This year's Great British Bake Off ended last night. It was an immensely enjoyable show, and also very popular with the general public. Drawing wider lessons from such apparent trivia is a tricky business - but I was particularly concerned by this article by one of the contestants (Ruby Tandoh) in today's Guardian. There has, apparently, been a lot of abusive comment in the press and on social media. What does this say about the state of British manners?
First let's have the good news. The manners displayed in the contest itself were quite beautiful. In spite of the highly pressured atmosphere, and the obviously competitive nature of the activity, the contestants behaved wonderfully to each other. They actually seemed to like being together - bonding in response to the common task. This applied even to the comments made by the contestants without the others there. This is not always the case with these game shows (though we do not watch many of them), where rather silly competitive stuff often gets said. Nobody forgot that this was just a pointless contest about cakes and bread. This is all part of the charm of the programme, and clearly it helps make excellent viewing. This is welcome relief against the apparent conventional wisdom that bad manners make good viewing.
It is also worth pointing out that the judging was inevitably hard, but scrupulously fair. One of the judges, Mary Berry, being a particularly fine exemplar of good manners while at the same time passing difficult judgements. The other, Paul Hollywood, was less tactful, but never rude and always fair. This huge effort to be fair in the face of something very subjective also made for very good viewing. There are important social lessons there in a cynical world.
So what was the fuss about? Well I know about it mostly from Ms Tandoh's article. My Facebook friends hardly talked about it, still less said anything inappropriate. I did pick up an article in The Daily Mail while I was on holiday last week though, claiming that Miss Tandoh should have been knocked out that week, but wasn't because a tendency to burst into tears had affected the judges. We watched a recorded version of the show, which showed this accusation to be clearly nonsense. Apparently there was a lot more of this rubbish around. Miss Tandoh's view is that it was largely misogynistic - responding to the fact that the final five contestants were all women.
What this clearly shows is that bad manners are rife on social media. That Britain's awful press pick up on this and stir it up further is entirely unsurprising. But people buy these papers and clearly like to read it. I can't say for sure whether this means that standards of social behaviour are slipping, or whether social media is simply exposing behaviour that was previously concealed. I suspect the latter.
Regardless, it shows that the British public has a lot to learn about manners on social media. But it is rather wonderful to have a TV programme like the Bake Off to show how good manners can done in a thoroughly modern way, and that it brings with a feel-good factor with it. Miss Tandoh's article is model of good manners itself. She has put her critics to shame.