Dick and Dom in da Bungalow

Monday, January 3, 2005 by

Is it too soon to nominate the best TV programme of 2005?

A viewer gets to ring in and sneeze over the presenters; projectile liquid snot is subsequently expelled repeatedly around the studio. Another has to estimate which of two bewigged pensioners will cough their toupee onto the floor first. Later, in the “All-Electric Granny Snog Quiz”, motorized crones terrorise kids with the threat of a lipstick-engorged smacker. All the while a hirsute Geordie detective threatens to coat someone in garlic mayonnaise, in a running joke lost on anyone who hasn’t been watching since September.

Although it was all on tape, Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow soldiered on right through the festive holiday, even appearing on 25 December itself. There was no obvious reason why the show shouldn’t have taken a break. After all, most long-running schedule fixtures hibernate for a week or two over Christmas and nobody thinks anything of it. The fact it didn’t, and we got service as usual regardless of the season, says a lot about why the programme remains as good as it’s ever been, and is still one of the best things on TV.

The core reason why Da Bungalow works, as both a shamelessly exhilarating and insolent kids show and addictive entertainment for those of somewhat older age, is the fact that everybody on it is having the time of their life. This has always been the case, right from when it began on the CBBC channel back in 2002. The palpable enthusiasm its two hosts have for putting themselves through invariably physical, usually messy and always demented escapades twice a week for six months a time is as much in evidence on screen here in 2005 as it was three years ago.

It’s clear why they, and the production team, are willing to pre-record enough shows to maintain normal transmission during Christmas, and it makes for one of the most wonderful things to watch: a group of people struggling to contain themselves at the sheer pleasure of being back on TV again, even though it’s only been a week since their last appearance. A group who positively relish rather than regret the need to make a show for Christmas Day, and one for Boxing Day, and one for New Year’s Day, and so on. A bunch of folk who all feel the same way about their work, and who demonstrate, most pertinently by the way they giggle and corpse and shriek at the drop of a hat, it’s one of the best jobs in the world.

There hasn’t been this kind of ludicrously high turnover of ace ideas and unforgettable features on TV since the early days of The Big Breakfast, a programme that started showing its age and running out of steam after only 18 months. Sure, The Big Breakfast was on every weekday, but Da Bungalow‘s undoubtedly already been through just as many items and gimmicks and then some. It even, bravely, continues to discard features before they threaten to become too familiar or predictable. “Bogies”, for instance, Da Bungalow‘s most well-known ingredient, is now being rested, a mere week after it received its biggest plug yet as one of C4′s Top 100 TV Treats of 2004. Its replacement, the equally fantastic “Eeny Meeny Mackeracka Paridominacka Shickappa Dickywhopper Rom Pom Stick”, in turn served an apprenticeship on the CBBC-only Sunday edition of Da Bungalow. There are also numerous strands and gags confined solely to CBBC which make that version of the show largely impenetrable (but fascinatingly so) to those who only ever watch on BBC1.

And so it goes on, with old favourites like the “Bungalow World Record Attempt” dusted down for a revival after a year’s absence, while much of what made the programme so unmissable from the outset – “Make Dick Sick”, “Little Bob Peep”, “Tricky Training” – hasn’t been glimpsed for ages, and quite possibly will never return. All this endless change and upheaval could threaten the show’s quality and turn it into a shoddy patchwork of mismatched items, but that’s avoided thanks to the consistency of originality that’s always behind whatever games and bits of business take place. This first programme of 2005 saw several new features such as the typically-convoluted “Grasping Rasping Wrinklies” and “Wiggy Coffin Dodgers”, all of which fitted seamlessly into the parade of usual characters and chicanery. Meanwhile the traditional closing fusillade of mess, “Creamy Muck Muck”, continued its recent run of spoofing other contemporary BBC efforts, in this case The World’s Strongest Man.

What distinguishes a truly classic edition of Da Bungalow from a merely great one has always been the behaviour of the Bungalowheads, the six children invited to “spend the weekend” in the eponymous residence, whose occasional apathy can drive both Dick and Dom into a spitting rage (fine viewing) but who can also from time to time attempt to upstage the hosts and petulantly run amok (woeful viewing). There’s little worse than having to watch kids throwing a strop in Da Bungalow (why did they want to take part in the first place?), and fortunately it hasn’t happened very often, although this particular show suffered slightly from simply not giving the Bungalowheads that much to do. They were spectators for much of the time, and although what they were watching was assuredly first class – Dom’s persecution with garlic mayonnaise, the next door neighbour’s cat’s video diary of a trip to Uckfield, Dick attempting to eat lemons – their protracted standing about began to call attention to itself towards the end, thereby distracting everything from the business in hand. Thankfully, though, this is usually the exception rather than the rule, the Bungalowheads often manufacturing the funniest bits of the whole programme (“That’s its booby!”)

Overall, despite Da Bungalow itself showing precious little concern in its ever increasing outside interest and criticism, you get the sense that by contrast 2005 is going to be a pretty decisive year for its hosts. Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood have worked in children’s television for almost 10 years, and its admirable that they’ve yet to turn their friendship into an Ant and Dec-esque commodity parcelled out to the highest bidder. But while up till the autumn of last year they hadn’t garnered that much attention or publicity, the last few months saw their names turning up more and more in the press, two BAFTA awards, and then the plug from Channel 4.

You feel their profile could very easily now go one of two ways: either flourish into that of multi-talented entertainment personalities (aided via their planned revival of Ask the Family, or a rumoured spin-off for Comic Relief), or evolve into that of two tiresomely ubiquitous celebrities. Past evidence suggests it should be the former (a TV apprenticeship of a decade is about as good a grounding you can get), and that Da Bungalow should still be here in 12 months. You can’t bank on the turn of events, though, and there’s always the outside danger of over-exposure accidentally handing the pair a joyless omnipresence.

If it is too soon to name the best programme of 2005, then, let’s settle for Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow as the best children’s show of all time.


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