Saturday Night Takeaway

Jon CourtenayUncategorized

I’m sat in my dressing room at Television Centre waiting for the dress rehearsal to begin for tonight’s End Of The Show Show on Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. Now there’s an opening sentence that I never imagined writing.
The producer of the show got in touch with me seven weeks ago asking if I’d be up for writing a song for the final show and performing it in the studio. They wanted me to come up with lyrics that would cover the events that had happened as much as possible over the series.There wasn’t a lot of pause for thought. I settled down for the first show on 20th February with pen and notepad.
I realised that in order to cover as much detail as possible in the four minutes that I’d been given as a guide time, the song was going to have a lot of words. Maybe that could be the gimmick of the song? I took Gilbert and Sullivan’s Modern Major General as inspiration, a stupidly quick and word-full composition that I felt would work on the show. I wrote a couple of introductory verses setting up the song then verse three pretty much covered the first episode. The next week I squeezed every item in the whole show into two verses. For the third episode I was scheduled to be in hospital for a radical neck dissection to get rid of a tumour in my neck along with all the rest of the lymph nodes. I took pen and notepad with me.
My operation was on the Friday and the morphine was keeping me very mellow by the Saturday morning. My surgeon came in to check on me at 7.45pm, mid show and it was tricky listening to the details of the six hour surgery while trying to focus on Double Trouble on my TV screen. Especially when my morphine was more interested in focussing on the delicious fog that was trying to envelop me.
Worth it though for this moment with my surgeon:

Surgeon: So you’re writing a song to perform on that show?
Me: Yup
Surgeon: And you’re writing it as it happens?
Me: Trying to.
Surgeon: How do you do that?
Me: Says the man who just opened up my neck from shoulder to scalp?

I guess it’s all about your respective skills!

I sent as much as I’d written after the first three episodes to the producers, pretty happy with the way it was going. Obviously that wasn’t going to last. I always knew it was going to be a collaboration as whatever I wrote, they needed to try and film around it, not to mention work out how Ant and Dec would be involved and the rest of the team too. It was decided that instead of the song being sequential with me writing and learning verses as they were broadcast, verses should focus on different aspects of the show such as the guest announcers, the gameshows, the celebrity participation etc. but that would mean that I couldn’t finish writing the song until the day of the final show!! Then perform it on live TV in front of millions. Hmmm…
What followed was a major collaboration between myself, the writers who work on the show, the producers and the incredible musician and arranger Steve Sidwell who I’ve been a fan of since his work with Robbie Williams on his Royal Albert Hall show. The producers gave me a heads up of the content of the shows that were yet to be broadcast so I could plan ahead.
Stupidly, I assumed that as much of the song as possible would be pre-recorded as it would be a mammoth task to learn it and perform it live. Even with the luxury of autocue there were a lot of words not to mention key changes. But then after a few production meetings, it was decided that as much as possible would be live. There is a certain buzz and energy that you can’t replicate in a pre-recorded segment and with the lack of an actual live audience, I understood why Ant and Dec wanted to keep it live as much as possible. It wasn’t their concern how many sleepless nights it would cause me.
I’ve looked back at the first version of the song and it bears very little resemblance to what we’re performing tonight and that’s perfectly ok. There are definitely less words and they are definitely sung slower but it’s still an epic production number. Steve did an amazing job with the arrangement and now there are backing vocals, live instruments, dancers, and more key changes than in any other song I’ve ever performed!

