Denise Robertson: Bake-offs and Bampton, so safe, sleepy and yet somehow alluring

Denise Robertson talks Bake-offs, Bampton and animal gallantry awards in this week's column

Mark Bourdillon/PA Wire Great British Bake Off judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry
Great British Bake Off judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

I have not watched a single episode of The Great British Bake Off and, lovely as she is, I’m glad I won’t see Mary Berry’s face smiling out at me from every newspaper every day, at least until the next series.

A staggering 12.5 million people tuned in for the finale, the second most watched piece of TV after the England v Uruguay World Cup Match. I can’t believe 12.5 million people have the urge to build lopsided cakes that resemble windmills so what’s the big attraction?

My recent trip to Downton country gave me a clue. The lovely village of Bampton, which doubles for Downton village, was utterly peaceful and unspoilt. Stepping into its streets was like stepping back in time to that golden but entirely fictitious age when no one moved more than a mile from their birthplace, the lord was in his manor, mum was in the kitchen and all was well with the world.

In fact it was a time of huge inequality, a time when syphilis carried off adults and diphtheria the children, when few could improve their lot no matter how hard they tried and generations of men died in foreign wars.

I knew all that and yet, sitting on the village green looking at the stone built houses, I felt peace seeping into me. A TV shoot is usually Bedlam but the effect of that old fashioned village meant that, every moment I wasn’t on camera, I could forget about Syria and Ebola, the rising cost of food, the epidemic of sexting threatening marriage, the trolling that has people cowering in their own homes, the myriad other fears that fill my postbag.

Are the Bake Offs and Bamptons of this world a good thing? Or should we avoid their soporific effect and face our problems square on? I don’t know. I only know that I want to go back to Bampton asap.

:: Open Clasp is unique. They’re all women but the work they create is aimed at mixed audiences and they want to make truthful, risk taking theatre.

They’re particularly interested in shining a light into the lives of the most disempowered in our society. Now they are organising a national conference to provide health and social care professionals with the necessary skills to meet the individual care needs of members of the older lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or Trans community.

The conference will look at practical approaches and tools to address the challenges which the care sector faces. It will also feature workshops by Equal Arts, facilitated discussions and thought-provoking live performance from Open Clasp.

After that they’re rehearsing for their next touring production, Hallowtide – a contemporary piece which focuses on the lives of three sisters and which they hope will both challenge and celebrate our understanding of young women’s lives. You can find out about both these events on the Open Clasp website or from

:: I love attending a PDSA Dickin Medal presentation. It’s the animal Victoria Cross and celebrates the gallantry and devotion of millions of animals that have served with our armed forces.

Since its introduction the medal has been awarded to 29 dogs, 32 World War II messenger pigeons, three horses and one cat.

The latest presentation was a little different. Animals that served, and sometimes died, in World War I have been honoured by the presentation of the first prestigious Honorary Dickin Medal to heroic war horse, Warrior.

Dubbed ‘the horse the Germans could not kill’, Warrior’s posthumous medal was accepted by broadcaster Brough Scott MBE, grandson of Warrior’s owner, General Jack Seely. Warrior served on the front line throughout the entire 1914-18 war. He was subjected to machine gun attacks and falling shells, buried under debris and got stuck in the mud at Passchendaele.

He was twice trapped under the burning beams of his stables and never once flinched. His courage inspired the men fighting around him. According to the Imperial War Museum, “Over 16 million animals served in the First World War. They were used for transport, communication and companionship.

By honouring Warrior in the centenary year, PDSA have brought to the forefront the story of all those animals.”

The PDSA is one of my favourite charities. I’ve visited its hospitals and seen the amazing work it does. It enables us all, rich or poor, to know our pets will be cared for if they fall ill. Its 51 pet hospitals across the UK provide vital care for over 470,000 animals a year. We should cherish it.


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