The Bogeymen: Dick and Dom

The taxman knows them as Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood. TV critics call them the new Ant and Dec. Spluttering MPs in the House of Commons see them as crude, lavatorially fixated corrupters of the nation's children who are flushing the BBC's right to a royal charter down the pan ...
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The Independent Online

If you need a symbol of how Britain has changed in the past 30 years, look no further than the announcement that the BBC is to bring back Ask the Family. That then gentle quiz was axed in 1982 after 15 years of benign questioning from Robert Robinson, who hosted it with the charm of a kindly prep school master eager to hurry his best pupils along with their homework.

If you need a symbol of how Britain has changed in the past 30 years, look no further than the announcement that the BBC is to bring back Ask the Family. That then gentle quiz was axed in 1982 after 15 years of benign questioning from Robert Robinson, who hosted it with the charm of a kindly prep school master eager to hurry his best pupils along with their homework.

When the programme returns to BBC2 in the spring, it will be presented by the two biggest stars of children's television today. Richard McCourt, 28, and Dominic Wood, 27, "Dick and Dom" - are no Robert Robinsons. To get a grasp of their shtick on Dick and Dom in da Bungalow, the live BBC1 Saturday morning show that has made their name, ask Steve Ryde, the programme's producer. How would he sum up its key themes? Ryde beams with pride: "Trumping, bogeys, creamy muck-muck and slapstick."

Poor Robinson, 77, might just know that trumping is playground slang for farting; as for "creamy muck-muck" - custard pies and buckets of gunge - he would be nonplussed.

Safe to say that Dick and Dom's Ask the Family, as the new show is to be styled, will feel rather different this time round, even if the duo alter their act now that grown-ups will be watching. This is the moment Dick and Dom move into mainstream TV. The road from kids' telly to "proper" fame is well trodden. They will be following the likes of Crackerjack's Leslie Crowther, Blue Peter's Valerie Singleton, Philip Schofield, and Ant and Dec, with whom they are inevitably compared.

It has been a busy time for Dick and Dom. In November they picked up two Bafta awards, for best children's presenters and best children's entertainment show. Then a fortnight ago, they notched up another victory of sorts: a mini-furore in the tabloid press when the "lavatorial" nature of their programme was brought up in the House of Commons.

Did the Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell, "think the BBC's claim for a new royal charter is enhanced by a programme such as CBBC's Dick and Dom in da Bungalow," asked the Tory MP Peter Luff. He had seen the programme's website - though not the show itself, of course - and was perturbed to discover photos of children with underwear on their heads, and a game called Bunged Up, in which one plays a character in a sewage system, avoiding turtle poo coming from various lavatories. Luff asked: "Is that really the stuff of public service broadcasting?"

In fact, had the MP actually tuned into the programme, which is aimed at children aged from seven to 12, he would have discovered material far more outré. The most popular slot on the show is called "Bogey", and features the show's presenters going to public places - art galleries, libraries - and taking it in turns to shout the naughty word louder and louder until one of them is too embarrassed to continue. Other items on the show have included Snotty Danglies, Musical Splatues, The All Electric Granny Snog Quiz and Push Plop Protein. The programme's website includes a recipe for "magic bogey mix" - "trick your family into thinking there are bogeys all over the house!"

The MP might then have turned his mind to Dick and Dom's passion for innuendo. A few weeks ago, Wood was censured by the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom for wearing a T-shirt on air with the slogan "Morning Wood", deemed by the organisation to be more than a reference to the time of day and to his surname. And there are doubtless sociology students up and down the land - you guessed, the show is a big hit with undergraduates - analysing the etymological significance of regular references in the show to a game called "Make Dick Sick" and to "Dick's creamy yuck-yuck". Yet pointing out these facts might be doing the show a disservice. The feel of the programme, a riotous game show with sketches and a lot of flying gunge, is somewhere between Chris Tarrant's celebrated Tiswas and Ed "Stewpot" Stewart's Crackerjack.

There are other influences too. "Their humour has been described as lavatorial," concedes Paul Smith, head of on-air at CBBC, the corporation's digital channel for children. "But Britain has a proud tradition of that: when you see Carry On at Your Convenience, it is not that far from what Dick and Dom do."

It was Smith who brought the two together a few years ago, at a time when their solo careers showed every sign of stalling. "It is a terrible thing to say, but individually they are competent presenters but they are not exciting." Together, they are "completely unpredictable and mad".

They come from markedly different social backgrounds. McCourt grew up in working class Sheffield, where his father worked in the building trade. He struggled at the local comprehensive, because of late-diagnosed dyslexia and playground bullies. "They'd pull and push me around, spit on me. I even had jip from girls," McCourt has said. "It brings you down. I was scared to walk the streets." He saw his escape, even then, in broadcasting and went off to join the local hospital radio station. Eventually he was spotted by the BBC - oddly, as a result of an unidentified appearance in the background of another wannabe's showreel.

Wood's upbringing was less challenging - the son of a gynaecologist and a therapist, he attended King's College, Taunton, where he is remembered as a lad fizzing with enthusiasm. "He was a very strong character, not at all self-conscious," recalls Sam Anstice Brown, who gave him drumming lessons there. "Everything seems to go at 100mph with Dominic. It is like having a firework in the room." Brown introduced the young lad to conjuring. "He was absolutely captivated by magic. He had the full kit - the doves, everything - he did it absolutely properly. He went the whole hog short of cutting people in half." Shortly afterwards, Wood, not a young man to do things by half, won the Young Magician of the Year title.

On screen, the chemistry appears to flow. Unlike Ant and Dec, who began on CBBC's drama series Byker Grove, Dick and Dom's skill is improvisation. They work best without scripts. "Dom says that Richard reminds him of a young Rik Mayall, that real energy of The Young Ones," says Smith, who encouraged the pair to settle permanently in London and virtually ordered them to get a flat together. (They no longer live in the same place, but remain great friends.) Their first joint project, Bring it On (with Dick and Dom), was considered enough of a success to give them the high-profile TV slot which in previous generations went to Noel Edmonds's Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Mike Read's Saturday Superstore - and more recently, on ITV, to Ant and Dec. Yet although it seems that they could be about to encounter the type of stop-in-the-street fame accorded to the former Byker Grove pair, neither Dick nor Dom seems obsessed with the idea of being a "star". They do not spend their free time socialising with other performers. "They are ordinary guys, not much interested in showbiz," says Smith. McCourt is less outgoing than his partner, though Wood, too, is "serious and analytical" when the cameras are off.

And they are in no headlong rush for fame. "They were only saying to me the other day that they are very happy if the thing takes time. They know that even though they have been doing this a while, they have still got stuff to learn," says Smith. "But they will take it if it happens."

It most likely will. Television executives are in the mood for recycling. They are scared to kill old brands off completely - (watch their halfhearted attempts to dump Top of the Pops, removed from BBC1 but denied full blown euthanasia) - and love disinterring the old ones they grew up with. If Come Dancing can become Strictly Come Dancing, and become a cult success in the process, why ever should Dick and Dom's Ask the Family not prosper?