‘We drank vodka to calm our nerves!’ Gogglebox stars on 10 glorious, hilarious years

Who knocks back the booze? Who was accused of being an axe murderer? And who’d rather be a plumber? As the TV-on-TV hit turns 10, its beloved characters reveal all

Ten years ago, Channel 4 debuted a show that allowed viewers to watch people on TV watching people on TV. To celebrate its anniversary, Gogglebox favourites – the Siddiquis, Giles and Mary, Pete and Sophie, Jenny and Lee – share their best moments, while narrator Craig Cash and the creators share the secrets to its success.

The origin story: ‘We said we’d have a jolly for six weeks’

Tim Harcourt (creative director, Studio Lambert) There was a huge trend for candid rigged shows in the early 2010s. There was One Born Every Minute, 24 Hours in A&E. During the London riots I thought: “It’d be really interesting to rig different houses and splice people reacting to the news and TV.”

Stephen Lambert (CEO, Studio Lambert) One of the exciting things was realising what an unusually intimate space it is, to be where people are watching TV on their sofas.

Tim We all got excited about jumping in and out of the nation’s living rooms. And then week on week, we would see more of their lives. I remember Stephen saying: “Someone could be pregnant one week, then three weeks later be holding a baby!”

We also didn’t want TV wannabes. We wanted people who otherwise would never put themselves forward to be on TV.

The idea was pitched to Channel 4, who asked them to come up with a 10-minute version.

Family guys … (From left) the Siddiquis – Baasit, Umar, Sid and Raza.
Family guys … (From left) the Siddiquis – Baasit, Umar, Sid and Raza. Photograph: Nick Eagle/Channel 4

Baasit Siddiqui (Goggleboxer since 2013) I used to work in a video rental shop, so I’ve had two jobs in my life where I get paid to watch TV! There was a girl I knew there and we became good friends. Years passed and I got the oddest Facebook message, completely out of the blue, saying she now works at Studio Lambert. They are putting this new show together. Would you be interested?

Raza Siddiqui (Goggleboxer since 2013) We honestly didn’t think it would take off. On paper it really does seem as though it wouldn’t work.

Pete Sandiford (Goggleboxer since 2017) We met a researcher and it went from there. It wasn’t something either of us had thought about.

Sophie Sandiford (Goggleboxer since 2017) Not at all.

Pete I wanted to be a plumber, to be honest with you! I didn’t want to be on telly.

Mary Killen (Goggleboxer since 2015) I didn’t originally want to be on, but you did, didn’t you?

Giles Wood (Goggleboxer since 2015) I had a vague memory of being on Radio 4 once, and I quite enjoyed the attention. Then I was on Gardeners’ Question Time. So I had a trace memory of enjoying my little skirmish with the media. I’ve never had anything regular in my life because I’m an artist and occasional writer, so I quite liked the idea of something regular. I was about to say it gets me out of the house … but it doesn’t.

Jenny Newby (Goggleboxer since 2014) I asked my daughter to do it with me, but on the day she couldn’t. So I rang Lee up – I knew it was his day off.

Lee Riley (Goggleboxer since 2014) We said: “We’ll do it for six weeks, we’ll have a jolly.” Nine years later we’re still doing it.

Before launch, the last thing to work out was the show’s name. In the pitch it was called 242 Minutes. Channel 4 bosses liked Watch With Britain.

Tim 242 minutes, the original working title, was the average amount of time a British adult watched TV a day back then. The name Gogglebox was our favourite alternative title. Watch With Britain only lasted for one week. Everyone hated it.

Home-landed … Jenny Newby and Lee Riley.
Home-landed … Jenny Newby and Lee Riley. Photograph: Channel 4

Key moments: ‘I’m embarrassed now even thinking about it’

Gogglebox has had many classic moments, such as the time Stephen Webb interrupted Chris Ashby-Steed saying “We all like a bad boy” about Nicholas Brody in Homeland with “Not a fucking terrorist, though.” Jenny’s obsession with working out the identity of H in Line of Duty became notorious, as she updated her own notebook with theories. When H’s identity was revealed, many viewers were disappointed – and Jenny tore it up.

Jenny I hope you haven’t chucked my book away.

Lee I haven’t, I’ve still got it. Jenny, don’t forget … you had everybody.

Jenny I like to keep my options open!

Lee We’ve been to a murder mystery before. She got that drunk she was guessing the waiter. And I went: “He’s not even in the act.”

There was also the time brother and sister Pete and Sophie competed with each other on their FitBits.

Sophie We had a bit of a competition going on. We had just got them. I was like, “Oh, I’ve got this badge for steps.” Pete was looking at his. He was saying, “Oh, I’ve done seven minutes of exercise – and it’s midnight.” And then the penny dropped for us both.

While Gogglebox does feature the week’s best television, it also revels in showing some of the most ridiculous (and awkward), too.

Sid Siddiqui (Goggleboxer since 2013) There are certain programmes in which I have to either look down, look at the ceiling or leave the room.

Baasit American Pie for me was the most awkward. It’s not the thing you should watch with your dad, honestly.

Sid I’m embarrassed now even thinking about it.

Giles I think we’re united in detestation of Naked Attraction. And there’s a new show called Know Your S**t.

Pete It is the weird ones that stick out. Dom Does America was the gift that kept on giving. He’s like a bald Alan Partridge, isn’t he?

