'Big Brother' adviser quits over fracas

A consultant to the reality television programme
Big Brother has resigned in protest after an outbreak of violence on the set which triggered a police investigation.

A consultant to the reality television programme Big Brother has resigned in protest after an outbreak of violence on the set which triggered a police investigation.

David Wilson, a professor of criminology at the University of Central England, had been chosen to work with the Channel 4 programme because of his experience as a prison governor. But he said yesterday that he could not be associated with a programme that "provoked interpersonal violence for entertainment".

Other experts and MPs criticised Big Brother for "legitimising" violence in the eyes of young people and political leaders also turned on the programme-makers.

Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Endemol, the programme's maker, and Channel 4 had created "an ugly spectacle".

"When the public feel obliged to ring the police about a TV 'entertainment' show, it's time for some hard thinking," he said. "Reality TV has become more and more extreme. The Big Brother producers dubbed this series ' Big Brother gets evil' and designed the format to create tension and trouble, which they presumably thought would make acceptable viewing. Nobody wants to clamp down on ideas or stop TV being inventive; but this is becoming an increasingly ugly spectacle."

More than 100 people have complained to the media watchdog Ofcom over the scenes, which were shown live in the early hours of Thursday and repeated in the evening.

Endemol hoped that Professor Wilson would be able to provide expert commentary on how the "housemates" were dealing with 12 weeks locked in the confines of a small house and subjected to various "tasks". But Professor Wilson said he had been left with no option but to resign after his advice was not acted on and violence broke out in the Big Brother house, a set at Elstree studios in Hertfordshire.

He said: "Given that there's an ongoing investigation by police, I simply cannot be associated with a programme which may have provoked interpersonal violence simply for the entertainment of a television audience."

Professor Wilson was understood to be strongly opposed to an experiment introduced for this series of the show in which two of the evicted housemates had been allowed to spy on their fellow contestants and then return to the house. Good prison management practice dictates that cellmates who have fallen out should be separated in order to prevent the possibility of further violence. Reuniting the evicted housemates brought a series of long-standing rows to the surface and television viewers saw trays thrown, plates smashed and a table overturned as the animosity turned to abusive language, threats and violence.

Endemol called in security guards and Channel 4 took the show - which is also streamed live on the digital channel E4 - off the air. Hertfordshire Police launched an investigation into the incidents.

Professor Wilson is one of six consultants hired by Endemol, helping to justify the programme as a form of social experiment. The lead consultant is the psychologist Professor Geoffrey Beattie, based at the University of Sheffield.

A spin-off show, Big Brother - The Psychology Show, featuring the views of the consultants, is intended to run alongside the show. It has so far not been screened but is understood to be scheduled for Monday.

Channel 4 said that despite Professor Wilson's departure, the programme-makers were confident in the "rigorous vetting procedures, full-time monitoring and security and on-site psychological support" that had been established on Big Brother. The channel said: "Professor Wilson was recruited this year as one of the psychologists who appear on screen to discuss and dissect the housemates' behaviour. He has not had any direct contact with the housemates or been involved in counselling."

The programme is subject to the code of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, Channel 4 pointed out.

An Ofcom spokeswoman said that 105 people had complained over the screening of the brawl, and that the total number of complaints received about this fifth series of Big Brother had risen to 216. John Beyer, spokesman for Mediawatch UK, called the violence an "absolute disgrace".

He said: "At the time when Tony Blair was criticising people for what was close to rioting in Portugal, we had Channel 4 presenting the same thing as entertainment." He said that Endemol had cultivated trouble by choosing a volatile mix of housemates.

Channel 4 said that the "welfare and safety" of housemates was its "overriding concern" and that it was taking steps to defuse tension in the house.

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