Boxing Day 2009 – 9.30pm. A weary nation, slaked on port and stilton and forced family frivolity, slumps in front of the television for some unchallenging light entertainment. A massive TV audience, this – possibly even the biggest of the year - and all wedged firmly into a bombsite of wrapping paper, Jamie Oliver cookbooks and broken Gameboys – sluggish, lacklustre and conveniently unable to locate the remote.
A big opportunity, then, for some of the more monolithic broadcasters to roll out the big guns. So what, I wonder, does ITV1 have in store for its loyal adherents? A Touch of Frost, maybe? Some madcap tat starring Ant and Dec? At least a big budget Robson Green vehicle, surely?
On ITV1, we have All-Star Impressions. Idiots off the telly queuing up to “do” other idiots off the telly. A “phalanx of famous faces”, ITV boasts with pleasing alliteration, though one fears a touch of hyperbole when the first member of the phalanx is DCI Carver out of The Bill…
Even on paper this must have looked a bad idea. You see, people generally can’t do impressions. Even impressionists are rarely good at impressions. And if Alistair McGowan is struggling to get a gig on telly at the moment, I’m going to assume that Jerry Hall trying to knock out a passable Jordan is going to fall some way short.
Regular readers will know I am not ITV1’s biggest fan, and I must confess to being nudged towards this particular car-crash by Ally Ross who promised “the worst programme” of the year. He got it nearly right. This is almost certainly the worst programme EVER MADE (possibly excluding Shane starring Frank Skinner – although I remember almost laughing once at that. Through the tears).
I haven’t updated on this site for over five months (consumed as I am by lethargy and delusions of novel-writing), yet here I am, 10:30pm on Boxing Day, semi-consciously seething, bowels still heaving with half-digested sprouts and pigs in a blanket, hammering away at a computer keyboard in protest … no, make that anger – actual anger – that someone, anyone, could have conceived and then green-lighted this abortion of a television show.
So I apologise if this piece is a little unbalanced, crude and poorly-thought-through, but – fuck it – that didn’t stop ITV. I feel something needs to be placed on the record - even though emotions are still raw.
Our Master of Ceremonies was Stephen Mulhern - a typically anaemic autocue-muppet who I vaguely recall as being the bland, sexless foil to Holly Willoughby’s busty Russell Meyer-inspired Dad’s wank fantasy on ITV’s children’s output. Presumably he was the only stooge willing to take on a script which felt like it had been knocked together by the work-experience boy on Family Fortunes.
That said – Mulhern was, by some distance, the best thing about this show – reaching deep inside his plastic, Ken-doll exterior and plucking out some manful enthusiasm as yet another skit hit the comedy skids. “Wow!” he kept saying, “this show gets crazier by the second!” and then he would collapse in wheezing hysterics, in spite of a stony-faced audience and the fact that the “crazy” scenes he was describing invariably involved Les Dennis doing his Mavis from Coronation Street impersonation while dressed as Jasper Carrot or Gary Barlow or Louis Walsh.
Kudos to Mulhern if he managed to complete the show without resorting to some kind of Class A narcotic assistance. Near the end, he found himself on a prop see-saw with an increasingly deluded Paul Daniels, and his manic laughter, sweaty face and wild eyes betrayed a possible “visit from Charlie” during one of the merciful commercial breaks. You couldn’t have blamed him. He pulled himself together towards the end, as no fewer than five idiots pranced around pretending to be Tom Jones, though presumably that was because the prospect of a quiet dressing room and a loaded shotgun was only moments away.
Excitable young man becomes first person to laugh at a Les Dennis impression since 1987
As for the “talent”? Deary. Where to start?
The only sketch that didn’t make me want to spoon out my own eyes and throw them against the wall was MacKenzie Crook’s Derren Brown-locked-in-a-toilet bit, which I confess made me crack a watery smile, until some unidentified toss-bag who purported to be Uri Gellar cropped up in an adjacent stall and the whole thing was reduced to typically bland schtick.
Crook had already blotted his copybook irretrievably by appearing in a bizarre and quite dreadful Steptoe and Son “tribute” (sorry about all the inverted commas…) where his painfully gurning rendering of Wilfrid Brambell was made to look a triumph of method acting by Ian Lee’s heart-breakingly shite Harold, whose only comic resort was to keep repeating “You dirty old man!” ad infinitum, the big lanky streak of piss.
It kept on coming.
Some awful soap hag mimed - fucking mimed - a pitiful satirical-slap routine on Dannii Minogue. At least human cheeseburger and professional smug prick Eamon Homes had the gonads to spew some tepid Elvis number live. Even if it had me in a snarling, visceral rage, slinging half-eaten mince pies at my beloved Samsung flat-screen, you couldn’t accuse him of pre-recording his batch of lazily cobbled-together slop.
This bint had the gall to lay into Minogue’s affection for plastic surgery, despite being built like a prop forward and having a face like a jellied pizza. And she MIMED! Possibly a clever reference to pop dollies and their singing ability – but, this being ITV, I highly doubt it. I kept praying for Victoria Wood to enter stage left with a rusty shovel and a boiling sense of righteous indignation.
Terrible woman becomes first person to elicit sympathy for Dannii Minogue since the Wardrobe Supervisor on Home and Away
Those saps contractually obliged by ITV to appear included Harry Hill – a man who has a genuine eye for parody, and who might have possibly salvaged something from the wreckage had he not wisely stayed well away from the main action. Still, he must now be studying his conscience – as must other gushing thesps who are now probably filing this one under the heading “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time”.
Tim Healy (shame on you) hardly covered himself in glory – but the nadir was surely Jerry Hall’s extraordinary attempt at Katie Price. Nobody at ITV seemed to spot the irony of cruelly lampooning such an easy victim whilst, over on their sister channel, they continue to provide a sympathetic ear and bury her in truckloads of cash. I notice they didn’t dole out similar hypocritical spoofs on Simon Cowell. He could probably get ITV shut down with one flourish of his gold-plated Motorola…
Perhaps they didn’t have anybody as skilled as Jerry Hall to pull off the high-trousered one – because my goodness she did a fine job on Jordan. Orange make-up trowelled on and dressed in an eye-popping pink velvet jumpsuit she adopted a strange mid-Atlantic accent and rattled off a series of tired, vulgar “gags” while the bewildered audience responded with the kind of embarrassed titters one generally reserves for wedding speeches by starch-collared fathers-of-the-bride or zany orthodontists at medical conventions in Clacton-on-Sea.
JLS, incongruously, played themselves and lip-synched and back-flipped with saccharine fervour, before Mulhern – in full-blown mutant Philip Schofield bastard offspring mode - interviewed them about their “amazing year” for what was, by my reckoning, the thirteen billionth time on various ITV shows since they lost the X-Factor (coincidentally, also on ITV…).
FOR FUCK’S SAKE! Is that the best you can do? JLS?? On Boxing Day? Ah, no. Phew. The finale has the aforementioned dimwits mimicking Tom Jones, but, what’s this? Dry ice, some sliding doors, and a familiar figure silhouetted on the stage looks set to restore some class. The chorus to It’s Not Unusual kicks in, and here is dear old Tom to save the day.
Hang on… Is that Tom Jones? Nope. It’s David Cocking Gest - trussed up like an eerily grinning turkey and cantering down the steps while various other twats join in the reprise and Morecombe and Wise rotate bitterly in their graves.
Right. Bed-time. I look forward to dreams haunted by flashbacks to Les Dennis and Bobby Davro in the bath together. Thanks very much, ITV.
Tom Jones. No. Really.