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CASTAWAY (2000) - Extract 1

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Extract 1
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Ben with a fan
At the end of January the BBC decided to show all the castaways the first four programmes, covering the selection process the previous year. A TV was imported onto the island for one night, and for the first time all the participants in the great experiment were able to see how they came across ...

Showing the castaways the first four programmes had never been the producers' original plan. But because of the delayed move to the island the Harris group had seen themselves on TV. 'So then we had to show the rest of the programmes to the ones still on the island,' says Executive Producer Colin Cameron. I'm sure that that had an impact on the dynamics of the group and on people's self-perception. Dez, for one, was really shocked by how he'd come over. It's bound to have had an effect - but in the end that just becomes part of the dynamic of the project.'

Certainly, during the week that followed the group viewing of the selection programmes, the ex-sales manager went into a visible depression. 'A couple of people have been feeling down about the way they're portrayed,' Trevor said to Toby in a joint video diary. 'Yeah,' Toby agreed. 'Of all the footage that's been taken, only certain bits have been selected to show them in a certain way. With one person in particular, it seems that way.'

'Yeah, Dez.'

'You see him to be a bit of an arse, but he's a really nice, sound bloke, he's got a side to him you don't see.'

Girlfriend Liz was more vocal about it. 'Dez has been pretty down in the dumps,' she told the video diary. 'Primarily because he's had all the castaways coming up to him and saying, "Oh, you've been portrayed really horribly, and my friends and relations have written to me saying how sorry they are that I have to spend a year with that guy." I think that's really upset him, quite understandably.

'And I would just like to say what I think,' Liz went on, addressing the minicam more directly. 'Which is, you know, you say as programme makers you do balance the programmes. Well, I haven't seen a balance in the way you've portrayed Dez. You've only shown his nasty side and I know for a fact you've got loads of footage of him being the joker, messing around, being caring and things. So I haven't been very impressed about your integrity in terms of showing a balanced view of people. For example, I remember, Chris, you saying to me that if an incident occurs you'll always then go and interview that person afterwards and hear what they have to say. Well, I didn't see any of that in the programmes, so I look forward to you addressing that in the programmes to come. Certainly knowing that loads and loads of people think you're an absolute arse because of the way you've been portrayed is a bit hurtful. So I hope you can do something about it,' the management consultant concluded combatively.

Other complaints were less serious, and not necessarily focused at the programme makers. 'I was not totally happy with how I was portrayed in Programme Four,' wrote Mike, 'but there is nothing I can do about it now.' 'I'm a bit pissed off,' Philiy confided, 'not with anyone, just with me. After we watched the programmes I felt I was seen to be really quiet. Paul did point out that I was probably quiet at the time, but it's really frustrating me that I'm being perceived as something I'm not.' 'Colin likewise,' Dez told the video diary, 'has been a bit concerned that the bits he's seen on TV are not portraying him in the light he feels is acceptable.' 'I just haven't been on the programme very much,' said Colin.

Little Old Me

A reaction of a more complex kind lay in wait for someone to whom the programmes had been kinder. 'I still don't understand why there's this huge interest in this project or me,' newly crowned tabloid darling Ben reported. 'I'd never in a million years thought that me, Ben Fogle, little old me that worked at Tatler anonymously, likes going around London by myself, doing a bit of shopping, just being me - why people are interested in me. Suddenly the post arrived yesterday and I had probably about thirty or forty letters from strangers. One from Mummy, one from friends and family, and literally thirty-five letters from everyone that watched the programme and they were so lovely. All of them start, You probably think I'm really strange doing this and I'm not a complete weirdo, I just watched the programme and felt so strongly about it I can't stop thinking about all of you - that I have to write a letter. And then they tell you all these things, they give you a secret, so I've got thirty secrets that I've been told by people I've never met. It's incredible. I just lay in bed last night reading them, just going, Oh ah. And I'm building up this whole picture about all these people that have written to me and it's just a whole new element to this project. I suddenly know thirty new people. On a deserted island. And that's really strange, because I'm supposed to be just with the thirty-six of us here. Some people have sent books, some photographs. It's really lovely, so heart-warming that I can't get my head around it, I really can't.'

