Fireworks and a big frenzy outside the most visited house in the land ratings built

The most extraordinary and unexpected success in the history of British television ended last night amid wild scenes in east London relayed live to entranced millions.

The most extraordinary and unexpected success in the history of British television ended last night amid wild scenes in east London relayed live to entranced millions.

When Big Brother ended, the screams could be heard for miles. At 10.46pm, the television phenomenon finished with all the razzmatazz and pathosthat has made it compulsive viewing. There was unbridled joy and barely concealed sorrow as some 2,000 people crammed into the corner of the capital that has hosted Big Brother for nine unprecedented weeks to see a Liverpudlian builder lift the final £70,000 prize. He emerged to a 21-Roman Candle salute.

The studio complex beside a canal in Bow resembled a quagmire after a day of torrential rain but last night most of the moisture was to be found in the eyes of the supporters of Anna, when the result they feared but surely always expected was announced.

Phillipa Williams, 24, who had travelled from Cheltenham to see her Irish lesbian hero, stood sobbing quietly into her "We love Anna" poster as the verdict of the people was announced. She said: "Anna was just such a lovely human being. She was the only one you could relate to - I know it's a game but I almost feel bereaved."

The ability of Big Brother to provoke emotions more normally associated with true tragedy was found in equal measure on the other side of the Anna v Craig divide.

John, a 36-year-old Liverpudlian with a rubber glove on his head "to keep out the wet", said: "He's my man, I'm not gay or anything but I really love him. If he had lost I don't know what I would have done."

A St John ambulance was on stand-by to help those overcome by the gravity of the occasion while there was a small army of security guards with German shepherds straining at their leashes to control any spectators who took the law into their own hands.

Searchlights scraped the rain-darkened sky but down below, the atmosphere was charged with a sense of uniqueness - albeit one engineered by the most effective harnessing of voyeurism in recent times.

After a rush of last-minute voting, Darren Ramsey, the 23-year-old Millennium Dome host, came third in the contest and at 8.45pm was evicted from the house to be reunited with his young children, partner and friends. Emerging after 64 days cooped up with former strangers in a contrived household, the occasion was inevitably a weepy one, with his three children plainly traumatised by the whole experience.

The programme has been a triumph for Channel 4. It has delivered to the network its best ever ratings at the same time as ITV audience figures have hit all-time lows. Channel 4 has the first option on a second series and ITV executives are said to be bitter about their failure to get the show.

Behind the scenes at the show, programme makers have been astounded at the narrow outlook of the twentysomething Big Brother generation. "In the first nine weeks of the programme the housemates didn't want to discuss politics or any important issue in the world," said the Channel 4 executive.

When it became apparent how inward looking the contestants were, the programme makers gave them the task of producing their own newspaper but when it came to discussing what might be going on in the wider world they immediately focused on the compelling issue of how much they, themselves, were in the news.

The publicist Max Clifford reckons that, of the three finalists - Craig, Anna and Darren - Craig has the best celebrity potential. "He could easily make between £500,000 and £1m in the first year," he said. "He's got a lot of warmth, and the British like warmth. Being a builder, he might be a good presenter on a makeover programme or he could do lucrative PR work promoting Liverpool."

Anna and Darren, he said, might both have television careers ahead of them, but Craig was the obvious star.

The Big Brother contestants already on the celebrity circuit are taking different approaches to their new careers. Agents for Mel Hill, the flirt, say she is "taking a step back and for the moment doing nothing. She doesn't want to be forced into decisions she might later regret."

After Tom McDermott was kicked out, he became a celebrity in his native Northern Ireland. Shaven-headed Nichola and lip-linered Caroline have flung themselves into the tabloid headlines with little sign of overall strategy for their futures. Meanwhile, Channel 4 confirmed negotiations on terms for the next series would soon begin.

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