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
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

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.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific