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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 08:19 GMT 09:19 UK
Big Brother's tabloid love affair
By Mark Savage
BBC News entertainment reporter

Jade Goody
Former Big Brother contestant Jade Goody is a tabloid favourite
Big Brother 7 has had a flying start, with a peak audience of 8.1 million tuning in for the start of the latest series.

For the next 13 weeks, the lives of the housemates will be a permanent fixture on Channel 4, but the programme is equally prominent on the pages of the tabloid press.

Each year, the red tops all proclaim they're the "official" paper of the series - and for a good reason: Big Brother sells.

"It's more important than they'd like it to be," says Ian Reeves, editor of journalists' weekly Press Gazette.

It's been very good for sales
Peter Dyke, Daily Star
"None of the Fleet Street editors really like the programme."

Sales boost

The papers are coy about how many extra copies Big Brother is worth, but former Sun editor David Yelland told the Independent on Sunday last year it was "in the hundreds of thousands".

The Daily Star's long-serving Big Brother reporter, Peter Dyke, agrees.

Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas
The press discovered Imogen Thomas would be a contestant
"I've covered the show since it was first launched and I know when we've splashed on Big Brother exclusives it's been very good for sales," he says.

So, in the run-up to the launch of this series, the tabloids stoked up Big Brother fever, each competing with the other for exclusives.

They claimed the programme's logo hides a subliminal message (it doesn't) and that housemates would have to get their milk fresh from a cow in the Big Brother garden (they don't).

But they did get some of the big facts right.

Despite heavy security, they correctly identified several of this year's contestants, including former Welsh beauty queen Imogen Thomas and the rock singer with Tourette syndrome, Pete Bennett.

Freaks and oddballs

Peter Dyke says this year's housemates are "brilliant".

It's in the summer, Parliament's out, not a lot happens
Former housemate Jon Tickle
"It's a superb mix. It looks like they've come up trumps again.

"You've got a good mixture of your usual freaks and oddballs but I think for every one of them you want to know a bit more, and that's the key".

Former Big Brother contestant Jon Tickle believes it's not just sales that drive the press's obsession with Big Brother.

"It's in the summer, Parliament's out, not a lot happens," he says.

"You have this whole industry dealing with celebrity shows and reality shows until the football season starts again."

Tickle is one of the few ex-housemates who has refused to sell his story to the tabloids.

"My world exclusive went to the Farnham Herald," he says, "for which they bought me a pint of beer!"

Glossy magazines

Mark Frith
Heat's Mark Frith says his magazine is "synonymous" with Big Brother
While the daily press relies on Big Brother for sales during the summer "silly season", glossy magazines have no such need.

"Summer has tended to be a really big time for celebrity magazines anyway," says Mark Frith, editor of Heat magazine.

Nonetheless, Heat will have 12 people working on its coverage of the Big Brother house this year.

Frith says the magazine forms an essential part of the viewer's relationship with the programme.

If it's too much of a freak show it could go beyond what our readers are interested in
Jane Ennis, Now Magazine
"After the final, the show just stops dead and we have a role in carrying it on and following it up," he says.

But Jane Ennis, who edits Now magazine, says this year's programme needs to be careful not to go too far.

"If it's too much of a freak show it could go beyond what our readers are interested in.

"They don't mind if someone is daft and dippy, but they have to feel that they're good and warm-hearted."

Editors beware

However, we are unlikely to see Big Brother disappearing from the newsagents just yet.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, the Daily Mirror's then-editor, Piers Morgan, became disillusioned with celebrity news, and Big Brother in particular.

"I remember sitting in my office one night watching this garbage and thinking 'has it really come to this?'," he told the Society of Editors.

He vowed to banish Big Brother from the front page of his paper, and in 2002 declared the Mirror the "Official Anti-Big Brother Paper".

The decision, he said, cost him up to 40,000 sales a day.

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