BBC seeks 30 volunteers to be castaways for year

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IN THE ultimate fly-on-the-wall documentary series, the BBC is going to "shipwreck" 30 volunteers on to a deserted Scottish island and film how they survive for a year.

With echoes of Lord of the Flies and Alex Garland's The Beach, the BBC is seeking people who are prepared to spend 12 months completely cut off from the modern world. The volunteers, who will represent a cross- section of society, will be expected to build their houses and, of course, cope without any telephone, television, radio, newspapers or Internet.

Details of the nine-part series, which has the working title Castaway, are being kept strictly under wraps until the official announcement in the new year. A spokeswoman for the corporation said yesterday: "It's a very delicate situation. It's such a big project for us. We've got to get people to agree to this. We've got a very clear idea of what we want to happen, but they are not on board yet."

The series is commissioned by Peter Salmon, programme controller of BBC1, from Jeremy Mills, who left the BBC 18 months ago to set up his hugely successful independent production company, Lion Television. Mr Mills has made his name with docu-soaps such as Hotel and Airport. The first three episodes of Castaway will focus on how the participants are selected and how they go about setting themselves up. The next episodes will track what happens to them.

A BBC insider said: "The key focus is going to be the evolution of a society from scratch, observing what kind of civilisation these complete strangers create. Who will be the leaders? How will conflicts be resolved? What will happen to unpopular citizens of this new society?

"The intention is to have a collection of people who are reasonably representative of the British population at large - an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, a single mother, a candlestick maker. There are all sorts of questions to be resolved, such as whether to allow the castaways to keep in contact with intimates on the mainland."

Producers are also still deciding how to film the project without intruding on the group's daily way of life.

Castaway is one of a small number of "mega millennium" projects being commissioned by the four main terrestrial television broadcasters. ITV has committed itself to scouring the country for the first baby to be born in 2000. Then, not unlike in the recent film The Truman Show, the baby will be followed for at least a year.

BBC Scotland said in a statement yesterday: "Lion Television and BBC Scotland are in discussions about a ground-breaking documentary series for the millennium involving a group of people in a living experiment, exploring how society could change in the future."

Four years ago, the BBC did a one-off programme, Girl Friday, about how Joanna Lumley survived when she was left on her own on a tropical island off the coast of Madagascar. The Absolutely Fabulous star was equipped with no more than an SAS survival kit.

She recorded in her diary that it was worse than being trapped in Worthing in winter.