It turns out ‘Little Ernie Wise’ Dec is the talented one after all

I’m a Celebrity. . . Get Me Out of Here! 

ITV, last night

Rating:

For years, Ant and Dec have been the ham-and-cheese of telly, the dog-and-duck, the salt-and-pepper. It has been impossible to have one without the other.

And yet Dec Donnelly breezed through the opener of this year’s I’m A Celebrity as though disgraced partner Ant McPartlin had been forgotten a lifetime ago.

No longer the cheeky, junior, smaller half of a schoolboy double-act, Dec took control effortlessly.

Co-presenter Holly Willoughby, on loan from This Morning, chipped in nervously, but this was Dec’s show all the way.

He didn’t miss a beat. No one ever doubted that Dec is a talented performer, but this was like seeing Morecambe and Wise split up… and discovering that Little Ern was the talented one all along.

The nation tuned in en masse to see how Dec would handle the test.

Co-presenter Holly Willoughby, on loan from This Morning, chipped in nervously, but this was Dec¿s show all the way

Co-presenter Holly Willoughby, on loan from This Morning, chipped in nervously, but this was Dec¿s show all the way

Co-presenter Holly Willoughby, on loan from This Morning, chipped in nervously, but this was Dec’s show all the way

Indeed, the record first-night viewing figure suggests that I’m A Celeb is more popular than ever. All shows run out of steam in the end – most notoriously Celebrity Big Brother – but this one is still at full power.

This is the show’s 16th year – having begun in 2002, with a line up of contestants including DJ Tony Blackburn, the now deceased socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, the battle-axe politician’s wife Christine Hamilton and the boxer Nigel Benn.

With Dec’s erstwhile co-star still in recovery after a drink-driving controversy, the only Ant that got a mention on Sunday night was one of the many poisonous green ones swarming all over contestants in the show’s first creepy-crawly trial.

There was one sidelong reference, a bit of vintage Carry On innuendo, as Dec remarked of his long-time buddy who he met aged 12 when both were child actors on Byker Grove: ‘I’ve never actually done it with a girl, I usually do it with a bloke every night.’ That gag barely registered on the I’m A Celebrity smut-ometer.

The ten castaways this year – most of them so obscure that they didn’t even recognise each other – didn’t do double entendres. Depressingly, their quips were strictly toilet humour.

Actor John Barrowman introduced himself with: ‘I am starting to cr*p myself,’ and then added: ‘Basically I’m sh***ing myself’ – twice, in case we hadn’t understood his subtle meaning the first time.

No one ever doubted that Dec is a talented performer, but this was like seeing Morecambe and Wise split up... and discovering that Little Ern was the talented one all along

No one ever doubted that Dec is a talented performer, but this was like seeing Morecambe and Wise split up... and discovering that Little Ern was the talented one all along

No one ever doubted that Dec is a talented performer, but this was like seeing Morecambe and Wise split up… and discovering that Little Ern was the talented one all along

Hollyoaks ‘star’ Malique Thompson-Dwyer (no, nor me) unnecessarily informed viewers: ‘This morning I had two nervous poos,’ as his opening line, while Rita Simons (Roxy from EastEnders) told us: ‘I am bricking myself.’

James McVey, guitarist with boy band The Vamps, joined the puerile scatalogy by declaring: ‘I’m gonna wet myself.’

With repartee like this, it’s unlikely we are set for a feast of spontaneous wit and clever banter.

At least ex-football manager Harry Redknapp, who once said he ‘writes like a two-year-old and can’t spell’, has a good line in self-deprecation. 

First prize turnip among this basket of celebrity turnips must go to actress Emily Atack (introduced on Sunday night for her one-time role as ‘Charlotte Big Jugs’ in the TV sitcom, The InBetweeners) who announced she was going into the jungle to ‘learn how to be an adult’.

Maybe that’s today’s slang for ‘grab a new boyfriend’ because the 28-year-old hadn’t been in front of the cameras 30 seconds before she was flirting furiously with Malique.

First prize turnip among this basket of celebrity turnips must go to actress Emily Atack

First prize turnip among this basket of celebrity turnips must go to actress Emily Atack

First prize turnip among this basket of celebrity turnips must go to actress Emily Atack

‘This is crazy, we’ve only just met and already we’re sharing the most intense experience of our lives,’ she gasped as the duo were strapped into a helicopter for a sky-dive from two miles up. 

Malique was so terrified that he wouldn’t have noticed if she’d gone down on one knee and begged him to marry her.

But it was Malique who handled the parachute jump coolly, while Emily screamed all the way down, for 12,000 feet.

Hardly surprising that viewers sadistically voted for Emily to endure the first ‘Bushtucker Trial’, an ordeal celebs must complete to win food for their camp-mates.

Emily couldn’t be more scared of jungle bugs than presenter Holly, who hid off-screen while Dec talked us through last night’s ‘Viper Pit’ snake challenge.

At some point in the next couple of weeks, she will find a spider in her hair, and faint.

Naturally Dec, the consummate TV pro who’s won 18 best presenter gongs at the National Television Awards, will be ready with the kind of witty ad-lib that will keep 11 million viewers in the programme’s alluring web.

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