It might crazy to think such a thing but back in 1997 not everyone in the UK knew who Ant and Dec were. It’s a time which is hard to comprehend I’m sure, but at that point even though they’d acted in Byker Grove, presented some kids tv shows and released an album it was still possible to find adults who weren’t really aware of them. This of course all changed when they started presenting SMTV Live and CD:UK, and later Pop Idol and I’m A Celebrity, but back then they were still (relatively) finding their feet and one of the shows which didn’t succeed was Ant and Dec Unzipped, an attempt at a sketch show for Channel Four which aired at 6pm. I was at university at that point and so alcohol may have been a factor but I remember it as being fairly Harry Hill-ish in nature and pretty enjoyable, but how does it stand up today? Unfortunately it’s pretty awful, and this finally proves that the younger me was an idiot.
The first episode of the show starts with the news that Dec was imprisoned for six months for being a “BBC Filth merchant” after saying the words “Buttocks” on daytime tv, and then he’s released, hellbent on revenge, it’s an okay sequence which suggested the show might be fun and at this point I was still optimistic I’d enjoy it all these years on. Bright and breezy credits follow before Dec shouts “Nelson Mandela, The Brixton Five, Arthur Fowler, Jimmy Corkhill, all victims of the system” and Ant is brought on stage Hannibal Lecter style strapped up and wearing a mask as the crowd go wild. There’s a couple of jokes about the duo’s records improving without Ant’s involvement and him having a dodgy haircut which raised a minor smile, before he breaks free and we inexplicably cut to a sketch where Dec’s operating on a patient and flirting with a nurse, she’s not interested at all until he kills the patient who turns out to be her fiancee, and she suddenly decides she does want to have sex with him. I’ve seen worse sketches, but a sinking feeling was starting to kick in.
And unfortunately at this point it all started to go very, very wrong. The guys joke about how as they’re now on Channel Four they have to be more PC, with Dec claiming “I’m a feminist now, I’ve stopped shaving under my armpits and everything” because apparently even in the nineties it was okay to come out with cliched and sexist comments about women. Dec then introduces an all male dance troupe called “The Gay Grahams” but cuts them short when they’re about to say why they’re called such a thing, and it’s tedious in the extreme. Even worse is the fact that Ant’s not comfortable being around gay men, and moans about Channel Four being “Full of weird french blokes and women in DMs” and that it’s called Channel Four “as that’s their average audience”. Which understandably doesn’t get a laugh.
The tackiness continues as there’s a brief skit about Dec signing up to Channel 4 due to being given a huge amount of money and that the contract states that Ant must “Do anything Dec says and call him sir” and if he doesn’t he’ll have to go back prison. Cue a terrible “I think I dropped the soap” flashback as jokes about anal rape never get old. Oh wait, yes, yes they do. After this is another weak sketch where Dec plays a character called Mr Swaps, an obsessive bread collector who wants a piece of pumpernickel, and gets it in exchange for playdoh. It’s bad, completely lacking in anything even vaguely amusing and god knows who thought it’d be a good idea to include such a thing.
Then we’re back in the Studio where Dec proposes they make an expose of Ant’s time in prison and this leads to a sketch of Ant writing material for their previous BBC show and then being arrested for rudeness. For some bizarre reason Stewart Lee and Richard Herring play the two policemen who interrogate him, it’s not a bad performance by them but why these two great comedians decided they wanted to appear in such a terrible show is beyond me, other than money and exposure, but even then I imagine they weren’t shown the rest of the script for the episode as otherwise surely they’d have turned it down. After this there’s a brief clip of Ant in court with a tape playing of Dec clearly framing Ant, but he doesn’t recognise the voice as presumably at some point he fell down a flight of stairs and was left severely brain damaged.
