Sunday 3 January 2010

One celebrity show down, ten million to go

Tonight the 7th and final series of UK's Celebrity Big Brother starts. As this is the only reality tv show or program that has celebrity in the title that I watch, its demise saddens me, although on the plus side it shouldn't be hard for me to find better uses for my time.

As usual the celebrities who'll walk into the house will make you wonder what the term celebrity means if it now applies to someone who stood in a lift next to the brother of someone who once bought something on Lundy Island's third biggest daytime shopping channel. But all of them will be united by the fact that nobody watching has the slightest idea who they are, by the desperate flop sweat on their brows as they try to rekindle their careers, and by the terrible truth that appearing on this show marks the final nail in the coffin of their careers and they will never be heard of again.

Rumours suggest there'll be a Hell theme this year and they've gone for loud and annoying people. So no change there. The best guess about the cast list is that it includes someone who slept with a glamour model, someone who slept with an actor I once saw on Friends, someone who slept with an ex-member of the Rolling Stones, someone who slept with a footballer, someone who once slept with his football, someone who slept with the same glamour model mentioned above, a brothel owner, someone who slept with a Billionaire, someone with Tourettes who makes films of himself sleeping with other people, and someone who slept with a holodeck character in episode 12 of season 6 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sadly this stellar list of Britain's finest talent doesn't include Boy George, who won't be appearing as the parole board wouldn't let him in, and someone called Kerry Katona (no idea) as she failed the psychological test, which is worrying as this is a show that let Sree in last year.

Anyhow, I noticed that a program was on tv last night about the best moments in CBB history. I didn't see it but I assume the best bits involved that horse-racing bloke picking his nose, Jackie Stallone telling us her name, George Galloway being a cat, Pete Burns shouting abuse at Traci, Leo Sayer ranting about his undies, Chantelle flicking her hair and that small bloke getting drunk. None of those bits appealed to me much, so for no particular good reason, here's my most memorable CBB moments, none of which I'm sure appeared on that show :

5. The limerick

It's hard to say anything about Celebrity Big Brother's history without mentioning the row that marred CBB5 and which changed attitudes towards the show so much it was ultimately cancelled. The most memorable sequence from that year was never shown on tv for obvious reasons of damage limitation and only the transcript of what everyone said in the OFCOM report that nearly destroyed Channel 4 remains to sum up what really went on. The issue raised that year centred on why several ignorant people abused a cultured woman. Did they hate her because she was a different colour, or did they hate her and she just happened to be a different colour? It's hard to tell from the bits that were shown on tv and clearly the media made a mountain out of a molehill, but luckily the OFCOM transcript where several people spent a contented evening concoting a dodgy limerick about her did make it slightly clearer what the source of the tension was.

4. Claire Sweeney's dancing

Long before those dismal events that ensured that everyone appearing on the show could kiss goodbye to their career, housemates had a better chance of finding fame, and curiously the only year in which everybody prospered was the first one. Jack Dee's career flourished, Vanessa Feltz built a career on describing how she had a mental breakdown after 12 hours of suffering the indignity of being filmed, and the rest are as unknown as they ever were. But Claire Sweeney prospered the most. Before, she was a minor actress in a soap opera, but the chance to appear on tv, for charity, was a great opportunity not to be missed. Everywhere she went she danced, everytime she was asked a question she burst into song as she embarked on a week long audition to prove how multi-talented she was. It was very annoying, but it worked. Offers flooded in and I guess she's still presenting things on daytime tv. Curiously everyone who has subsequently tried that template for success has failed.

3. Maggot's double act with Traci

I only saw a bit of this on CBB4's live feed, but it was entertaining. Maggot was someone from a Welsh pop group I'd never heard of and Traci was the least well-known pneumatic doll from Baywatch. They were poles apart but clearly they got on well and bounced off each other with comic routines and sparkling chat. Sadly none of it made the highlights shows, as showing Traci as being witty and fun didn't fit in with the dumb role that had been set for her and because they wanted to spend more time showing the groomed winner for that year, some gormless and tedious blonde who really was dumb.

2. Ken Russell's masterclass

Also on the theme of stuff that never made the highlights show was Ken Russell and Donny Something talking about cinema in CBB5. Sadly it was too highbrow and didn't fit in with the dumbed down agenda. Legendary Ken was the most surprising housemate ever, Donny less so. Donny had been picked because they couldn't get any unknown pop stars that year and so instead they went for someone who was even less well-known than unknown. The crowd as one chanted 'who are you?' as he entered the house and Donny, who was blind drunk, screamed abuse back, staggered into the house, fell into the pool and passed out. Except he was more erudite and interesting than that entrance showed and when he found out that there was a genius in the house he was awe-struck. So he pumped Ken for information and Ken talked about his career, Oliver Reed, epic drinking sessions, his attitude to making films, how creativity worked for him.

It was everything CBB should be but rarely is: intelligent people talking about interesting things without editing. It was the next best thing to having Ken Russell to dinner and I could have listened to him forever, except the next day Jade's family entered the house, Ken and Donny walked out and it all went wrong.

1. Shilpa being funnier than Cleo Rocos

No other situation sums up the guilty appeal of CBB than this late moment in CBB5. Cleo was the perfect example of the desperate has-been trying one last throw of the dice to resurrect a dead career, and it almost worked. Cleo was the straight man who was the butt of the jokes in anarchic comedy god Kenny Everett's shows in the 1970s, except when Kenny's career surged out of control Cleo's did too, finally ending completely when Kenny died. But then there she was entering the CBB house, 25 years older and full of interesting stories about her close and odd relationship with Kenny, and it was nice to see a funny older woman on tv. It seemed that the exposure would help her, except unlike Claire Sweeney above who was in the house for only a week, Cleo was there for four weeks, and that was too long. She outstayed her welcome and gradually she started to annoy whenever she told yet another Kenny story along with the creeping feeling that she wasn't funny. Entertainment night proved it.

The housemates were given the task of being entertaining for five minutes. Dirk Benedict put ten seconds' thought into being just plain cool. A lesser-known Jackson brother sang a song. Shilpa stuck a mop on her head and stuck two carrots up her nose. Even Jack, surely the most repulsive housemate that has ever appeared on any version of Big Brother and who is now facing spending most of his life behind bars, entertained by the simple act of sticking feathers to his genitals and waggling his todger at the camera.

Faced with such stiff competition Cleo had to fight to prove she was the most entertaining and so worthy of a career boost post-CBB. She spent all day on her act. She spent hours choosing the right costume, more hours getting into character, five hours in the toilet rehearsing her comic monologue in the mirror, two hours making fake dog poo for the punchline. Then she delivered her act to a sea of blank faces; five solid minutes of depressingly tragic failed attempts at wit that only went to prove that sadly the funny one died. You could see a career end live on screen with every joke that misfired. Sad really.

Anyhow, I doubt this year will scale those 'heights'. But I live in hope.

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