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?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams' life story will be told in a biography written by a New York Times reporter
arts + ents
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Merger and Acquisition Project Manager

    £500 - £550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN TAWe are looking to recrui...

    Technical Manager – Heat Pumps

    £40000 Per Annum dependent on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: They ...

    Test Job

    TBC: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis