Riveting and Real - a family in the raw: (Re)visiting The Family (1974) after Reality TV

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Paul Watson's 12-part documentary serial, The Family (BBC, 1974), focused on the lives of the working-class Wilkins family from Reading. Along with An American Family (PBS, 1973), The Family has been positioned as a landmark precursor to reality TV. Yet it has largely been referred to rather than analysed, and the potential relationship at work between `then' and `now' is often obscured. In seeking to (re)construct the popular reception of The Family, this article argues that it is particularly productive to `revisit' the Wilkinses right now, precisely because the growth of reality TV has led to an `opening up' of the traditional terrain of documentary studies. Drawing on new archival research, this article examines how discussion of the programme generated an expansive extratextual framework. This framework turned The Family into a cultural event, and it represents a crucial site for accessing its historical circulation — particularly with regard to discourses on `ordinary' people as television performers, and `ordinary' people turned television `stars'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-210
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Cultural Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


  • 1970s television
  • celebrity
  • class
  • documentary
  • 'ordinary' people
  • the BBC

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