Channel 4 must have had an awful lot of cameras left over when it finally let go of Big Brother. The broadcaster also had plenty of hours to fill, so it turned to us for inspiration. Literally. By putting cameras in all manner of places, it showed us just what people got up to when they forgot they were being filmed.
As The Fried Chicken Shop returns for a full series, here’s a look at how Channel 4’s run of ob-docs has changed the way we see ourselves.
Meet the Hughes family, the picture of British domesticity. Channel 4’s first step into a Big Brother-free future in 2008 could not have been more different from the angst that had gone before. No blazing rows, no token personality disorders, no 1970s interior designer’s vision of the future. Just one family, having a natter at home. It might not sound like much, but as these ob-docs would prove, the quiet moments are always the most revealing – like this clip, where youngest son Tom sits smiling in the corner as his olders sisters rock out to MTV.
One Born Every Minute
Pushing mothers, bawling babies and patient midwives all made for winceably watchable TV when this Bafta-winning documentary first aired in 2010. Disarmingly simple, it manages to do what every good drama aims for, making us laugh and cry in equal measure – and very often at the same time. A fifth series is due for early 2014, but until then, watch this clip to find out all about Richard and Halinka’s moment of joy. Sort of.
24 Hours in A&E
Another fly-on-the-catheter documentary that makes the most of our continuing obsession with the NHS. You might have thought the last place we’d want to know the truth about would be A&E on a Saturday night. You’d be wrong. One moment the mics are prying into an argument in the waiting room, the next, cameras are swivelling to a woman laid out on a trolley, at the mercy of the medical professionals who only a minute ago were gossiping over mugs of tea. But, as this clip shows, the hospital ward also nurtures the most charming bonds.
Channel 4 has become so adept at ob-docs that it has even conned us into spending an evening watching ourselves watching TV. It’s a brilliant post-Royle Family exercise in deft editing, making the viewer the view. This little-noticed mini series which aired back in February is returning for a full run on 25 September.
The waiter may leave you alone for your romantic night out, but the camera in the corner and the mic in the vase definitely won’t. Channel 4 even fitted cameras in the toilets in order to find out what the singletons of Britain really got up to on a blind date. The added twist? Getting members of the public to sign up for love after watching prospective partners on TV the week before.
The Murder Trial
It took three years of negotiation with the Scottish Court Service for Channel 4 to be allowed to bring us this unique insight into the criminal justice system. With Edinburgh High Court wired up, we watched the murder trial of Nat Fraser play out under the glare of the cameras. As well as the trial itself, we saw candid exchanges between the prosecution and defence, and came to the unsettling realisation that even in a case as grave as this, a barrister’s work is ‘just a job’.
The Fried Chicken Shop
Channel 4 serves up a jumbo bucket of London life, and proves that even the greasiest of workplaces can be food for TV thought if you let the cameras roll. After last year’s pilot, the show returns to Rooster’s Spot in Clapham for three more portions, listening in on the people who come to the fast food joint for their chicken fix. Gross, funny, touching, strange – who needs drama? We really are much more interesting than we thought.
You might think Channel 4 was running out of places to take its patented observational documentary format but a new strand, After Dark, will be putting a fly on the wall in a club toilet, a karaoke bar, a mini-cab office and among on-call night-time workers like plumbers, GPs and vets…