Last week, people across the world breathed a sigh of relief as they welcomed a group of 12 new amateur bakers onto their TV screens. The Great British Bake Off, aka the cosiest show on television, has finally returned, and in 2020, fans needed it more than ever. The sense of relief that came from seeing series 11 of GBBO premiere came not only because we were so desperate for a dose of comfort in the form of contestant camaraderie and mouthwatering bakes, but also because this season of the show almost didn't happen.
Like almost everything else, GBBO production was deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily though, the show as able to adapt, make several significant changes, and move forward with filming series 11. And we've got all the details on the show's clever manoeuvering that made it possible for fans to enjoy the salve that is The Great British Bake Off during these dark times.
When was it filmed & for how long?
Filming for series 11 of GBBO was supposed to begin in April 2020. Though that may feel like several lifetimes ago, you'll remember that production was postponed on most movies and TV shows at that time because of the pandemic. Finally, after making some major adjustments to how things would be done, filming officially began at the end of July.
One of the changes that made it possible for Love Productions to bring fans a new season of GBBO before the end of 2020 was a shortened production period. "Bake Off is normally filmed across 12 or 13 weeks, predominantly at weekends, and that's what the bakers were told would happen at the start," producer Kieran Smith recently told Radio Times. "But within a month we asked, 'Can you take six weeks off work and come and live in a biosphere?' Everything was complicated, everything was different, but everybody wanted to do it."
Where did the contestants stay?
With a new six-week production period set, the new batch of bakers headed to a bespoke bubble in Essex. Since 2014, Bake Off has been filmed inside a tent in Welford Park in Berkshire. Again, because of COVID-19, the location for series 11 had to be changed. Essex Live reports that this season was instead shot inside a tent in the gardens of the Down Hall Hotel in Bishop's Stortford.
According to Broadcast, before entering the hotel, the 120 people working on the production — including contestants, judges, hosts, crew, staff, and cleaners — were required to self-isolate for nine days and take three COVID-19 tests. Upon arrival, they quarantined at the hotel for 14 days before production began and stayed together in the bubble until filming wrapped on August 19.
According to the Down Hall Hotel's official website, the Victorian estate-turned-hotel has 98 bedrooms, each of which was designed to reflect the grandeur, elegance, and character of the historic property. The hotel is set on 110 acres, so there was plenty of room for the iconic GBBO marquee.
Producer Kieran Smith shared with Radio Times that the stay at Down Hall was actually a nice escape for many after months of lockdown. "Noel [Fielding] felt a lot happier in the bubble than he did in the real world," he stated. "He'd pretty much been shielding in one location for several months, so the ability to walk in a green space and be able to talk to people face to face was liberating. It was the same with quite a few others. By the end, I was desperate to get out, but there was a freedom to it as well." This makes total sense, as most fans of the show also feel a lot happier when watching Bake Off, and we're not even experiencing the joy IRL.
Where did the bakers practice their bakes?
As all GBBO fans will know, contestants typically spend the weekdays between weekend shoots of the competition show practicing for upcoming signature and showstopper challenges. As you can imagine, this time around, those practice baking sessions looked quite a bit different. "Twelve practice kitchens were built on-site in the grounds of the hotel for the bakers to practise their bakes in between filming," a Netflix rep tells Refinery29. "Each episode was filmed over two days, so we filmed two days on and two days off, and the bakers were able to practice during those two days off."
Now that we know all the drastic changes that had to happen in order to bring series 11 of GBBO to our TV screens, we're even more eager to see how each episode turns out. Knowing all that went into production, we're even more grateful the show exists, especially in the year 2020.