'I'd join you always': how Gogglebox's Leon and June captured our hearts

The Channel 4 show provides welcome respite in hard times, but it will never be the same after the deaths of its original and best-loved cast members

Everything from the nightly news to emails from an online store we ordered an appliance from five years ago is desperate to tell us about the “unprecedented times” we are living in. There is little to calm the simmering sense of chaos we are faced with. But one of the best and perhaps most unexpected salves has been Gogglebox.

In the absence of friends and family with whom to digest the news (or the latest Netflix drama), we can instead turn to the nation’s televised viewers for a dose of common sense, and watch friends and families watching TV together. Favourites like caravanning best friends Jenny and Lee with their forever-shocked faces at whatever it is they are viewing, kindly father and sons the Siddiquis, caustically witty siblings Pete and Sophie, or the dog-loving Mancunian Malone family.

Watching this bunch make sense of the week’s events increasingly feels like the only way we can come to terms with them too. They are becoming the nation’s irascible and comforting conscience – with their prescient takedown of Boris Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic recently going viral – and they owe much of their identity to the original Gogglebox duo: June and Leon Bernicoff. No wonder then that the news of June’s death last week felt like a hammer blow to so many.

The Bernicoffs were the first couple to be cast on the show before it began airing in 2013, after researchers found Leon at his local bridge club. When Leon died in 2017, June left the show. On Friday, 82-year-old June also passed away. The Liverpudlian couple quickly captured the nation’s hearts with their matching armchairs and eminently loving 60-year relationship – expressed on multiple occasions by Leon’s cheeky references to their active love life.

In an era of scripted reality TV and manufactured drama, Leon and June’s conversation was frank and free-flowing, ranging from Leon’s scathing attacks on the nation’s various politicians – calling David Cameron a “fat-faced Tory” and Nigel Farage a “dickhead” – to June’s sweet misunderstandings of terminology, thinking “friends with benefits” was about pals claiming unemployment support together, and their struggles with technology, especially on one occasion where Leon painstakingly spelled out his name while dialling in a donation to Sport Relief.

The most endearing facet of their on-screen presence was their unvarnished authenticity. Watching Leon and June was like watching our own grandparents making sense of the world now, attempting to get to grips with its technology and providing a calmingly watchful eye over all its proceedings. Through their years of experience and resolute cheerfulness, they gave us a much-needed antidote to much of the drama and political turmoil they were watching.

They were also an example of that rarest of things to see on TV today: a real-life couple who were still in love, decades after they had first met. Just by dint of their weekly appearances and effortlessly playful bickering, they provided a hopeful testament to the existence of a long-lasting relationship. Nowhere was this better expressed than in one poignant Gogglebox scene where the pair were watching the film Gladiator. As Russell Crowe’s character envisions meeting his dead family in heaven, Leon turned to his wife and said “I’d like to think that’s true … I’d join you always June.”

Leon and June watching Gladiator 😢😢 #Gogglebox pic.twitter.com/JZhi5drWba

— Goggleboxfanpage (@goggleboxshow) February 16, 2018

As the nation wipes away our collective tears and the tributes continue to pour in, we are reminded of the real value of reality TV: to show us life reflected in all its joy, sadness and chaotic emotion. And there were no better exponents of this than our armchair commentators Leon and June Bernicoff.


Ammar Kalia

The GuardianTramp

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