It was an unpromising start. A bunch of mouthy, unknown 17-30 year olds from Essex being filmed gossiping, bickering and occasionally making-up for a weekly “stage-managed” reality TV series.
But four years on and The Only Way Is Essex (aka Towie) has made stars out of its cast, who regularly bag headlines and spin new phrases, while engaging in complicated relationships with each other. It’s really drawn in viewers.
The “scripted reality” formula (whereby all the people featured are real but the scenes are structured by the show’s producers) is a successful one.
Indeed, it’s so successful that the team scooped the 2011 Audience Award Bafta win from established favourites Downton Abbey, BBC’s Sherlock, thriller The Killing, Channel 4 documentary series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and gentle comedy Miranda.
Several series down the line, with plenty of break-ups, make-ups, exits and new faces along the way, and the show still holds our interest. So much so that it’s now in its twelfth run, with a thirteenth series scheduled for new ITV lifestyle channel ITVBe, which will launch later this year. When the series launched, some members of Essex County Council admitted that it was “disappointing” only certain aspects of the county were represented, namely partying and excess.
Now, four years on, there are regular tours around the Towie ‘set’ bringing heaps of visitors to places like Minnie’s Boutique and the Sugar Hut Village nightclub in Brentwood.
Plus, there’s been a surge in series about the county, from BBC Four’s The Joy Of Essex to Channel 4’s Educating Essex.
The Towie lot love abbreviating. After all, with all that drama going on, they can’t waste precious milliseconds saying a word in full, can they? So thanks to them, “Marbs” (Marbella), “well jel” (really jealous) and, of course, “totes amaze” (totally amazing) have all entered our language. And let’s not forget the memorable beauty treatment Amy Childs opened our eyes to when she gave her pal Sam Faiers – a “vajazzle” – a form of genital decoration.
The last series ended with Mark Wright’s big sister Jessica and her boyfriend Ricky throwing a princes and princesses-themed party; Towie regular Sam Faiers, who was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, bowed out of the show to concentrate on her health and relationship with Joey Essex and model Chloe Sims announced that her friendship with DJ Lauren Pope was over after falling out over ladies’ man Mario Falcone, who they’ve both had romantic dalliances with.
The Only Way Is Essex starts on ITV2 on Sunday, June 22.