Now in its 18th series, Gogglebox has never been more popular.
Throughout the pandemic, the show has been appointment telly for many of us as we hang out with a bunch of familiar faces – even though we’ve never actually met any of them IRL.
So as we get reacquainted with Jenny and Lee, The Malones, Pete and Sophie, The Siddiquis, Giles and Mary et al, we’ve also taken a peek behind their curtains to find out just what’s involved in bringing Channel 4′s much-loved fly-on-the-wall show to our screens, and uncovered plenty of secrets in the process...
1. The London riots were the original inspiration for the show (yes, really)
Tim Harcourt, the creative director for Studio Lambert who produce the show, had the original idea for the programme while watching the London riots of 2011. He wondered what people were talking about while watching people taking to the capital’s streets on the nightly news and came up with the idea of cutting between people watching the same TV programmes.
2. The style of the show was inspired by a certain classic British comedy
Gogglebox producer Stephen Lambert said his inspiration for the reality show was the BBC comedy, The Royle Family. It’s why the late Caroline Aherne (who played Denise Royle) was chosen to narrate the show alongside her co-star, Craig Cash, who still provides the voiceover.
3. And a certain British comedian...
Former producer Tania Alexander was a huge fan of Harry Hill’s TV Burp and wanted the same style of humour to come across in the show.
She told Vice: “I thought if you combined the look of The Royle Family with the tone of TV Burp and threw in real people – with their own lines, cast because they are naturally very funny and ideally without even realising it – we’d be onto a winner.” She wasn’t wrong.
4. When it comes to casting, fame-hungry reality stars are a no-no
Complete unknowns were cast for the show when it launched in 2013, and the same approach has been used ever since.
“Everybody on Gogglebox has been found and persuaded to be on the show,” says Stephen Lambert. “I think that’s the key to why they are likeable and why the show works, because we get to know these people. We’ve never advertised for people on Gogglebox.”
5. However, some of the show’s former stars had already been on the telly
Before her stint on Gogglebox, Scarlett Moffatt had appeared on MTV’s Beauty School Cop Outs, while Steph and Dom competed on Four In A Bed.
6. There are no traditional ‘auditions’ for the show
Instead, producers do a lot of “street casting”. Original Goggleboxer, Stephen Webb was discovered at the East Sussex hairdressers he owns, when a member of the show’s crew walked in and asked if anyone wanted to be on television.
7. But there are strange ‘silent auditions’
In order to test if people would be able to perform on the show, potential new recruits would be filmed commenting on images held up in front of them - anything from Simon Cowell to the Queen.
This would allow the producers to see how quickly they could formulate an opinion and how insightful that opinion was. Plus, it gave them a good idea about how much fun they would be.
8. Giles and Mary were recommended to producers by a friend of a friend
“[Producer] Lucy Whelan came off the phone and said Giles is quite keen, Mary’s not a pushover – we’ve got a bit of a battle on our hands there,” Tania Alexander told Radio Times.
9. The Malones originally turned the show down
Mum Julie explains: “Tom Senior said no. We explained about the rottweilers and the staffie but they still wanted us. They came over and had a chat, and took a video of us chatting. Three weeks later someone rang and said we like you, and Tom changed his mind.”
10. Jenny and Lee were cast after a day at the races
Hull-based Jenny and Lee joined the show when Jenny and a friend met two of the show’s researchers at Beverley Races Ladies’ Day and they all got talking. Lee was reluctant to join at first, but we’re very grateful he (and *that* eyebrow) was talked round.
11. New cast members don’t have long to make an impression
As the original Goggleboxers are so established and seasoned it can be difficult for new cast members to win over viewers at home.
Tania Alexander explained to Vice: “It’s like when they introduce a new family into EastEnders or Corrie. You hate them for ages, then they get a good storyline and you stop noticing they’re new. It has a lot to do with familiarity. I would say, it takes a good two seasons for a new household to settle in.”
12. The stars of Gogglebox stars are paid to appear on the show
...but how much they get is one of the show’s best-kept secrets. Reports have varied wildly from £15 towards weekly expenses to a not-to-be-sniffed-at £1500 monthly pay cheque.
13. As well as getting paid for watching telly, the Goggleboxers also get free food
During a fan Q&A on TikTok, Tom Malone said getting free takeaways was the “best perk” of being on the show.
