Jeremy Beadle died of Leukaemia this week. The sub head of his obituary in the Independent was: Loved and Loathed TV Prankster. Which is both a blunt and accurate statement for his obituary. I can't honestly say I was one of his fans.
In recent years Beadle had drifted away from the mainstream of TV in the UK. But looking at his obituary today was a reminder that his great knack was tapping into popular appetites. Essentially, twenty years ago he saw and exposed the same popular appetites that have driven the emergence of both reality TV and consumer generated content on the internet.
Game for a laugh and Beadle's About were both huge shows in the 80s and 90s. They put normal members of the public at the heart of a contrived comic prank and (sad to admit) were compulsive primetime viewing. With the benefit of hindsight, it doesn't seem such a leap from proving that millions would happily rubberneck on members of the public exposed at the centre of a prank, into recruiting the public to participate in the extended and contrived package that is Big Brother and its copycats.
His other big show, You've been framed, pretty much invented the concept of consumer generated content, some fifteen years before the term had been invented, people were posting in their VHS videos to get themselves on TV. Obviously it took the arrival of widespread Internet access, broadband and cheap digital video cameras, in order to allow consumers to bypass the bottleneck of TV editors, and enable them to share not just comic moments but any personal video or creative statement with an unlimited Internet audience via YouTube.
While few of us may have seen the phenomena of YouTube before it broke, with hindsight the clues were out there.
This brief distraction from looking at the current and future state of social media caused me to reflect that, the characteristics of people fundamentally always stay the same, its the changing of the technology around them that alters their possibilities.
Tags: Jeremy Beadle, consumer generated content