Family campaigners last night called on Channel 4 to pull this week's teenage version of Big Brother featuring the first scene of real-life sex ever shown on British television.
Claire Rayner, the veteran TV agony aunt, and a leading charity urged executives to reconsider their decision to screen the peak-time show, in which 18-year-olds Tommy Wright and Jade Dyer are shown having sex under a duvet. Ms Rayner described the programme as "criminal", while Robert Whelan, the director of Family and Youth Concern, advised viewers to "get a life" and boycott it.
The decision to include the scenehas also been criticised by Mr Wright's mother, Christine. Mrs Wright of Weymouth, Dorset, told London's Evening Standard newspaper her family was in "shock" and described Channel 4 as "irresponsible".
Teen Big Brother, to be screened over five nights at 10pm from tomorrow, is controversial in several respects. It was originally commissioned by 4Learning, Channel 4's educational unit, as a serious daytime programme exploring the "reality" of modern teenage life. But when executives realised how potentially explosive the footage was, they decided to switch it to prime time - with a re-edited version for teenagers to follow in a daytime slot next January.
While Teen Big Brother will inevitably be a ratings winner, anyone hoping for lurid close-ups of heaving bodies will be disappointed. Producers insist the "action" has been reduced to a few moments of giggling and fumbling beneath a duvet.
They also stress that the show makes for more "adult" viewing than the original Big Brother in other, less prurient, respects. As well as swearing at each other and wandering round in underwear, the eight teenage housemates - unlike their grown-up counterparts - discuss politics and religion.
Such assurances have failed to appease Channel 4's critics, however, who claim the station re-scheduled the show in pursuit of ratings. Condemning the show as "cruel", Ms Rayner said: "If you can't make mistakes when you are young, without everyone being there to watch you, when can you? I'm not concerned about this affecting morals - I'm concerned about kids of 18 whose activities will be captured for ever more."
Mr Whelan said: "This is for people who aren't getting enough themselves. They should get a life."
Their comments reflected those of Mrs Wright, who reportedly said last week: "We understood the programme was educational. I'm surprised Channel 4 allowed this to happen. They're kids, and many might think it quite irresponsible to stick them all in a room together."
But the charge of exploitation is contested by Heather Rabbatts, managing director of 4Learning, who said: "The sex lasts for a few moments of five hours of television. There are also bits of conversation where they argue about politics and religion. If people watch it to see sex, they'll be disappointed."Reuse content