BBC's 'Big Brother' show for babies ends in tears

Split with controversial childcare guru leads to costly new series being abandoned after millions are spent building new studio

Gina Ford, Britain's most controversial childcare guru and author of the bestselling The Contented Little Baby Book, was all set to take her first steps into TV in a costly reality series for the BBC. Now, after millions of pounds have been spent on the project with the creation of a Big Brother-style house to monitor babies 24 hours a day on camera, the show has been pulled.

Gina Ford, Britain's most controversial childcare guru and author of the bestselling The Contented Little Baby Book, was all set to take her first steps into TV in a costly reality series for the BBC. Now, after millions of pounds have been spent on the project with the creation of a Big Brother-style house to monitor babies 24 hours a day on camera, the show has been pulled.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that Ms Ford and the BBC have parted company and producers have been forced to overhaul the series.

Ms Ford's ideas of controlling behaviour through strict regimes have helped her to sell almost a million copies of her books, but they have polarised parents. She has passionate supporters, such as the actress Kate Winslet who has described her as an "absolute godsend". Others find some of the techniques she advocates upsetting.

Caroline Jones, 39, from Surbiton, is a committed Ford fan who used The Contented Little Baby Book for both her children from birth. "I had a friend who had a disastrous time with her baby and she started using the book at four or five months, and it had an effect very quickly.

"It just made sense that if you give regular feeds throughout the day, they won't want feeding at night. My children slept through at nine weeks for the first one and seven weeks for the second."

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, claims many of Ms Ford's methods are not based on sufficient research evidence and that the long-term effects have not been proven. "If we thought that the behaviourist approach of Gina led to a stable, well-adjusted adult, then fine, but at the moment we just don't know."

Ms Ford, a former nanny who has no children of her own, was to front the TV series for a month, welcoming a new intake of babies and toddlers each week then modifying their behaviour using rigid schedules with set times for meals, naps and bedtime.

Huge plasma screens at the studio would allow her to monitor the babies' progress, and she would advise on where the parents were going wrong. Filming on the BBC3 series had been due to begin this month, with advertisements posted to find "stressed-out parents at the end of their tether".

The decision to commission what has been described as "Big Brother for babies" led to a number of complaints to the BBC.

The BBC confirmed that the show, which was due to go into the spring schedules, has been pulled: "It has not proved possible for the BBC and Gina Ford to bring Gina Ford's BabySchool to air as hoped," a spokeswoman said.

Now the corporation has had to invest further in the project to ensure a programme can be salvaged following the huge outlay on construction of the studio.

The BBC will this week announce that Dr Tanya Byron, a consultant clinical psychologist who worked on BBC3's child behaviour programme Little Angels, has been drafted in to work on a show that the BBC says will be a landmark series. It will create "television's first ever toddler sanctuary - a place where parents at the end of their tether can retreat to with their children".

Ms Ford said yesterday she was "baffled" as to why the original programme was ditched, but refused to comment further.

Outline Productions, which was making the original programme and is now making its replacement, refused to comment.

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