Ready Steady Cook




Fern Britton (1994-2000)

Ainsley Harriott (2000-10)

Rylan Clark-Neal (2020-21)


Bazal for BBC2, 24 October 1994 to 21 December 2001

Endemol UK Productions for BBC Two, 21 January 2002 to 10 May 2006

Cheetah Television for BBC Two, 18 September 2006 to 2 February 2010

Celebrity Ready Steady Cook Bazal for BBC1, 11 July 1997 to 3 January 2003 (102 episodes)

Remarkable Television (part of Endemol Shine Group) for BBC One, 2 March 2020 to 15 April 2021 (50 episodes in 2 series + 1 special)


Is there anybody who doesn't like Ready Steady Cook? It has a huge following amongst students (predictably), housewives, kids and even Americans, who had their own version in the form of Ready Set Cook with, erm, Sissy Biggers (we kid you not).

One of the various RSC chefs, Kevin Woodford

So why is it so successful? First of all, it's completely unpretentious and doesn't try to be. The idea is incredibly simple: Two chefs and members of the audience attempt to make a meal within 20 minutes using ingredients "brought in" by the audience members (to a value of £5) and anything from the larder (just about anything a normal person would have). And at the end, the audience would vote as to who they liked best. And that's it. And it should be rubbish.

Yet it isn't.

Ainsley Harriott with Kate Winslet. Yes, really.

The fact is, the show is entertaining to watch. You don't have to concentrate a massive amount of brainpower towards it and you don't have to be able to cook, the premise of the show is that anybody can cook something good in a short space of time. And one of the reason's why it works is the laid back banter between host, chefs and contestants and there is a nice mixture of food and anecdote. The chefs usually have a big personality (and know what they're on about) and Fern Britton (or latterly, Ainsley Harriot) keeps the show rolling along.

The I-Spy guide to the RSC guest chefs - how many can you name?

And that's it. It isn't going to change the world, it's certainly not going to worry other game shows too much, but it's certainly worth a watch if there is nothing else on.

Original host Fern Britton (right) with two actors from Coronation Street, contestants on Celebrity Ready Steady Cook.

Over its long life, Ready Steady Cook has incorporated the odd gimmick to keep things fresh, and occasionally played under different rules on certain episodes. For example, in the "Lucky Dip" rules each contestant brings in ten items, five of which are picked out of the bag at random by the chef. They are then prepared, but with 10 minutes to go another ingredient is pulled at random out of the bag which the chef then has to incorporate, hoping it isn't a rack of lamb or something equally nasty. Other than that, the rules are as normal. This would be original, had it not been for Mixing It.

File:Ready steady cook ainsley cards.jpgNew host, Ainsley Harriott with audience voting cards.

In the later years, such gimmicks fell out of favour and the show settled down to the standard format, with an extra "quickie bag" section at the end in which another bag of ingredients was produced from somewhere (usually from someone in the audience who is involved with making or promoting food in a "cottage industry" fashion) and the chefs had ten minutes to prepare a spread of dishes. In 2007, the show was given a very modern new look which was a bit of a shock at first but didn't seem to have harmed it (or helped it particularly, either). Though we still think it was a mistake to drop the show's trademark "red tomato"/"green pepper" business. It didn't come as too much of a surprise when the programme was axed in 2010, having had a good run but being battered in the ratings by Deal or No Deal - ironically, another Endemol show.

After being rested for a few years, the show was revived in 2020 with a new host, Rylan Clark-Neal, and a format comprising the good ol' 20-minute cook-off plus a version of the "Lucky Dip" game. And hallelujah, the "red tomato" / "green pepper" motif was present and correct again. Unlike the original, which seemed to use whoever was available, the revival used a roster of chefs, Romy Gill, Masterchef finalist Ellis Barrie, future Masterchef: The Professionals judge Anna Haugh, future Cooking With the Stars mentor Mike Reid and Akis 'I-used-to-front-the-Greek-version-so-I'm-going-to-raid-ingredients-from-both-kitchens-even-though-I'm-cooking-from-only-one' Petretzekis. Social distancing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic meant the second series was judged by a panel of chefs as opposed to an audience (out of the five chefs, two cooked three judged), and Jeremy Pang replaced the Australian Mike Reid. Boy oh boy did the show sag in the middle as a result, and ratings were not good enough to secure a third series.

Key moments

The time when a chef's piping bag went wrong and the cream went all over Brian Turner and Fern:

Luckily, the cream wasn't piping hot (ha, ha)


"Will it be green peppers or red tomatoes?"

Stop cooking!

Theme music

All versions of the theme composed by Ken Bolam


The contestants don't bring the food with them - it is bought for them by the production staff (to stop Marge from Solihull's peas defrosting on the train down to the studio). However, the researchers do ask the contestants what sort of meal they'd like to cook with the chefs and provide similar ingredients accordingly.

After the primetime celebrity version ended, the daytime version mixed up episodes with "celebrity" and "civilian" contestants until the 2007 revamp, after which it was celebs all the time. A bit disappointing for fans who wanted to be on the show, but then there was never much the contestants could do to influence the outcome of the competition anyway. The 2020 revival went back to using members of the public, with the exception of a Red Nose Day special in March 2021.

The voting element was actually suggested by a member of a focus group brought in by Bazal to give feedback on the pilot show. Originally the programme was to have ended with an audience competition such as "guess the weight of the marrow" or "how many pickled onions in the jar?". So focus groups do have their uses after all.

The format was sold to 25 countries. The French version dropped the competition element altogether and was just an ordinary cookery show with a single chef. In Peter Bazalgette's words, "for three or four years they paid us a fee to not make Ready Steady Cook!"

The pandemic caused the revival's first series to be shuffled about the schedules, with several episodes airing at near-random times, and several episodes of its second series to be displaced; episode twenty five, having been displaced from Good Friday (2 April 2021) due to Easter schedules, ended up airing only in Yorkshire on 5 April 2021 due to an Update (and territory-wide on 14 April 2021). Episode six also aired on 13 April 2021 due to another Update.

All fifty civilian episodes of the 2020 revival were given a repeat in the BBC Two 1pm slot from January 2022, by which time the cost-of-living crisis had meant the notion of getting, say, pork belly, red cabbage, plums, portobello mushrooms and jasmine rice for £3.50 had become very fanciful indeed. That's with the exception of series two, episode twenty three, which was bumped to discuss the notion of Sir Keir Starmer being fined over a work event; we get the feeling that they were looking for any excuse to pull the programme.


A board game for kids was available.

Ready Steady Cook 10-Minute Cookbook (2006)

Ready Steady Cook For Kids book (2006)

Ready Steady Cook

by Antony Worrall Thompson, Brian Turner

Ready Steady Cook 2 by Patrick Anthony, Richard Cawley

Ready Steady Cook 3

by Kevin Woodford, Lesley Waters

Ready Steady Cook 4 by Ainsley Harriott, Ross Burden
The Big "Ready Steady Cook" Book by Patrick Anthony, Richard Cawley, Fern Britton

Web links

BBC programme page (Original)

BBC programme page (Revival)

Wikipedia entry

Opening titles from 1996 and 1999 in the BBC Motion Graphics Archive


The original RSC logo


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