Big Brother's back – and he hopes you'll be watching

When Richard Desmond bought Channel Five he invested £200m in the ailing reality TV show. Now it has to deliver viewers

It was the pioneering reality show that turned television into a confessional and made celebrities out of nonentities.

Now Big Brother is at the centre of a broadcasting war as Channel 5 accuses the programme's original host, Channel 4, of a campaign of "dirty tricks" worthy of Nasty Nick.

A year after Channel 4 dumped Big Brother, the broadcaster is seeking to undermine the reality show's revival under a new proprietor, Richard Desmond. Pamela Anderson, Jedward, Kerry Katona and Sally Bercow, the Speaker's wife, are among the names predicted to enter the famous house when Celebrity Big Brother (CBB) returns on Channel 5 this Thursday.

For Desmond, whose media empire includes the Daily Express, Daily Star and OK! magazine, Big Brother is the weapon to relaunch Channel 5, which he bought in a £103.5m deal last year, as a serious challenger to Channel 4 and ITV.

Big Brother also provides a perfect opportunity for "synergy" within Desmond's Northern & Shell group. His newspapers have breathlessly followed every turn in the CBB recruitment drive. Sarah Ferguson is believed to have been offered £1m simply to take part in a task in the house without even staying the night.

The three-week celebrity run precedes a full series featuring the "wannabes" who will provide the cover pictures for Desmond's New! gossip magazine, once they have been evicted from the house and elevated into the ranks of D-list celebrities.

Desmond, who made his fortune as a soft-porn magazine publisher, is believed to have paid £200m for the rights to Big Brother for five years. But he is gambling on a brand that defined "reality TV" in the Noughties but was dropped when viewers tired of its parade of noisy attention-seekers. Initially hailed as a social experiment, Big Brother peaked in 2002 when the final attracted nine million viewers, with a series average of five million watching Jade Goody's misadventures. The series generated £68m a year in profit for Channel 4 and its producers, Endemol.

The fun soured when the 2007 Celebrity series degenerated into a row over racist remarks aimed at the Indian actress Shilpa Shetty, sending Channel 4 into crisis mode. The broadcaster, keen to extricate itself from a £180m deal with Endemol, dropped Big Brother after 11 years to focus on "creative renewal". The 2010 series drew an average of two million viewers, with four million tuning in for the final.

The man given the task of restoring Big Brother's lustre was in bullish mood as he took The Independent on a tour of the house, this time styled as a space-age bachelor pad. "This is the biggest and best set Big Brother has ever had," said Jeff Ford, Channel 5's programmes director. From now on Big Brother is a pure entertainment show... With Channel 4 the series became more of a circus, or a zoo."

Channel 5 believes Channel 4 is running scared of Big Brother's return. After delaying its schedule publication, Channel 4 announced the terrestrial premiere of the hit film Twilight on Wednesday, the day announced by national billboards as the return of CBB. It is now expected to schedule the Million Pound Drop live game show, presented by the former Big Brother host Davina McCall, against her old show on the all-important Friday eviction nights.

Ford, a former Channel 4 executive, said: "Why would they put a movie premiere on Wednesday night if it wasn't to try and affect our ratings? I'm not worried about what they do because I've got Big Brother. We are casting in a different way, looking purely for people who will entertain an audience."

By "entertain", Ford presumably means "get their kit off" judging from the transparent shower for two in the open-plan wet room visible to all from the garden. The days of "evil" Big Brother are over. The housemates will have Ligne Roset designer furniture to lounge on and enough drink to get them amorously lubricated.

Channel 5's problem is that The Sun and the Daily Mirror, Desmond's print rivals which drove viewers to the series in its heyday, have largely ignored the impending comeback. But Desmond is worth £950m and Ford believes the mogul's chequebook is helping to attract celebrities. "Richard has always said to me: 'If the channel needs something and you believe in it, come and tell me. And if I believe in it as well, we'll get it.' He's very enthusiastic about the show."

With no Davina to take contestants through their "best bits", Desmond reportedly asked Cheryl Cole to host Big Brother. She declined and Brian Dowling, a former Big Brother winner, will be the presenter. On eviction nights, Channel 5 will pair Big Brother with The Bachelor, a dating show starring the Welsh rugby international Gavin Henson, formerly engaged to Charlotte Church.

Channel 5's future is tied to reality TV; and Big Brother, the granddaddy of the genre, is now feeding on its spawn. "Celebrity" participants have been mooted from The Only Way Is Essex and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, series inspired by Big Brother's defiant focus on ordinary people. Some have yet to attract the most basic form of recognition, a Wikipedia entry. "The important thing is how the group interacts. No one expected the George Galloway and Rula Lenska cat-licking scene," said Ford, sitting by the heated swimming pool in the floodlit garden. "But I do think people will be absolutely delighted with the line-up we've got."

Who's In – The rumoured cast list

Kerry Katona: The debt-ridden former pop star is said to be bringing her mother Sue into the house

Tara Reid: The US actress has appeared in TV shows including Scrubs and is a star of the American Pie film franchise

Paddy Doherty: A bare-knuckle boxer and star of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

Pamela Anderson: Former Baywatch actress is said to be negotiating a limited stay for a fee of £100,000

Amy Childs: The underpaid The Only Way Is Essex star is moving on to CBB

Jedward: The wacky Irish Eurovision contenders, right, enter the Big Brother house in a two-for-one deal

Sally Bercow: The Speaker, John Bercow, is said to be trying to persuade his wife to reject the £100,000 deal

Charlie Sheen: The troubled star is now thought to be out of the running

Duchess of York: A tempting offer is apparently on the table for Fergie to make a one-day appearance

Murray Walker: The hyperactive 87-year-old F1 commentator could bring maturity to the house

Bobby Brown: The scandal-ridden ex-husband of Whitney Houston is seeking to revive his career

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game