Why Gogglebox and its stars are TV gold - Anthony Clavane

Gogglebox sisters Ellie and Izzi.Gogglebox sisters Ellie and Izzi.
Gogglebox sisters Ellie and Izzi. | jpimedia

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There is more than a hint of Tall Poppy Syndrome in the backlash against Gogglebox, one of the most successful television shows of the past decade.

This hugely popular programme, made by telly addicts for telly addicts, has a simple format. Every Friday, in an hour-long episode, a collection of armchair critics share their candid, and occasionally cheeky, thoughts on the week’s TV. It should be noted, in passing, that many of these critics are northerners.

My favourites are “good mates” Lee and Jenny, from Hull, whose idiosyncratic witticisms come to us from a caravan in Patrington Haven. I am also a big fan of sisters Ellie and Izzi from Leeds. Then there are Lancastrians Sophie and Pete, the siblings who constantly take the mickey out of each other.

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And don’t forget the Malones, and their dog Dave, a Manc family who are always accompanied by a bowl full of snacks – which always remain uneaten. True, the most popular goggle-boxers of all – Sid, Baasit and Umar Siddiqui – are from Derby. But, hey, it’s still north of London.

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Indeed, both the blue-rinse pensioners in the audience of Aherne’s hilarious chat show, and the lovable Royles in her classic sitcom, were inspirations for Gogglebox.

But – unlike Mrs M and Jim and Barb – Lee, Jenny, Ellie, Izzi and the Malones are real people, not fictional characters. And it is their authenticity, alongside their idiosyncratic comments on soaps, drama and documentaries, that has made the show such a huge hit since it first arrived on our screens seven years ago.

In our cynical culture, of course, being a huge hit makes you a target. We Brits are good at building people up and knocking them down. It’s how the lower orders are kept in their place. Especially those cheeky north-of-Londoners who are clearly getting a bit too big for their boots.

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So when, a week ago, the “boxers” had the nerve to poke fun at Boris Johnson and question the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, they clearly needed to be taken down a peg or two, cut down to size, told to get back in their boxes, so to speak.

Many people were so offended that they took to Twitter after Johnson, poor thing, was roundly mocked for describing Covid-19 as a “silent and unexpected mugger”. As Sophie pointed out: “It wasn’t really that unexpected though, was it?”

Izzi noted: “We saw this coming over the hill from China. So I didn’t think it was that much of a surprise.” Umar also tore into Boris. “That’s like saying Jack the Ripper was unexpected after he murdered his fifth prostitute,” he argued.

When this clip did the rounds on social media, conspiracy theorists denounced it as the latest example of a left-wing plot by Channel 4 to discredit the Conservatives. This was followed by attacks on the Leeds sisters, the Malones and Lee and Jenny for supposedly flouting “the rules” by carrying on filming during the lockdown.

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And, finally, the worst crime of all. The armchair critics were accused of spoilers – revealing the twists of favourite shows like Killing Eve.

Never mind that we live in a free country where people are still allowed to mock their leaders. Never mind that Jenny and Lee had been self-isolating together for the past month. Never mind that we live in a free country where armchair critics are still free to critique their favourite shows from their armchairs.

It must, conclude the conspiracists, be part of the Marxist channel’s cunning plan. I mean, why have so many programmes been axed during the crisis – yet Gogglebox continues to be shown?

Well, this could be because the show is TV gold. Because the goggle-boxers remain an unchanging part of the communal telly-viewing experience. And because, in these dark times, they make us laugh.

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They help us feel less isolated and more connected. And they give a voice to all the lonely telly addicts out there who are struggling with the pandemic.

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