“Every time we film, which is twice a week, the crew get us a takeaway of our choosing,” he revealed. “It’s literally one of the most amazing things about the show. Honest to god, it’s the best.”
14. The Malones do actually eat that dizzying array of treats you see every week on their pouffe
“We do [eat them], but they don’t often show it,” Tom says. “We had a big plate of toast in front of us filming The Andrew Marr Show and Twitter went nuts. It was like ToastGate - everyone was getting on at us like: ‘Why do you have toast? Where’s the cake?’ It’s literally because we were filming a show that’s on early in the morning.”
15. They are also sometimes placed in very errm, specific arrangements
Tom admitted to often placing the cakes and biscuits into NSFW shapes, explaining: “We have, me and my dad before, put the cakes in different positions and different shapes to see if any eagle-eyed viewers would actually notice… sometimes quite rude shapes (see above).”
16. The Malones’ have four dogs, which can play havoc...
Dave, Lucy, Izzie and Joe are all regulars on the show.
17. Giles and Mary also have a dog that makes the odd appearance
Merlin, the Tibetan Spaniel, is notoriously camera-shy.
18. Gogglebox is filmed by two remote cameras known as ‘hot heads’
The production crew usually control these from another room, often the spare room or kitchen. One camera is used to get broad shots and the other to zoom in for more detailed reactions.
19. But the pandemic means crew and cast are no longer allowed to mix
To keep the show Covid-safe, the crew are now based in vans outside the Goggleboxers’ homes and use portaloos when nature calls.
20. The majority of filming is planned around the cast’s jobs and families
They usually do at least eight hours of filming a week, split across two nights.
21. But some like to do it all in one night
The Michaels sometimes set aside a whole night for Gogglebox, filming from 5pm through to the early hours.
22. Shooting starts a week in advance
The team films throughout the week, starting on the Friday before the new episode is aired. The crew are constantly assessing the material, and former producer Tania Alexander admits most of the footage “hits the floor“.
“You get to see the gold – and the craft happens over the last couple of days before it goes out on the Friday,” Tania explains. “It’s made mainly on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday all the way through the night. We have a viewing with Channel 4 on Thursday afternoon, we make a few tweaks and then it’s locked.”
23. The Goggleboxers get to see some shows before the rest of us
“Our last filming day for a Gogglebox is normally Tuesday, so on that Tuesday, we could be watching shows that could be on TV up until the Thursday and then the show will go out on the Friday,” Tom Malone revealed. “So for drama, series and films we see it in advance, depending on which days which families film.”
24. The cast watch highly edited versions of some shows to save time
Something like Killing Eve, which is an hour long, will be cut down by producers to a 30 minute edit that still makes sense to the cast.
25. The cast aren’t allowed to change where they sit
Tom Malone explains: “Going back to six and a half years ago when we filmed our first episode of Gogglebox - I think it was season four - we just sat in those positions. That was just the natural positions we sat in. That was fine. However, moving on from then, we were never allowed to change those positions. That’s because people don’t like change.”
26. There is a porn version of the show, complete with a seriously dodgy name
A late night adult channel created a porn parody version of the show, that featured actors sitting on a sofa watching adult films. And its name? Gobblec****. Good lord.
27. You can go and stay with Gogglebox legends Steph and Dom
Gogglebox OGs Steph and Dom might no longer be on the show, but you can go and stay with the couple at their posh B&B in Sandwich, Kent. Rooms start at £160 per night at The Salutation and the couple often join guests for a few drinks on Friday and Saturday nights.
28. Mary (of Giles and Mary) credits the show with saving her marriage
“Giles and I were like ships that pass in the night,” Mary told the Daily Star. “I got up early. He went to bed late. And we rarely even ate together. I know a few couples who have split up because they have decided they can’t stand one another. Sitting down and watching television reminded us how much we enjoyed the same jokes.″
29. Pete and Sophie Sandiford have famous relatives
The sibling’s great uncle is Paul Chuckle of Chuckle Brothers fame.
30. Giles and Mary are rumoured to be good friends with Boris Johnson
Mary is said to be friends with Boris’s sister Rachel, and the couple are rumoured to have been on holiday to Scotland with the prime minister. However, neither Boris nor Mary and Giles have ever confirmed their friendship.
31. And if you’re wondering why they call each other ‘nutty’...
“We call each other “nutty’ because we both consider the other to be a bit mad,” Mary explains. “Certainly Giles has multiple personality disorder so he’s all sorts of people and one of them is a bit of a genius. The truth is we’re both neurotic.”
