Gogglebox star Mary Killen says she was convinced show wouldn't work but now even Boris Johnson watches it

IN the space of eight short years, Gogglebox has become a national institution, based around Britain’s favourite pastime – watching the telly.

The Channel 4 favourite, which returns tomorrow for its 18th series, offers up a diverse slice of regular Brits, who keep millions of viewers hooked with their wit as they review the week’s TV.

But Mary Killen, the posh bohemian who has been giving her weekly verdicts from the sofa with husband Giles since 2015, did not think its popularity would last.

She said: “In the beginning, nobody thought it could possibly work. It would just be absurd.

“I didn’t want the invasion of privacy but Giles wanted to be on, so I agreed.

“But it’s a very simple, brilliant idea. You get snippets of the good programmes and you can tell, rather like speed dating, whether you’d want to see the whole show as a result.

“But then Gogglebox became a barometer of what the public is thinking. For that reason I know that quite a lot of the Government watch it, and Boris Johnson will even be told what’s going on.

“It really does give you a snapshot of people in the country.

“That makes it the most uniquely British programme, and it could only have been made by Channel 4 because it’s a uniquely British channel.”

The show, which last week won another National Television Award for Best Factual pro-gramme, first aired in March 2013.

But it truly came of age when viewing figures surged during the Covid pandemic.

Suddenly, millions of Brits tuned in to get a sense that they were not alone while being stuck at home and that somewhere normal life was continuing.

Which is why the last series, which aired under lockdown, was the most-watched ever, with viewing figures hitting six million.

Northern Irish Mary, who is now based in Wiltshire, said: “There were more viewers during lockdown, of course, but what also happened was that people liked it more, because they identified with people sitting in a room watching telly.

“I think it was reassuring that we weren’t all cringing in fear of death.

“We were just getting on with our lives, because the rest of the output on the screen was terribly alarming during peak Covid.”

Like many of the reviewers on Gogglebox, Mary is almost as famous as the celebrities she watches on her telly every week for the show.

She gets recognised every time she leaves the house. But since she is not on social media, she has no idea how many fans she has.

Giles, her husband of over 30 years, has proved popular too, especially with the ladies.

Mary said: “Giles’s sister is quite unhelpful because she’s always ringing him up to tell him that somebody has tweeted that they fancy him.

“She does it to boost his self-esteem, and then he taunts me with it, saying, ‘There’s a lot of women out there who fancy me, Mary’.

“It’s quite good for him, I suppose, as long as he doesn’t get too conceited.

“But of course, he doesn’t go out that much so he’s not going to be available for women to lunge at him.”

The couple stress, however, that the real stars of Gogglebox are the production team who, every week, have to perform miracles to turn the show around so quickly.

They also have to make the reviewers shine.

Mary said: “I think the editors of the show are very witty. They really are quite original and they know when something’s a good joke. Because obviously we say an awful lot of stuff and they manage to hone in on the thing that’s funny.

“Or they just seem to be very good at editing it and it’s very watchable as a result.”

Other than the laughs, the diversity on Gogglebox diversity is crucial to its success.

The varied mix of contributors, who come from all over the country, is at the heart of the show and contributes to its broad appeal.

For reviewers Marcus and Mica Luther, from South London, it is the only series on TV showing the full spectrum of society — and they believe it showcases Britain at its best.

Marcus, who joined the show with his wife and two daughters in 2018, said: “That is what Britain looks like and people come to this country because it’s multicultural. That’s what Great Britain is.

“And on Gogglebox it doesn’t matter about your sexual preferences, it doesn’t matter about your gender, it doesn’t matter about anything — they’ll take anyone, that lot!

“I don’t see Gogglebox working on any other channel.

“Remember Desmonds? That was the first black sitcom, and that was on Channel 4 in 1989.”

Mica added: “It’s important to see people who look like you because there’s days when you don’t have that much hope.

Sometimes in the black community there can be this thing of, ‘I can’t do this because I’m black’.

“But I think that we’ve got so many examples now on our screens to eradicate that. It doesn’t matter. You might have to work a little bit harder sometimes, but so what? It can be done.

“So it’s good to see yourself on the screen. It gives hope. And it’s good to see other races and other ethnicities and cultures so you can learn about other things.

“You can see how people express themselves. Black people, we’re known to be a bit more passionate, a bit more loud, but if you’re not used to that, it can sometimes look slightly aggressive.

“But if you’re used to seeing it, you can see it’s just friendly.”

The couple say they now get recognised everywhere they go.

Marcus also admits he has had quite a bit of attention on social media, though it is not always the sort he expects.

He said: “My messages are always from grannies. My DMs are full of old women. It’s alright though, the older the berry, the sweeter the juice.

“We get a lot of birthday requests too. I get a lot of kids that come on, cancer patients and so on, and it’s nice to be able to say, ‘Keep your head up and just keep going’.

“Those are the messages that mean a lot.”

Stephen Webb is one of the Gogglebox stars that has been on the show since the start. And like Mary, he also admits he was not entirely sold on the idea when he was first approached by Channel 4.

He said: “From what I can remember, they just said there was this new show that they were thinking about making.

“We weren’t really told much at the beginning, just that they’d be filming us watching TV.

“And like everyone else we just thought, ‘Well, that’s not going to last’. But it has.”

For Stephen and his husband Daniel, it has been important to show a gay couple on screen, week in, week out.

He said: “Everyone should be represented on TV.

“If all programmes on TV were a bit like Gogglebox then we wouldn’t be in half the trouble we’re in in this world, would we?

“We’re a TV show that genuinely represents the country.

“Take EastEnders. Well, I’ve lived in East London and it’s not like EastEnders.” Stephen insists he does not consider himself famous but has now become used to be recognised in the street — perhaps a bit too used to it.

He said: “We were going round a roundabout at Ikea Croydon and someone was mouthing something to me in the other car.

“So I wound down the window and went, ‘Yes, I’m from Gogglebox’.

“But they shouted, ‘Is it this way to London?’, and hadn’t recognised me at all.”

At this week’s Tric (Television and Radio Industries Club) Awards, where the show won in the best entertainment category, the cast got another reminder of how many celebrity fans they have, too.

Stephen said: “After we picked up our award, we went round the back to the Press room and in front of us was Piers Morgan, who’d just collected his award.

“They were asking him, ‘What have you been doing since you left Good Morning Britain?’.

“And he pointed to us and said, ‘Watching these guys’, which was lovely.”

Stephen has no plans to quit the show, despite entering its 18th series, and is convinced the format will go on forever.

He said: “New programmes are being made all the time for us to review.

“So as long as TV exists, I believe Gogglebox will exist.

“As for me, I’m hoping to get into my nineties and still be doing it.”

  • Gogglebox is on Channel 4 tomorrow at 9pm.

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