After the ad break there’s a brief fake advert for Kitten Stilts “For little cats who want to be big cats” which could have been a funny concept if developed further but instead it’s just a bit odd, and even the audience couldn’t be arsed to laugh at it. Then a bunch of professional dancers do a routine which is dull and pointless before Ant and Dec take to the stage once again and introduce a spoof of Flash Gordon, “The Lost Episodes Of Geordie Gordon – Space Blerk”. A Star Wars stye scroll informs us that “Forty years from now in the year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Six, Science will have brought us talking robots, recycled food, inside toilets and motor cars simple enough to be driven by lassies…” which is thankfully booed by a presumably prompted audience. It then continues with “But more extraordinary, it will allow us to fly to the stars to conquer that vast unknown we call Space. And once there we will discover we are not alone…” The first scene features Dec playing “The Merciless Ming-y, emperor of the Planet Ponce” in a very camp manner, with Bella Emberg turning up as a sidekick who declares “Oh you’re so butch” but she doesn’t get any other lines, and was probably grateful for that. Then Ming-y fires a beam which turns northerners posh, much to the horror of Ant and his girlfriend. They run off but she gets hit by the beam, and a voiceover asks “Has Ming-y ponced up Newcastle for ever?”. It’s horrible. Just horrible.
Just as I thought that it surely couldn’t get any worse the final part of the show sees Jean-Pierre Cartier (Mark Heap) as a supposedly famous celebrity guest, who flirts with Ant much to his disgust. Dec asks Ant what’s wrong about Jean-Pierre Cartier and Dec goes “You know, he’s in to fashion” and does a hand gesture to suggest he’s a homosexual. It was this during this scene that I realised why this has never been repeated or released on dvd as presumably Ant and Dec don’t want their homophobic past to be seen by anyone, and it only gets more depressing from here on in as there’s a skit with Dec and Jean-Pierre introducing a fashion show where after Ant’s stint in prison they want to put the “Fashion in to felony” and that it’s “Cross dressing for criminals”. Ant shouts that he’s not going to wear a dress, shrieking “Channel Four can shove it up their Arr….I’ll kill you in a minute son” because yes, the idea of a man wearing a dress is truly so appalling that anyone who suggests it should be murdered. Christ. This fucking show.
After another pointless sketch which is an advert for the “Tool of the Week” where a sexy female voice makes innuendos about a spanner I did think about smashing my laptop up, but as I was so close to the end I managed to resist. In the last couple of minutes Dec finally discovers that it was Ant who was responsible for his stay in prison, and once again murder is on his mind. But instead of doing such a thing we’re given a song and dance number with Ant and Sean Maguire singing “Jailhouse Rock”, with Ant shoving Dec on to the floor. Alas he doesn’t die, but just jumps up and grins cheekily instead. The end.
I was clearly plain stupid back in the nineties as this is not a good show in the slightest and at times it’s actively annoying and offensive. I’ve no idea why I compared it to The Harry Hill Show either as that series was infinitely better, and bar some daft attempts at surrealism and a song at the end they have nothing in common. Somehow Ant and Dec Unzipped won a BAFTA for Best Children’s Entertainment but I can only guess that the only kids who enjoyed it were the ones who didn’t yet understand English, or that the judges were bribed with millions and millions of pounds.
To be fair there were a couple of jokes which briefly amused, but this was only for a second or two, and the rest is often painful to watch, with Ant’s reaction to “The Gay Grahams”, Jean Pierre-Cartier and the “Dropped the Soap” bits being horribly homophobic. There’s lots of annoying screaming from the young audience, unneeded mugging to the camera and terrible jokes which don’t even come close to hitting home. Written by Simon Heath with Marie Finlay, Gary Howe, James Payne Richard Preddy, Dean Wilkinson, Emma Williams and Eddie Braben I’ve no idea how so many people could come together to write something so terrible, but I hope that twenty years on they’re deeply ashamed of their work and spent the rest of their lives making up for it.
You can watch a dodgy taped off the tv with a camcorder version here and here.