Goodbye BB.. I will miss you; One Mirror writer on why she's still in love with Big Brother.
PLEASE do not swear, but Big Brother is going to end. After 10 years that have blurred into one long, lazy summer of sun, swagger and snogs, Channel 4 is pulling the plug on its cash cow.
The reality series began in the summer of 2000 but, as its popularity waned, being an addict is now about as anti-social as smoking.
Apparently watching BB is morally inferior to tuning in to see posh folk put in water features and trade up their homes.
Yet as one of only two million people watching this year's series (10 million watched the first year's finale) I can reveal it's been one of the best shows for years.
While no one's been watching, all of human life has been there to see.
This week, as news of the show's demise hit the airwaves, the housemates staged the first mass breakout, running amok through the camera "runs" around the house.
It seemed a fitting finale. Like the moment in The Truman Show where Jim Carrey's character escapes on his boat to the end of the horizon and finds it's made of paper, the BB contestants finally broke through the false scenery and into the real world beyond.
Up to 10 million people have effectively crammed into those camera runs at different times over the past decade, peeping through those two-way mirrors.
For a nation of curtain-twitchers, BB has showcased all of Britain - posh, rich, poor, stupid, intelligent, Welsh, Irish, Scottish, English, bisexual, blind, disabled, Muslim, Catholic, overweight, anorexic, troubled, lost and world famous.
And the show's winners have been gay, black and transsexual, as well as white, straight and boy-next-door. Its showbiz spinoff, Celebrity Big Brother - originally for Comic Relief - works like a picture in Heat!, showing celebs, warts and all.
BB has given us some of the most replayed moments of popular television, from George Galloway's view-through-the-fingers cat lick to Alex Sibley's secret dance to KC and the Sunshine Band in BB3.
Most memorably, it gave us the irrepressible Jade Goody, a Diana for our reality TV times, as much sinned against as sinning, and a volatile spokeswoman for an undereducated, heart-on-its-sleeve Britain.
Like a Friday night in a rowdy pub, Big Brother could be tawdry, drunken, hilarious, tearful and embarrassing. But when the hangover wore off, you wanted to do it all again.
After a while the various series of Big Brother blended in to one long, real-life soap. This year, following the tragic death of the show's most famous contestant, there were echoes of Jade everywhere.
Housemates wondered, "Is Africa a country?" and "Is Sweden next to Iran?"
That first year in 2000 was a long, hot summer when fuel protests paralysed the country and hanging chads delayed George Bush's re-election.
In the same month that young Sarah Payne went missing in a cornfield, Britain embraced a curious new form of television - a show for voyeurs where "housemates" would be locked away in a secret location in East London and scrutinised.
The first BB house in Bow was a kind of Good Life version of the later Elstree battery farm. It had a vegetable patch, a chicken coop, and housemates could bring in magazines, books, even guitars.
More than 40,000 people applied to join in the experiment that took its name from the sinister controller in George Orwell's 1984. The BB1 contestants weren't looking for fame. And they were average people - except for the lesbian singing nun.
Then a "water cooler" moment happened at a time when office workers were just getting used to having water coolers.
"Nasty" Nick Bateman tried to cheat.
Suddenly, the internet was awash with rumours, and people clamoured to see the show. Nick was evicted, and 10 million viewers watched Everyman Craig Phillips win. Interviewing Craig afterwards, he was bewildered by his new-found celebrity.
Even so, some people begrudged the BB contestants their 15 minutes of fame, as if there were some law that says only people from rich or powerful dynasties should be on the cover of magazines.
Before Jade there was another blonde heroine, Helen Adams. Her insights into the world - "I love blinking, I do" - and her fledgling romance with the mirrorobsessed Paul Clarke set the scene for the reality contestant of the age.
Then Jade arrived with her verrucas and instant catchphrases - "Rio De Janeiro, ain't that a person?" and "Am I minging?"
She was humiliated by housemates in a horrific striptease. But she became the most successful housemate ever - opening a beauty salon called Ugly's, starring in numerous other reality shows, making fitness DVDs, writing an autobiography.
Jade's life story was a series of horrific incidents, representing a group of people in British culture who are otherwise largely invisible. The children of addicts who grow up in poverty and for whom childhood is adulthood but with less ability to defend yourself.
By the time she re-entered the BB house in 2007 - with mum Jackiey, and boyfriend Jack Tweed - Jade was a household name. Everything was primed for a massive and self-destructive explosion.
It detonated when Jade realised that Shilpa Shetty looked down on her family. The vile race row that ensued almost saw the programme pulled from the air.
Following uproar in India, Jade made her peace with the sub-continent by appearing in the show's Indian version, Bigg Boss. But on day two, she left in tears after being diagnosed with cervical cancer.
As much as the nation willed it, the trouble with reality TV is that no scriptwriter could craft Jade a happier ending.
At times the vulnerability of housemates has been highly questionable. This year's apparent suicide attempt by Sree Dasari is not the first, and the bullying caught on camera has often held a mirror up to society that no one wants to look into.
But this year has seen a return to form for BB. The genuine, interpersonal storylines were what made BB compelling viewing before the show went "nasty".
There have been genuine romances, honest heartbreak, and friendships forged.
There have been interesting people from diverse backgrounds - Iranian Siavash, the volatile Brazilian Rodrigo, the lovable Charlie, and the monstrous, mulleted, would-be Machiavellian Marcus.
But all good things must come to an end.
And after one more year, the Geordie voiceover will fall silent and the house will likely become a Reality Camp X-Ray for a cyber Jeremy Kyle to punish the feckless. And we will dream of the innocent days of the BB experiment.
Big Brother you have been evicted. Please leave the Big Brother house.
FIVE TOP MOMENTS OF FUN, FROLICS & FURY
BB's first romance saw Paul Clarke and Helen Adams spend a night in the snug. It was in the innocent days and they did nothing more than enjoy a cuddle and peck on the cheek. Ahh!
UNDER THE COVERS
Jade Goody first hit the headlines for romping with shaven-headed Brummie law student PJ. What exactly went on under the duvet kept the nation guessing for weeks.
THAT'S THE WAY (I LIKE IT)
In a classic TV moment, Alex Sibley spontaneously mimed and jigged along to KC and the Sunshine Band. He thought no one could see... but he'd forgotten the cameras.
Police were called during a nasty ruck between Victor Ebuwa and Emma Greenwood. The pair had to be pulled apart after Emma threatened to "f***ing kill" the self-proclaimed gangster.
I'M SO COLD
High-maintenance Nikki Grahame's most famous Diary Room whinge was when she demanded the heating be turned up in the middle of the summer, wailing: "I'm sooooo cold!"
EVICTED Sree later attempted suicide REALITY QUEEN Jade strips in BB3 - then tears a strip off Shilpa Shetty, right, in 2007 YOU'RE NICKED! BB cheat Nasty Nick in the Diary Room
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Aug 29, 2009|
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