The Terry and Gaby Show

Friday, March 26, 2004 by

Shorn of all reason to maintain the pretence of being an ongoing concern, the last ever Terry and Gaby Show resembled one long noisy and petulant unravelling of decorum and dignity.

The worst thing was that it all came as nothing of a surprise. The way in which the programme had increasingly carried itself over the last few months, with a studied listlessness that seemed to seep in buckets from the screen, portended a finale that would be as over-wrought as it was underwhelming. So it proved, with the protracted farewells and endless wistful testimonies never resolving into anything of substance. The more the eulogies came, the more the sincerity evaporated. By the end we were left with a scuffed patch of nothingness that had been exhaustively irrigated of all its worth and nourishment a very long time ago.

Things kicked off poorly and were soon heading further downhill. Gaby strode onto the set, already shrieking, and greeted the camera with the cry, “I’ve lost Terry.” A disconcertingly bumptious studio audience then took an age to settle down as Terry finally emerged to confess he’d been busy signing autographs – “I might as well be doing this as anything.” You can forgive an element of indulgence in any curtain call, but not of a kind that diverts your mind from thoughts of regret at your hosts’ impending departure to those of irritation at the prospect of a truly hollow and self-serving goodbye.

Not once were viewers thanked for watching the show. Sure, the numbers who were regularly tuning in during the weeks leading up to the programme’s demise were miniscule, but for their forbearance alone they deserved some kind of acknowledgement. Instead both Terry and Gaby’s patter appeared almost wholly directed at the studio audience, who, it must be said, were clearly having a whale of a time. Some elderly ladies began a strikingly cackling chorus of “Here! Here! We’re here!” at one point, but their outburst was simply absorbed into the bedlam and merited no comment from the hosts whatsoever. Later we were introduced to Brian, a gentleman who had contrived to attend every single one of the show’s 200 episodes, and who prompted coos of reverence akin to those normally reserved for a domestic pet. It was evident the mood within the studio was one of stoicism mixed with burgeoning hysteria, but watching at home you felt terribly shut out and almost not wanted. This was a private party, and those not present in person were treated at one remove with a polite disdain intermittently exchanged for outright ridicule.

The ensuing 60 minutes comprised Terry looking waspish and trotting out the usual epithets – “We’ll be showing all the best bits since we can on the air – that’ll take about 10 seconds” – while Gaby attempted to orchestrate the mêlée through her patented mix of looking goggle-eyed and shouting. Indeed, it was Gaby, rather than her noticeably withdrawn co-host, who did most to rob proceedings of any kind of significance. Instead her now-familiar ritual of alternately preening then appearing petrified conjured up an atmosphere not of sober reflection but juvenile hysteria. She clearly wasn’t prepared to take things rationally, so why, it was intimated, should we? It was instructive to compare this incarnation of Gaby with that from 10 years ago, when a more restrained and muted version of herself proved just the right foil for an ever-increasing insolent Chris Evans on The Big Breakfast. Now the roles had been reversed, and it was her male accomplice who brought gravity and level-headedness to the occasion, not her.

A full complement of guests had been booked for this final show, though none were of any suitable distinction. June Brown emerged first, carrying a self-conscious packet of cigarettes that Gaby then tried to persuade her to smoke. “It’ll set off the fire alarm,” growled Terry, before sniffing, “it’d give us something to do.” Brown looked irritated throughout, disinterested in questions of the calibre, “Did you ever think Dot was going to become this incredible institution?” Come part two she’d lit up and was puffing away merrily. Dermot O’Leary turned up next, carrying presents and being coy about his new job on Radio 2. Then came a whooping Emma Kennedy, galloping onto set with a disarming cry of “Get in!” The whole motley bunch perched on the sofa, pecking at an ever-growing collection of sweets and chocolates. Soon the programme was being played out to a constant chorus of rustling and chewing, which was just downright rude, and once Terry and Gaby started helping themselves to the feast entire conversations were being conducted between people with their mouths full.

Just when things threatened to settle down into the lull of tedium, Danny Baker arrived, dressed head to foot in full Regency costume. Breathlessly reprising some of the stunts and wheezes he’d demonstrated over the preceding months, Baker built to a trademark rousing climax with the declaration that this had been “the happiest and most successful show I’ve ever worked on in 25 years” – something he says at the end of every programme he’s worked on, of course, and always delivered with just too much wild enthusiasm to be wholly believable. However no reference was made to the circumstances in which Baker came to be employed on the programme: as a substitute for Johnny Ball. In fact, there was no mention of Ball whatsoever – not by Terry or Gaby, or during the montage of clips that were aired during the show’s dying minutes (“We thought we’d take a look back at some of the best ever bits in the series, so don’t blink, cos you’ll miss it.”) A breathtaking oversight, or reflective of the circumstances in which Ball was replaced? Either way it was telling that one of the programme’s few real highlights merited not even a thank you, let alone a re-appearance.

By now the sofas were overflowing with people and the din was contagious. Yet more food and drink arrived, including two huge plates of flambéed meat. Gaby trundled on the champagne, only to find her seat had been taken by an unannounced wine merchant. “There’s no room for you on the settee I’m afraid,” boomed Terry, before adding, “God, I’ve wanted to say that for at least a year.” In a suitably unseemly parting gesture, the entire company was reduced to crouching awkwardly behind the set while Danny Baker set light to a chocolate bomb. Then, after a rushed goodbye and curtailed credits, up popped the man Evans. Having previously joked about becoming a market trader should the show fail, he now peered forth from behind a fruit and veg stall, nonchalantly chewing on an apple and drawling, “Look, fuck it. We had a go, didn’t we?”

The Terry and Gaby Show ran aground because it failed to exploit any of the elements it had at its disposal: the prized mid-morning slot, the brilliant location by the Thames, an unusually high calibre of guests (the archive clips testified to this: Roger Moore, David Attenborough, Patrick Stewart, Cliff Richard …), and above all the prestige and capabilities of Terry Wogan. His best performances in front of the camera always came when Gaby was on holiday or off ill. Together, the pair never stopped straining to be free of the other’s penetrating gaze and exaggerated mannerisms. If the show’s brief existence confirmed anything, it’s that Wogan still possesses enough flair and talent to helm decent, amiable television. Just make sure he does it on his own.


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