Family sacrifice private life for TV show

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The Independent Culture

An "unremarkable" British family have sacrificed their private life to let 21 cameras into their home for a new, primetime TV show.

Channel 4 spent a year searching for subjects for the fly-on-the-wall series before finding the Hughes family, from Canterbury, Kent.

Now the routine of the Hughes' day-to-day life - from slumping on the sofa while watching TV to the parents' incessant squabbles with their nightclub-loving teenage daughter - has been caught on camera for the nation to watch.

The series, The Family, comes 34 years after the seminal Paul Watson documentary of the same name. The subject of that show, Margaret Wilkins, a mother-of-four, was vilified for her family's use of foul language and for discussing what were then taboo subjects.

The programme was credited with creating the fly-on-the-wall documentary and came 25 years before the likes of Big Brother and The Osbournes.

Today's family, comprised of Simon Hughes, 44, who was recently made redundant, wife Jane, 40, who works for a charity, and their four children Jessica, 22, Emily, 19, Charlotte, 17, and Tom, 14, said they felt that they had nothing to fear from letting the cameras into their home.

The Hughes' were filmed over 100 days and nights and more than 5,000 hours of material was condensed into the eight-part series starting next month.

Instead of using cameramen, the family's semi-detached house was fitted with 21 wall cameras to give the Hughes a greater sense of privacy.

Their neighbours also moved out so that the next door property could be turned into a production gallery. The Hughes family could only enjoy real privacy in the bathroom, where there were no cameras.

Jane, who has been married to Simon for 22 years, said of taking part: "We just had to get on with life very quickly. We got used to the cameras. We forgot they were there. The cameras didn't change our behaviour at all, except Simon had to wear his pyjamas."

Of signing up, Simon, a former business development manager at a property company, said: "It was a very gradual process. We just became more and more confident with how they were going to portray us and more confident that we didn't have anything to hide.

"We came to respect what they wanted to do, show that behind the closed door aspect of family life, how things are resolved, the love that's there in that family life.

"Also, it's a fantastic thing to pass on to later generations of the Hughes. The great, great, great, great-granddaughter of the Hughes that I will never meet will be able to look at it and say 'God, doesn't he moan'," he said of himself. He added: "Our rule right the way through has been that if any family member doesn't want to do it we don't do it."

Channel 4 searched for the ideal family by approaching people in the street, visiting sixth forms, trawling shopping centres, and using a mail shot company.

When father-of-four Simon received a letter asking whether he would be interested in taking part he assumed it was a joke and left it in his car. It was weeks before he finally called the number after being persuaded to do so by his wife.

The series captures the family's arguments over bedtimes and curfews, their wedding plans for their daughter and work issues. The couple recently became grandparents after eldest daughter Jessica, who lives nearby, had a child with fiance Pat Lee.

Simon Dickson, Channel 4's deputy head of documentaries, said the broadcaster deliberately shunned eccentric families. He said: "We were not trying to find a family that symbolises Britain because no family can do that. But we didn't want to find the Partridge family, the extremes... because there's enough drama, conflict resolution without that. You don't need to find a family on the margins or the fringe.

"When we met the Hughes family we were delighted... It's a series over eight weeks about the universal themes of family life. It's real TV, a documentary series lovingly crafted, but not a piece of reality TV."

Dickson played down comparisons to the original series The Family. He said: "The Family was a brilliant series in 1974, one of the great documentary series. But I don't think there has been a straight line from Paul Watson's series to this.

"It is the first time for a while that the issue of the family has been addressed head-on. Paul's was the beginning of that tradition and this is the next turn of the wheel."

The programme's director, Jonathan Smith, said of the Hughes: "I really liked them when we met and we met so many families. They seemed bright, honest and asked some quite difficult questions... The fear is 'Are people going to be honest?' and it was clear they were.

"The family seemed like a really good place to look at to tell you what life is like now."

The Family begins on September 17 on Channel 4 at 9pm.