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Big Brother final gets five million viewers

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 25 August 2010

Audience figures show 5.1 million people watched Josie Gibson win the final series of Big Brother as Channel 4 News culture editor Matthew Cain looks back at the show's impact on television - and British social history.

Josie Gibson wins the final series of Big Brother - which was watched by 5.1 million viewers on Channel 4 (Credit: Getty)

So that was it. After ten years, Big Brother took its final bow on Channel 4 last night.

As I sat watching the show I couldn't help feeling sad that it was over but even sadder that it had been allowed to slowly fizzle out with a whimper rather than blasting out with a bang. No amount of pyrotechnics, exploding flashbulbs or wild screaming from either the crowd or Davina could convince me that it was ending on a high.

But like it or loathe it, the passing of Big Brother marks a key moment in Britain's recent cultural - and social - history.

One of the first modern reality shows, it followed ITV's Popstars and the BBC's Castaway onto our screens but very soon its impact had blown all competition out of the water, managing to convince the viewer that it was THE first.

In one area at least it led the way; Big Brother was the first show of its type to feature viewer voting, a genuinely new twist which built on the already intimate relationship between the British people and their TV sets and would prove a pivotal moment in the evolution of TV programming across the channels.

From a business perspective too, the profits generated by viewer voting probably staved off financial ruin for more than one British broadcaster.

And Big Brother might have been based on a Dutch format but it was Britain's TV production industry which was quickest to capitalise on its impact. Very soon we were exporting our unique brand of reality TV to almost every country in the world.

But Big Brother wasn't just about business. Billed amid much fanfare as a 'social experiment', the first series also had a genuine heart and was built around real editorial integrity. At a time when the self-effacing (and prone to self-loathing) British public were constantly told we were racist, homophobic, snobbish and amoral, the final three contestants in the first series were a working class Liverpudlian, a black man and a lesbian nun.

If Big Brother genuinely was conceived as a social experiment, its conclusions were quite striking - and even uplifting. And then, somewhere between series one and two, it ceased being a social experiment and became a TV show.

And what a TV show.

As the word 'reality' gave way to more and more producer involvement and explicit story lining, Big Brother became an increasingly compulsive watch.

The show defined - even invented - the water cooler moment. Nasty Nick's cheating, Paul and Helen's romance, Jade Goody's stupidity. And that's not even counting the celebrity version.

But water cooler moments like these elevated Big Brother from mere social experiment to social phenomenon. The show even achieved the ultimate accolade; like Elizabeth and Victoria before it, Big Brother lent its name to a whole era. And now that era is over.

As I watched the final episode of the last ever series, I found it increasingly difficult to focus on the string of inane mediocrities parading before me. But then I realised that I was only viewing them as mediocrities because I'd seen them all before. Over and over again.

By the time Big Brother was into its fifth series it had started to repeat itself. And the pressure to up the ante each year meant that the colourful characters we fell in love with during the early series were replaced by a seemingly interchangeable succession of lap dancers and transsexuals, each sharing with the viewer intimate details of their boob jobs, speech impediments and mental fragilities.

For me, and many others, the show was already over. So by the time the final began broadcasting last night, I was already starting to glaze over. All that kept me watching was my admiration for a smoking hot Davina, with her sleeky pins, suspiciously smooth forehead and killer heels. Oh and the sense that I was witnessing the end of the aforementioned era, a hugely important moment in popular culture.

Except that it might not be. Already, there are rumblings that Big Brother's drawn-out death might be drawn out even further.

With Ultimate Big brother already underway and talk of a possible transfer from Channel 4 to Richard Desmond's newly acquired Channel 5, the show might just have an afterlife.

Not even Victoria or Elizabeth managed that. The King is dead. Long live the King.

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