Big Bother

By Gary Roberts

What do you get if you put a disgraced entertainer, an outrageous transvestite and a maverick politician under the same roof, inviting the public to watch their every move? Nothing nearly as interesting as it sounds.

Channel 4 is hoping not only to grip millions into watching celebrities do very little for three weeks, but to persuade us into also paying for it. It's clear that Big Brother lost its purpose as a psychological experiment around the year 2002. Now, the show is a parody of itself – encouraging its victims to trade in their self-respect to play-act, connive and scream their way into the final and a career beyond that.

Sadly, celebrities tend to be somewhat more careful about holding onto their reputations. In this star-studded (ha ha, more like Z list) edition, we will be lucky to get anything like the beer-fuelled battles that made a zoo out of Big Brother 2005.

We rejoiced when firebrand MP George Galloway famously got down on all fours to lick imaginary milk from the palms of old-hat actress Rula Lenska. But it was a rare highlight.

The house is packed with insipid bores who share a teaspoon of charisma, and who breathe in the fumes of cigarettes more often than breathe out an utterance worth listening to. Galloway is alone in his pursuit for intellectual conversation. The Respect party MP gave a spot-on analogy of Dennis and Traci, likening him to a caged lion and accusing her of teasing the beast with a stick.

Meanwhile, the bickering that went on between Faria and Dennis can at best be described as a polite, and mindless, exchange. And for someone who had a solitary Number One hit in 1984, and whose subsequent six attempts failed to chart, Pete Burns’ ego is astonishing. Pete told a fellow housemate: “Dennis, I know I make good television, if only from a visual point of view.” Quite whether the cross-dressing singer’s garish costumes and botoxed balloon lips make good viewing is debatable. Maybe Galloway, the anti-Iraq war politician for Bethnal Green and Bow, can help us figure out an answer.

When Michael Barrymore entered the house, the reception from the crowd outside was as though he had won not just the entire show, but a couple of gold medals for Britain and an Oscar. But as perhaps the most promising contestant on paper, Barrymore’s act so far has left him with a lot to answer for. His speech is so slurred, I can barely understand a thing the man says. I hope his inevitable TV game show comeback will carry subtitles. In the house, Barrymore’s stale jokes have revealed his limitations rather than his merits as an ‘entertainer’. He did an American high school accent and a tired Hitler impression like a million schoolyard clowns before him.

So it is hugely revealing about the strength of character in the house when the bookies are tipping a nobody to win it. and William Hill put Chantelle - the Essex blonde who fooled the others into believing she was a pop singer – above Burns and Barrymore.

However, betting houses are not putting much faith in Galloway's chances. Tower Hamlets council leader, Michael Keith, has joined several high-profile faces who have criticised the Respect MP for appearing on the show and hence neglecting his parliamentary duties. Keith says: “Local MPs should be representing the interests of their area. [George] is paid to do a job and he is clearly not doing it.”

Optimistic ‘bloggers’ on the Guardian website have pointed out that Gorgeous George is using Celebrity Big Brother as a platform for important political issues to reach a mass young audience, Heineken-style.

If, after making sure his all-important signature gets onto early day motions, as we heard Galloway controversially had, he still has the time to give a bizarre impression of a cigar-chomping cat, then the good people of Bethnal Green and Bow, in east London, ought not to make such a fuss.