Celebrity Big Brother: A house where nobody knows your name

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The Independent Culture

The underlying theme for what Channel Four promise us will be their final Celebrity Big Brother had been supplied by Jean Paul Sartre – that famous suggestion from Huis Clos that "Hell is other people". Regular viewers of CBB's opening episodes will know that Sartre got it slightly wrong: for those desperate enough to enter this mausoleum of fame: "Hell is other people not having a clue who you are".

Davina McCall might gamely insist that the housemates are "very precious cargo indeed" but she also knew that we were going to need a potted biography to prevent this from looking like a tricky picture round in an End of the Noughties quiz. No such charity, though, for those actually inside the house – who have to negotiate the awkward moment of introduction without making their mutual bafflement too obvious. Not everyone pulls this off with equal aplomb. Stephanie Beacham, following Nicola T (a page three model) and Alex Reid (cage fighter and Jordan boyfriend) into the airlock set, clearly felt there was at least one friendly face in there already.

"Hello darling, are you jet-lagged?" she crooned at Stephen Baldwin (ex- Hollywood bad boy, born-again Christian evangelist). "What's your name?" he replied suavely – though Stephanie may be able to take some comfort from the fact that he was too stupid to open the door into the house. Stephen on the other hand might have been hoping for a lot more anonymity when Heidi Fleiss, ex-Hollywood madam, followed Lady Sovereign, Sisqo and Dane Bowers down the Perspex staircase. "I've seen you before" she said as she clocked him. "It's been a long time, pal," he replied with what I may well have misinterpreted as nervous haste.

Absolutely nobody knew who Lady Sovereign was (or Sov, as she introduced herself) though she did seem to recognise Sisqo, despite the fact that this ornament of the charts is now reduced to releasing his new singles on YouTube. And Dane Bowers, (ex-boyband and Jordan boyfriend number two) knew before he went in that Alex Reid was going to be in there.

Katia Ivanova (Ron Wood's cocktail waitress) and Jonas Altberg (a euro-disco singer-songwriter known as Basshunter) will have some explaining to do, once they've decompressed from entry but Vinnie Jones appeared to spark a genuine glimmer of recognition. I didn't know his career had been going so badly, to be honest, but unless the definition of celebrity has been tweaked to include Hollywood A-listers with 27-day gaps in their working diary, things must have been a bit quiet on the lairy geezer front just recently.

Only the wildly optimistic would believe that this really is the last Celebrity Big Brother we'll see on British television – but if Channel Four were hoping to round off the first episode of their farewell series with a water-cooler moment they may have been disappointed. Challenging the 12 housemates to cram themselves into an impishly accessorised Mini they warned that those still outside after five minutes would "face the consequences". In the end everyone managed it comfortably inside the time limit and left us with the less than exciting prospect of three minutes looking at vaguely familiar faces squashed up against a set of steamed-up windows.

Extravagant promise and verbal hype had been followed by fizzling anti-climax, a trajectory everybody here was already all too familiar with. It seemed darkly fitting that, while Sartre had supplied the copyline, Tolkien seems to have provided the valedictory logo, the programme idents being almost actionably reminiscent of the great Eye of Sauron. As Tolkien wrote, "the Eye was rimmed with fire but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat's... and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing". How did he know what was coming? And could there be a better description of the bleak, reverberating vacancy of this format than those last three words?

Can you tell who it is yet? CBB contestants in pictures