THERE were plenty of tears, both on screen and off. The end of the last BBC Great British Bake Off series sparked an outpouring of online grief, even though the show is hardly yet dead. Rather, its fate is unknown, as it moves to a new life on Channel 4 without Mary Berry, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins.

But, as the credits rolled, I was not remotely sorry to see it go. Instead, I felt that a burden was being lifted. We, in this increasingly fractured Britain, were about to be freed of a show that has paralysed us with nostalgia for a country that has almost never existed. It felt to me as if really it was time for the Bake Off to bog off. Channel 4 is welcome to it. At least, without the BBC stamp of authority, it will no longer feel like we are being told what being British is all about. No longer will it seem as if this isle is being defined as its sponge-baking middle class.

That’s not to say every contestant was solidly middle or upper middle-class. This year's winner, Candice Brown, was in many ways what the show needed: the daughter of pub landlords, a special needs teacher, the envoy of a kind of modern Britishness that wasn’t too entitled, and had a hint of working-class to it. Last year, when Muslim hijab-wearing Nadiya Hussain took the crown, it seemed the Bake Off had found a winner who spoke of a diversity nicely at odds with the marquees and the rolling stately-home gardens of the show.

But throughout, GBBO has only offered a fairly limited inclusivity. The show, after all, was only working with certain ingredients: that section of the population who had the time and resources to explore their love of crafting non-essential treats. It never did represent Britain, just as Masterchef never has represented the way we live and cook today. Few of us have the time, resources or inclination to dedicate ourselves to the crafting of a perfect choux bun or Dampfnudel.

GBBO may not have originally set out to be a programme that told us what Britain was, but with a title like that, it was bound to be seen that way. Despite the sprinkling of ethnic diversity, it was hard to find in it any portrait of the Britain that was wading through austerity, debating Scottish independence, or thundering towards a Ukip-fuelled Brexit. All too often it seemed like a piece of overblown escapism, a grease-papering over of today’s realities. Many loved it for that. And what's wrong with a little sugary distraction?

But even escapism is political. If the Great British Bake Off had a message, it is along the lines of “Keep Calm And Bake On”. Bake, it seemed to be saying, or watch people baking, and we’ll get through any global or national crisis and we won’t have to change or deal with those bigger questions. It’s a message that speaks of conservatism, of a desire to create the impression we can just soldier on doing what we always did so long as there’s a piece of Victoria sponge at the end of the day. But keeping calm and carrying on only serves certain people. It only works for those with enough resources, skills or hope to keep going. Carrying on baking is really a privilege.

Of course, on one level, GBBO was just one of many reality contests which have had us in their thrall, and which seem to have gridlocked our broadcasting channels with aspirational propaganda. All of them, whether Masterchef, X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent, are celebrations of the striver and the notion that anyone from anywhere can make it in the reality contest Britain of today. The dominance of such shows has left us bereft of real storytelling about what it is like, for many, to live here now.

The shows we watch today relate very little to the actual everyday struggles most people experience. The food we see cooked on them is not what we make at home, or buy in our shops. The journeys people make on them are unlike the complicated, often confusing, personal trajectories most of us have. Viewers sometimes say they like them because they are aspirational, but all too often the contestants in these shows become reduced to demographic caricatures within tales of passion and determination, from which, I believe, we gain nothing more than a quick dopamine rush, a vicarious revelling in their triumphs over trifling adversity.

After Candice Brown was announced this year’s winner, she said, rather sadly: “I did it. I’m good. I’m good enough.” Those words jarred: they spoke of a Britain in which, perhaps, too many don’t feel good enough, and in which our television programming is not so much helping as hindering. And how could GBBO be helping when all it was serving up was another series of expectations of what a good, British citizen should be?