Just when you've got over the Bake Off final.. This is when Junior Bake Off starts

Liam Charles, Prue Leith and Harry Hill
Liam Charles, Prue Leith and Harry Hill

New to Channel 4 this year is Junior Bake Off, in which budding bakers' cake, bread and biscuit-making skills are tested to the limit.

Judges Prue Leith and Liam Charles, plus presenter Harry Hill, talk to Georgia Humphreys about the appeal of the show, and the highs and lows of filming with kids.

Prue Leith admits she was a little nervous about being part of Junior Bake Off.

Three years since it last aired, on CBBC, The Great British Bake Off spin-off has made the move to Channel 4.

Over 15 episodes, we will see 40 children between the ages of nine and 15, battle it out to be crowned champion of the Bake Off tent. There are 10 heats in which the contestants face two challenges - the Technical Bake and the Showstopper. Only four will make it through to the grand final.

So, why the nerves for South African-born judge Leith? Well, what the 79-year-old didn't want to see was "a whole lot of really upper middle-class children who had been privately educated, and who go to Spain every year for their holidays and are amazingly sophisticated".

"Occasionally I meet children like that," she elaborates, "and they'll say things like, 'I really don't like the pesto at Carluccio's...' And they've all got yummy mummies and you want to say to them, 'What's the matter with hot dog and chips?'

"And there were a few posh kids, but they were just lovely. Nobody was pretentious."

EXCITING OPPORTUNITY

For Londoner Charles - who's 22, and rose to fame after appearing in The Great British Bake Off two years ago - judging the junior version was a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, Hill's three daughters, Winifred, Kitty and Frederica, told him he had to do it.

"They're big fans of Bake Off," shares the Woking-born comedian, 55.

"And I had done the celebrity Bake Off before [for Stand Up To Cancer in 2018], so I knew they were a nice bunch. It was a happy three weeks in Kent."

"I'd never watched Junior Bake Off, so I had no previous idea about it," notes Leith, who started judging the grown-up version once it moved to Channel 4 in 2017.

"But I think I was sold a pup," she quips, "because it used to only be four bakers, and they only did one challenge and the whole thing was over by 5 O' clock or something. So, I was told, 'Bake Off is a cinch, it's so lovely, and you'll be in this beautiful house...' - which we were, it was this absolutely beautiful stately home.

"But the days were 12-13 hours long, because actually, there were a lot more bakers."

But the tough filming schedule was worth it, as the acclaimed cook and restaurateur is passionate about getting more young people into the kitchen.

"I've always said the way to solve the obesity crisis really, and to get people to eat proper food, is to teach them to cook, and the way people get into cooking is through baking," she explains.

"So, the more of that, the better."

ESCAPIST TELLY

Asked why they think now is a good time for the return of Junior Bake Off, Hill retorts: "Brexit".

"It's very uplifting to see young people coming together and doing something positive," he follows with a smile.

"I mean, The Great British Bake Off has that vibe too, at a time when there's a lot of doom and gloom about."

Then there's the fact mainstream Bake Off has been such a hit it's inspired more and more people to get baking.

"I know so many kids who are baking now, not just cupcakes and stuff, they're going for eclairs and croquembouches," enthuses Charles, who is also known for co-hosting Bake Off: The Professionals on Channel 4.

"And obviously the age cap for normal Bake Off is 16. So, there's a generation there that are more than capable of producing amazing bakes."

"They've grown up baking. And it's been phenomenal... You talk to manufacturers of baking tins, they say they can't believe that they're still selling so much baking kit," says Leith.

"So, people are baking, and children are baking, and we need something for up to 15 so they can compete as well."

BOUNCING BACK

Do the junior contestants get less stressed than the adults?

"The amazing thing about children is how you can see on their face exactly where they are," suggests Leith.

"They don't have any filter. As you grow up, you begin to be able to dissemble. You can pretend that you're fine when you're not fine - children can't.

"As soon as they're upset, you can see the tears. They break something, that's the end of the world. But then, they recover amazingly.

"If a grown-up gets close to tears, it takes them ages to recover, because of the humiliation of having been weeping."

And, of course, they've got Hill - known for Harry Hill's TV Burp and You've Been Framed! - on hand to cheer the kids up.

"The only thing about them being children is that they were there for the fun of it and the experience of it; they weren't thinking of writing a book..." he notes. "It's uncynical."

EMOTIONAL EMPATHY

Something that impressed Leith a lot was how "every time a baker was sent off, and then they would be upset, Liam would kneel down next to this kid, face to face, really, really close to them, and just talk to them."

After all, Charles - who finished in fifth place in the eighth series - knows what it feels like to be sent home by Leith (and her on-screen partner in crime, Paul Hollywood).

"You feel like it's the worst thing ever," he admits.

"So, it's just about assuring the bakers that, 'Yeah, it feels rubbish now, but when it goes out on TV, you're going to realise you've done something so cool'."

Hill recalls he did feel emotional seeing the bakers upset.

"From my point of view, I was the one who had to break the news [who was going home], even though I had no input into the decision.

"And you think, 'Oh, it's just a TV show'. But it does get emotional at times, because you do get very attached to them, especially after a few weeks. You see yourself in that situation.

"But the thing was, they cheered up pretty quickly."

Junior Bake Off airs weekdays on Channel 4 from Monday, November 4.