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Dick & Dom In Da Bungalow
© 2002-2006 BBC


Here come the bogeymen
By janice turner - February 26, 2005

Their TV show thrills its young audience, but outrages MPs and mothers alike. But for all the gunge-chucking and risqué wordplay, Dick and Dom are serious about what they do.

It is 8.51am and Kate is a bit too quiet. She and her five schoolfriends from Newark huddle together nervously in a Day-Glo painted dugout with a mound of prawn cocktail crisps, Coke cans, tubes of Jaffa Cakes and a vat of Haribos. “Anyone want some sweets?” the pretty researcher asks often and insistently.

But the 11-year-olds, ignoring all attempts to sugar-rush them into more visible excitement, just pick at grapes and chew their fingers. In nine minutes, Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow will be transmitted live to around a million viewers on BBC One and CBBC. A few feet from the children - or “Da Bungalowheads” as they will be known this Saturday - a student rag week appears to have seized control of a television studio. Dressed-down, hungover-looking crew wrestle with cameras while talking about the previous night - “and we ended up at a party with Abi Titmuss...” - while others position comedy objects on the set, a living room decorated in swirling Seventies kitsch, all purple carpet and eye-bleeding wallpaper.

A man dressed as a bat loiters with today’s celebrity guests, Keith Harris and Orville. As the floor manager, TJ, calls, “Two minutes to air”, the show’s stars are in the studio kitchen. Dom (Dominic Wood) is making himself a cup of tea; Dick (Richard McCourt), wearing a curly blond wig, is gasping at a final fag, bringing to mind, perhaps somewhat unfairly, Krusty, The Simpsons’ cynical, chain-smoking clown.

But “the boys”, as everyone calls them, have reason to be tense. The two-hour show is almost as chaotic as it looks. With no script or Autocue, just a running order, it is held together only by Dick and Dom’s talent for syncopated comic riffs as they respond to whatever is thrown at them - a child’s off-hand remark or a bucket of custard. Indeed, the production team often ratchet up the spontaneity by surprising the duo: they once had a brass band march through the set and, on another occasion, secretly shipped in the pair’s old teachers and girlfriends for a This is Your Life pastiche.

This kind of Saturday-morning, seat-of-your-pants TV has provided a rigorous training camp for generations of presenters. And Dick and Dom, just like Noel Edmonds, Lenny Henry, Chris Tarrant, Phillip Schofield and Ant and Dec before them, look certain to graduate into proper grown-up television with its accompanying household fame.

This spring on BBC Two, they will present a modern revival of Ask the Family, that fondly remembered Seventies battle of the nerds, while a growing reputation for risqué jokes is already expanding their adult fanbase. In 2003, Dom was censured by Ofcom for appearing in a T-shirt with the slogan “Morning Wood” emblazoned on the front, a reference to his surname, he insisted, not a state of male arousal. And in January, Conservative MP Peter Luff berated Dick and Dom in Parliament. “You can join me in playing How Low Can You Bungalow?” he said, picking out items such as Pants Dancers(featuring children with underwear on their heads) or Bunged Up(a game involving turtles popping out of toilets) for special opprobrium: “Is that really the stuff of public service broadcasting?”

Yet the show does serve one sector of the public: eight to 12-year-olds who appreciate the comic qualities of bums, poo, snot and farts. Dick and Dom is, loosely, a game show of silly slapstick competitions run over the weekend: the premise being that the kids have a mad sleepover in Da Bungalow, then appear on the Sunday show. In fact - to my younger son’s utter disillusionment - Sunday is pre-recorded on Saturday afternoon, so cast and crew don’t have to work Sundays with Da Hangovers.

This is the BBC’s biggest children’s TV hit since Live & Kicking a decade ago. Dick and Dom’s success lies in appealing beyond their target age range, throwing in double entendres, which will (hopefully) whizz over a ten-year-old’s head but win sniggers from dads or older siblings. But not mothers, it seems. As Dom tells me later, “Mums hate us, they switch us off.”

Sure enough, during The Yum Yum Game, in which children must catch green “muck-muck” (cold mash and mushy peas) hurled by dinner ladies dressed as witches, then eat it, gagging, I have to look away. I catch the eye of Kathryn, the children’s BBC chaperone, and several other women. I sense we’re all thinking appalled thoughts: “What a waste of food!” and “Look at the mess!” Switch over to Dick and Dom’s ITV rival, Ministry of Mayhem, however, and the pair suddenly seem very wholesome. While MOM, with its celeb interviews and fashion tips, addresses children as mini-consumers, in Da Bungalow they are just children, enjoying a timeless, innocent silliness. It costs nothing, after all, to dance in your pants. “You don’t have to be cool and trendy to be in our club,” says producer Steve Ryde, “just a kid having fun.” As the show breaks for a cartoon, Kathryn swabs the children down. Whether it’s the adrenalin of live TV or just the E-numbers kicking in, by the time they are briefed for Do You Know Them Or Snot? the Bungalowheads are beginning to enjoy themselves. In this game, each child must identify the voice of a family member or be plunged into a tub of green slime. “Please don’t flick gunge at Orville,” warns TJ. “Keith Harris won’t like it.”

After failing to recognise her auntie, Jasmin faces the gunge: “It’s cold!” she moans. “I don’t care if it’s cold,” cries Dick. “Get in!” The pair have found a tone that children appreciate, neither condescending nor overly nice; although backstage they are delightful to the terrified Bungalowheads, on-screen they screw up kids’ e-mails if they’re boring and make fun of their names. Although Dick and Dom are 28 and 27 respectively, their screen personae are not adult. Rather, they are irresponsible teenage big brothers encouraging younger siblings to wreak havoc on the grown-up world.

