The Gogglebox media mogul behind The Traitors has made millions creating some of the biggest shows of the past two decades – although some viewers believe the architect of the ‘life swap’ reality genre is also guilty of dumbing down British TV.
The creator of the murder mystery show hosted by Claudia Winkleman is Stephen Lambert, 63, the former BBC2 documentaries chief whose ideas have seen him nicknamed ‘the UK’s most innovative TV producer’.
The series ended last night and saw the Strictly star pick three ‘traitors’ who plotted to secretly bump off their fellow contestants, known as ‘faithfuls’, without being caught in a bid to win up to £120,000.
And BBC execs will be begging him to make a second series, which is not confirmed but will certainly be in the pipeline, with the Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens calling it the best thing on TV for 20 years.
Mr Lambert found fame and fortune after he invented the ‘life swap’ genre that filled so many hours of primetime TV, including the Faking It and Wife Swap shows for Channel 4 in the early noughties.
His next big hits were The Secret Millionaire in 2008 and then Undercover Boss, which started on Britain’s Channel 4 in 2009. Both shows have since been sold and made in dozens of countries around the world.
The Traitors creator Stephen Lambert previously made Gogglebox, Wife Swap and The Secret Millionaire, creating the ‘life swap’ genre
The Traitors came to a crescendo last night and is sure to be back for a second series
Gogglebox has won the producer multiple Baftas
Ex-football pundit Ron Atkinson, who was embroiled in a race row, lived with black athlete Tessa Sanderson for Channel 4’s Celebrity Wife Swap show
More success followed in 2013, when he devised the reality show Gogglebox, where families across the UK commentate while watching terrestrial TV in their lounges.
The show has won multiple Baftas and is now made in 15 other countries, adding to Mr Lambert’s considerable wealth, estimated to be around £15million. In 2016 he was made a fellow of the Royal Television Society.
The father-of-two, who is married to Times columnist Jenni Russell, 62, lives in a Cotswolds pile and his production company Studio Lambert has offices in London and LA.
Much has his success has been with Channel 4, which he has vehemently defended in the wake of plans by the Government to sell it off.
In May he criticised the Government’s ‘destructive plan’ to privatise Channel 4 at the Baftas as he accepted Gogglebox’s second award of the evening.
He said: ‘Gogglebox might have ended when it started nine years ago because it had modest ratings but a publicly owned risk-taking Channel 4 believed in it and they stuck with it.
‘If the Government goes ahead with its destructive plan to end Channel 4, these kinds of risks will not be taken and a big part of what makes British TV great will have ended for no good reason.’
Some pointed out that his position as one of Channel 4’s favourite providers could be at risk should the broadcaster be privatised.
One critic said online: ‘With programmes like that, Channel 4 should have been sold off years ago’. Another said: ‘Pioneer?! He’s dumbing down the nation’.
If a private owner takes over they will be likely to make their own programmes rather than relying on independent production companies such as Lambert’s.
But there is no doubt that millions are fans of his shows, especially The Traitors. There has been no confirmation but the BBC is said to have a deal in place with Studio Lambert.
A source told Daily Star: “It was a no-brainer to commission another series.”
Hosted by Claudia Winkleman,Some 2.87 million tuned in to watch the opening episode after England’s first World Cup game against Iran in December.
The addictive show became a sensation on social media, likened to parlour game Wink murder, where a murderer kills people by winking at them.
BBC Radio 2 DJ Scott Mills said it was the ‘BEST REALITY SHOW OF 2022’, while newsreader Dan Walker asked if pubs were showing the final.
But now locals near his Cotswolds home raised eyebrows over Mr Lambert’s plans to build a ‘wildlife pond’.
Mr Lambert, 63, and his wife, columnist Jenni Russell, 62, submitted an application in May to construct a pond 3,000 m2 and three metres deep in the grounds of the property they bought for over £1million in the early Noughties.
He was also behind Faking It, a documentary series in which people take up the challenge to completely transform their identities
The show sees contestants sign up before a small number of players are secretly selected to be The Traitors . The rest of the players are known as ‘The Faithful’ and none of The Faithful know who The Traitors are
He faced push back from locals and the Parish Council who objected on the grounds that they believe the pond is in fact a ‘lake’.
Last month, Mr Lambert was given the green light for his garden plans which also involves the restoration of a wildflower meadow which, the application claims, together with the pond, will create optimal living conditions for bats, newts, birds, butterflies, insects, bees, invertebrates, hedgehogs and water voles among other creatures.
Some locals expressed fears that a pond could cause flooding and that the construction work would have ‘an unnecessary harmful impact on the village environment, not only during construction, but also possibly in the long term, due to the need for ongoing regular maintenance’.
The area, covering 1.9 hectares, sits within the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Parish Council said the plans have caused ‘a great deal of local interest – and anxiety’.
They said the size is ‘excessive’ and ‘equivalent to several Olympic Swimming Pools of water’.
One local, who declined to be named, told the Mail: ‘People in the village who I’ve spoken to [about it] think it’s too big, rather silly and a sort of vanity project. It is a very big pond. It is huge.
‘I can see no point of doing it. And also, this nonsense about pretty flowers and rewilding and trees and all that.’ Another resident, who also did not wish to be identified, said they did not think the field was the right place for the pond.
‘I don’t know why you would build a pond at the top of the village,’ they said. ‘How is the pond going to flow when there is no natural water up there?
