Making a spectacle of themselves: Six students have become the stars of a living television soap. Owen Slot joined them for episode one

Friday night at 7.15, and six Manchester students sit down to watch television. After months of waiting, months of warning, after being told that they are mad and will be stitched up like turkeys, it is time to face the music and watch themselves as the stars of BBC 2's The Living Soap.

'It just seemed like a glorified home video,' one said later. A home video that would attract four million viewers, that is.

The Living Soap is fly-on-the-wall television. The six, selected in the summer from a thousand hopefuls, were given perks - free rent, an above-average student house - and innumerable problems: housemates they'd never met before; the prospect of a year with camera crews in the house, in lecture halls, in pubs, in clubs; and 30 half-hour episodes, starting last Friday, in which their private lives will be stripped bare before the nation.

This television genre dates back to 1973 and An American Family; the parents of the chosen family had been married for 20 years before the the cameras arrived and were divorced soon after. A year later came a British version, The Family, a picture of mundane verite lacking in domestic bliss. Twenty years on we saw Sylvania Waters, whose stars, Noeline and Laurie Donaher, were distilled into hate figures on an operatic scale.

Spencer Campbell, series producer of The Living Soap, had warned the Manchester Six that they would be shown at their worst. But none had watched Sylvania Waters, so they probably couldn't imagine quite how bad their worst moments might appear. The power of the editing suite was about to be revealed . . .

The opening credits roll. Intense concentration, nervous grins all round. First on the box is Simon, who covers his face and swears he'll be dieting before next week. This sets the standard: Karen and Spider hate their spots; Spider hates the way her eyes roll; Matthew - a ringer for Jesus but for his passion for death-thrash metal - can't believe that of all the garden cricket footage, they showed the one off-break that went for a wide, but he is dead chuffed with his guitar riff.

Overall, there is relief all round, though the introductory episode was always likely to tread softly. Yet it is clear that, despite the obvious objectives behind the unnatural selection of six characters in search of a single common trait, they get on fine. Even Conservative-supporting, womanising Dan, touted in the BBC as 'the student from hell', is regarded by the girls as 'an absolute sweetie'. As thick-skinned as his heroine, Margaret Thatcher, he laughs at his screen portrayal. The projected clash with Simon - right-wing versus right-on - so far hasn't materialised. They are straight off to the pub.

But Simon has nothing to celebrate. As a taster of what could come, footage shot weeks ago shows him in the first episode referring to a former girlfriend as a 'bitch'. It was said in jest but he is crestfallen and keen to clear out before the girl now known nationwide as 'bitch' is on the phone.

All are wary of letting their guard drop in the way Simon did, but know that the cameramen are rapidly becoming part of the furniture. 'That's the danger,' says Karen. 'And they're always asking probing questions.'

As Simon and Dan go out into the night, they are cheered on the bus. The trappings of fame may get worse: Matt is being lined up as My Guy's Man of the Month, and The Big Breakfast is threatening a morning raid. What student would want to be wakened at 8.15am by Keith Chegwin?

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

    £23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

    Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

    £14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

    Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower