“He was the same in real life as on TV”: why Gogglebox’s Leon Bernicoff was a genuine star

Radio Times film editor Andrew Collins recalls the afternoon he spent with the retired schoolteacher and reality TV star

C4 screengrab https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDLgea6jJWk, TL

In the spring of 2015 I was privileged to travel the country and visit all of the Gogglebox households for the second official companion book. It was a pilgrimage. My second port of call was the neat suburban Liverpool semi of Leon and June. He had just turned 80 at the time.

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Those repose in his favourite, mushroom-coloured recliner is his default position, I was surprised when he jumped up to offer to make me a ham sandwich. June was 78 at the time, and I noted that they are of a vintage where the short-term memory is less robust than the long-term. Both rely on the other to remember for them. “Who was I raging about last night, June?” Leon shouted. “Lorraine Kelly,” replies June. They were a collective intelligence.

They were warm hosts; biscuits and cafetière coffees arrived with the sandwich. Our time together was dominated by talk of the general election, only a few days away. “If any party forms a coalition with UKIP,” stated Leon the proud socialist. “I’m going to New Zealand!” (One of their two daughters lives there.)

It was true of all the Goggleboxers, but they were exactly the same in real life as they appeared, or appear, on TV. It was no scoop to observe that Leon is incorrigible, for instance. He made no attempt to disguise his appreciation of Countdown boffin Rachel Riley, as we sat down together to watch an edition for the book.

While Leon cooed over Rachel Riley, June made notes on the back cover of Radio Times, which they get every week. Keen travellers, he told me about his bucket list, which had mostly been ticked off but still contained Nashville. June wasn’t keen. “If you’re going there, I’m going to the Grand Canyon.”

Leon looked to be on the brink of dozing off once during my visit. He wore his celebrity lightly, and June will, I’m sure, continue to do so.

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Gogglebox 2017 is on 9pm tonight, C4