What would ITV be without Ant and Dec? Its executives must wake screaming in the early hours from nightmares in which “the nation’s favourite Geordie duo” (source: ITV) and winners of “39 National Television Awards and numerous Baftas” (ITV again) defect to another channel.
Their latest outing was Ant & Dec’s DNA Journey, essentially a rip-off of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? but three times as long. It was entertaining, for the simple reason that it starred Ant and Dec. Their rapport is so effortless, and they bring such warmth and humour to the screen that you happily sit through a programme which doesn’t exactly contain any thrilling revelations.
Ant McPartlin’s great-grandfather was present at the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and survived. “One of the first b-----s in there, and he made it out alive,” McPartlin marvelled.
Declan Donnelly’s great-great-great-grandfather fought in the Crimean War – “five feet six-and-a-half, same as me!” said Donnelly, after reading through the records – but was court martialed three times and imprisoned for habitual drunkenness.
It turned out that McPartlin was related to half of the residents of Drumkeeran, Co Leitrim, and Donnelly’s “DNA cousin” was a wrestling promoter from Dallas called Dixie Carter (“cousin” in this instance meaning they likely share a common ancestor 150 years ago).
All jolly stuff, with the occasional moving moment, as when one of the Drumkeeran ladies sang an Irish ballad that turned out to have been the song played at Donnelly’s father’s funeral. But from the off it felt like part of an ITV brand-building exercise.
The voice-over kept mentioning the pair’s stardom, and referring to them as “the boys” (they are in their mid-40s). And then, in its last half-hour, the episode turned into an exercise in reputation management.
We were told that, just as they were about to go to New York for the second leg of their journey, McPartlin went into rehab; afterwards, as the on-screen text coyly put it, he “went on to take a career break”. Of course, there was no mention of the reason behind that break: a drunk McPartlin got behind the wheel and crashed into two cars, one containing a child.
Instead, we learned that he had taken it as an opportunity to become a better person and to think about how much he loved his best friend. Donnelly said he had worried about having to continue his career alone. Your tolerance for all of this depended on how much you love Ant and Dec. ITV bosses probably have it on repeat.