The Big Breakfast returns: ‘It was fun and joyous – that’s what we want to bring’

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The Guardian

It was chaotic, cheeky and in your face, making household names of presenters such as Chris Evans, Gaby Roslin, Johnny Vaughan and Denise Van Outen. Now, two decades after it was axed, the show on which Paula Yates wrapped her legs around INXS’s Michael Hutchence, Sara Cox snogged Will Smith and Posh Spice revealed that David Beckham liked to secretly wear her knickers is back.

Famed for brightening up the anaemic landscape of 90s breakfast television, The Big Breakfast returns to Channel 4 on Saturday fronted by the comedian Mo Gilligan and the presenter AJ Odudu. But while it retains some of its original, irreverent spirit, the show that once failed to have a single Black or Asian main presenter has been modernised for a 21st-century audience by being more inclusive and far less slapstick, its new hosts say.

“It reflects the changing face of our society,” Gilligan said. “Of course, there will be some people that are still stuck in their ways – ‘Two black presenters? They’re taking over!’ – but there’s also people who genuinely want to see different faces and voices on TV.”

Odudu added: “People should be seen and represented, that’s very important to me. We’ve got that diversity on the show now, we’ve got a range of characters.”

Channel 4 first relaunched the programme as a one-off special last year as part of its Black to Front diversity initiative, and later commissioned it for four more episodes.

At a time when breakfast TV was full of beige current affairs and lifestyle programmes, The Big Breakfast – produced by Bob Geldof’s Planet 24 – sparked a TV revolution. Running from 1992 to 2002, it brought about a new style of live television and trumped competitors in the ratings. The cameras were shaky, the structure messy, the banter frenetic and the crew almost always lairy and in shot.

There were rude puppets, early-morning innuendoes and an impromptu game of One Lump or Two. At times it was hard to believe any of the cast had been to bed. In a review of its launch in the Guardian, Nancy Banks-Smith wrote: “Not everyone is ready for fried eggs on the wall at 7am. The colour is like catching your head between a couple of cymbals. Anyone under 25 will love it.”

Johnny Vaughan and Denise Van Outen on The Big Breakfast in 1997. Photograph: Ken McKay/Rex/Shutterstock

“It was carnage,” said Odudu. “The Big Breakfast was the reason I was quite often late to school. I loved the naughtiness and edginess of it. I’m sure there was loads of innuendo that I didn’t understand as a child. But I thought it was really fun and joyous, and that’s definitely what we want to bring – a positive way to start the day.”

Gilligan said: “A lot of people when they put breakfast TV on now will say the same thing – that it’s boring and depressing, and yet to start your day you need to know what’s going on in the world. We were quite blessed to have this bonkers TV in the 90s when everything else was bonkers too.”

Gilligan has presented The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan on Channel 4 since 2019 and co-hosts The Big Narstie Show. Odudu hosts the reality competition The Bridge on Channel 4 and was a finalist on last year’s Strictly Come Dancing.

The duo will be joined each Saturday by a host of famous faces. Judi Love will grill guests in the On the Bed interview, Melvin Odoom and Harriet Rose will be out playing games with members of the public in the street, and the newsreader Phil Gayle returns to deliver the morning’s headlines.

While well-loved staples remain, the jokes have naturally evolved in the time since the show was last on our screens, according to Gilligan. “Humour has definitely changed. It used to be a lot more slapstick, and a lot more misogynistic as well. That’s why it’s important the show is inclusive … We have a lot more people in the room that can say ‘errr, can we cut that?’”

Odudu said: “When there’s a diverse range of people working on the show, you get a diverse range of humour. And as a result, things will be less offensive. Gone are the days when women on TV were just glamorous assistants. We’ve got things to say, opinions to have and we should be included in all the jokes.”

At a time when our TV consumption has dramatically evolved due to streaming services, it feels novel to have a live show that brings people together. “I call it a two-screen TV show, where you’ve got your TV and your phone,” Gilligan said. “Kind of like Love Island – you want to be watching it, but you also want to be tweeting along to what’s happening. You want to see it in the moment.”

Scott Bryan, a TV critic and co-host of the Must Watch podcast on BBC Sounds, said there was certainly a space for The Big Breakfast on television today. “When the series returned originally last summer, I was blown away by the quality and how well the presenters gelled with each other. If feels like they have got the balance right too – making it relevant for 2022, whilst having enough nostalgia for those who loved it back in the 90s,” he said.

“And there’s something great about unpredictable morning television. A decade of channels showing only repeats or cooking demonstrations have made a lot of weekend morning television feel stale. Now Channel 4 has a live Saturday morning show, something that streamers can’t offer – you’d tune in just to see what could happen.”

August 12, 2022 at 04:53PM Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent

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