The Terry and Gaby Show

Thursday, August 7, 2003 by

Right from its very first edition, the best thing about The Terry and Gaby Show has been the opening titles. In a perfectly executed and droll sequence, both eponymous hosts are shown making their way to the studio, Gaby in a glamorous open-topped chauffeur-driven limousine, Terry tottering along on a creaky pushbike, satchel slung wearily over one shoulder. It’s nicely self-deprecating, not over done, and carried off with great charm. It’s also got both presenters mercifully as far away from each other as possible.

There’s always been something unconvincing about this particular TV couple. It’s a double act empty of any real rapport, or wit, or even amiability. It’s fine to have a partnership rooted in knockabout putdowns and affected spite, provided its carried off with flair and timing. However if there is genuine respect and warmth between Terry and Gaby, and there’s no reason to suspect there isn’t, then the pair are doing their level best to make us think otherwise, and in as joyless a manner as possible.

Not so much a two-handed collaboration as an outright battle over which presenter can shut the other one up for longest, The Terry and Gaby Show unfolds in fits and starts of interaction. It boasts a bucket chemistry attitude to television – that of throwing a whole lot of disparate elements together and praying something or someone will spark off a reaction. In an effort to achieve some sort of a combustion, no matter how unsubtle, the programme’s two hosts, their guests, the studio audience, and, befitting a Chris Evans production, anyone else who happens to be passing through the premises, are all enrolled into the process. The upshot is that things happen, sure, but they’re rarely of any consequence, are always terribly noisy (chiefly thanks to Gaby’s predilection for shouting all her links), and take a viewer’s interest fatally for granted.

This particular edition kicked off, as ever, with some meandering, stop-start conversation between Terry and Gaby, frequently brought screeching to a halt by the latter’s inability to ever come back at Terry with an authoritative riposte. It’s a repeated failing of Gaby to never strike up a proper dialogue with her co-host, though it has to be said Terry doesn’t help matters by going off on tangents every 15 seconds or so. Playing the befuddled “I don’t know what’s going on here” card is all very well on a solo radio show, but causes endless trouble within the ensemble setting of a TV magazine show. And so, in this instance, from the first minute you struggled to follow the trajectory of a show that shuttled variously between muttered asides, interjected quips, unanswered questions and raucous insults.

It didn’t help that a guest was brought on almost straight away, turning a duo of quibbling voices into a barracking trio. The celebrity in question, Phil Tufnell, was quizzed more or less arbitrarily about both his sport and TV endeavours in an interview that juddered to a halt when Terry, affecting studied boredom, dropped in a few out-of-place remarks (“You were probably fined more than you earned”). There were flashes of the stylised rapport Terry once wheeled out effortlessly three times a week on BBC1, especially when it came to the obligatory plugging of Tufnell’s seemingly endless stream of videos and books. But then, inevitably, it was all ruined when, as is now his way, Terry tried to be shocking by enquiring of his guest, “Any porn?” Unflattering and unbecoming, the outburst provoked the required hoots of laughter from Gaby, followed by another anxious pause. The show had hit the buffers once again.

A lifestyle item about make-up for men that involved Terry applying some brown lipstick ended in confusion with the visiting expert tangled up in his own spiel about “being seen wearing-up that can’t be seen”. In fact with this and other slots, it felt like both Terry and Gaby were competing to see who could sabotage the feature most successfully via a combination of spontaneous gestures, stupid questions or countless interruptions. To this end the most convincing segments of this whole show were stand-alone pieces, such as an on-form Johnny Ball answering viewers’ queries about clinking wine glasses and forest fires and, for just being audible and coherent, a feature on exercise routines fronted by Danny McCall.

Those moments when Terry finally lived up to the laudable aspects of his reputation came when his enduring capability for infectious patter was showcased in the form of single-handed, self-consciously delivered homilies. “After the break a man from Dorset reveals the basis of human civilization as we know it today,” he boomed triumphantly at one point, then paused for a split second, furrowed his eyebrow still further, and concluded, “don’t think we do small things here!” Upon meeting the aforementioned gentleman and hearing him expound at length about the rejuvenating qualities of olives, Terry took a moment to reflect before labelling the entire feature “very Jesuitical”. Even the otherwise mundane business of introducing the programme’s regular competition spurred an outburst of trademark mellifluous banter. “Use this as an excuse to test your phone,” Terry instructed from out of nowhere, before adopting a melodramatic drawl to add, with a final flourish, “all calls will be treated in complete confidence!”

All Gaby could offer by way of a comeback to this recitation was a somewhat lame, “That’s daft.” At which point the show temporarily spun off the rails yet again, and there was another moment of terrible confusion when everyone on-screen gawped in wide-eyed panic all around the studio. Order was quickly restored, as it always is, thanks to the autocue, but these recurring brief moments of tension, when you feel like things are hanging by a thread, have an unfortunate cumulative effect. They stack up over the hour to leave the programme pock-marked with traces of squabbling and a faintly unpleasant air of one-upmanship, so that by the time the 60 minutes are over there’s an all-too palpable sense of relief that everyone’s made it to the end in one piece.

The dishevelled presentation, pungent air of indifference and embarrassing absence of any bond between the two presenters more or less added up to an explicit instruction not to tune in again. Indeed, The Terry and Gaby Show always falls off the air in such an undignified fashion, compounded by a basic lack of manners (even the goodbyes are messed up) and ear-splitting noise (Gaby’s voice having remained undimmed from start to finish), you’re never left wanting more, or looking forward to renewing your acquaintance with the gang the following morning. The sound of the rapturous studio audience cheering to the rafters erases all residual positive aspects of the show, and reduces your parting impression of the whole palaver to that of an unruly bunfight.

Both Terry and Gaby remain professional broadcasters in their own right, and this show serves to re-emphasise that fact – but only when they are literally broadcasting in their own right, in other words by themselves, and speaking either straight to camera or one-on-one with another guest. Together, whether choking on an unwieldy piece of badinage, or attempting to get to the end of a joint interrogation of a celebrity that has turned into another grisly jousting match of rival presenting styles, the pair resemble one of the worst double acts on television.

This viewer has never been able to really feel comfortable in the presence of both Terry and Gaby, side by side, sharing a lens. You sit on edge, nervously waiting for the next time Terry will interrupt one of Gaby’s pieces to camera, or lob in a question to send an interview askew, and some more precious minutes of airtime are wasted clearing up the inevitable messy results. As opposed to The Big Breakfast in its early days, which suffered terribly when Evans or Gaby were absent, when you subtract either Terry or Gaby from the equation here – be it for one feature, an OB, or even a whole programme – everything gains in prestige and conviction.

The Terry and Gaby Show remains one of those programmes you don’t expect to be fantastic or sublime or in any way groundbreaking, but one that you so desperately want to be good, and one that you feel you should try hard to like. It’s Terry Wogan, for heaven’s sake, and he’s with Gaby Roslin! There’s Johnny Ball running about! They’re by the River Thames! In truth, just bringing all these elements together is nowhere near enough, and seeing the programme fail to understand this, time and again, morning after morning, is one hell of a frustrating experience.


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