The Cancellation of Jim Davidson, review: former Mr Saturday Night gets a surprisingly fair hearing

Jim Davidson at the Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne Minster in Dorset Tuesday May 03 2022
Cancelled? Jim Davidson's career has been a rollercoaster - Christopher Pledger for the Telegraph

Watching The Cancellation of Jim Davidson (Channel 5), you may wonder: has Jim Davidson actually been cancelled? His 2023 stand-up tour was called Not Yet Cancelled. He won Celebrity Big Brother in 2014, despite his many controversies. And here he is, being interviewed as part of a career retrospective stuffed with people who think he’s great and aren’t afraid to say so.

True, he’s no longer the BBC’s Mr Saturday Night. At one point he was earning £1.5 million a year as host of Big Break and The Generation Game. The BBC dropped him in 2002, but that was years before cancel culture, and even his manager admitted that he’d had a good run. TV moves on.

So it was best to ignore the programme title (changed at the last minute from the working title of The Rise and Fall of Mr Saturday Night, presumably because it’s more attention-grabbing) and enjoy this as an even-handed look at Davidson’s career – albeit one that sometimes seemed embarrassed by its own subject. Before showing a clip of Davidson in character as Chalky, his stereotypical West Indian character, narrator Michelle Collins felt the need to explain: “Now, this sort of thing isn’t my cup of tea. But it was a massive moment in Jim’s life and you can’t really tell his story without it.”

Davidson’s story arc was spelled out near the beginning: “He was the likely lad who started with nothing, won it all, lost it all, won most of it back, making friends with some people in very high places, before the lawyers, the debt collector and even the police came knocking.” And that’s before we get to the five wives.

Jim Davidson on New Faces in 1976
Rising star: Jim Davidson on New Faces in 1976 - Shutterstock/ITV

Whatever you think of Davidson, he was a gifted young comic – voted funniest man on television by the TV Times in his 20s – and one of those television presenters who made it look effortless (Bradley Walsh is the only modern comparison). He survived complaints about sexist and racist content in his stage shows, and the rise of alternative comedy. He also survived eight months under investigation as part of Operation Yewtree – no charges were laid, and the Crown Prosecution Service announced in 2013 that no further action would be taken against him – although admitted that at his lowest point he took his boat out in a swell and thought: “If I die, I die.”

It wasn’t a warts-and-all documentary. We skipped from mention of wife number two to wife number four, rather than address the domestic violence allegations made by wife number three, Alison Holloway (he previously told Piers Morgan that the relationship was “volatile”, and neither confirmed nor denied Holloway’s claims).

“All my life I’ve had a problem with not being liked, because I go out of my way to be liked. I go about it in a funny way, I can probably insult people and be horrible to people and then get upset when they don’t like me,” Davidson said, in a moment of self-reflection. It was an acknowledgement that at least some of his problems are of his own making.