Today with Des and Mel
Friday, January 28, 2005 by Lee Madge
There is something of a guilty pleasure to be found in watching Today With Des and Mel for the casual viewer.
When happening to chance upon it whilst flicking through the channels, there is a magnetism that can spark a hypnotic gaze to this unlikely pairing. It may be something to do with the combination of their individual skin tones. The natural olive complexion of the statuesque Melanie Sykes, adjacent to O’Connor’s fake tan orange, appears to very compatible. It could also be, despite the 40-year age gap, that there is a definite sexual chemistry between the two.
Never has the phrase “TV husband and wife” been more apt, such is the nature of their on-screen relationship. This is no accident, of course. The couple’s opening banter – after they have made their entrance, as if they were attending a sophisticated evening soirée, holding hands – always ends with Des asking cheekily of Mel, “shall we do it?”
The “it” that they “do”, thankfully for the new teatime audience, is nothing more than an hour of lightweight yin to Richard and Judy’s tiresome yang. There is even confusion evident amongst the younger viewers, it seems, to the state of their relationship. Once sat down, at the strategically cluttered desk, a letter from an eight-year old girl, is read out. It is revealed that the youngster is devastated the pair are not married, but still thinks that they are the best couple on the box. The person responsible for matching Des and Mel, as a duo with all their cheeky banter and cheesy grins, can sleep soundly in the knowledge, that they have found a workable TV commodity.
The usual array of guests found perching on the awkwardly high stool, designed presumably to ensure they don’t get too comfortable, are of the caliber suited to the Heat generation: C-listers, soap actors and chicken-in-a-basket comedians are wheeled out to answer an array of pre-rehearsed questions to provoke their best anecdotes, which merely fill in the gaps between the gold nuggets of nonsense that the show’s hosts have made their own. But today we are promised a special edition. Bona fide guests are actually appearing here, who have earned their celebrity status with work of some cultural merit. Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin are on the show, and Des is wetting himself at the prospect, despite the lukewarm reception the announcement is given by the studio audience.
That’s for later though, first there are the quirky stories from the tabloids to be read out and the gifts sent in by viewers to be chuckled at. Today’s items were sent by the eight-year-old who queried Des and Mel’s marital status and are crude (and frankly scary), papier maché puppets of the presenters. The frightening nature of these dolls are sidestepped and treated with professional grace, given the “aaah, aren’t they cute” angle instead. The paper review then reveals it’s “national kazoo day”, giving an excuse for our ever so humble hosts to play a rough and ready rendition of When The Saints Go Marching In on the plastic instruments. Des giggles inanely as Des does, and Mel is embarrassed. We only know this because she tells us she feels she is blushing; yet the rosy glow has not penetrated her dusky skin. Could this display reveal what it actually would be like were they to have sex? Des chuckling uncontrollably whilst Mel remains clearly mortified by the whole affair.
Part two begins with the introduction of a new female singer from Norway, Deeyah. Her interview reveals that Darin Prindle, who has worked with Madonna, has produced her new record. This is evident when she sings her new single, Plan Of My Own which has all the production hallmarks of a Madge record, minus the style and talent, sadly. As she writhes in a way that most probably she considers seductive, her vest top boldly bears the slogan “Remember My Name …” Her long black hair cascades over the back of her top obscuring the tagline to her request. We can only assume it reads “… because you’ll forget my song in an instant”.
Next up is comedian Ed Byrne, here to promote his 60-date tour. Byrne, a mildly amusing man, clearly in his 30s, yet still dressing as a student, bizarrely has our Mel in hysterics with his observational “wit”. Eager to crowbar in small chunks of his act in response to the questions posed, he speaks so fast a lot of it sounds garbled and unintelligible. The only joke that made the grade was his besmirch of the anti-smoking brigade: “They say that each cigarette I smoke takes five minutes off my life. I also know that each cigarette I have takes 10 minutes to smoke, so I grab myself an extra five minutes there.” He’s no Bill Hicks, but he’ll do for this show, and it’s demographic.
The details of the tour he’s promoting are announced, before it’s competition time. “Spin a Winner” offers the viewer the chance to win a big cash prize by coming up with five words related to a particular subject. Today’s caller breezes through the subject, winning herself £500. She then gets the chance to double, treble or even go for the jackpot of £20,000, dependent on the spin of the wheel and an extra optional question. Ed Byrne gets to extend his role from guest to dolly bird and spins the device. He hits double money, but it is all in vain, as the contestant, decides to take the money she has already won. The sheen of her prize is undermined as they reveal the easy question whilst the caller is still on the line; “What is the name of the elephant that packed her trunk and ran away to the circus?” The hosts eagerly trailing their “special” guests coming up after the break, to spare her further humiliation, muffling the sound of obvious disappointment.
In the final part, there is just time to fit in more of that pointless, cheeky banter before the special duo are introduced. This means more nonsense taken from the day’s papers, including one story which revealed women from the southeast are attracted to men who are good at DIY. “Do you agree with that Mel?” enquires the orange one, clearly ignoring the fact that the woman he is asking is from the northwest. “Well it’s not a criteria I look for in a man, being good with a, err … a spanner?” she splutters, unable to contain a fit of giggles, at the potential blunder she managed to thwart. Des, ever the master of the single entendre, takes it further, offering, “it’s a good job you didn’t say ‘tools’ there, Mel.” No need, Des, you just did.
The theme to Monty Python’s Flying Circus heralds the arrival of Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin. The latter is familiar these days, as a TV traveller, but you can almost hear the viewers shouting, “who is that Meatloaf look-alike with him?” Gilliam, of course spent a lot of his time behind the scenes in the Python days doing the animation, and now still shields himself from public gaze as an acclaimed director. They are here to promote a new live Python show, just opened in the West End. We are not left licking our lips in anticipation for long as it is revealed the effort is staged by a French troupe who are performing classic sketches from the series in their native tongue, with subtitles for English theatre-goers. Whilst both Palin and Gilliam are obviously eager to enthuse on this, even cross-talking in the process, Des is keen to speak about Palin’s travelogues and classic Python sketches. Mel, on occasions when faced with anyone who is not a soap or pop star, opts for the simple questions. “What is your favourite Monty Python sketch?” she asks, rather neatly, as Palin answers the “fish-slapping sketch”, which by TV magic is cued up and ready to play. Time has been good to the skit, which is still very funny. The fact that Palin reveals after, that he almost died in the making of it due to the dropping of the water level at the lock it was filmed, is hastily covered up as the end of the show approaches.
Des and Mel, or at least the production team, wish to prove what “special” guests they were, by offering gifts. Palin is awarded an action figure of his character from The Holy Grail, which he no doubt has an attic full of, and Gilliam is presented with a novelty pair of slippers, with which he looks as bemused as we are.
As the credits roll across the screen, Monday’s guests are revealed. It is a roll call of the usual bunch of has-beens, never-has-beens and never-heard-ofs. Normal service will be resumed, in other words.
Today With Des and Mel is great as chewing gum for the eyes, as you tuck into your beans on toast. When faced with anyone with more than an ounce of substance, such as Palin and Gilliam, it has the same effect as having Swan Lake performed in the interval at a bingo hall. As a result, the show is at its peak when it doesn’t stray from the C-list for guests. Anything above that and suddenly everyone’s a bit embarrassed and out of their depth.