Our Sunday columnist takes a wry look at the week’s TV:
It was immediately after the first Dingo Dollar Challenge, back on November 12, that Eric Bristow MBE reassuringly hinted we’d be in safe hands for the next three weeks.
Having just lost out to Brian Conley in a head-to-head battle to catch mutant ping-pong balls fired out of giant frogs’ mouths, while balancing precariously on floating foam lily pads, he said: “This is just the preliminaries. The battle starts in a week. This is just the messing abaaaht.”
Bristow was, you see, playing the long game on I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! series 12, which goes down for my money as the fourth best.
And it’s just as well he was because, as great as this show is, it collides headfirst into the same hurdle every year – the difficult final-week lull.
Fatigue was threatening to set in long before Rosemary Shrager’s eviction on Tuesday, an event that heralded the biggest danger to any reality show, harmony among the contestants.
But thankfully, as Shrager accurately put it at the halfway stage: “We’re living in Eric’s world.”
Bristow, the slow-burning, stubbornly grumpy older bloke, was vital to ITV in that jungle.
He kept himself, and the rest of us, going by winding up Coronation Street’s Helen Flanagan, to whom he was a “strange specimen”, switching his tact filter to “off”, barking the camp awake first thing like a cockerel with a smoker’s cough, and ruling the roost from that hammock.
Without him, the series would have gone downhill faster than a Mid-Bedfordshire MP’s political, and indeed fledgling television, career.
Tory rebel Nadine Dorries contributed little after her initial promise.
Linda Robson, another early casualty, was described by EastEnder Charlie Brooks as: “Kind, caring, and doesn’t bitch about anybody.” And as such, was a colossal waste of space.
And the series could have been up the proverbial without a thingymajig after the viewers’ worst decision, voting out a week too soon Limahl, an 80s throwback trapped in another time who’ll be remembered most fondly by me for telling Flanagan: “This isn’t a high-five moment,” a line seized upon by the majestic Ant and Dec who were at the top of their game throughout.
But while Bristow alone is knocking on the door of the I’m A Celebrity all-time hall of fame, the support cast was probably the best ever, collectively at least.
The biggest surprise was Hugo, from E4’s Made In Chelsea, whose confrontations with Shrager over a bubbling pot of hacked-apart kangaroo tail stew, were almost as entertaining as his explanation for Flanagan’s mid-series short fuse: “Helen is about to come on to her...
girl... cycle... thing.”
Though her mood may also be explained by the funniest TV moment of the month, her facial fake-tan disaster which turned her into a laughing stock by day, a headless torso by nightfall.
David Haye, a likeable leader with a healthy sense of mischief, was the best practical joker since David Gest and the ideal narrator in the bush telegraph: “Only Helen can volunteer for a job working for free and get sacked.”
Even Pussycat Dull Ashley Roberts earned her crust during the camp meddler tasks.
But as I’ve hinted, it’s not quite the perfect show, and if ITV are looking to knock off the rough edges, they could do worse than make two important changes next year.
Firstly, shave the shows in the third week by half an hour. Ninety minutes a night by this stage is too greedy and about as entertaining as watching 90 minutes of England under Roy Hodgson.
The other would be to find a way of leaving at least half a dozen campmates in the jungle until the last couple of nights. Bristow’s elimination on Thursday only compounded a floundering final few days.
That aside, and despite the series failing to make the I’m A Celebrity top-three podium, let me be the first to assure the producers, presenters and three-quarters of the campmates that it’s been a total joy.
As the lead singer of Kajagoogoo almost once said, this is a high-five moment.
Name change required for ITV’s BBC2-copycat show Britain’s Best Bakery.
The Great British Rip-Off.
This week’s Couch Potato Spudulike awards go to:
BBC4’s More Old Jews Telling Jokes.
Ant and Dec’s peerless brilliance on I’m A Celebrity, and the wonderful irony of the final four campmates discussing their career lows, while wearing phone numbers on their backs for an ITV reality show.
X Factor’s Louis Walsh telling Jahmene Douglas: “If Motown were signing artists today, Berry Gordy would sign you,” 12 months after prematurely declaring Berry Gordy dead.
The dramatic Brazilian Grand Prix finale to the Formula One season, with a special mention going to Sky Sports F1 channel, which aired the fantastic Senna documentary before the race, was ahead of the BBC at every chicane, and, as Lewis Hamilton crashed out, had commentator David Croft yelling into his microphone: “This has thrown multiple cats into a tree full of pigeons.”
And the Christmas Day TV announcement this week of a deal struck between the BBC and ITV to ensure Call The Midwife and Downton Abbey don’t clash, which is great news.
