Quinntesstial Baking with Frances Quinn and Howard Middleton by Patrick McGuckin

This review was written by a member of the Ilkley Literature Festival review team. The Review Team take part in a special reviewing workshop at the start of the Festival before attending Festival events.


Given that the week had seen the final of the Great British Bake Off gain the’ most popular programme of the year so far’ accolade, it was surprising that the King’s Hall was only a little over half full to see the 2013 champion Frances Quinn and popular contestant from the same year, Howard Middleton. It was 11am however, possibly too early for the usual literature festival crowd. Bettys goody bags were distributed at the door to get us in the mood.

Both Quinn and Middleton have books out at the moment and both took to the stage to tell the story of their experience of the GB Bake Off.

Quinn has given up work as a designer of baby clothes at a major retailer. Her colleagues had encouraged her to enter GB Bake Off. Quinn had done the baking for special occasions such as the launch of new collections and significant birthdays. She had also contributed recipes to the staff website. She now concentrates on her baking design instead. She has been commissioned to produce cakes to celebrate such varied events as Andy Murray winning at Wimbledon, and the millionth visitor to our local Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield. Her book is a glossy affair, professionally photographed highlighting her love of design but bringing this to a different medium.

Howard’s book is dedicated to gluten-free baking. He explained that he has an interest in different types of flour, seeing each one as a different friend! Howard still works for Sheffield City Council. His book therefore had to be written in the evenings and at weekends. He did all his own photography for the book as well.

The real joy of this talk was listening to what goes on behind the scenes in the filming of the GB Bake Off. They explained that they see very little of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, explaining that they do a ‘royal tour’ to see how things are progressing, whilst Mel and Sue are there throughout the filming and seem to be a source of support.

Contestants would typically travel down for filming on a Friday evening. There would be an early morning call at 5am. They would then be driven to the set where filming would start at 8am. The set sounds designed to make baking as difficult as possible. The floor of the tent is highly sprung. There are eight cameras each, with a mass of wires and a lot of unfamiliar equipment. Each time a contestant is about to put something into – or get something out of the oven, they must call for a camera to capture the moment. We also learnt that contestants have to have the recipes for the ‘signature round’ and ‘show stopper’ round ready and submitted in advance for nine weeks of programmes. There is therefore a lot of work to do once making it through the selection process but before filming.

All the food made on the programme is snapped up by the crew. The contestants were actually quite miffed that they never got to taste each other’s products!

Frances and Howard both come over as likeable and comforting. With all the possible entertainment at our fingertips these days it says something that the most popular thing we watch is about people making cakes. Likeable and comforting is all we need at the end of the day.

Patrick McGuckin has lived in Ilkley for 18 years and attended Ilkley Literature Festival for most of those years. Since attending the Review Writing Workshop a few years ago on a whi his has regularly reviewed events for the Festival. Patrick also reviews performances at Ilkley Playhouse for Ilkley Gazette.



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