Goodbye Big Brother; Goodbye Queen Vic…


Well, it’s over. The long-running television experiment which sees an unlikely group of people all living in one house has finally come to an end. Big Brother – named after the character in George Orwell’s book 1984 – saw a total of 380 cameras recording everything the group of unlikely housemates did over many weeks. Viewers could vote off the one person every week they felt they liked least. Apparently, many viewers found it captivating stuff. At times it was quite savage, with the worst in human nature coming to the surface as housemates were pressured by the stresses of living in such close contact with others. Some were humiliated, some were exploited, some suffered emotional breakdown. Others emerged triumphant as the last man/woman left in the house and went on to temporary fame. At its height, millions watched it.

I watched a few minutes of it once. Or at least I tried to. I tried to see what viewers saw in it, but having lived myself closely confined in a house with a number of quirky characters for extended periods, I could not quite see the entertainment value.

The Big Brother House is just down the road from my house. It is filmed in Elstree, Hertfordshire. Every Friday night in Big Brother season there would be crowds of people streaming from the railway station down the road to the studios. But as the years went by, plummeting audience figures saw to it that, like everything else, it came to an end.

Still not ended yet though, is the continuing saga of a group of quirky characters stuck in close confinement in the same small square in the East End of London. East Enders is a very long-running TV soap serial. The fact that the quirky characters aren’t real means that the scriptwriters can come up with any number of twists and turns in the plot line in order to hold on to the 10 or 12 million viewers. Now the Queen Vic pub, the building pretty much at the centre of Albert Square and therefore the heart of all the drama, has been severaly damaged by fire. What will happen next?

Like the Big Brother House but on the other side of the high street, Albert Square is constructed on the old site of Elstree Film Studios. Now home to the BBC TV Centre, it is the place where much gripping television drama is created. I am sorry to destroy any of my readers pleasant illusions, but Albert Square, Walford Underground station and the streets surrounding it are not real. I have seen the truth.

The buildings consist of only the front elevations propped up by timber and the roads continue for only a few yards. A trip to Borehamwood will get you an indirect view of the externals of the Square. Years ago, you could also watch the filming, too. I treated my mother by taking her to the set once, nicely viewable from my devotee friends back garden. Now it is largely blocked off so that the endings of particular plot lines are not revealed until the right time – usually about six weeks later.

I could get quite philosophical here and start talking about how this world is also constructed in such a way that we think it is more substantial than it is; how we are all actors with plot lines endings that are not yet revealed to us; with millions of celestial viewers watching us. But look, I think if you read this blog regularly you’ll know that analogy by now. And if you don’t – and you’d like even more drama – the best analogous story for this kind of thing was The Truman Show. Sometimes art imitates life which imitates Reality…


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