You'd be forgiven for thinking that reality TV in the UK was conceived at the turn of the century, when Pop Idol, Fame Academy and Big Brother dominated our screens.

But in actual fact, reality television has been around for much, much longer.

1974's "The Family" is one of the first "reality" shows in the history of television, which followed the daily lives of the working-class Wilkins family from Reading.

I confess I haven't seen "The Family", nor had I ever heard of it before coming to write this article, but after digging deeper I noticed a striking - and worrying - similarity to what I profess to be a very much modern problem. We'll come back to that.

When I first came to write this, I thought it'd be easy: 1) Slag off the whole concept 2) Criticise the catalogue of cretins who act like idiots on these shows 3) Call out those who facilitate it 4) Clock off.

Then I thought, no, try and look at the whole idea objectively and see if I can find any merit or genuine benefit that these shows offer, other than - in my initial view - exploiting the vulnerable.

Pros of reality TV

I'd be a hypocrite for saying I've never watched Pop Idol the X-Factor or some similar show. Before the age of say 15, I would watch these shows religiously with my family, tuning in each week to see our favourite acts.

Off the top of my head, I remember Jamie Afro, Tabby singing The Kinks (just did a Google, this was 2004...), Danyl Johnson's audition, and Paul Potts' Nessun Dorma.

These were the times when we just went "wow", as you have probably done with your own memorable acts. And we shared that moment together as a family and can recall them to this day.

Reality TV can do just that. Bring a family together once a night or week to share a truly entertaining experience that you'll in some cases never forget. Going back to Paul Potts, surely we all remember when we first watched that? And likely who with for that matter.

If the act was ever genuinely talented or entertaining, we were hooked and tuned in each week. I think we even voted once or twice. 

Reality TV in this case didn't just benefit us, as a family, but also propelled the act themselves to stardom. I'm pretty sure Susan Boyle earned a million or two here or there and Rylan has certainly made a wonderful career off the back of the X-Factor.

Gogglebox is another shining example which was one of the biggest twists on reality TV that anyone has come up with for decades. I mean, who else but the genius Caroline Aherne? And of course Craig Cash.

It stayed true to the concept of reality TV: "Television programmes in which ordinary people are continuously filmed" as per the Oxford Language definition, but with a twist.

We, as families, were watching other families watch television...and it made absolutely brilliant viewing.

The show gave us so many incredible moments because we could see the programmes the families were watching for the first time and also their genuine reactions, which we, the viewers, completely empathised with.

Stand-out moments? Musharaf finding his voice in Educating Yorkshire (another nice example of reality TV) and also, this moment below (volume up), I defy you not to cry.

I'm on the fence now.

Cons of Reality TV

Oh yes, now I remember, no I'm not.

Reality TV is one of the most toxic and manipulative forms of 'entertainment' we see on our TV screens every hour, every day, every week.

What was once a limited commodity is now everywhere on every possible channel. In 2000, we had a limited amount of options but now this 'cancer' has spread exponentially.

Why is it a cancer? Well, it's proven itself time and time again to be completely exploitative and has resulted in several huge controversies, or sadly, tragedies.

Big Brother is the definitive "reality TV" show you first think of and is returning to our screens soon. Stand-out moments from the previous iteration are mostly remembered for the bad.

The first was Big Brother in 2007 concerning comments made by contestants Jade Goody, Jackiey Budden, Danielle Lloyd, and Jo O'Meara, about Indian contestant Shilpa Shetty.

They called the Bollywood actress 'Shilpa Poppadom', and said she needed a 'day in the slums'. Naturally, there was an international outcry at the actions of Jade, Jo and Danielle - in India, where Shilpa is a popular celebrity, people burnt effigies of Jade in the street.

Next came Roxanne Pallet. In August 2018, whilst participating in the twenty-second series of Celebrity Big Brother, Pallett falsely accused fellow housemate Ryan Thomas of punching her and opened up a whole domestic abuse furore.

Another Big Brother example? Giving conspiracy nut Andrew Tate his very first platform on British telly. The alleged human trafficker and sex offender has since used his fame to cultivate an almost cult-like following and is arguably the most controversial person on the planet today.

Is this entertainment?

It is here where my ideal version of reality TV differs from the masses. I have found myself liking reality TV when it is ordinary people showing off remarkable talent, providing us with genuine entertainment, and giving us moments that we will never forget.

I do not like to see - typically working-class - people being lumped together and poked, prodded and pushed to the edge by unseen producers to just generate reactions for our benefit.

Case in point, Love Island. There have been four suicides linked to ITV's hit show.

Sophie Gradon, who appeared as a contestant in the show in 2016, was found hanged at her home in 2018 at the age of 32. Her boyfriend Aaron Armstrong, who had found her body, went on to hang himself three weeks later. He was 25.

Mike Thalassitis, who appeared in the 2017 series, was 26 when he was found hanged in a park in 2019.

Caroline Flack, the 40-year-old former host of Love Island died by suicide at her northeast London apartment in 2020.

All contestants on Love Island are promised the celebrity dream and brand deals, but in doing so have to leave dignity at the door and open themselves up to the barbaric onslaught of social media and public opinion.

ITV has since added duty of care procedures following these tragic deaths and will do the same for the upcoming Big Brother reboot. The show's contestants will also receive respect and inclusion training to set out the “expectation for appropriate behaviour and language”.

So is reality TV changing? Well, maybe it is or maybe it's just to cover their backs, as these unseen producers have a lot to answer for and it is not just Love Island and Big Brother.

The X-Factor was notorious for parading the "best" of the "weird" contestants around during the later live shows. I remember Jamie Afro for good reasons, but these poor people are remembered for the worst.

In what can be considered to be a modernised human freakshow, the audience was expected to laugh, point and snigger at these vulnerable contestants who were likely told they were brilliant just to get them in front of a crowd.

Remember Ariel Burdett who auditioned for the X Factor UK's 2008 series? Before performing, she took off her label after telling the judges that she was "a human being, not a number" and sang an original song for the panel after explaining that she was a "holistic vocal coach".

In November 2019, Ariel was found dead with a knife wound in her neck in West Yorkshire, aged 38. She had taken her own life. Friends and family paid tribute to the singer on social media, with one of her friends saying: "I think she regretted appearing on X Factor because she was actually a decent musician and it sort of tainted her."

The Jeremy Kyle show. Need I say more?  A show literally built around insulting and laughing at the poorest in society just for our benefit.

Kyle himself “may have caused or contributed to” the death of a guest suspected of killing himself after failing a lie detector test on the show, a pre-inquest review heard.

Steve Dymond, 63, died at his home in Portsmouth, Hampshire, seven days after taking part in The Jeremy Kyle Show in an attempt to prove he had not cheated on his fiancee. The show was cancelled on the back of this.

It's sickening if you think about it and as previously mentioned, it always seems to be working-class people, history tells us this.

Remember 1974's "The Family"? Well, that was also inevitably parodied with an elitist sneer. The show was later the basis for a Monty Python's Flying Circus featured sketch called "The Most Awful Family in Britain 1974".  

Is it time for reality TV to end? Well in my eyes certain elements of it do, yes. It has proven itself to be a major success without all the punching-down, the manipulation of contestants and all the mockery, so why can't it just stick to that?

Anyway, Big Brother returns soon, tune in and make your own mind up.