Can Alison Hammond fix TV's 'diversity problem'?
Rise and rise of the new Bake Off queen – but can Alison Can Alison Hammond stop TV being ‘hideously white’?
- Alison Hammond was recently revealed as the new host of Great British Bake Off
- ITV executives claim Channel 4 poached their star to fix its ‘diversity problem’
When Alison Hammond was revealed as the new host of Great British Bake Off last week, it confirmed her rise to the very top tier of British TV presenters.
But it has also provoked ire among ITV executives, who have privately expressed anger that Channel 4 poached their star to fix its ‘diversity problem’.
Because for all its attempts to be woke and inclusive, the rival broadcaster has been criticised for having not enough black faces among its big-name presenters.
While 48-year-old Hammond would hate any suggestion that the colour of her skin had a bearing on her landing the coveted job, her appearance alongside Noel Fielding, Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood in the Bake-Off tent when she replaces Matt Lucas will certainly help address the lack of on-screen diversity.
It is an industry-wide issue. More than 20 years after Greg Dyke branded the BBC ‘hideously white’ during his stint as director-general, all channels are still striving to hire more presenters and off-screen staff from ethnic minorities.
When Alison Hammond was revealed as the new host of Great British Bake Off last week, it confirmed her rise to the very top tier of British TV presenters
In 2019, The Mail on Sunday revealed that a whole day’s output on ITV, from 6am to midnight, featured just one non-white presenter, lunchtime newsreader Nina Hossain. The following year This Morning’s veteran editor Martin Frizell, now 64, vowed to address the problem. Keen to be seen as a pioneer of change, he told staff during a Zoom meeting in June 2020 that finding a black candidate ‘won’t be easy’.
Initially, he didn’t seem to realise that the answer was right under his nose in the programme’s bubbly showbiz reporter.
Ms Hammond, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, joined the show soon after competing in Channel 4’s Big Brother in 2002. And over the years she grew her profile as a larger-than-life celebrity guest on other shows across the schedules, including ITV’s Loose Women, BBC’s Strictly and MasterChef and E4’s Celebs Go Dating.
But on This Morning executives continued to underestimate both her talents, and her appeal to viewers, and she maintained a relatively minor role.
With big-name presenters such as Fern Britton, Holly Willoughby, Phillip Schofield and husband-and-wife duo Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford on the roster, it was hard for Hammond to break through and she got no more than a few minutes airtime each week as she was dispatched to interview celebrities or carry out ‘vox pops’ with the public.
But in 2021, ITV bosses axed Holmes and Langsford. Suddenly, a vacancy opened and after being on the sidelines for so long, Alison was asked to front the show on Fridays with the more experienced former X Factor host Dermot O’Leary.
Ratings shot up 44 per cent.
That she helped ITV address its own diversity problem is a bonus, although friends of the remarkably ‘unstarry’ Brummie say she finds the suggestion that was any part of the reason her long-standing friends were dropped from the show ‘uncomfortable’.
ITV executives have privately expressed anger that Channel 4 poached their star to fix its ‘diversity problem’. Pictured: Mary Nightingale and Alison Hammond on ‘Britain’s Best Dish – Celebrity Special’ TV Programme
Although they may have been slow to realise Hammond’s potential, ITV chiefs are incandescent that the star they nurtured has been poached for a primetime role on one of Channel 4’s most high-profile programmes. An industry insider said: ‘There has recently been a culture of other channels nicking ITV talent that it has grown and nurtured. That is certainly true of Alison Hammond.
‘They discovered her, had her in their stable for years and then finally gave her a break.’ The BBC are equally jealous and bosses are scolding themselves over a missed opportunity, given the role Strictly played in raising her profile.
The mother of one has also been a judge on their Saturday night show I Can See Your Voice, which they recently axed after two series.
For its part, Channel 4 is delighted with its new signing, with chief content officer Ian Katz gushing: ‘Alison is effortlessly funny and the owner of the best laugh in Britain.’
Across the board, broadcasters are still trying to address their ‘diversity problem’ in mainstream shows and last month ITV featured its second all-black line-up on Loose Women. With sad inevitability, it attracted vile racist comments on social media, but as another viewer said in defence: ‘Dude, it’s been all-white for 20 years. Get a grip.’
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