That he could be so concerned about thirty total strangers perhaps indicated at least part of the heart-throb's appeal. Handsome hunks are two a penny on television, and the 'posh' not currently idolised. But Ben's essential good-natured decency was a rarer quality, and one that the viewing public, fed an endless diet of the cynical, self-obsessed and wordlywise, the hard-eyed autocuties and the pudgy meeja lads, perhaps hungered for. A man with the enthusiasm to swim to the middle of a lake! And the sensitivity to be visibly upset about strangling a chicken! Yes please! That his qualities were more genuine than most had already been tested by close proximity to his fellow castaways. Builder Ray was not the most obvious fan for such a Woosterish fellow, yet of all the youngsters, he rated Ben the most. Dinner lady Gwyneth had rhapsodised to me on my visit about how 'unspoilt' he was. Postman Pat had a project to try and get him to swear - 'at least once' - during the year.

'It goes back to this interest specifically in me,' Fogle continued. 'There's two parts to that, well, three parts. One is I can't really understand why, because there's lots of other really lovely people here. Not that I'm necessarily really lovely, but that's what I'm reading about myself. So I can't understand why it's happened. The second is I'm flattered, and I really like it. But you know when someone says to you, "God, you've got a really funny laugh" or "When you sneeze you do this funny thing with your nose", you become really conscious of how you laugh, or how your nose goes. So when I get these letters, and see some of these newspaper pieces, and they all say, Ben Fogle has proved to be the star of the programme, with his ease in front of the camera, I start thinking: OK, well how am I being easy? Then you start thinking, Oh my God, everyone's obviously got expectations of me, what happens if I don't keep up with them? All the reviews said: Ben is such a lovely, helpful, thoughtful person and I can't help but think, Oh my God I've got twelve months, what happens if I break at any stage, it's going to be so embarrassing, because I'm going to break everyone's expectations of how I should be reacting. So the second part is I suddenly feel a pressure I didn't think I was going to have.

'Then the third part, which for me is building up and building up and I can't wait for it to stop, is that I never asked anyone to be so nice about me. Now certain people here are starting to feel that it's not fair, that they should have a turn and be allowed to have stories and pictures done about them. It's quite hard because people will now start thinking the camera is specifically going to be focusing on me. Which I don't think it has. I'm just here for this year to have a wonderful time, to bring my dog up on this wonderful island, to learn how to make bread and build and live with thirty-six other people and grow crops and learn how to fish - I mean everything. But there are other people for who the cameras are the main reason for being here and it's coming out, it's slowly coming out. You can see people vying for the camera more. It even came up at a meeting: Why are some people being filmed and other people being ignored? And I can't see that happening, but that's the way people are starting to see it.

'When the first newspaper reports came out about me everyone had a real giggle. Liz was reading them out and it was funny, because it was just so strange. But now, suddenly, when a new report comes in and there's a picture and a little story it's deathly silence. They read it and it's just passed on. But I can't help that. Which is why I'm looking forward to us going out of the limelight. No more newspaper reports. I want to get on with everyone again. This is supposed to be a documentary about following what happens when 36 people are put in a different environment and now suddenly we've got this whole new element cast upon us. I mean, there's a new name for the programme. Castupon. What happens to thirty-six people when suddenly the country's eyes are cast upon them. It's extraordinary.'

Though to be later derided both by some viewers and a sprinkling of his fellow castaways as short on brainpower, Ben's albeit rambling ruminations had seized on a truth that had been picked up so far by only one of the professional critics of the programmes. 'The genius of the project,' wrote Muriel Grey in the Sunday Herald, 'is that it's not about creating a new society. It's not even about how the bunch of handless, wilderness rookies cope. It's about television itself.'
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