When Big Brother began on Channel 4 in 2000, I took a principled stand against it. “Don’t they know what they’re doing?” I screamed at the TV. “It’s The Year of the Sex Olympics! Nigel Kneale was right!”
In 1968’s The Year of the Sex Olympics, Kneale, a pioneering writer of TV drama who died this week, ingeniously predicted the future of lowest-common-denominator TV. The programme kept a slavering audience pacified with such blackly funny concepts as The Hungry/Angry Show (in which senile old men throw food at one another), the titular Olympics, and the ultimate programme, in which a family are marooned on an island and then watched on camera, 24 hours a day. Yesterday’s satire is today’s reality. Or today’s reality TV.
A few years ago I tried to persuade The South Bank Show to devote an edition to Kneale, only to be told he wasn’t a “big enough figure”. This was doubly dispiriting, not only because, to anyone interested in TV drama, Kneale is a colossus, but because it seemed to confirm all the writer’s gloomy predictions regarding the future of broadcasting. Couldn’t the medium celebrate one of its giants?