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Word of the week: “Gogglebox”

If you watch TV regularly, you are probably familiar with “Gogglebox”, a show that was first broadcast here in the UK in 2013. It has become a recent addition to our family viewing thanks to a series of celebrity editions that have just finished airing on Channel 4 on Friday nights.

The original version of the show featured members of the public (people you hadn’t heard of previously) watching TV and commenting on it, or as it says on this IMDb page: “Some of Britain’s most opinionated and avid TV viewers comment freely on the best and worst television shows of the past week, from the comfort of their sofas”. We have caught the odd episode of these “regular” shows, but the celebrity editions have really caught our attention.

The concept of “celebrity” is an interesting one when it comes to special editions of long-running shows. Every edition of “Celebrity Mastermind” that I have seen contains at least one person I have never heard of. More often than not, there are two contestants who are completely new to me. A new series of “Celebrity Masterchef” is currently airing on BBC1. Each week’s set of would-be chefs introduces me to reality TV stars or YouTube content creators whose previous work has passed me by.

As noted from time to time on this Blog, we have been following “Strictly Come Dancing” as a family with great interest for many years. Since the start of the 2013 season we have literally not missed an episode, and my son has gone back over every recording from those seven series at some point. He has also used the web to go back through earlier years to build an encyclopaedic knowledge of Strictly history, right back to the first series which concluded in the spring of 2004, six months before he was born. In the 2019/20 series of “Mastermind” one contestant chose “Strictly Come Dancing” as her special subject. Without revising for the show, watching live, my son outscored her by two points.

Each autumn the new set of Strictly contestants contains at least six people none of us in the family had heard of before, people like Joe Sugg, Saffron Barker, Chris Ramsey and Vick Hope, to give examples from the last two series. We know of them now because they have been on the show. Most years, while the series gets going, we know far more about the professional dancers than we do about their celebrity partners.

At least with the current crop of “Celebrity Gogglebox” pairings I am familiar with at least one member of each duo whose opinions about the week’s TV are being presented to us. The stand-out pairing is Shaun Ryder and Bez from The Happy Mondays and I’m glad to say that they get plenty of screen time. Editions of “Top of the Pops” from 1989 have been repeated recently on BBC4 so I was able to show both children what the duo looked like in the late 1980s from a classic episode that featured both The Happy Mondays (singing “Hallelujah”, joined on stage by Kirsty McColl) and Stone Roses. Shaun Ryder has changed a bit since then. Roman Kemp and his dad (Martin Kemp, formerly of Spandau Ballet and “Eastenders”) are another engaging pair of viewers, as are Mo Gilligan (comedian) and his mate Babatunde (whose work I am otherwise unfamiliar with). Some of the contributions are from people we know from TV and radio paired with friends or family members who are not (as far as I know) “celebrities” in their own right. Examples include Zoe Ball and her son Woody, Nick Grimshaw and his niece Liv, and Jonny Vegas with his mate Bev.

Unsurprisingly, the people on the show that my children know most about are those who have previously been on “Strictly Come Dancing”, but I constantly try to connect other participants to things that they have seen or heard. Last Friday’s “Best of” show was from 2019 (before social distancing) and Gyles Brandreth was watching TV with Sheila Hancock. The children have seen Gyles Brandreth before (on “The One Show” and “Pointless Celebrities” among other things) but not Sheila Hancock. How could I link her with things that they know? I tried this: “Do you remember the film version of ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’? Do you remember the man who played Mr Tom? Well, that actor was John Thaw. He was also in grown-up shows like ‘The Sweeney’ and ‘Morse’. He was married to her, Sheila Hancock, and they were both well-known actors back in the 70s and 80s. Oh, and they used to live in Chiswick.” Of course it would have been more straightforward if I could have thought of something that Sheila Hancock has been in that the children might have seen, but nothing came to mind.

As the most recent series of “Celebrity Gogglebox” came to an end, we noticed that nearly all of the new pairings (those who had not appeared in the first four or five shows) had some connection to “Strictly Come Dancing”. We had Rylan Clark-Neal (co-presenter of “Strictly It Takes Two”) with his mum; Laura Whitmore (Series 14, 2016) with her boyfriend; Anita Rani (Series 13, 2015) with her dad; Pixie Lott (Series 12, 2014) with her boyfriend; and Sunetra Sarker (also Series 12, 2014) with fellow actor Georgia Taylor. There was even a pairing of two former Strictly contestants, Judge Robert Rinder (Series 14, 2016) and Susanna Reid (Series 11, 2013). Added to Zoe Ball (Series 3, 2005), Ruth Langsford (Series 15, 2017), Ashley Roberts (Series 16, 2018) and Denise van Outen (Series 10, 2012) this brought us to exactly 10 former contestants of “Strictly Come Dancing” offering their opinions about the week’s TV. Maybe that’s why “Celebrity Gogglebox” is such a hit round at our place.

[Just to clarify, I present edited versions of the show to my children, who are both under 16. They have been spared the age-inappropriate clips from, for example, “Naked Attraction”, “Misery” and “It Chapter 2”. And there was no way I would let them see even the brief footage from “127 Hours” where the main character amputates his own arm.]



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