Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Celebrity Big Brother

Saturday, 20 August 2011

  I’m very disappointed by the Celebrity Big Brother line-up. Somebody has forgotten something very important.

  I’m excited by Sally Bercow being in there, obviously. If you happened to read this column, which I wrote a few months ago, you can imagine why I’m nodding at this latest development. There is a great deal of potential here. Sally’s being filmed 24/7 and John is at home alone, or on holiday alone with the papers and the internet, then sitting in Parliament again. I’ve been giving a great deal of (often involuntary) thought to all sorts of scenarios which could arise over the next three weeks.

  I won’t spell them out. I don’t want to get sued. And they won’t arise. It would be unbroadcastable (however hard Richard Desmond might try). But, you know. Interesting move.

  Other than SB, the contestants are all far too one-note. I’ve been a long-term defender of Celebrity Big Brother for its genuinely fascinating human dynamics and its old-fashioned moral structure, where (truly, it’s happened every time) good triumphs over villainy. Of the accusations which are hurled at this programme: lowbrow it may be, tacky occasionally, dull sometimes, but it absolutely isn’t amoral. Every time it’s aired, I have been heartened by our ongoing national inclination to love (and crown as winners and runners-up) those who are honest, kind, forthright and sporting, while punishing and evicting those who are cruel or duplicitous. At the end of the series, I always think: Ah, we’re still all right.

  But surely the fascinating human dynamics - possibly also the ethical arm-wrestle - can’t work when the people are all exactly the same. I mean, not EXACTLY the same, obviously. But all of a type. All the women seem to be surgically-enhanced, froth-culture, possibly charming but obviously ditzy. The male model isn’t so different. The macho traveller chap is perhaps a little different, but not massively so. He’s still from reality TV, like Jedward. And there’s a paparazzo who’s near these people all the time anyway. I’d imagine they all like to talk about the same things, have the same life goals, would probably be friends anyway.

  Who is the serious one? Who’s the intellectual? Who’s the wise old man or woman? Which one has read books? Which ones hates group socializing or popular culture? Which one would never be in Heat magazine? The line-up is crying out for a Moira Stewart, a Ken Livingstone or a Brian Sewell.
  Even Sally Bercow, oddly, seems to have changed her accent so as to seem more like the others and fit in better. She went to Westminster! Last time she was on TV, she sounded much posher than that. There’s no shame in a posh accent. If there’s one rule that has always applied in Big Brother, it’s: be yourself.

  But where are the great, weird juxtapositions? We need people who just don’t get each other, as if they came from different planets. I’m just not seeing the potential for a Jermaine Jackson trying to explain his faith to a Danielle Lloyd; for a George Galloway struggling to interact with a Pete Burns; for a Germaine Greer steeling herself before each new day’s encounter with a John McCririck or a Jackie Stallone.

  These new ones just aren’t weird enough - or, if they are, they’re all weird in the same way.

  Tonight, CBB will be preceded by a new X Factor - usually a night of great excitement, for me, as a viewer and a gambler, but I’m filled with overwhelming indifference at the thought of two new female judges I’ve never heard of, and no Simon Cowell.

  I can guess what it’ll be like: they will go through the motions of previous X Factors in an act of soulless mimicry. Like in Groundhog Day, when Bill Murray no longer feels natural and impulsive as he falls laughing into the snow with Andie MacDowell, instead just shoving her onto the ground and shouting “I love kids!”.

  There’ll be a bit where they all get the giggles and try to hide it. There’ll be a bit where they all look at each other in alarm when someone’s a bit too weird. There’ll be a bit where their jaws drop as someone has a ‘surprisingly’ good voice. But it won’t be impulsive, and it won’t even contain the echoes of previous impulsive moments, because they will be new and anonymous people trying to play Simon or Cheryl or Sharon Osborne.

  Is this the end of an era? I have a feeling that I might not watch these two series. It’s even possible - and I say this with amazement and some fear, but one must always try to be strong, open-minded and ready for the most unexpected, heartbreaking or brilliant life changes, however and whenever - that I might not bet on them.




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Lynne Clark at 12:58 pm on August 20th, 2011

sadly I think that BB’s credentials are now so low that interesting people simply don’t want to be involved. So all we are left with are the froth-culture.

That is an excellent word btw.. I hope it gets into the next OED :)

Mark Healey at 1:06 pm on August 20th, 2011

I completely agree with you about Big Brother, I spent most of the time watching the live entry into the house going “Who’s that?” and wondering when the famous people would arrive. It’s going to be duller than usual, and I think I’ll just read about it on Twitter from people who mean more to me than a parade of has-beens and some reality stars.

psychofant at 1:46 pm on August 20th, 2011

victoria,i do hope that betting is your overriding interest in BB and X-factor.  Two flies circling a freshly produced dog-chod would also provide a gambling opportunity, with the added bonus of a higher quality content.