They had to stop their notorious Bogies game, which involved competing to see who could yell the word loudest in a quiet public space, after it disrupted the nation’s libraries. It’s been replaced by an equally silly item in which they slap stickers of their own gurning faces on to the backs of unsuspecting passers-by. Accompanied by a faux sports commentary, it is laugh-out-loud funny. After Peter Luff’s favourite, Pants Dance, and after Dom has broken the actual world record for putting on the most pairs of said undergarments - 16 - in a minute, it is time for the grand slapstick finale. This week’s is an elaborate Western tableau involving a dozen extras dressed as cowboys and showgirls hurling gallons of custard, or “creamy muck-muck”. As the credits roll, Dick and Dom crawl out of a yellow puddle looking utterly spent. But this is only half-time. Once they and Da Bungalowheads have cleaned up and the heroic cleaners have shovelled custard from the carpet, all must gee themselves up again to record Sunday’s two-hour show.

Half an hour later, showered but with their ears still encrusted with custard, Dick and Dom are like frazzled children after a particularly manic birthday party. They are small - Dom is 5ft 4in, Dick 5ft 8in - and, like many screen stars, their heads appear too large for their bodies. But they have an undeniable starry gloss. Dom with his bright eyes and pointy features, like a newly painted marionette, is the more driven and analytical, often answering for Dick, who is almost catatonic from exhaustion. Dick, or Rich as he is known off the set, has the more even good looks, but is less outgoing and, judging from the serious smoking and the fact that he likes to meditate to a relaxation CD, finds the stress more taxing. As we chat, they segue into each other’s answers just as they do on TV.

“You couldn’t do a live unscripted show unless there was a telepathy between you,” says Dom. “We know what each other is going to say, we can judge each other’s moods. I know what he’s thinking right now.” Dick turns to him with dark-ringed eyes: “What’s that then?” “Cheese and pickle sandwich and a nice sleep,” Dom replies. Dick nods wearily. Their friendship began when they met, both aged 19, as the youngest employees of CBBC. Each grew up - Dom in Exeter, Dick in Sheffield - with the very specific ambition of becoming a BBC children’s presenter. Like Phillip Schofield and Anthea Turner before them, aged 11 they used family camcorders to make showreels of themselves presenting in their bedrooms, bombarding the BBC with CVs and letters. I ask Dom if he ever feared he might fail: “There was no question of that.”

Although Dom (father a doctor) went to the private King’s College, Taunton, and Dick (father a construction engineer) to Tapton Comprehensive, both had a tough time at school. Dom’s three older brothers were in the A-stream, while he struggled in D-set. The cause, severe dyslexia, was not diagnosed until he was 15.

Yet, like fellow dyslexic Jamie Oliver, Dom has phenomenal drive to prove he is no loser. After watching a teacher make a pencil disappear, he became obsessed with magic and, in 1995, won Young Magician of the Year. He has written six books on the subject - one of which got him kicked out of the Magic Circle - remarkable for someone who claims only to have read one book in his life, Paul Daniels’ autobiography.

Dick, meanwhile, was dealing with rough South Yorkshire classmates and mocking teachers who laughed at his unlikely dream. Aged 12, he began presenting a show on Sheffield Children’s Hospital radio, studied drama and performed in local pantos until, aged 18, along with Dom, he was finally beamed up by the BBC mothership. The pair found a flat, just off the thunderous Hangar Lane gyratory system, which they shared for five years. “It was one big party house,” says Dick. “Carpets were wrecked, sofas had burst cushions from us jumping on them. It stank.” It sounds rather a prototype Bungalow, and the pair agree that they are now making exactly the show they would have worshipped back then. Since they have always seen their lives through a lens, it is little wonder they are so natural on screen. And this facility to play oneself - albeit a slightly intensified version - is hugely lucrative.

But Dick and Dom are in no rush to follow Ant and Dec, with whom they are inevitably compared, from grungey Saturday morning to sharp-suited Saturday night. “We don’t want to go in that direction,” says Dom. “We want to stay a bit more left-field, a bit more like Vic and Bob or The Young Ones.”

But the kings of early-morning rap and riff can irritate later in the day, as Johnny Vaughan has shown. And Dick and Dom are wary about Ask the Family being overhyped as the BBC’s secret weapon against The Simpsons on Channel 4. “We’re going to try new things out which may not work,” Dom says cautiously. In any case, neither wants to stay in TV for ever. They are putting money away to get out as soon as they can. Both are building property portfolios. Richard plans to open a restaurant and Dom hopes to become a property magnate, although one can imagine him following Nineties kids’ presenter Andi Peters into programme-making. They are wary, too, of the celebrity circus. “For some people in our situation, their main aim is to be as famous as possible,” says Dick. “Our morals are different.”

The pair claim to abhor media parties, and hang out at friends’ houses where they are unlikely to be snapped staggering out, wasted - a huge bear-trap for children’s presenters. “Rich is single [a long-term relationship ended last year], so he parties a bit more with his mates. But I’m very boring. I go home to my fiancée and cats and just have a bottle of wine,” says Dom, whose girlfriend, Sandi, is a former singer with the band All Stars, but is now “preparing to make me a proud dad”. Driven, resourceful, prudent and moral, with deep-rooted family values, Dick and Dom are almost shockingly conventional. Scrape off the creamy muck-muck and you might find that Tory MPs, along with disgusted British mothers, would adore them.

Here come the bogeymen