BBC’s captivating series The Traitors is set to reach its dramatic conclusion today, where viewers will learn whether a Traitor or a Faithful will bag the prize money (L-R Hannah, Kieran, Meryl, Aaron, Wilfred)
‘It’s just going to go stagnant unless they’re going to have a manmade pump in it.
‘I don’t mind people doing environmental good, and great to put things back to nature, but I don’t think it’s the right place for a pond.’ However, another resident welcomed the proposed wildlife pond and indicated that they knew the Lamberts and have no issue with their plans.
The local authority has ‘no objections’, and a landscape officer said the pond and plans would be a ‘benefit to biodiversity and enhancement of the landscape character’, documents submitted to the council show.
A senior conservation and design officer has said the area would be ‘unharmed’ adding: ‘The proposed pond is to be located in a natural dip in the land and although appearing large on plan, by virtue of its location and the topography of the land it would be unobtrusive in the setting of the Conservation Area.’ An ecological appraisal in May found no records of protected species within 300m of the site.
The planning consultancy, working on behalf of Mr Lambert and his wife, addressed concerns that the pond is a lake.
In a letter to the District Council they wrote: ‘The pond itself, is not large enough to qualify as a lake; ponds are defined as small water bodies between 1m2 and 2ha, a water body having a surface area larger than 2ha is termed a lake.’
But despite objections the council permitted the application on November 25, with Mr Lambert granted three years to complete the works.
Addictively fiendish, this treachery was the best thing on TV for 20 years: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the conclusion of The Traitors
Ding dong, the wicked Wilf is dead! As the most devious, duplicitous, brain-twisting, underhand, ruthless game ever shown on TV reached its climax, good finally prevailed.
In the fairytale setting of a Highland castle, with torches blazing around a heap of glistening gold doubloons, The Traitors (BBC1) ended happily ever after.
Hosted by Claudia Winkleman, the series saw the Strictly star pick three ‘traitors’ who secretly plotted to ‘murder’ their fellow contestants known as ‘faithfuls’ (evicting them from the game), without being caught and banished themselves.
If the ‘traitors’ survived to the end, they would win the entire prize of up to £120,000, but if all three were unmasked, the remaining ‘faithfuls’ would share the money.
Quite simply, there hasn’t been a new entertainment format on TV as good as this for 20 years
Charity fundraiser Wilf, the villain who was everybody’s best mate, overplayed his hand just a fraction. Last month, when this addictively fiendish format launched, no one would have noticed. But with everybody’s paranoia tuned to the highest pitch of tension, his slip was enough to alert the other players to his treachery . . . and his scheming was exposed.
Even 28-year-old Wilf, though he lost the entire £101,050 prize pot at that moment, was thrilled. The guilt at betraying a bunch of people he’d grown to love was gnawing away at him.
‘I’m free!’ he gasped, as the others kicked him out of the game.
Stand-up comedian Hannah, 32, call centre worker Meryl, 25, and property agent Aaron, 24, shared the money . . . leaving the rest of us to feel remorse for other players who were unfairly evicted over the past four weeks.
Many have been delightfully larger-than-life, like Maddy, a 29-year-old receptionist and bit-part actress who once appeared on EastEnders as a homeless woman and couldn’t shut up about it.
There was poor, soppy Matt, a 23-year-old BMX athlete, who fell for fellow player Alex so hard that he practically left a crater in the ground. He had no idea Alex, 26, was also an actress — or that another of the contestants, 24-year-old professional magician Tom, was her off-screen boyfriend.
And what a blundering joy pink-haired Tom was, as he boasted that his stagecraft gave him mind-reading powers, before proceeding to accuse all the wrong people with spectacular arrogance.
Quite simply, there hasn’t been a new entertainment format on TV as good as this for 20 years. The last time telly wizards came up with something this fresh and addictive, social media hadn’t been invented.
Around the turn of the millennium, two shows changed everything — Pop Idol and Big Brother. They set the pattern for everything to come.
The Traitors is the perfect show for a different era, the age of fake news and cancellation.
Inevitably, it will need a little tweaking. The daily challenges, where players dashed around Scotland collecting tokens for the prize fund, like cartoon characters in a PlayStation game, were overlong.
Perhaps the idea was to give contestants the chance to prove themselves as team players — but the best part of those segments was always the car ride home, when the backstabbing started all over again.
The harder the producers tried to make the challenges melodramatic — even providing a helicopter and a speedboat for the finale — the more out of place they seemed. By contrast, the daily breakfasts were edge-of-the-seat viewing. They had everything: double-crosses, tears, burgeoning romance and croissants.
Each morning the players walked into the buffet room one by one to discover which of their rivals had been ‘murdered’ by the traitors overnight.
The other unmissable element was the round table, where players gathered to hurl accusations and lie through their teeth, before deciding which of them was most likely to be a two-faced trickster and banishing them.
Almost every time, they got it wrong.
It was here that Wilf played a blinder, deflecting attention away from himself even when it meant informing on his fellow traitors, Alyssa and Amanda.
Wilf played a blinder, deflecting attention away from himself even when it meant informing on his fellow traitors
He tried to justify his mendacity to himself, in quiet moments. ‘Would I feel guilty if I was playing a game of poker and won 100 grand?’ he reasoned.
The guilt caught up with him in the end. As Hannah, Meryl and Aaron begged him to show why they should trust him, Wilf blurted that, if they denied him his winnings, he’d never speak to any of them ever again.
The sound of pennies dropping made an audible clang. Just for a moment, the mask of friendly, lovable, sweet old Wilf slipped aside . . . revealing his real face. Why Wilf, what big teeth you have.
Already I can’t wait for the next series. Trust me, I love it.