National Trust’s Big Brother Embarrassment

timthumb

Without doubt it has changed the landscape of television culture and has circled many conversations, but is Big Brother, more specifically ‘The Big Brother House’ worthy of National Trust status? The charity acquired the property on the Elstree Studio complex last weekend for two days, allowing members of the public to step in the footsteps of many Z-list celebrities who have appeared on the programme since its launch in 2000.

Bosses at The National Trust stated that the house is “special” whilst adding that the programme has become a part of culture in the UK. The press release for the announcement actually stated that by opening the house it could pave the way for a “wittier” future for The National Trust. Hardly to be welcomed by many of its long-standing members, stereotypically an older, more intelligent individual.

There is no concern that Big Brother’s infamous house is a part of a celebrity and TV culture in the UK. Big Brother undoubtedly began over a decade of reality television; the same television flair we are accustomed to today. The television certainly has its followers with million tuning in every week for their programmes; having visited television studios, there is some kind of excitement and suspense when standing on a set of a programme you have seen broadcast to many millions of viewers. The National Trust certainly seems to be moving with modern times, encouraging more and specifically younger people to join the charity. But the house seen by so many millions seems out of place alongside properties of real history and heritage.

Whilst many enjoy the reality brainwasher, the show is not unfamiliar with controversy. Scenes that saw MP George Galloway parade the house in a red leotard are certainly an embarrassment and cowering, whilst more seriously the programme has been associated with racism following allegations of bullying involving the late Jade Goody and Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty. It does, therefore, gallivant the mind as to why people would want to walk in the footsteps of such controversy. The trust certainly seem to have lost their edge and perhaps credibility from allowing members to visit history rather than a modern TV programme. But if this is the road that the UK’s National Trust wants to head down, why start with Big Brother?

The recent closure of the BBC’s Television Centre in West London is of real heritage. Creating some of the UK’s best known programmes including The Two Ronnies, Blue Peter and Parkinson, the centre has welcomed political leaders, world-famous stars and even transformed, on numerous occasion, into an event host itself. Iconic is the only real word to describe TVC. Built and in operation for over 50 years, there has been a vast amount of history and heritage created in that very building.

Today, production of the next generation of iconic television programmes has moved away from the studios that have brought BBC News to TV screens across the world to new homes including Media City UK and New Broadcasting House in Central London. TV Centre has been sold on and the end of an era has arrived upon us. The National Trust could have taken a giant leap in its appeal to a new market by acquiring the iconic BBC headquarters rather than a flimsy reality TV show.

Saying that, the 500 tickets that went on sale were snapped up by members of the trust within an hour, according to The National Trust. Karl Smith, executive producer of the show, said it was a great idea to link up the show and charity, however, former MP and culture figure Ann Widdecombe said the idea was “ridiculous”.

There is no doubt that the TV and celebrity culture is becoming the norm within UK society and many charities, such as The National Trust have to adapt to welcome those with new and evolving interests. Perhaps the trust could have avoided embarrassment and controversy by choosing a setting slightly less divisive as their marker for the way forward.

Advertisements

Have we seen the best of Top Gear ?

top-gear-logo

Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

I will always openly admit that my favourite programme on television is Top Gear. The mix of laughter, cars and genuine passion and interest for what the three presenters do is what appeals to me most. Hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, “New Top Gear”, as they call it, began in October 2002. Ten years on, Top Gear remains the most watched car programme in the world with over 300 million viewers and remains one of the, if not the, most successful and most watched show on British television. But in recent years, the numbers of shows per series has decreased dramatically, and the content of the show has moved away from the original ethos of Top Gear. So have we really seen the best of Top Gear?

When considering what to write in this blog, I originally thought it would be a simple answer of yes, however, the latest series of the programme, broadcast in early 2013, has shown how the quality of the show remains one of the highest on British TV. Stunning camera shots, specialist filming of high performance vehicles and interesting yet quirky items have seen Top Gear deliver highly on their changed priorities – more expensive and powerful cars are reviewed over ‘sensible’ cars for the average motorist.

The early editions of the new format of Top Gear did reflect some of the content of the old format. Informative and factual reviews of cars such as the Citreon Berlingo and Land Rover Discovery made the car reviews, whilst the new interests of the modern viewer wanted excitement and power. This came in the form of more focus on power cars such as the Lamborghini Murcielago and Pagani Zonda. The new format is studio based, unlike the previous, and features new additions such as lap times with The Stig, and a new interview feature – A Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. These segments revived Top Gear from what was a struggling motoring programme into a show that boasts immense commercial success.

It was around series 4 when Top Gear moved to film new and exciting challenges such as the legendary Aston Martin versus a train to Monte Carlo and the cars playing football – a feature which still recurs today. In the latest series’ of Top Gear, there has been a shift from the review of sensible, everyday cars, to longer films about supercars and the challenges the presenters face from the producers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I always defend the programme when people claim ‘they don’t do normal cars’. That’s not because they’re not interested in them. The audience has changed. Younger viewers want excitement and high-octane thrills. An insight into the power of a Ferrari is likely to be preferred over reviews of a bog standard Vauxhall.

In 2007, Top Gear moved into another new era, as some of the one hour programmes became dedicated to one single challenge. These often consist of buying a certain type of car for less than a given budget and then driving them through rough terrain, encountering a number of difficulties. The rapport of the presenters, the character of the cars chosen and the obscene challenges faced are what have and continue to bring in the millions of viewers who tune in on a Sunday night.

I can’t, however, feel comfortable that Top Gear will go from strength to strength. The legendary films that Top Gear has produced – the trip to the North Pole, the American special and Bugatti Veyron race across Europe are items that viewers will not forget and that brings a very high standard to future productions. It’s simple – some but not all of the films following such stand out years for Top Gear have not been matched.

At points, there is some question about the spontaneity of events. The caravan holiday antics where a tourer was set on fire, for instance, was set up, yet was presented very realistically. The idea of some features purposely being scripted for laughs seems rather disappointing to any viewer, especially when the show was so spontaneous in earlier editions.

It must be commended that the show does have a proven track record of success. No other programme has ever been as commercially successful as Top Gear and probably no other programme will be. The recent 19th series of the programme finished alongside two “Best of Top Gears” – a regular look back the highlights at the end of the series. The stand out feature from this series was the quality of the films. Yes, Top Gear might not film as many reports as previous series’ but the quality of what is produced is above and beyond an ordinary motoring programme. The two-part special featuring the presenters travelling to find the source of the River Nile was possibly the greatest Top Gear adventure yet. The trip felt fresh, alive and exciting. The presenters were genuinely passionate about their quest to find what they had been challenged with. And with the usual combination of bickering, bantering and boyishness, the show was a ratings success for the BBC.

Some of the ideas have felt a little strained, almost as if Top Gear executives are running out of ideas. However, if Top Gear are going to do less shows per year, the overall quality of series 19 would be welcomed any day.

Yes, Top Gear has been on air, in its current format, for over ten years now. And yes, it does feel that the top of the hill has been reached in terms of its features. I will always be an avid and loyal viewer to Top Gear whatever happens. Lots of people will moan about how the show has moved from its roots to focussing just on fast super cars. My argument is that Top Gear is a reflection of its audience. An audience which has developed and changed with the years.

Awarding Jeremy Clarkson a special recognition award in 2007, Sir Trevor McDonald claimed: “He has helped create a niche show for enthusiasts into a must see show for millions of fans.” Not many programmes can boast of that success.