There was something quite affecting about the end of Big Brother, which came to end last night after ten years of often-engrossing TV.
Chief among these oddly affecting moments was the Big Brother funeral, which saw the final Ultimate Big Brother housemates saying their farewells to the show in a ceremony administered by narrator Marcus Bentley.
Whatever you thought of Big Brother, there’s not that many programmes that would have the freedom, the wit or the sheer po-mo profile to stage a funeral for itself. And then there’s the retrospectives, with all the former housemates on. People you’d forgotten you’d ever known, like friends you are no longer friends with for one reason or another. And, later, a video of a load of ex-housemates in a tableau while The Craig and Josie mimed along to Time To Say Goodbye.
It was a moment that made explicit what a unique television programme Big Brother was, and how much of a new niche it created on British TV. Because BB made normal people we’d never met our friends, and also gave them a weird kind of volatile fame that I suspect has finished many of them, where a few prospered.
In that sense it’s fair to say it did continue as some sort of social experiment, highlighted by the return of a lot of ex-housemates in the last few weeks. What has happened, and will happen in the future, to those people? What kind of life must it be to experience that flash of overwhelming fame, followed by years of trying to readjust to normalcy?
I watched most of the series, from the first through to the sixth, at which point it was clearly on the wane with a lot of WAG-type tit-flashing girls and empty vessels of either sex. And the out-and-out freaks. I didn’t watch seven, eight or nine; but enjoyed the tenth when I watched it and all of the celebratory stuff. Perhaps it wasn’t such exciting TV as it had been in the past, but it was able to keep going on reputation and nostalgia alone.
And I think this is why I felt rather sad last night, because when a TV landmark shuffled off our screens it reminds us of times past; not just on the show, but in our lives too. I watched the programme in a number of different houses, with different partners and housemates and family. And discussed it with dozens.
I watched it live during Nick’s Waterloo in season one, sat around my Mac at work with my mate Walton. A few years later I was texting my mate Ben while working very late one night, speculating as to exactly what was going on during Fight Night. It was extremely addictive, engaging television – and I’ve never been that impressed by the cultural snobbery often directed at it. It’s fascinating, because it’s other people – and other people are always interesting.
There was a lot of rubbish in there, and a lot of horrible stuff. But the fact that gay, black and transsexual people won Big Brother is pleasing. And there’s a lot of wit to the show, the gruff, cockney Tree of Temptation an amusing case in point.
So, I’ll miss Big Brother. I’ll miss the housemates, I’ll miss Marcus Bentley’s absurd narration, I’ll even miss Davina McCall. I’ll miss the excitment of glimpsing the BB eye in ad breaks in the weeks preceding a new one, I’ll miss the first look at the new housemates, the daft interviews and the silly ritual of it all. A great bit of television, and a real slice of TV history, has come to an end – having covered a good proportion of my adult life.
And as the final echoey voiceovers of the old houses played at the end of the show, it was hard not to think back across my own ten years of life, loves and evictions.