For anyone who has been unable to access terrestrial television or else have been living under a rock for the last year and a half, Gogglebox is an observational documentary following ordinary couples and families from across the UK as they peruse through the week’s most watched television shows, with entertaining results. Described as a light mixture of both Harry Hill’s TV Burp and The Royle Family, Gogglebox has already won a BAFTA for best ‘Reality and Constructed Factual Programme’ and enjoyed massive national success for the last three series with consistently high viewing figures.
With a new series due to hit our screens soon, I catch up with the Michael family from Brighton, who have graciously invited me to their home to tell me all about their experience of being on one of Channel 4’s most watched TV shows. Among the family members who have starred in the series since the pilot are; dad Andrew, mum Carolyne, daughter Alex and son Louis (Other daughter Katy has also appeared in the series but unable to attend at the time).
While entering their beautiful house and being ushered into the lounge, I secretly wondered if the family were exactly as they portrayed themselves on Gogglebox, or if it was all an act for the cameras. Within minutes, my question was answered as the recognisable banter and light bickering ensued – ingredients that have no doubt contributed to their popularity with fans.
Curiosity aroused, I asked them exactly how they came to be on Gogglebox. ‘It was completely random’ laughs Carolyne, ‘They did street recruiting in Brighton, my daughter Katy spotted them and thought “This looks great, my family would be perfect for this.”
From there the producers got in touch with us and gave us all a telephone interview, and then they came down and gave us a screen test. To be honest, we didn’t think they would pick us at all’.
‘At first we weren’t really bothered, it was just supposed to be for a laugh’, chimes in Andy. He then explained how he had second thoughts about appearing on the programme, and one of the show’s top producers had a job convincing them otherwise.
‘At this point I wasn’t sure what to do, I didn’t really care that much, quite frankly, so I said to my son Louis “You know what? I’m going to leave the decision to you, I’m fine either way” and Louis just turned around and said “Let’s do it!” so here we are.’
Self-confessed TV addicts, the Michaels began to list some of their favourite shows, with Breaking Bad, Miranda, The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones topping their incredibly varied list. ‘We pretty much love everything’ admits Carolyne. ‘I get really easily hooked on a series’ continues Alex.‘I’ll watch one episode just to relax, then I find myself watching at least 3 or 4 more episodes after that’.
On the subject of shows that they dislike, The X Factor and soaps are at the forefront. ‘I especially can’t bear Coronation Street’, pipes up Andy. ‘Every time I hear the theme tune I have to switch it over straight away’. With the general concept of Gogglebox following the viewing habits of different families and couples across the country, it’s unsurprising that most of them have never even met, though the Michaels were keen to share who they particularly like.
Among their favourites were fellow Brightonians Chris and Stephen, Brixton pair Sandy and Sandra, and the Siddiqui family from Derby. With so many households from varied backgrounds and opinions, I asked the family if they felt there was any element of competition between themselves and the other Goggleboxers.
‘It just depends on what you’re giving them’, Louis answers. ‘If you’re not particularly on form one week, then you don’t expect to get much airtime, so yeah, there is some competition sometimes. Whenever we are filmed it’s usually around 1% that actually gets aired’. Carolyne then proceeds to explain that all of the programmes that they view are actually chosen for them. This is for the purpose of showing the public ‘which shows are relevant that particular week’ and creating a difference of opinion, which she says can have an affect on them sometimes on just how much they have to say about it.
As relative newbies to the world of reality TV, I was interested to know what their initial reaction was to seeing themselves on screen for the first time. ‘It felt like watching a home movie’ says Louis. ‘It didn’t feel like the rest of the country was watching at all’.
‘It was a gradual thing’, Alex elaborates. ‘Because the first series was a pilot, the first time we watched ourselves we had no idea how successful it was going to be or just how many people would be watching it with us. Even after 3 series, it’s still really strange to see ourselves’.
‘The only time we actually process that this is actually happening is when we are stopped in the street’ adds Andy. ‘We do actually like it, to be honest, and it’s then we think ‘Bloody hell! This thing is really happening.’
“We have to watch what they tell us to because it creates a package for all of the families involved, and if we were to watch something entirely different to the others, then there wouldn’t be much point to the show’.
At this point all of the family nod in agreement and begin to tell me just how much positive feedback they have received from the public, to the point that they are almost in disbelief over fans telling them how much they love them and Gogglebox. ‘They tell us, “Honestly, we love it!” and you can tell they really are being genuine’.
Carolyne recalls an incident earlier that day whist out having coffee with her family. ‘We were sitting down having our coffee, then all of a sudden this huge tattooed arm shoots through the middle of the table and I thought “bloody hell! He’s going to nab my coffee.”’
‘He was actually coming forward to shake my hand’ laughs Louis, ‘but it’s great! One of my favourite perks of being part of the show is that you get to meet so many nice and interesting people. I had an hour-long conversation the other day, just because I asked them what time it was.’
Having already achieved national recognition through appearing in all the series so far, The Michaels are currently enjoying their time on Gogglebox. However, what everyone – except diehard fans – may not know is that it isn’t just the four of them on every series. Daughter Katy, who originally instigated her family appearing on TV, was due to appear with the rest of her family on the first series.
Katy moved away for a while to Australia just before the pilot series was due to start filming, paving the way for Alex, who was living in London at the time to fill in for her. By series two, she returned for filming, by which time Alex had then returned to London. ‘I just want to take the opportunity to say, because we’re never in it together and alternate between series, a lot of people think we’re actually the same person,’ she smiles. ‘From a distance, if you’re not concentrating, we do look similar and are both always sat in between our mum and brother. Once, I went into a pub in Kemptown and the bartender told he how much he loved it. He said to me the funniest line that I said was “Google that shit”. I couldn’t be bothered to explain that it was actually my sister, not me’.
After talking for a while about their Gogglebox experiences, the conversation moved on to other family activities that they share together. It became apparent how close they were as a family, from nightly dinners together and going for walks to picnics, day trips and yearly holidays. They did confess that even though they attempt to do as many family activities as they can, one of their favourites is indeed watching a programme they all enjoy as a whole family and rushing to their sofa, Simpsons’ style. ‘There are times when we are watching something together and it does get a little embarrassing. Like American Pie, when he’s actually banging the pie or Sexbox, which we were made to watch on Gogglebox,’ admits Carolyne. ‘It is a little uncomfortable when that gets shown and you’re there with your children’.
Overall, the Michaels have expressed total gratitude for being on Gogglebox and their admiration for the producers. ‘They listen to us,’ says Andy. ‘They are very generous. There have been occasions where there has been a minor argument or if we didn’t think the filming went particularly well. I would phone them up and say, “I’m not happy about this bit. You won’t show it, will you?” and they said no. They were very gentlemanly about it’. As we come to the end of our interview, they are eager to share their exciting news that there will be a Gogglebox book out later in the year, with them due to do book signings in Brighton. This is one of their highlights, along with being part of a BAFTA-winning series.
In spite of being currently one of the most recognised families on television, the Michaels show no signs of being fame-hungry. Instead, they portray themselves exactly as they are – a normal, tight-knit unit who bounce off each other with one-liners and endless banter. ‘We’re grateful to be on there, really’ says Carolyne. ‘And we’re going to enjoy it while it lasts’.
Gogglebox is back on screen at the end of September.
By Shane Tyas