32. Giles is also incredibly accident prone
“Giles has a lot of minor accidents,” Mary explains. “Stubbing his toe, banging his head, burning or cutting himself. When he grazed the roof of his mouth with a crisp he made a tremendous fuss.”
33. And you know you’ve really made it when French and Saunders send you up...
34. Jenny and Lee have known each other for over 21 years
The friends, who film inside Lee’s caravan home, met when she was the landlady of the Crown Inn pub in Paull, and he was a regular customer.
35. Gogglebox is truly international
There are versions of the show in Australia, Canada, China, Ukraine, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Israel, Germany, Finland, Norway, Belgium, France, South Africa, Spain, New Zealand, Germany and the US.
36. The Slovenian version isn’t called Gogglebox, though
It’s called Bognedaj, Da Bi Crknu Televisor, which brilliantly translates as God, Please Don’t Let The TV Die. It’s also the name of a popular song in the European country.
37. Only two families have starred in all 16 series
Stephen Webb (who originally appeared alongside Chris Butland-Steed) and the Siddiquis – Sid, Umar, Bassit, Raza – have all been with the show since series one back in 2013.
38. The show’s ‘no celebs’ rule means some Goggleboxers lost their spot on the sofa
The Tappers made it up to 11 series, but were temporarily axed when Amy joined the cast of Celebs Go Dating. Scarlett Moffat, George Gilbey, Sandra Martin and Kate Bottley also lost their spots due to their star status.
39. Politics is a no-no too...
The Michael family did not appear in series five because dad Andy – who died in 2021 – was standing as a UKIP candidate in the general election for Hastings and Rye. They returned in series six after he failed to get a seat.
40. Sid Siddiqui, who appears with his sons, has a wife and two daughters
...but they’re never appeared on the show because they didn’t want to be on the telly.
41. Former model Mary was once at the centre of a case of mistaken identity
Mary said she was “hugely flattered” when a photo of a ‘young Mary’ started doing the rounds in January 2019. However, it turns out the picture wasn’t actually her at all but of another model called Susan Shaw, shot in 1975.
A Gogglebox spokesperson told HuffPost UK that Mary had missed the photo doing the rounds as she is “not on Twitter”.
42. Silent Jay (remember him?) only said one word during his entire time on Gogglebox
It was during The X Factor and it was the name of one of the finalists: “Andrea”.
43. Scarlett Moffatt is the show’s biggest earner
After winning I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! In 2016, Scarlett has carved out a career in TV including stints on Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Streetmate, Virtually Famous and Love Bites as well as writing a book, which has helped her bank over £1million.
44. Mary Cook had something in common with Victoria Beckham
Apparently Mary – who died in August 2021 at the age of 92 – chose a Liebfraumilch as her tipple of choice, the same as Posh (Mary read it in a magazine).
45. Tom Malone Jr has performed with the Black Eye Peas
As well as being a freelance model, Tom is also a dancer and choreographer. He often gets mum Julie involved with his TikTok routines.
46. Goggleboxers Stephen Webb and Daniel Lustig got hitched in France
The couple, who appear together on the show, tied the knot at Chateau de Lisse in Lot-et-Garonne, Gascony in July 2018. Stephen proposed during a romantic holiday in Agra, India.
47. Stephen’s ex boyfriend (and former Gogglebox sofa mate) Chris Steed got hitched in Brighton
Chris married his partner of three years, Tony Butland, in a ceremony in the Sussex city. Each table at the wedding was named after one of Chris and Tony’s favourite divas, including Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler and Julie Andrews.
48. Jenny and Lee have shared a number of classic gaffes over the years
These have included Lee mistakingly eating Jenny’s facemask thinking it was a dip for his crisps, Jenny using Lee’s toilet wipes as face wipes (see above) and his lube as hand gel. Please don’t ever change, you two.
49. Most of the cast have never actually met each other
“We don’t know any other families on the show,” Tom Malone reveals. “Occasionally we’ll tweet each other, but we don’t know each other - or like meet up or anything like that. I’ve never met any of them.”
50. Gogglebox is a Bafta winner, doncha know?
As well as bagging the Bafta for Reality & Constructed Factual Programme in 2014, the show has also won four National Television Awards and two TV Choice awards.
Here’s to many more.
Gogglebox airs on Channel 4 every Friday at 9pm.