Fig Leaf at 2:45 pm on August 20th, 2011

I’d agree the line-up is rather samey this year and is cryng out for a Steve Strange, Boy George or Adam Ant type character.
Not sure Bercow fits the bill and I’d be surprised if she survives this 1st vote. Katona is nailed on to top the vote and the male model only needs to take his top off a few times this week and teenage girls will have his number on redial. Who knows he might even speak.

As for not having a bet. Are you mad!.

I’m sure you’ll cave in.
Betting on XF could even be improved without Cowell’s comments having such an influence on the market.
Punters will have to think for themselves.

Victoria's Biggest Fan at 7:35 pm on August 20th, 2011

I enjoyed bb back when the people on there were genuinely interesting or had some fame - John McCririck, Vanessa Feltz etc, now they lack lustre and are nowhere near ‘celebrity’ status. As for xf, as a singing teacher I can say some of the worst singing I hear comes from the finalists, they’re just awful nasal and rely on a false ‘vibrato’ way too much as a cover as being unable to sustain a note :@

Juggzy Malone at 5:37 pm on August 21st, 2011

You’re spot on with the hugely moral underpinnings of BB as it was - that was always what those who didn’t watch it ‘didn’t get’ - and the moral resolutions were often heart warming and unexpected; they showed a nation of people sticking up for the bullied, more often than not. 

What’s wrong with this CBB line up is that the ‘celebrities’ are drawn from other RTV programmes rather than having some sort of celebrity status, even if half forgotten, in their own right (Terry Christian, I’m looking at you).  This does not bode well.

As well, C5 is hanging onto the narrative with superglue - that’s where the real dumbing down happens, not when the players on stage create the drama themselves, as has happened in the past.  Bugger your character limit!

Keith at 8:53 pm on August 21st, 2011

While I agree that this year’s crop of CBB Z-listers lacks even the watchability of previous housemates - who were often at least interesting if not pleasant (eg. Pete Burns, George Galloway, Anthea Turner, Les Dennis) - surely anyone with a smidgeon of awareness would by now steer clear.  We know that a series of CBB with Victoria Coren, Caitlin Moran, Grace Dent, David Baddiel, Jeremy Paxman et al would be TV Gold, but for all bar Paxman, Twitter enables them to avoid relinquishing control of the way the public perceives them.  Social media have been a game-changer, so from now on only the addled (Katona), the uneducated (Jedward) or the most desperate (Bercow) will appear on “reality” tv.  PS.  On a wholly different matter, delighted to see the return of Only Connect.  Top telly!

Lucie T at 11:56 am on August 22nd, 2011

Perfect analysis. I’d have liked to see Jedward in there with Margaret Drabble and A S Byatt. That could have been one brilliant chat about sibling rivalry.

Jonathan at 8:50 pm on August 22nd, 2011

I never bothered watching Big Brother, frankly I found that program boring and a bit disturbing. The only BB I watched was BB6 because of Sasha : ) after she was kicked out I didn’t bother watching it anymore.

The Tim at 9:54 pm on August 22nd, 2011

I’m going off-topic here but I think that one of the answers to Connecting Wall 83 is wrong as Eton has been in Buckinghamshire since 1974!

David B at 12:46 am on August 23rd, 2011

Hi Tim,

Thanks for the query, but isn’t it the other way around - that Eton was in Bucks and changed to Berks in ‘74?

So Berks was the county it was in last until it went to unitary authority status, but I guess you could argue that Bucks is its “historic” county. But the thing that connects all four elements in the group is Berkshire.

OC Question Ed.

The Tim at 8:06 am on August 23rd, 2011

Sorry, David, I should never have doubted you - I did the wall late last night and didn’t have time to check. It is now in Berkshire.

Jonathan at 10:56 am on August 23rd, 2011

I never watched Big Brother. I always found it boring and a bit disturbing, watching a group of people in a room like some kind of sick experiment, the only BB I watched was BB 6 because of Sasha. When she was kicked out I didn’t bother watching it anymore.

AndytheDealer at 9:38 am on August 24th, 2011

Oh no!  You’re not betting on Celebrity Big Brother?  That means I’m going to have to work hard to pay for Christmas this year.

S at 1:39 am on August 28th, 2011

I was indifferent to the new X Factor judges at first as well but to be honest the change is barely noticeable, for now at least. I suspect this will change when we get past the audition stages.

Mind you the nation’s indifference combined could never triumph Cowell’s transparent indifference throughout the whole of last year’s show.

