Big Brother offers lessons in life as a scouse builder outwits the public school Machiavelli

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The Independent Online

Viewers might not have guessed it as they watched the daily inconsequential conversations between the residents of the Big Brother house, but it turns out that all of human life is there.

Viewers might not have guessed it as they watched the daily inconsequential conversations between the residents of the Big Brother house, but it turns out that all of human life is there.

As several million viewers last night watched the stockbroker Nick Bateman forced out of the house for cheating, his demise was being hailed as a victory for state education integrity over public school trickery - and a study in fugitive behaviour, as it was predicted he would have nowhere to hide.

There was even a lesson in the lottery of life as his rapidly drafted-in replacement proved that even the occupiers of life's substitutes' bench can hope to profit to the tune of £70,000 from others' mistakes.

And, of course, the inevitable moral of life in the media spotlight. Every cloud has Max Clifford lining it. There, predictably, was Mr Clifford offering his services to the disgraced Nick, enticing him with such lucrative careers as pantomime villain as well as advertising deals. "If he is as devious and ruthless as he comes across there's a career for him in PR, or politics obviously. In the next year I believe he could make up to £1m," Mr Clifford said.

Just as inevitably, by yesterday afternoon a website, www nickdefenders, had started up for fans of Nick.

On Thursday, "Nasty Nick" - to the delight of the tabloid headline writers the first alliterative villain since EastEnders' Dirty Den - muttered tearfully after his exposure as a cheat: "It's a game show." That was his biggest mistake.

Big Brother has not only become a phenomenon; it has become a microcosm of life itself. The tactics employed for winning a game show apparently have no place in the new phenomenon of real-life television. As the troubles with BBC's Castaways also show, both viewers and, curiously, participants expect integrity in interpersonal relations, even in the highly artificial context of the television environment.

Labour politician Roy Hattersley notes: "People who allow three million television viewers to watch them eat. sleep, wash and struggle to make intelligent conversation - and perhaps even enjoy it - are peculiar by definition."

But others are anxious about television executives exploiting such peculiarity. John C Beyer, director of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, says: "Such a series turns viewers into voyeurs ... Big Brother creates an unhealthy curiosity and desire for seeing what others do in private. It pretends to be showing the reality of living, but it is so clearly contrived to parade the worst excesses of exhibitionism. The danger of programmes like this is they assume that individual privacy can be cynically surrendered in the interests of novelty television aimed at maximising audience ratings."

For those who go to bed early or find the Big Brother characters unattractive, self obsessed and boring, Nick Bateman was kicked out after being quizzed by his six housemates in a kangaroo court-style showdown after it emerged that he had plotted against several contestants.

The confrontation happened after father-of-three Darren and Liverpudlian builder Craig found scraps of paper on which Nick had written fellow contestants' names as part of his nomination strategy.

Channel 4 said in its statement: "Following the decision to replace Nick Bateman, a new housemate will join the Big Brother house at some point over the coming weekend.

Yesterday, the programme's executive producer, Ruth Wrigley, explained that a team of 10 substitutes were going about their daily lives in as normal a way as possible, waiting to be called in case of a walkout, illness, death or an abduction by Max Clifford.

For him or her certain fame and possible fortune await. In a statement, so Orwellian it seems to confirm that Channel 4 has gone beyond irony and now regards its glorified game show with self-aggrandising pomposity, the channel said: "The replacement is eligible to win the prize money. However, they will be at a significant disadvantage for two reasons.

"First, because they have to break into an extremely cosy group with very strong bonds. Secondly, the public will not be as sympathetic to an outsider who has joined the project 35 days in. The replacement will not be allowed to have a vote, or be eligible for eviction, for a whole week. The replacement will have to sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to discuss with the other participants any events from the outside world.

" Big Brother will be watching and listening at all times."

The new contestant would do well not to have had a classical education. The latest twist in the Big Brother saga is that it is apparently a microcosm of the class system.

Speaking from her home in Seaforth, Merseyside, Craig's sister, Beverley, 31, praised her brother as a "national hero". She said: "What happened could win him the show. Nick is an ex-public schoolboy with all that expensive education and Craig just wiped the floor with him. There is no way he should be voted out now."

As Big Brother has unfolded over the past few weeks, Nick's Machiavellian antics have made him one of its biggest ratings pullers.

Yesterday, Caroline O'Shea, evicted last week, said: "I'm surprised that he has been rumbled - I'm glad that he has been, but who could fail to feel sorry for him? We were all duped by him, but you get the impression that he is just a nervous character. He is not safe anywhere he goes. It is a desperate pit he has dug for himself."

But according to Mr Beyer, this could be the start of television's desperate years. "In George Orwell's 1984 [Big Brother] was the all-seeing eye that exerted total control over every action, word, gesture and thought of the subjects. That the viewers decide who stays and who goes could have sinister implications for the future of our televisual society."

In fact, the near future promises less Orwellian and more predictable fare. Channel 5 is to show Jailbreak, in which participants must escape from a fake prison. And how long before the next Big Brother apes its Spanish and Dutch versions, in which fuzzy pictures of couples fornicating helped to boost ratings.

Perhaps that will not be necessary. Channel 4 said that ratings for the programme in which Nick was confronted were its highest since 1995. Yet in America, the show did surprisingly badly.

Nick Bateman, questioned about the show's popularity here, was ready with an answer, probably the right one. "In this country, if someone drops a credit card statement on the floor, people will read it. People here are very curious about how other people live."

It is as simple and as sinister as that.