I got the train down from Manchester on Thursday and yesterday, Friday, was spent rehearsing the performance. I recognised familiar faces on the crew from BGT and it was lovely to see Ant and Dec again. I’m not entirely sure what their ‘secret’ is but they are just lovely chaps and we carried on chatting as if we’d seen each other every week. You forget very quickly that they are two of the most successful television stars in the world, and that may be their appeal. Somehow that comes across through your TV screen, ironically, while they are being TV stars.
The logistics of performing most of the song live were crazy… I’m in one shot at the piano in the studio then as soon as the camera cuts away from me I have to run across the studio, backstage, avoid the dancers and lighting guys, through some double doors, down a corridor and jump behind a second piano, all just ahead of Ant and Dec who are right behind me being filmed on a Steadicam, just in time for the camera to get to me as Mo Farrah is wheeled out in a bath and I sing my next line. Then it’s back the same route to the studio piano to be ready for my next bit, out of breath but trying to hide it. Crazy!
As with most TV shows and my extensive experience of them (that would be just the three then) there is a lot of hanging about, sometimes for hours and then a burst of adrenaline before more hanging about. That’s certainly the case when you’re a guest on a show like Saturday Night Takeaway, compounded by Covid. There’s no running between dressing rooms sharing the excitement or congregating in bar areas. More sitting on your dressing room sofa writing blogs for a couple of hours then being called to the studio to record a wave before returning to your dressing room for more tea and blog writing.
Then at 7 o’clock, my dressing room monitor which had been showing a live feed of the studio floor transforms into a regular TV with the theme of the show and the titles running. It was a slightly discombobulating experience to sit there watching the show unfold on the studio floor directly above me, sipping my cup of tea on my sofa as if I was just relaxing at home on a Saturday evening. Except in about an hour I’d be escorted the 2 minutes to that very studio and become a part of the show that I was watching.
My phone was dinging with texts from family and friends as my little pre-recorded wave was broadcast. Some commenting that my head looked really good and you couldn’t see the scars… mostly due to the cameras all being on the other side from my operation but I appreciated the support. Then it was time to slip on the sequins, secure the in-ear monitor and tuck all the cables out of sight before Frosty arrived to take me upstairs. Frosty has been a part of every TV show that I’ve been on (the same three) and we’ve become good pals. The production team very sweetly had delivered a large bouquet of flowers to my dressing room which unfortunately were too big for me to manage on the train home with all my luggage so Frosty would be earning some brownie points with some Easter flowers for his Wife. I hope she doesn’t read this if he hasn’t told her where they came from. Mrs Frosty, your husband is a diamond. The posh scented candle that accompanied the flowers did make it into my case though along with most of the snacks that had been thoughtfully left on my dressing table. I’m sure even the wealthiest guests on TV shows still appreciate the freebies.
It was the last commercial break before my performance as I took my place at the piano and Ant and Dec took their seats next to me. This was the home straight. I only had four minutes to fill in front of the live cameras, the lads had just completed 85 minutes of another successful show and it was an insight to see them ‘in the zone’ compared to how relaxed we had all been over the last couple of days. Thirty years they’ve been doing this and their focus and dedication is still evident in everything they do which again may help to explain their longevity. Mo Gilligan, this weeks guest announcer introduced the End Of The Show Show ‘starring Jon Courtenay’ and off we went. I nearly started off looking at the wrong camera (there are so many) but corrected myself just in time and it all seemed to go well from where I was sat.
There was a short respite in the middle of the song as the pre-recorded section outside the studio was broadcast. We’d filmed that yesterday in weather that didn’t suit my little sequin jacket. Trying to sing through shivery teeth and play a piano with shaking hands is not what I imagined showbiz to be all about. Through my in-ear monitor I could hear Ant and Dec shivering too as I quietly muttered into my mic, “You couldn’t do this bloody show in the summer could you?” They chuckled, then knowing that they were still waiting to hear if I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here was going to be able to be filmed back in Australia, I added ‘And I hope you’re stuck in Wales again this year’. Not to detract from the beauty of Wales or the friendliness of the Welsh (very much looking forward to my shows there this year when I’m on tour!) Just then Alan the floor manager gave his count into the start of recording and Andi Peters came running down the ramp inside his mini-bubble and bumped into the piano hard enough to move it and knock the mic into my teeth. I barely noticed as I marvelled at the complexion of the man that I remember watching on kid’s TV 30 years ago… he hasn’t aged at all. Maybe these bubbles are a good idea?
Back to the live broadcast and all too soon it was the the last big note, confetti, streamers, one more wave to camera and it was all over. Ant and Dec spent a couple of minutes chatting to the live screens on the wall and then as it was the last show of the series there were some short speeches from the Director, Producer and then Ant and Dec thanking everyone and apologising about the lack of a wrap party which I understand have been quite spectacular in the past. I’ll add it to my list of Covid Consequences along with not meeting Royalty after the Royal Variety Performance and missing out on Simon’s party after winning BGT. Not that I’m complaining… that’s two less hangovers in my life.
Instead it was back to my dressing room, packing my bags and then my car back to the hotel for a nice bottle of red and an Instagram Live. Just as we were leaving Television Centre and I was starting to reply to messages on my phone I was startled to see lightening outside the car… I looked up to be greeted by a couple of large gents pointing cameras through the window and shouting my name. It took me a minute to realise I was being ‘papped’. Still early days for that experience. I look forward to seeing my confused and startled expression in whatever publication they end up in.
Overall it was a fabulous experience. Emmah, my Wife was slightly disappointed that I wasn’t on screen more but it was never going to be the ‘End Of The Jon Courtenay Show’. I’m loving the experience of collaborating with people who are the best at what they do and I’m not precious about anything that I create so long as the final result is a good one. Maybe that’s not as dominating or forthright as I need to be in this business but it’s who I am and I’m OK with that.
I’m planning on recording my original version of the song at some point so please subscribe to my YouTube channel and follow me on the socials and you’ll get to see it as soon as it’s out there.
I hope you enjoyed the show and thank you for all your support.
Jon x