Tis Christmas, a time for television to get extremely silly, when no one minds at all. I actually really like this time of year for that reason: if you tried to show me a celebrity-powered charity stripping two-parter in, say, May 2024, I would stamp on your toes. “Give me hour-long big-budget legacy drama or nothing,” I’d say, hissing down at you as you sob on the floor. “If HBO doesn’t make it and someone on Reddit isn’t analysing every single frame for clues, I don’t want it!” I’d say. And, frankly, I’d be right to.
But it’s Christmas, so I am completely in the mood for The Real Full Monty: Jingle Balls (Monday 11 December and Tuesday 12 December, 9pm, ITV1). I do feel that the titles of TV shows have gotten out of control in recent years, and this show is a particularly egregious example of that. Those words just keep piling up, don’t they. The Real Full Monty: Jingle Balls is, of course, the Christmas-themed successor to 2017’s The Real Full Monty, followed by specials The Real Full Monty: Ladies’ Night, The All New Monty: Who Bares Wins, The Real Full Monty on Ice (!) and, my favourite, Strictly the Real Full Monty.
The concept is always the same: Ashley Banjo is forcing one of the Loose Women to strip in front of a baying crowd, and, should their schedules allow it, eight or nine other celebrities will join in as well. The big reveal is done to raise awareness of (and money for) cancer charities, and the show does well to balance the absurdity of, for instance, Gemma Collins making a plaster cast of her bosom, with real-life stories of how cancer has affected the participants’ lives. It’s a tone toed deftly throughout: rarely saccharine – there’s a lot of Harry Styles in the soundtrack, weirdly, which I suppose keeps it light – but capable of getting a little bit weepy.
This year, we have: Ashley Cain, Paul Burrell, Ben Cohen, Pete Wicks, Gemma Collins, Julia Bradbury, Sherrie Hewson, Vanessa Bauer, Victoria Ekanoye and drag queen Ella Vaday (AKA Nick Collier), and Coleen Nolan is back again as a sort of “nudity mentor”. They do some very TV things to confront the growing fear that they are going to have to take their clothes off (and, worse, do a dance routine choreographed by Diversity) in front of a studio audience: they wild-swim in a lake, they take their clothes off in the window of a department store, they make casts of their bodies, they go to a barbecue in Gemma Collins’s garden but very specifically not her house. It’s good old-fashioned British goofiness, and the constant threat on the horizon – public nudity, and the dancing that comes with it – keeps everyone nervous enough to be oddly raw and honest and fun throughout.
In fact, an argument could be made that the show is responsible for the finest dialogue broadcast on TV this year. Just a few examples, picked out from the first episode: Ashley Cain describes the impending show as “it’s not necessarily ideal but when you think about all the people you can help … you know”; Sherrie Hewson introduces herself with: “I’ve been on stage since the age of four so I’ve been an actress for 104 years”; Ben Cohen quietly self-describes as “I’m just … a gay icon”. Pete Wicks is someone I would enjoy in almost anything (I draw the line at podcasts) and he is on especially fine form here: “You’re about the only person in Essex who ain’t seen me balls”; “In for a penny in for a pound. Well: in for a penis, in for a pound”; “Very hard to take a nice picture while jumping, naked, pulling apart an elf’s legs. It’s … an experience.”
There are some astonishing visuals – Gemma Collins leaping into a freezing lake in full-face and emerging without the makeup having moved an inch is particularly iconic, while a shot of Paul Burrell, naked but for an apron, struggling around an artlessly grilled hotdog will be imprinted in my psyche for ever. It’s Christmas, you haven’t done a lick of work since 3 December, it’s freezing cold and it’s been dark since about midday. Stop pretending you’re too smart for silly, goofy, unerringly British television, because we both know you’re not. Come on. Let’s watch Gemma Collins tell a room that didn’t ask her: “I weighed my boobs once – 7lbs each.”