ITV’s opening night included a variety show featuring entertainers such as Hughie Green and Harry Secombe and the channel has kept variety at it’s heart ever since. In the early days the network was dominated by cigar smoking theatrical agents and impresarios who used the new channel as an outlet for their acts. Then variety died. Sort of. Singers, comedians and other variety acts have always had a home at ITV, it’s just been updated and now involves big crosses and buzzers. And Ant and Dec. Everything on ITV must have Ant and Dec. It’s the law.
We now have a new series dedicated the most divisive of variety acts, magic, with The Next Great Magician. Magicians are a bit like European footballers. You are really impressed by their skill but hate the smarmy way they go about it. They are also a strange breed. If stand up comedians are (allegedly) all insecure types who just want them people to like them, so become the clowns of the party by cracking gags, then magicians appear to be insecure types who just want people to like them, but go to the trouble of preparing for a party by carrying a pack of cards, having a coin lodged in an unmentionable place and stuffing a dove in their jacket pocket.
ITV has a natural affinity with magic because of Stephen Mulhern. If Ant and Dec are the kings on a £30million golden handcuff with ITV, then Stephen appears to be the knave attached to the network by a slightly less impressive silver piece of rope, which presumably he can fold over, cut and then make whole again. He was joined by Rochelle Humes who seems to be the networks new Holly Willoughby (who began her ITV career with Stephen Mulhern on Ministry of Mayhem. I wonder if he is on commission?). The Next Great Magician’s mission is to…errrr…find the next great magician I guess. Magicians appear to fall into a number of types:
- The appear and disappear type – the show stared with a Magus Utopia who looked like rejects from Rocky Horror.
- Close up magic – in this case a card trick performed for Carlton from Downton by a smug man in a bowtie.
- Novelty acts – a quick change act by a man in a giant balloon.
- The double act –a couple from Aberdeen doing a (literally) stomach churning re-versioning of Paul Daniels trick with the kettle which supplies drinks.
- The mind reader – Derren Brown has elevated this to an extraordinary level, but Katherine Mills had a fantastic twist.
- The one that uses technology – Hun Lee updating slight of hand by doing it backwards.
The problem is that all of the tricks were great and you were left with the “how did they do that?” moment, it’s just that some of the staging still felt more 1916 instead of 2016 or the acts are trying to put a modern spin on an old trick. If you have ever the seen Christopher Nolan film The Prestige, then you get an idea of how far magicians will go for their art, but also the elements that structure an illusion. They are being theatrical for a reason, to hide the trick. I just wonder if we need some genuinely new tricks. But not David Blaine. Please, no, not him.
One thing that wasn’t featured on ITV’s opening night was celebrities eating kangaroos penises. Hard to believe, but this now the new norm. On paper, I’m A Celebrity, Get Me out of Here is cruel, vindictive, voyeuristic viewing. In reality, it is still one of the TV highlights of the year (with one of the worst titles of any show ever. Actually, when we are on the subject, I’ve never been happy with Strictly Come Dancing’s title either. Nothing wrong with the show, but the name is an unholy coupling of a camp Baz Luhrmann film about ballroom dancing (Strictly Ballroom) and a good old fashioned ballroom competition (Come Dancing). I suppose what I find weird is the majority of older generation who love this programme have probably never heard of, never mind seen, the Baz Luhrmann film, yet they happily accept the title. I guess if the same formula was applied to I’m a Celebrity, you would need to take a classic film about survival in a hostile environment, with a classic reality show, which basically gives you Celebrity Big Brother Deliverance. Hmmm, perhaps that’s why they went with I’m a Celebrity. As you were).
Celebrity, as it’s abbreviated to for the texting generation, is one of the vehicles for £30million pint size Geordies Ant and Dec. They may only be on screen for approx. 12 minutes in every hour, but they are worth it. (Easy for me to say, I don’t have to pay their salary). The show is now into it’s 13th year (Yes I know…where did the time go?) and it’s pretty much more of the same. Like Big Brother (when it was worth watching on Channel 4), each season waxes and wanes depending on the personalities. Last year we were introduced to Lady Colin Campbell (come on, honestly, had you heard of her before then? Thought so). She split the camp and the nation with her outrageous behaviour and bizarre accent. This year it is very different. They all like each other.
Now some people think this year is boring as its all a bit of love in, but I like it. People aren’t voting for Scarlett Moffatt to do the bush ticker trials because they hate her, but because she is genuinely very, very funny (as any Gogglebox viewer already knows). In fact, until Danny Baker came into the jungle, she was my favourite to win. Her….or Larry Lamb…or Carol Vorderman. No, I’m sticking with my gut instinct of this, Scarlett to win. Thinking about it, a gobby Geordie won it last year (Vicky Patterson) and Ant and Dec have just signed for another 3 years. If Jimmy Nail wins it next year, we know it’s a stitch up.