Sophie Every series we’re like: “Have we got any Dom Littlewood?” We would literally sit crying-laughing watching him.

Taking steps … Sophie and Pete’s ‘FitBit indicent’.
Taking steps … Sophie and Pete’s ‘FitBit incident’. Photograph: Channel 4

Behind the scenes: ‘It’s proof that Britain’s not broken’

Contributors watch up to 12 hours of television a week, usually in two stints, with shows carefully chosen to reflect UK viewing habits.

Lee We used to have a vodka to calm our nerves. After a year or two, you don’t see the cameras or lights. You just get on with it.

Stephen We start shooting on a Friday. There’s a cut on Tuesday. Thursday it’s all finalised and Channel 4 gives thoughts. But there’s so little time. They can’t say: “This is good, but we’d like to start over.” Because the next morning, it’s delivered.

Ian Dunkley (Channel 4 commissioner) We didn’t want to get into a situation where they never review a Channel 4 programme badly, so they have the freedom to say what they like about anything.

The pandemic posed unique challenges to the making of the show, but also gave it extra resonance.

Stephen Up to that point, the people filming in the homes would go in and set up the camera, then go to another room. Once the pandemic came, we had to control the cameras from outside. We were talking to them without going in at any point.

Mary There are so many terrifying items on the news, it really helps to see families sitting, looking perfectly calm, watching telly as usual.

Umar Siddiqui It provided a very good platform for gauging people’s reactions to what the government was saying and how they were feeling pent up in the houses.

Craig Cash (Gogglebox’s narrator) At a time when you could be forgiven for thinking Britain’s broken, it’s good to know the Gogglebox people prove the country has still got a brilliant sense of humour.

Craig records his voiceover the morning Gogglebox airs. When the pandemic hit, he had to get creative.

Craig I did it from the cupboard under the stairs, with coats and cushions and duvets around it. They said: “We can’t tell the difference,” so that’s where I still do it from.

Cottage industry … Giles and Mary in Wiltshire.
Cottage industry … Giles and Mary in Wiltshire. Photograph: Nick Eagle/Channel 4

A strange sort of fame: ‘It’s my bloody mother!’

With a limited cast in its 10-year history, being a Goggleboxer comes with its own unique form of fame.

Jenny My daughter is a police officer. They were like: “Are you watching Gogglebox?” and she went: “No!” They went: “C’mon, get on it, there’s a couple from Hull!” She said: “I don’t have to get on it. It’s my bloody mother!”

Pete When I used to work on security systems, and I’d do callouts at five in the morning, I’d knock on someone’s door and they would go: “What are you doing here?!” I would be like: “Me job!”

Sophie When I worked at Debenhams, people would ask about it, but I was still Soph from the visual team. It wasn’t a big thing. People didn’t look at me any differently, because we hadn’t changed one bit.

Raza I don’t deem ourselves as celebrities. What we’re doing is sitting watching TV, which pretty much everybody else does. There’s no hair and makeup or anything. We show up, we watch TV.

Giles You’ve got to develop a very thick skin, especially if you’re a newbie. We eventually won people round, but when we first came, there were some pretty negative things on Twitter. Sort of Giles and Mary “Jog on, bye.” The introductory film of our house had an axe going into a tree stump, so one peculiar person was obsessed with the idea that we were axe murderers.

Mary Nutty, let me intervene here! What happened originally was that Giles’s sister went on social media. She said for every 10 negative comments, there’d be one positive. And she’d send us the positive ones. We didn’t look ourselves.

Giles So you develop a thick skin. If you put yourself out there, you’re gonna get …

Mary You haven’t developed a thick skin at all!

National treasures … June and Leon.
National treasures … June and Leon. Photograph: Channel 4

The Gogglebox family: ‘She helped me carry on’

Caroline Aherne was the original voice of Gogglebox, but her Royle Family co-writer Cash stepped in after she became ill. Aherne died in 2016.

Craig Caroline did the show when there were like six episodes a year, and she became ill and had to go for chemo so I filled in. It became apparent that it was terminal and she could no longer do it. She kept trying her best, because like me she loves the show. But it was more and more frequent that I would take over. Then when she passed, they asked me to continue. I was still sad, obviously. I’m very sad she died, but in a little way, it helped me carry on.

I would go into the studio and feel a presence in there and it would feel lovely. It feels like a gift that she’s left for me to do, but I’d rather her still be here doing it, to be honest with you. It is a bittersweet thing in that regard.

Notable Goggleboxers – Leon and June Bernicoff, Pete McGarry, Andy Michael and Mary Cook have also died. Lesley Land, who did Channel 4’s PR for Gogglebox, died in December. The show offers a rare opportunity to follow families through the twists and turns.

Jenny Yeah, it’s awful when they go. They are your family. Your Gogglebox family.

Lee Even though we don’t see each other, which is really weird, because we all live up and down the country … it’s still like a family.

Sophie Everyone’s going through life with the Gogglebox families. When we started this I was 21 or 22 and now I’m 27. Pete’s got married, he’s had a baby, and he’s got another baby on the way. You’re watching our lives unfold.

Jenny I love Gogglebox. It has changed my life. I’ve worked hard all my life – and I’ve never had a job where I get paid to sit on me bum.

Gogglebox 10 Year Anniversary Special is on Channel 4 on 11 March at 9pm.


Scott Bryan

The GuardianTramp

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