Our post of 26th September 2013 – Sugar High: British Television Show ‘Engenders Baking Surge’! – noted the mass popularity of the BBC Television hit The Great British Bake Off (‘TGBBO’), which is fronted by the presenting duo of Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Giedroyc and Perkins – perhaps understandably known as Mel and Sue for marketing purposes – are without doubt talented and apposite hosts for what amounts to a televised pastry competition, but we at Mediolana can’t help feel a sense of unease that they have attained genuine national-level success – something which long eluded them – compering one of the less challenging programmes available in the United Kingdom.
Why? Well, our CSO has fond memories of watching Mel and Sue in the spring of 1997 when they first pierced the televisual consciousness as presenters of what was ostensibly an ‘easy’ daytime chat show on Channel 4 by the name of Light Lunch. But in the first few weeks of Light Lunch, Giedroyc and Perkins did something truly novel – in the opening minutes of each show, they would begin with a satirical current affairs slot which poked fun at (and occasionally gently excoriated) the great and the good. Government corruption, corporate greed and even the tactics used by Big Alcohol to hook kids on what is ultimately a class 1 carcinogen all featured in this slot. It still sticks in the mind as one of the most innovative things we have seen on television.
And it bombed. This being the early days of New Labour and post-politics UK, the studio audience was about as responsive to this material as a twenty-eight day-old box of sushi. The Cambridge-educated presenters were swiftly reduced to making jokes about EastEnders and The Spice Girls – a truly painful sight given their obvious intelligence and lack of genuine connection with either subject. Light Lunch enjoyed a brief boom in popularity but predictably disappeared from our screens forever in 1998. Despite ephemeral reprisals on the surreal turn-of-the-millennium breakfast show RI:SE, Mel and Sue had to split up, change careers entirely and reform with much more modest ambitions: to present programmes which are the dictionary definition of ‘lo-fi’.
Their career trajectory says much more about the state of the United Kingdom at the time than it does about their act: we couldn’t handle anything more than the posturings of ersatz soap stars, whether they were in politics, the media, sport or their natural home of television. But as we have been thrust, involuntarily, back into history – and perhaps even History – has anything come along to supplant them?