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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
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.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement