TELEVISION / Right of Reply: Spencer Campbell insists that real life does lie behind The Living Soap

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The Independent Culture
Six Manchester students, one house, the ubiquitous cameras and the weekly programme: it was touted as live documentary but the second term of The Living Soap has seen four students move out because of media pressure. Is live documentary possible, then, or has The Living Soap become more of a test of the subjects' stamina than an expose of student life?

'The fact that The Living Soap goes out each week shows that this programme is possible. The moving out is an irrelevance - students do move accommodation. But I'm not denying that some of them moved out because they'd had enough of us.

'There has always been a limit to how real 'real life' can be portrayed when there is a television camera around. So of course it's not absolutely spot-on real life, but by the same token there are degrees of reality, there are linkages that people make with elements of the programme that make them go 'Yeah, that's real. I'm experiencing that myself.'

'Right from the start we've always said that we shouldn't deny that there is a television programme being made about these six students - so we haven't pretended that their lives are totally normal. A lot of real-life documentaries almost deny the existence of the programme itself. We've addressed that problem - in the second programme we showed them watching the first - and so shown that the programme is a part of their lives. That's why I hate the phrase 'fly- on-the-wall documentary' because it implies people don't realise they're being recorded.

'As far as stamina goes, the pressures that the programme would impose were explained to the students right from the start. And the bottom line was always that as soon as it got too much, they could leave. We don't want to make their lives hell.

'All of us realised we were laying ourselves open to criticism and the criticism that has come has been virtually on the lines of Sylvania Waters. However, we can't stitch the students up because, unlike Sylvania Waters, which was shown after the filming had finished, they see it each week. The whole thing is built upon co-operation between the people in it and the people making it.'

Spencer Campbell is producer of 'The Living Soap' (BBC2 Fri, Sun)

(Photograph omitted)

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