the UK face on a daily basis. Eschewing the classic title for a slightly more convoluted version in order to distinguish their charity special from its usual namesake, Channel 4 have managed to (let’s be honest) cleverly rebrand the BBC’s Comic Relief rendition of the iconic show.
Despite the recycling of old ideas, Channel 4 and its guests have taken a keen focus in encouraging their viewers to take part in fundraising for SU2C and thus an engagement with the purpose of the special, in a much more committed way than the BBC ever did. Seeing familiar faces of a mix of celebs from all walks of life – most with their own experiences with cancer, be it with relatives or themselves – talking about cancer from a personal perspective, is something I think is incredibly important to the spreading of support for charities like SU2C, as well as offering support to those people at home who are currently battling against the disease. The inclusion of personal stories speaks to the viewers more frankly and honestly as, after all, cancer doesn’t care who you are or where you’ve been.
The interesting dichotomy between the humour of the show (by watching Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp bake his butter cream, or Harry Hill’s, admittedly very impressive, biscuit-tribute to Camilla Parker Bowles), alongside TV presenter Bill Turnbull discussing his own heart-breaking experience with cancer, both keeps us on our toes, and acts as a reminder as to why this show is actually happening. It’s easy to make flippant remarks about Channel 4’s production incentives, but I applaud them for their willingness to continue the tradition of an annual Bake-Off special – it’s not like anyone’s complaining about having more TV to watch (at least, I’m certainly not). But Channel 4 doesn’t solely rely on our pity for the rich and famous, documenting real life stories of people across the UK and the efforts by their families to raise money for SU2C and other cancer-research based charities.
The role of charity specials on our TV has been around for decades: Comic Relief, Sport Relief, Children in Need and recently SU2C each having their own time of year to raise money, culminating in a huge TV bonanza featuring everyone’s favourite celeb has forever been familiar to our screens and across all forms of media. Red Nose Day at school was always centred around that night’s coming show, all of us ready to ride the roller-coaster of emotion that took us from watching David Tennant kissing Davina McCall to being confronted with the truth of child poverty in the UK. It was and still is a way of bringing the nation together, because we knew, for a few nights a year, we were all watching the same thing, being brought to tears by the same heart-breaking stories.
So now that this charity series has drawn to a close, whilst other Channel 4 specials like First Dates and Gogglebox appear on our TVs, I find comfort in their existence. Because despite the obvious benefits of putting that well-loved tent back up for some more screen time, British television does something very beneficial and important for the charities it supports. Channel 4, although arguably playing into the celeb-obsessed nature of contemporary culture, have continued to use this force in an incredibly positive way to rally the troops in the battle against cancer.
Episodes of The Great Celebrity Bake-Off for SU2C are available to stream via All4 here.