A brief history of reality TV: from Candid Camera to Made in Chelsea

As another autumn brings a new raft of reality ratings-bait, we ask how television developed to this stage


Love it or hate it, reality TV is here to stay. In fact, that most upmarket of constructed reality series, Made in Chelsea, returns to E4 tonight for a second series, following Ollie, Spencer, Caggie and the gang’s latest adventures in SW1.


Whether you see reality TV as an intriguing, ever-evolving art form or an irritating irrelevance, there’s no denying that there are no shortage of “real people” on the box these days. But how did this come to be?

Was it Big Brother and its Orwellian voyeurism that opened the floodgates, or maybe The X Factor’s televised meritocracy that started it all? Just how did this love affair with TV shows about everyday plebs come about?


To understand reality TV you’ve got to go way, way back – all the way to the black-and-white days of the 1940s. Come with us as we explore the history of this much-loved – and equally maligned – telly genre…