Britain’s Got Talent: bring on the clowns

David Butcher looks forward to the ITV talent show's new series

Take cover everyone. This week two talent shows – one old, one new – are set to collide on our screens like enormous asteroids made out of glitter and tears. No one is safe. If you don’t want to get caught in the shower of showbiz sparks that follows, it might be best to make alternative arrangements. 


Consider taking some tinned soup and blankets with you into the cupboard under the stairs and staying there for a couple of months, listening only to podcasts of Radio 4’s In Our Time. Otherwise, you’ll have to face the storm, and you know what that entails. 

It means daily headlines in the tabloids about judges’ feuds and ratings wars. It means looking on as some young performer for whom this is “the biggest week of my life” loses their voice (such as it was), falls ill or has what looks worryingly like a mental-health crisis in the most public way possible.

And that may be before or after the tabloids expose said performer’s secret cruiseship career/criminal record/nightclub shame/ bullying of other contestants/special treatment by the judges.

This Saturday night we’ll find out what bells and whistles BBC1’s sleek-looking The Voice can bring to the party. Next to it, Britain’s Got Talent may look like an old favourite or like old news, but for me it’s still the most stupidly enjoyable of talent shows (at least since the velvety Popstar to Opera Star expired last year from sheer oddness.) 

BGT is sometimes seen as The X Factor’s ugly sister. It’s not, it’s The X Factor’s carnival cousin.

It’s the talent show that ran away to join the circus and hang out with the crazies. What other show would bring us ageing bell ringers, or pirouetting dogs, or someone who makes mosaics out of toast? Where else could you get on telly just because your eyes pop out, or by doing a Riverdance with your fingers? 

Yes, the more tenuous acts in BGT are only there to be made fun of, and that can feel mean. But when you come down to it, all star-search shows are based on the same dubious formula: wishful thinking and trampled dreams, topped off with a tiny-teeny percentage of fairy stories (Cheryl Cole, Susan Boyle, JLS, er…) At least BGT has Ant and Dec. 

They’re at their mischievous best, ad libbing in the wings like naughty schoolboys, wisecracking to camera and then commiserating with rejects, something they do so convincingly you’d never guess it was the 96th time in a given day that Ant had pulled his big, soppy caring face or Dec had muttered “Well done, mate” to a total stranger. 

Plus, this year David Walliams joins the judges, and that alone must be worth the price of admission. Yes, I’ve talked myself into it. I can’t wait. Let battle commence.


Britain’s Got Talent is on ITV1 tonight at 8:00pm.