A new series of Big Brother – the show that died on Channel 4 and was resurrected for Channel Five. At first I couldn’t stomach the regeneration with its Flo Rida-scored high-speed montage sections and pubescent squawking cast. Yet, in 2013, I feel that Channel Five has found its feet, removing much of the fluff, farting about, bells and whistles, and returning to that old-school, gently creeping format. I do not want comedy montages of the new cast – Sallie, Gina, Michael etc – star-jumping on their beds to “Live While We’re Young” by One Direction. We can watch pointless guff like that on Disney Channel. I want wry asides, caustic bickering and sideways glances, accompanied by Geordie Marcus’s voiceover, which takes my hand and pulls me from kitchen to garden to diary room. “Secrets and Lies” is the theme this summer, ironically, as by week nine most series of Big Brother have the feel of a Palm d’Or-contending Mike Leigh movie – broken characters staring into space, chugging on the dog-end of an Embassy Red, mulling which shape of Tesco Value pasta to have for dinner.
So with BB restored to some of its former glory, the question is, “are you in or out?”. “In” means a commitment to hours, days, weeks observing human beings like Dan the Operation Yewtree policeman, Wolfie (Rebel Wilson after five days at Glastonbury) or Dexter Koh, a obviously conflicted boy who once spent £121,000 on Champagne in Aura, Mayfair but has since grown ashamed of it.
“I’m Britain’s biggest sugar-daddy!” Dexter said in his introduction video, referring to the gangs of Mayfair nightclub lovelies he keeps afloat in shoes and diamonds. “Oh, so you sleep with prostitutes?” asks a housemate. “No I do not sleep with prostitutes,” he fumes. By episode four I rather liked him.
So yes, Big Brother: are you in? Will you be following this off-putting rabble who in time, as sure as eggs is eggs, will mellow and reduce into compelling living soap opera? Or are you out, rejecting Big Brother and planning instead to spend the summer months searching for its mention on internet TV sections before typing anonymous pithy remarks about how culturally superior you are from your lofty moral vantage point of “weary-making comment-box knob”? You decide.
On the basis of week one, I am passionately in. Big Brother’s first “Secret and Lies” sucker punch was the addition of housemate Michael, an affable, flush-cheeked, wholesome postman from Munster, Ireland. But Michael is actually an actor. He’s a mole – the People’s Puppet – quietly setting about sabotaging tasks and pouring oil on troubled waters. What should be a lesson in subterfuge and double-dealing has been, in truth, a rollercoaster ride featuring a man with only amateur acting skills, winging it, crapping himself and being sussed as a mole on the first night. Luckily for Michael his cover was blown by Sallie Axl, a “bisexual glamour model” who entered the house virtually nude aside from a beanie hat and some ice-wash denim dungaree shorts (no shirt, no bra), before spending the evening rabidly telling anyone who would listen how “real” she was. Real is a big obsession with Sallie. Perhaps she is often mistaken for a hologram or cyborg.
There is a performance-art aspect to the current crop of 20-something, Tumblr-style glamour girls who take all the basic tenets of Sam Fox’s glamour model (tits, white teeth, the classic thumb tugging one’s belt-loop, lip-licking pose) and mix them with a big scoop of Eighties Camden tourist-friendly punk (tattoos, requisite Sid Snot sneer) and a large ladle of naff Nineties Limp Bizkit fan.
Sallie’s skin is plastered with half thought-out tattoos commemorating events in her relatively short life. Sallie was the first person to remark that Michael was probably being controlled by Big Brother but everyone ignored her because she has yet to grasp the life lesson, “dress like a clown, get treated like one”. No woman has ever been taken remotely seriously in dungaree shorts with nipples out and bum-cheeks showing, a neon beanie hat, and smothered in a can of Ambre Solaire no-streaks bronze.
My favourite contestant right now is Sophie, cast as a sort of more erudite, wealthier Jade Goody, although I suspect when things settle she will be much more than this. Sophie is a dental nurse but hates working, her dad owns a scrap yard and she can drive a fork-lift truck. She is sweet, ballsy and likes to smooth over situations with empathy and kindness and by sticking the kettle on. Right now she is my spirit-animal within the house, the rough diamond trying to keep her head down. And that’s the best tactic for the first three weeks in Big Brother. Trust me – I don’t like to brag – but I’m an expert.