It means I can avoid both.
If you saw C4’s new unscripted comedy show Kookyville, featuring interviews with normal everyday people, and wondered why it felt so familiar, it’s Creature Comforts, only they couldn’t be bothered doing the Aardman Animation.
Still, at least it has one thing going for it.
It’s easily turn-on-and-offable. Mostly offable.
This week’s Couch Potato Spuduhate awards go to:
Surprise Surprise host Holly Willoughby claiming Olly Murs turning up at an old folks’ home for a sing-song with a volunteer was: “The surprise of a lifetime.”
BBC1 failing to hire MI5 job applicant and James Bond wannabe Dean Gaffney for Wednesday night’s “Thunderball” draw.
The staggering ignorance of Pointless Celebrities contestant Chelsee Healey who guessed that Ann Widdecombe had married Richard Burton and, asked to unravel the name of a summer Olympic city from the anagram “Gin Jibe”, answered: “Belgium.”
And, on the eve of the Leveson Report, Channel 4’s Hugh Grant: Taking On The Tabloids, in which the actor with a vested interest in keeping his personal life out of the papers accused the papers of having a vested interest in retaining free speech and suggested that because of a very sad case, libel laws should be extended to cover the dead.
Two words, Hugh. Jimmy Savile.
Schedule clash of the week, 10pm, Wednesday night. BBC and ITV News’s Leveson Inquiry reports into Government regulation of the press/C4’s Secret State.
I’m A Celebrity’s “numbers man” Eric Bristow dazzled his fellow campmates by correctly predicting each day’s evictee, and when asked by Ant and Dec following his elimination on Thursday who he thought would be crowned king or queen of the jungle from the final three,
replied: “David will win. Unless it’s one of the girls.”
Uncanny. How does he do it?
A condition check now on the terminally ill patient that is The X Factor where the remaining contestants had not one but two songs to perform last weekend, meaning, as the opening on-screen captions announced and thunderous voiceover man bellowed, it was: “Double...
But, just in case we weren’t convinced, Jahmene Douglas had this message: “It’s double the songs this week. It’s double the pressure.”
And, for those with cotton wool still in their ears after Rylan Clark’s Mamma Mia, Christopher Maloney said, to my complete surprise:
“This week we’ve got two songs. It’s double the pressure.”
So, double the pressure, then, for the five quarter-finalists (eh?) whose two songs, yes, two songs, were on the theme of Abba v Motown, the match-up nobody wanted.
And while the pressure was doubled (did I mention that?), from where I was sat so was the effort by the producers, the judges, even the host to pull the rug from under the commercially unviable, cruise-ship-tastic Maloney.
Everything was stacked against him, from the relatively unfamiliar songs he was given to the shiny black hip-length jacket the costume department dressed him in, which bore a striking resemblance to the Castrol GTX one worn by Alan Partridge to fictional BBC chief commissioning editor Tony Hayers’ funeral.
The worst offender was Nicole Scherzinger. Only a few weeks ago she was calling him “adorable” and telling Maloney: “You’re cheesy but who doesn’t like cheese on their burger?”
Last Saturday, she practically accused him of being soulless.
So I’m delighted to report that the show’s disgraceful tactics didn’t work, at least for the time being. Maloney remains a hugely welcome thorn in the side of The X Factor.
And with one big joke now over and done with, after Rylan Clark’s elimination, I live in hope that this series has another, even bigger one, in its tail – a Christopher Maloney/Jane McDonald duet in the live final.
I’d double over.
EastEnder Laila Morse, on Wednesday’s This Morning, describing the acting methods required for her new role as a fairy in panto: “At first I thought I’m never going to get through this because it’s all that rhyming couplets and stuff.
“I’m not used to all that. In EastEnders you just speak and do what you do, but in panto you’ve got to change your levels up and down and know when to go in and say now this and when to say that.”
I’m sure your brother Gary Oldman is writing all this down for his next Hollywood role, Laila.
TV “iconic” watch.
Brian Dowling on Golden Rules of TV: “The thing about Stars In Their Eyes was it had a catchphrase, ‘Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be...’
“It was iconic.”
No it wasn’t.
BBC News’s Dan Roan, reporting from Brazil: “This is what Roy Hodgson has his sights set on, the iconic Maracana Stadium.”
No it isn’t.
And Jools Holland, on the final ever Later Live... to be filmed at BBC Television Centre in Shepherd’s Bush: “This is Studio One where we’ve been for 20 years, it’s the iconic great big one and it’s being closed down.”
Actually, you can have that one, Jools.