Over seven years, millions of viewers have enjoyed the drama and pathos of sitting in front of the television watching other Britons sitting in front of the television. Gogglebox, with its depiction of a country at leisure, offering jokes and robust critiques, has been one of TV’s most conspicuous successes.
But now it seems the no-punches-pulled approach of those featured on the programme merely mirrors what has been going on behind the camera.
While viewers have lapped up the programme during lockdown, the production company behind the Channel 4 programme has been hit with complaints from employees over claims of “inhumane” working conditions endured by staff to get it on air.
Multiple staff who have worked on the show allege the production company, Studio Lambert, tolerated excessive working hours, with claims of staff being shouted at and expected to go without breaks.
“People have had enough. You don’t turn up to work to be screamed at for 12 hours a day,” a recently departed former Gogglebox employee told the Guardian. “It was the worst job I ever did. The way that it’s made is inhumane at times.”
It is understood Channel 4 and the production company have been made aware of a number of claims about the treatment of off-screen staff.
Concerned individuals contacted the Bectu trade union, which is looking to improve working conditions in the reality TV sector. Bectu said it had recently received a number of complaints about working conditions at Studio Lambert and was urgently seeking a meeting with the company.
“Bullying and harassment are big problems in the TV industry, particularly for freelance workers. That is why we recently launched the #UnseenOnScreen campaign to raise awareness of the issue and demand change,” a Bectu spokesperson said.
Channel 4 has promoted Gogglebox as part of its campaign to #StayAtHome and enjoy TV during the pandemic. Meanwhile, staff on Gogglebox claimed they were warned against disrupting production by being forced to self-quarantine. They told the Guardian they responded by removing the NHS tracking app from their phones.
Studio Lambert also makes the hit reality show The Circle for Channel 4. Staff on that programme also claimed they were told by a member of the production team that programme makers were desperate to avoid disruption to production of the show, which was filmed as coronavirus cases began to rise again during September and October.
After a handful of crew members were forced to self-quarantine, some claim they deleted the NHS Covid-19 app from their phone to avoid risking further disruption.
A Studio Lambert spokesperson said all its shows since March had been produced with Covid-safe protocols.
“Studio Lambert takes the welfare of its teams extremely seriously across all its productions, and has a number of measures in place to encourage people to come forward with any concerns they may have, as well as support systems for a range of issues. We have procedures in place to look into and take appropriate action whenever we receive a complaint from staff.”
A spokesperson for Channel 4, which was praised by some Gogglebox workers for providing a whistleblower line for production staff, said: “Channel 4 has a clear code of conduct which sets out the standards of behaviour it expects from its suppliers and production partners.
“We can’t comment on anonymous allegations and rumours, but we are satisfied Studio Lambert is taking appropriate action to ensure the welfare of its teams and to enforce appropriate standards of behaviour across the shows it makes for us.”