When Bill Nighy’s jaded popstar character Billy Mack addressed Declan Donnelly as “Ant or Dec” in the 2003 film Love, Actually he gave the Richard Curtis goo-fest one of its best moments.
One reason his joke worked is the fact we all recognised his dilemma: Ant and Dec are two of the best-known entertainers in Britain and yet quite a lot of us don’t know which one is which.
We all knew that Eric Morecambe was the big one with glasses and the sense of humour (only kidding, I love Ernie). We can all tell Dudley Moore and Peter Cook apart. Or French and Saunders. I could go on. But when it comes to Ant and Dec – their identities are merged, and they are so much of a duo that it is hard to imagine them operating independently. No wonder Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs broke with decades of tradition and had them on together.
And that is probably the key to their success. They are a unit, the epitome of good, honest male friendship. You could never imagine them having a row or falling out. But at the same time, they seem believable. There’s nothing fake or confected about their friendship.
But is that it?
No, my friend, it is not.
On the day that Saturday Night Takeaway returns we at RadioTimes.com are sure there is more to it. What are the five keys to Ant and Dec? What are the reasons they are who there are (by which we mean perennial winners of the National Television Awards best entertainer prize 14 years in a row)? And why are they probably the most-loved double act working in UK TV today?
They are funny…
Yes, they are the kings of shiny floor shows because they have talent. They deliver good material with impeccable timing. As this clip shows. Turning a potentially embarrassing moment on Britain’s Got Talent in which a contestant painted a picture of the pair on his buttocks, Ant turned the tables with a mixture of good humour and some superb timing. Where is the buttock artist now?
They are mates….
They are really genuinely very good friends and as anyone who knows anything about TV will tell you, actually they live next door to each other. Their bromance goes as far back to Ant’s first appearance as PJ in Byker Grove and the moment he met Duncan. In fact they love each other so much that they couldn’t avoid kissing on the show. That’s right. Check it out here:
They appeal to all ages…
A key component of their Saturday night alchemy is their appeal to young and old. There is something about their particular style – cheeky but not rude, youthful and energetic but nice with it – that works on many different levels and sees them appeal to all kinds of people of all ages. On SM:tv LIVE, their much loved Saturday morning zoo show, they spoke to children, not as children bit with the same kind of cheeky irreverence they would to anyone. Kids love that kind of thing.
Simon Cowell said they often get angry with him for turning up late. And they have done this all their careers. Look at this montage containing just a fraction of their output over the last quarter of a century. Yes, they made the record Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble, but we must be forgiving (although only people with their charms could probably have made such an awful record a number one). Our point is: they are versatile, they haven’t flagged once in over a quarter of a century. Impressive.
They’re clean cut…
You won’ t be getting any scandal from these two, no turning up at an awards ceremony and embarrassing themselves. They are professional and reliable… and that’s why they’re still going.
Oh and one last thing…
Apparently Bill Nighy’s character from Love Actually should have followed this bit of advice to tell Ant and Dec apart. They always stand on screen from left to right, Ant and then Dec. Simple, really.
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years. After a two year stint on local newspapers in the mid 1990s, he spent more than 5 years as the broadcast reporter at the Stage newspaper. Following that he enjoyed staff reporting positions at the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times breaking stories and writing features before settling as a full time freelance writing for an array of newspapers and magazines - but mainly for the Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.