Gareth Hale and Norman Pace


Renfield the Butler


Talent TV for BBC One, 28 April to 1 June 1999 (6 episodes in 1 series)


First, a point of pedantry - this show is actually called h&p@bbc. (with a full stop at the end) but our computer won't display it that way. Put it this way: it's the least of our concerns given the review about to come.

Hale and Pace had been a staple of Sunday nights for a decade with their long-running ITV sketch show, and while they never enjoyed much in the way of critical acclaim – Victor Lewis-Smith once helping readers to identify them by saying "Gareth Hale is the unfunny one with the moustache and Norman Pace is the unfunny one without the moustache" – they were successful enough. Ten series on, they were getting a bit bored and wanted to do something else, but ITV, loathe to lose a hit show, just wanted more of the same.

Fortunately, their old mate Paul Jackson had been installed as Head of Entertainment at the BBC and lured them over to do some new shows, moving away from the sketch format and going off in exciting new directions, which initially were the job swap series Jobs For The Boys and the silent family comedy Oddbods. The marquee show, though, was to be this new blend of comedy and variety but ended up as one of those over-earnest attempts to "bring back variety" for the modern audience, hence the Internet-inspired, deeply stupid title reeling in the zeitgeist of, oh, at least four years previously. Now, Paul Jackson was eager to point out that Hale and Pace used to be fashionable, having appeared in The Young Ones and the like, and had much more to offer than their lowbrow reputation would suggest. Gareth and Norman both spoke of their desire to move on and play to a wider audience, so this series was going to be fun for the whole family.

The first episode got a bit of publicity with The Sun running a double page spread of pictures from the regular Stars In Their Eyes parody as Anthea Turner had been made up to impersonate Shane McGowan, which was quite impressive. Among the other features were three celebrities being asked questions throughout the show, plenty of audience participation such as a spot where punters were spliced into film clips and a filmed item where Hale and Pace went to a different town every week to try and see how much stuff they could get for free.

Gareth and Norman never said "hello" at the start of the show or "goodbye" at the end, which along with the weird length suggested that the show had been substantially edited down from a much longer affair. On the show, things happened, yeah, but they were rarely very interesting or indeed have much purpose. Instead of a proper interview feature of sorts, celebrities were asked general knowledge quiz questions (never a good idea) and given points but there was no game, or indeed winner, as such. Another quiz invited members of the public to listen to things underwater by putting their head into a tank and buzzing in when they recognised the piece of music or whatever - might be fun to play but it was impossible to enjoy watching.

An item called "Good Sports" defiled the good nature of sporting personalities such as John Inverdale, John Motson and Annabel Croft who were required to guess the price of a lip-mike, a sports bra and strawberries & cream from Wimbledon; answer questions about the offside rule in hockey; while poor John Motson was asked to give the dates of his wedding anniversary and wife's birthday.

In the Screen Test, members of the public were edited into classic films using clever technology, and other items involved pranks with members of the public, a kind of Stars in Their Eyes effort, and Gareth & Norman getting something for nothing à la Mighty Truck of Stuff. It was just something to do. All the other items seemed to have a beginning and an end but no middle. Hale and Pace's 'banter' also failed to amuse and it all seemed the most half-arsed series you'd ever see. It also had a bloody ridiculous name that couldn't be written properly on the internet without buggering the whole thing up.

Hale and Pace and the Beeb seemed an odd combination from day one, with the announcement of their arrival being greeted with, at best, massive indifference; in fact Hale and Pace's BBC career is one of the most undistinguished on record, with their only real success being Jobs For The Boys, which was an entertaining affair but by its very nature featured the pair not being comedians – the job they were actually supposed to be doing. You can see what the pair were trying to do, and it's clear that they were genuinely after a new challenge, but after so long doing the same old stuff they seemed to have completely run out of steam. h&p@bbc. was the ultimate example of the mistakes broadcasters make by signing up stars without having the first idea of what they're going to do, as this wasn't a format, it was just the pair of them trying to fill time, and afterwards both parties called it a day, and both Gareth and Norman explored pastures new.

Who knows what was going on here? It's hard to give over a sense of quite how bad h&p@bbc. was because it was one of the worst series the Beeb has ever shown. It was almost as if it hadn't been finished, or some massive tragedy had taken place during its production, and it's frankly unbelievable to think that anyone actually thought it could be broadcast. The length of time the show spent on the shelf and the blatant heavy editing confirmed the Beeb knew this was a stinker from day one. God alone knows how bad it would have been if we'd seen the whole hour.


Considering the series was supposed to be a family-orientated affair, when it began in April 1999 it was transmitted at 9.30pm, which seemed a bit odd. In addition, it was a weird forty minute duration unlike any other show on the channel, and not only had it been made months before and left on the shelf, but it also began buried on Wednesdays, BBC One's worst night. By week three, the show had already slipped back in the schedules to 10pm, while in week four an unscheduled episode of Match of the Day saw it shoved back still further to 11pm. Show five was at 11.30pm on a Friday night and the sixth and final episode was shoved out at midnight on a Tuesday. We're sure even the most enthusiastic BBC One continuity announcer would have had trouble trying to make the weekly announcement of the rescheduling sound like a good thing. Needless to say, no second series was forthcoming, and that was the last we saw of Hale and Pace on the BBC.


Pale and Hace? The left half's Pace, the right half's Hale


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