Animal magic

Dale Winton, the cult TV quizmaster in the fine tradition of British campery, is suddenly very popular. Now everyone wants him to front their kitsch comedy format. James Rampton dodges the innuendoes

Three praying mantises are racing up artificial trees, and the studio audience at BBC TV Centre is going wild cheering on these distinctly unprepossessing elongated grasshoppers. Stopping her whooping for a moment, the woman sitting next to me turns to say: "It's tragic. The English love anything that's got animals in it doing anything idiotic. The English middle and upper classes have always treated their pets better than their servants, haven't they? This is just an extension of that. It's kitsch and eccentric and totally English."

She is, of course, talking about Pets Win Prizes, the recording of which we are privileged to witness. Cited by some as incontrovertible evidence of BBC1's headlong plunge downmarket, the show certainly has no intellectual pretensions. Nevertheless, it works well on its own terms. Viewers obviously agree: one episode in the first series, fronted by Danny Baker, caged more than seven and a half million in the ratings.

The secret of its success is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. To that end, the programme-makers have secured exactly the right presenter for the second series: Dale Winton. The words "camp cult" could have been invented for the man best known as the host of the students' favourite, Supermarket Sweep.

Unwinding over tea and Peter Stuyvesants at his agent's swish offices a few days after the recording, Winton assesses his own appeal. "I believe there's a huge gap in the market at the moment. I'd never consider myself to be in the same class as Kenneth Williams, Larry Grayson or Frankie Howerd, because they were genuine comics, but the one thing we have in common is a campness, a predilection for the innuendo, which I think is something very British. In any other part of the world, it's just smut... It's like the Carry On films. You think, `Oh, that was awful - but it was funny'. The English public always like to think of themselves as eccentric - `Oh, I'm a real laugh, I am, I'm crazy, me'. Only the English would produce Pets."

His predilection for innuendo comes spurting out all over at the recording of Pets. Backed by a fairground-style set of candy-striped tents and gaudy signs, Winton encourages an old woman to tell an anecdote about her sheep's boisterousness - "I've been tossed twice from behind" - and introduces us to "three owners who have got crabs... hermit crabs, that is". When he has to do a retake interacting with the sheep, he sighs: "I feel I'm turning into Julian Clary".

As charmingly effusive off-screen as on (he sprays "darlings" around like they're going out of fashion), Winton's principal asset is his ability to send himself up. He won't discuss his sexuality, but he doesn't mind jokes about it. "Yesterday we had a call from Have I Got News For You," Winton says. "They'd got this gag about me they wanted to use. It was Angus Deayton saying, `American scientists have genetically created gay flies. Apparently, a swarm of them are now gathering outside Dale Winton's dressing-room'. I laughed, so I said, `Oh, it's fine', because the worst thing you can have is Angus Deayton saying, `We did have this gag about Dale Winton, but he wouldn't let us use it'. I've got no business being precious about this because it's a mark of recognition, and people will make up their own minds."

A self-confessed game-show junkie, Winton auditioned for Hughie Greene's The Sky's the Limit at the age of 14. After spells in print journalism (a local paper in Lincolnshire) and local radio (including the United Biscuits Industrial Radio Station), this self-styled "North London Jewish boy" achieved his childhood dream when he landed the presenter's job on ITV's daytime quiz show, Supermarket Sweep, in 1993. He was not an instant hit. "The press were merciless," he recalls, "they said, `Don't stand too close to the vegetables, Dale. We won't be able to see the difference'." But slow-burningly he attained cult status.

Now Winton intends to consolidate his position as a game-show host rather than make ill-advised excursions into other genres - anyone remember Bruce Forsyth in the dire sitcom, Tripper's Day? "I have to be me," Winton reflects. "I can't be anything else. I'm not good for very much. I can stand there and ask a few questions and just have a giggle with the contestants - some say that's a talent in itself - but I'd never push my limit."

After a summer fronting The Weekend Show, Supermarket Sweep and Just a Minute as well as Pets Win Prizes, Winton will be aiming to lower his profile. "You've got to be careful, because you can go through the usual phases: `Who's Dale Winton?... We like Dale Winton... We must have Dale Winton... We must have someone like Dale Winton... We don't want anybody like Dale Winton... We never want to see Dale Winton again'. I'm very much aware of over-exposure."

Like all the best TV stars, however, he has already worked out his own epitaph: "You could accuse me of being a serial killer, but just say, `He had a lot of class and he was never fat'."

`Pets Win Prizes' starts Sat 5.50pm BBC1

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
Arts and Entertainment

Grace Dent on TV

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us