It has to be one of the most talked-about television shows on a bakery in history. The first episode of the new series of Mary Queen of Shops, screened on 7 June, saw retail guru Mary Portas come head-to-head with Maher & Sons bakery owner Angela Maher in a battle of wills. This culminated in Portas and her crew being asked to stop filming and leave the premises.
The programme portrayed Maher as someone stuck in her ways and not willing to change, despite falling sales at her Raynes Park business. However, Maher has claimed the way the show was edited made all her comments look negative and that Portas refused to speak to her off camera.
Speaking exclusively to British Baker, Maher said: “In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t been so defensive, but there was no attempt to build up a relationship and no positive comments.” She added that she had enjoyed her visit to Hobbs House Bakery and wished them continued success for the future.
Yet, following the show, many viewers were left asking the question – why did she apply to take part? Maher claimed she was approached by the production company and was “given the impression that this programme was to be a celebration of small businesses bucking the trend in the recession, while offering some advice and ideas for the future”.
“There was really no mention of failing businesses or total reinvention,” she said. “I think that I was naïve in the extreme with regards to the programme, having never really watched much ‘reality TV’ or Portas shows in particular.”
As for the speciality breads that Portas encouraged her baker, Paul, to produce, Maher said that, since taking part in the show, she has added a number of lines, including Mediterranean, Oat and Pumpkin, as well as a cottage loaf, which are all selling reasonably well – “certainly more so since the programme was aired than previously”.
However, the bakery was already producing a range of speciality breads prior to the programme, she explained, including Spelt and Honey, Rye and Caraway Seed, Multigrain, Soda and Scoffa. “Unfortunately these were not featured in the show,” she said.
Maher told BB that, following the airing of the show, she has received flowers and letters from her regulars, stating that what they saw on television was not representative of the service they have enjoyed during their time as customers. “We have certainly been very busy this week, not just with our regulars but with quite a few new faces,” she said.
Despite various internet campaigns to “Save Paul the Baker”, Maher said that he continues to work at the bakery and his efforts are much appreciated. “He has been uncomfortable with all the recent attention and just wants to get on with his job,” she said, adding that their working relationship, although good before, “has, if anything, been enhanced since the airing of the programme.”
Since the programme was filmed, Maher has refitted the shop herself – the third major refit since Maher set up the business with her husband in 1973. “We will always continue to look to the future and improve and change where appropriate,” she said. “We have had the shop refitted to update the décor and provide more seating room – which was really needed as this is where we are busiest – as well as adding a ‘kiddies corner’.”
Although she said she cannot describe the show as a positive experience, Maher added: “I believe that life provides you with constant opportunities to learn and grow. What has been touching is the heartfelt response of my family, friends and regulars, who have overwhelmed me with their support, dedication and love.”