Dick and Dom in da Bungalow

Saturday, September 20, 2003 by

It’s a fact that a rather large percentage of the audience for Saturday morning television is still trying to overcome the effects of the previous evening. It’s perhaps fitting, then, that the slot has seen BBC1 suffering one of the longest and most painful hangovers of all time.

In April 1999, Zoƫ Ball and Jamie Theakston left Live & Kicking, and since then the BBC have resolutely failed to find a winning format for a timeslot they used to dominate. First there was the ill-advised promotion of the unknowns Emma Ledden and Steve Wilson, who withered in the face of a rampant ITV. Then there was the useless team headed by Katy Hill who attempted to simply duplicate SM:TV Live, but without any of the wit and charm. 12 months later, Dani Behr and Joe Mace aimed at the older audience, but failed to convince. Hence they were swiftly replaced by Fearne Cotton and Simon Grant, a more likeable and professional pair than in previous years, with a better show, but it was still hardly the ratings behemoth it once was.

This all means that September 2003 is the fifth consecutive September to see a relaunch of the BBC’s Saturday morning output. Yet the new programme is rather different to its immediate predecessors – or indeed virtually every programme that’s ever been shown between 9am and lunchtime. No more do we get pop bands showing up, or the cast of the latest CBBC sitcom promoting their show. There’s also no sofas, no studio audience, and no female presenter looking forward to their first FHM photoshoot.

At first glance, Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow is simply a pile of cartoons with some cheap gunge-related games to pad them out and allow it to be counted as original programming. In lesser hands, that may well have been the case. But those of us who saw the show on it’s original home of the CBBC channel know that there’s something more to it. It relies almost entirely on the personalities of the hosts, Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood, and their relationship with the kids in the studio, the viewers at home, and each other.

The “concept” of the show – if it has anything as complex as that – is that each week six kids get to spend the weekend in the titular bungalow, and play games with Dick and Dom that earn them points (which Dick and Dom happily dish out and remove at their discretion) which, at the end of the weekend – there’s another programme on Sundays on the CBBC channel alone – will see some of them win prizes ranging from a TV to, this week, some wheeltrims off a Nissan Bluebird. The whole appeal for the kids in the studio is that it’s akin to a sleepover with two big kids in charge.

Most of the games are cheap and cheerful fun – take the latest addition, where two vases are smeared in dog food, and the winner is the kid who convinces “their” puppy to lick the most off. OK, it’s not very cerebral, but it’s undoubtedly amusing. The high point is “Creamy Muck Muck”, played at the end of the show, where the kids are split into two teams and attempt to, simply, cover each other in gunge – with Dick and Dom often getting more involved than the kids themselves. Compared to some of the games on Live & Kicking and The Saturday Show, which often had more complicated rules than Real Tennis, this is just arsing about, and is all the more fun for it.

It doesn’t even matter if the games don’t really work. Take the new game where the kids had to pick as much lice as they could off a tramp – it wasn’t until the game was over that Dick and Dom realised that all of them had collected dozens, and it’d take ages to count them all up. Even then it managed to end with a tie, until an improvising Dick announced that “First to slap Dom around the chops is the winner!” – something that was clearly news to Dom. Another new game, where two of the bungalow-heads were challenged to stick sweets on their faces, was also less than successful, but Dick simply threw a load of sweets around the bungalow instead. Another great moment was when neither Dick nor Dom could remember the new phone number, so Dom launched himself into the prize basket for the hell of it.

The kids all play their part in the show, as they’re always encouraged to talk back to Dick and Dom, and they all clearly have great fun while they’re there. But Dick and Dom are of course the real stars, and their rapport with each other is a treat to see. One new slot is presented by Dom as Little Bob Peep, a bearded milkmaid from Yorkshire, for no real purpose. What really made the item so funny, as well as Dom’s fantastic accent, was the fact that Dick was in absolute hysterics alongside him. You get the feeling that Dick and Dom both love doing the programme – refreshing compared to many of their predecessors in this slot, who often appeared to be simply pitching for a better job on adult TV.

If anything illustrates the greatness of the programme, it’s “Bogies”, a feature that was one of the high points of the original series. Like the rest of the show, there seems little to it – Dick and Dom go to a public place and take it in turns to say “bogies” with increasing volume, before one of them bottles out or can’t go any louder. What’s great about it is that the pair both squirm with embarrassment throughout, and it’s accompanied by a fantastic droll commentary (from the show’s producer, former CITV voice artist Steve Ryde). It’s perhaps not a million miles away from the sort of thing you might see on The People’s Book of Records or other adult comedy shows – but it’s rarely done with this sort of panache.

As you may be able to tell, Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow is not the most cerebral or improving of programmes. However, it is simply very funny, putting many adult programmes to shame with the level of wit and imagination put into it. For a number of years now, Saturday mornings on BBC1 has seen rather lazy by-the-numbers series, simply attempting to ape the ITV opposition. This is something completely different, and indeed it’s perhaps the first show of its kind that doesn’t have the shadow of Swap Shop hanging over it.

Best of all, it’s an unashamed children’s programme. It’s not pretending to be anything like adult TV, and the presenters are not trying to come across like Jonathan Ross. Ironically, it’s the fact that it’s just knockabout fun that will probably help it appeal to a much wider audience than most other programmes in this slot. It’s perhaps a message for everyone working in children’s TV – there’s no need to try and engineer “watercooler moments”, or hype up expensive cartoons, just get some witty, appealing presenters and the rest will take care of itself.

And I guarantee the nation will be playing Bogies before the year is out.


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