Ant and Dec: Onwards and upwards despite a scandalous fraud
In the television industry, a look of awe comes over the faces of executives when you mention the names of Ant and Dec. It is not the pair's undoubted appeal that impresses the bureaucrats. Although a few still relish the story of how the BBC let them go to ITV a decade ago after the mad belief that their popularity was on the decline overcame a light-entertainment grandee, most now take Anthony McPartlin's and Declan Donnelly's mastery of the medium for granted. Everyone agrees that they are the best performers since Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. In the opinion of their colleagues — if not your critic — they are better because they can present game shows, talent competitions and organise jokey stunts, as well as perform standard comedy routines.
No, what provokes wonder is how the apparently loveable pair of cheeky Geordies got away with ripping off their audience without their audience caring.
The great TV scandal of our time is meant to be Jonathan Ross bragging to Andrew Sachs about how Russell Brand had made love to his granddaughter as Brand sang down the line:
"I'd like to apologise for these terrible attacks, Andrew Sachs.
I'd like to show contrition to the max, Andrew Sachs.
I'd like to create world peace, between the yellow, whites and blacks Andrew Sachs, Andrew Sachs.
I said some things I didn't of oughta, like I had sex with your granddaughter.
But it was consensual and she wasn't menstrual..."
True, Ross got away with it and hung on to his job, but the BBC still suffered. Public protests forced the controller of Radio 2 to resign, and the affair began a small but in my view important taxpayers' revolt against the licence fee. Until Brand and Ross opened their mouths, the TV licence was one of those features of British public life which made no sense in theory but were accepted in practice. The prospect of a principled refusal to pay, if only by a few hundred people, willing to go court and accept the consequences of civil disobedience, will undermine the corporation's legitimacy more effectively than all the splutterings of right-wing commentators.
Yet there is no revolt or protest against Ant and Dec. They will dominate the ITV schedules as we move towards Christmas, even though the scam they fronted was not directed against one man and his granddaughter but against thousands of gullible viewers who took their bonhomie as evidence of the honesty of their shows.