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Soap pays the rent for BBC's star students

THE BBC'S newest soap opera features six students sharing a house in a suburb of Manchester. But before you yawn, thinking you have seen it all before, these are real students who will live a year of their lives in the constant glare of the cameras for the price of free accommodation.

In the belief that truth is more dramatic than fiction, BBC2 launches The Living Soap next month, based on the same fly-on-the-wall principle as the Australian co-production Sylvania Waters and the BBC series, The Family, broadcast in 1974.

'We don't call it fly-on-the wall now,' said a BBC spokeswoman. 'It's a cross between a soap opera and a documentary, so the word is soapymentary, or docusoap.'

An advertisement seeking student volunteers to take part in The Living Soap, received more than 900 replies. About 100 were given screen tests and six chosen. 'We tried to pick a combination of personalities who were different politically and socially so that there would be a volatile mix,' the spokeswoman said. 'If they stay up all night arguing, the cameras will stay with them. We'll follow them outside the house as well. The only areas we'll avoid are the bedroom and the bathroom.'

One of the six is Simon McKeown, a 23-year-old politics student at Manchester Metropolitan University and chair of its Labour Club, who comes from Liverpool. According to the BBC, he has been chosen to stir up political arguments. 'I was mainly attracted by the free rent,' he admitted. 'And when it's over, I would quite like to work for the BBC.'