h&p@bbc. (BBC1, 1999)
One of my most viewed pieces within the past year has been my review of comedy sketch show Hale And Pace, so I thought I would take a look at what Gareth Hale and Norman Pace did next, because it is a rather interesting story. By the late-90s, Hale And Pace had been running for a decade on ITV (along with a spin-off sitcom on Channel 4), and, fancying a change, they decided to move to the BBC, where they would make three TV series.
Firstly, in 1997 there was Jobs For The Boys, where they had to take on various challenges, including being advert directors or sport commentators, but this wasn’t a comedy show. Then in 1998 there was Oddbods, a just about dialogue-free sitcom where they played two quirky characters, although there were only two 20-minute episodes, one shown quietly on a Bank Holiday, the other in a post-Christmas slot. And in 1999 there was this one, which was going to be their main show for the BBC.
It was going to be rather a move away from their famous bad-taste sketch show, this was going to be an attempt at doing a more general entertainment show, featuring celebrities, games, and stunts. If it did well, maybe it could replace Noel’s House Party in the schedule that had ended only a month earlier. Could they succeed? (I could only find one trail for the show online, but that’s more than enough really, and I do remember watching at the time).
The first problem with the show was the title. h&p@bbc. might sound clever but it looked ridiculous, and it was neither a proper email address or website address, so that’s a good start. Then there was the opening sequence where Hale and Pace went around in the BBC1 balloon symbol, which had been around for about 18 months by this time, and this was about a year after every other show had already made that joke.
They would then run on stage to introduce a sloppily-edited jumble of features. This included Celebrity Quiz, where three celebrities were asked various questions, although they were hardly A-list (unless you consider Jono Coleman to be an A-list star, maybe you do). They were assisted in this part by Renfield The Butler, although it was rather unclear what his role was, and a winner wasn’t even announced.
The studio audience also got involved, including playing a game where they had to identify things with their head underwater, and Screen Test, where they would recreate famous films. In a pre-recorded feature the lads went around the country meeting people, playing games, and generally being a pain. And there was a parody of Stars In Their Eyes called Stars With Smoke In Their Eyes, where celebrities would be transformed into rather unlikely pop stars, such as Kriss Akabusi becoming Diana Ross (this was before the actual show descended into endless celebrity specials).
The combination of all this went down very badly with viewers and critics, unfortunately Hale and Pace’s act had totally run out of steam, and every edition seemed to be scheduled later than the previous one, with the sixth and final one being not too far off a post-midnight slot, not exactly where you’d expect a family variety show to be. Hale and Pace haven’t had another TV series since, although they are still round, and Hale went on to star in Channel 5’s super soap Family Affairs, so all was not lost I suppose.