Michael McIntyre shines as Britain’s Got Talent returns for series five

The stand-up comic proves there's plenty of life after Cowell on the ITV talent show

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Britain’s Got Talent without Simon Cowell? Why, that’s like HD television channels without that annoying little logo in the corner of the screen – unthinkable.

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It’s the high-trousered one that separates The X Factor from Don’t Forget the Lyrics!, and he that elevates BGT to more than just an anarchic jumble sale for malformed egos. Without Cowell, surely this show will wither and die…and then transfer to Channel 5 when the ITV contracts run out.

A few minutes into the press screening of BGT series five, it became apparent that the format can not only survive, it can positively thrive without Cowell – oh, and Piers Morgan, who’s also shuffled off to the US in search of the big bucks.

Before the VT rolled, the entire buzz was around the Hoff. It was Mr Hasselhoff that gave the bow and got the cheers as he took his seat in the front row – but perhaps surprisingly, from the minute he appeared on screen, it was the other newbie, comedian Michael McIntyre, that shone brightest.

“Do you know who I am?” asks McIntyre, after the first Liverpool contestant mistakes Amanda Holden for “that one out of Ab Fab”. “I’m Simon Cowell,” he adds, to the shock and confusion of Mary (a dancing harmonica player from Merseyside) but the unadulterated mirth of the on-screen audience and the assembled hacks. In that simple but brilliant moment, McIntyre arrives.

I must admit, like many others I was sceptical as to whether the format was the right forum for an out-and-out comedian with McIntyre’s sensibilities. However, throughout another well-produced hour of the usual sub-SuBo singing revelations, dancing dogs and dolphin impressions, there was only one opinion I wanted to hear.

Don’t get me wrong; the Hoff is good value, but no amount of bizarre wardrobe choices (see his Union Jack blazer in Liverpool) or Baywatch-esque Malibu tan can substitute for the quick wits and perfectly pitched ITV1 primetime tone that Macca displays.

A production executive described the pair as “the most unlikely double act on British television” but, once they get going, it feels like they’ve been doing it for years.

“Half the time I couldn’t understand what they were saying,” explains the Hoff after the screening, referring to the strong regional accents he encountered on his travels.

“Did you get that, guys?” says McIntyre to the hacks. “Write that one down!” Hasselhoff smiles.

There’s definitely chemistry between the new panel, which they prove by sitting back answering rather inane questions in good spirit: “What would your act be on BGT?” (Holden – tap-dancing / McIntyre – bell-ringing). Not even one yawn.

Although McIntyre insists, “Mandy [Holden] is running the show” since Cowell and Morgan left, what’s most pleasing is the lack of clear leadership in the new BGT line-up.

Cowell’s absence allows all three to take the lead when they wish, and although McIntyre is probably the most natural in this role, in the first episode they all have their moments, which is a refreshing evolution rather than jarring revolution in the format.

So, after all the panic and rumours surrounding the programme in the last few months, it seems that, as usual, Simon Cowell has come out smelling of roses.

Not only has he proved his formats are strong enough to survive without him on screen (as The X Factor might well have to in the UK), but in the case of Britain’s Got Talent, he can have his cake and eat it (or have his cash and spend it), because he’s going to appear in the live semi-finals week of the show anyway.

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In summary, if you like Britain’s Got Talent, you’re going to enjoy series five. The judges may be two-thirds different but the British public are still nuts and happy to drop their trousers (on one occasion literally) to get on the telly.