Bruce at 9:43 pm on September 5th, 2011

Jedward dressed as babies - what’s not to like . . ?

psychofant at 9:51 am on September 6th, 2011

victoria,what is being done with all the “walls” submitted to the OC website by fans?

Victoria Coren at 3:58 pm on September 6th, 2011

Hi psychofant. I’ve already answered this on the thread a bit lower down (an Only Connect themed one) but the gist is that I think they’ll be published on the website in a few weeks’ time.

Ken Singtone at 12:13 am on September 8th, 2011

Victoria, all pictures of you are lovely, of course, but I do like your new picture here on the blog page. Smiling, and looking you in the eye with a subtle quizzicalness, I can sense a sort of gentle kindness, asking something of the viewer, with such courtesy and charm that I find it impossible to refuse.  Except, of course, that I have no idea what the question is.

I am so glad that I found your website.  It is elegant, classy, and very interesting, but the greatest delight was discovering what a jolly nice person you are, Victoria. 
Before you feel too flattered, I’m not suggesting that you are some kind of saint, and I did not start out with particularly high expectations, but you are certainly someone who makes the world a much much much nicer place.

BenButton at 10:08 am on September 11th, 2011

Well, the gypsy won which was no surprise. They are notoriously difficult to evict.

Jason Twigg at 3:20 am on September 13th, 2011

Victoria, I would have thought that Giles would be the only Celebrity Big Brother of interest to you.
It’s been over a month, since I posted the first clue and no answers have yet been posted, so here it is…
Second clue:  Joan of Arcadia
The first clue, (or if you read this first, the other clue so far) of this five clue connection puzzle can be found below in the 01.08.2011 thread (Only Connect returns),
Perhaps, so that later readers can try it for themselves, anyone with a possible answer could post it below in the19.07.2011 thread (Advice to the Luxor).

Victoria Coren at 9:52 am on September 13th, 2011

Hi Jason. I think maybe the problem was that nobody ever really guesses after one clue!

  The new problem might be that I don’t know how many people look back through old threads, and it would be a bit of a treasure hunt now to look through various ones for old clues and where to post answers.

  I love the idea of the quiz, but think it might be a long shot anyway that many people are reading this older thread, so perhaps better to put all clues on here, even if you want people to post possible answers on the old ‘Advice To The Luxor’ thread?

  So there are two clues so far:

1) Touched by an Angel
2) Joan of Arcadia

(I’m capitalising the same way you did, but don’t know if the capital A on ‘Angel’ is relevant or not!)

BenButton at 5:09 pm on September 13th, 2011

MODERATOR: BenButton has posted an answer to the question, it can be seen on the ‘Advice To The Luxor’ thread.

Jason Twigg at 1:35 am on September 15th, 2011

I agree with you about answers after one clue, Victoria, but I thought it would be interesting to see if there was any response given the long time available. 
I thought that a “treasure hunt” for clues through older threads would add to the fun as this is not a standard “Only Connect” question.
I’m not sure myself about the capital A on ‘Angel’.  It may just reflect the house style of my source material. 
Now I’m wondering which of the following are correct: “Only connect”, Only Connect, “only connect”,  ONLY CONNECT,  “NL YCN NCT”, etc. 

Ken Singtone at 2:10 am on September 16th, 2011

Interesting Idea, Jason.  I have no idea what the answer is, but here is one of my own.  It’s not truly Only Connect material, as it would be near impossible from only one clue.
Here then are the first two clues(of the usual four):
1) Sid Vicious
2) masticate

Jason Twigg at 9:16 am on October 2nd, 2011

Ken Singtone - I have an idea about your puzzle, are you on twitter?

Victoria, good luck in the London EPT!

Norman at 5:59 pm on October 2nd, 2011

Great column today, Victoria.

I think that the value of privacy is in protecting us from prejudices & pressures to conform to other peoples’ expectations.  If we move towards a more tolerant society then privacy will be less important, but we have a long way to go.  We would need to establish a new right to eccentricity to protect individual and minority deviances (e.g. poker), in the way that larger, more political groups (e.g. women, senior citizens, gays, etc)  are starting to gain legal protection.
Even so, there’s a long way to go to eliminate entrenched prejudices.  Trust is also a big casualty in a more varied society, as it is easier to trust people who are like yourself. 
Privacy will still offer important protection for some time to come.

Jim Allum at 7:57 am on October 19th, 2011

I fear that you will never find Moira Stewart, Ken Livingstone or Brian Sewell in Celebrity Big Brother, because they have dignity, which most other contestants lack.

Jeremy Holmes at 12:05 pm on December 6th, 2011

There’s nothing old-fashioned about the “good triumphs over villainy” idea, although personally I would rather refer to Dawkin’s Selfish Gene book and the “nice boys finish first/last” debate, for inspiration on this subject.

Victoria Coren

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