Rowans Tenpin Bowl – and karaoke bar, and arcade, and pool hall, and nightclub – in north London has a lot of rules.
A poster in the window of the front door lists 21 of them. Number six: “Those displaying a bad attitude will not be allowed to enter.” Number 20: “Sleeveless or string vests are not permitted at any time.”
As Dick and Dom, Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood spent the turn of the millennium launching gunge and custard all over anything you could call “rules” – winning two Baftas for their children’s Saturday morning series Dick and Dom in da Bungalow.
When we meet for a few frames of a Monday lunchtime in the neon-lit, sort-of-Americana themed bar, two decades on from the start of the in da Bungalow years, things are thankfully more sedate. McCourt excuses himself to sort his hair out in the toilets; Wood grabs some lunch.
They’re here to a) bowl and b) reflect on two decades of friendship, childishness and growing up together in the spotlight. They met as teenagers in the canteen at BBC Television Centre at the turn of the millennium, both too young to have ever had proper jobs before dashing to London to try to make it in children’s TV. Wood had been a jobbing magician in Devon, entertaining birthday parties and weddings or busking in the street. McCourt had worked at the Disney Store in Sheffield.
If Ant and Dec on SMTV:Live were the closest thing early noughties Saturday morning TV had to a Morecambe and Wise, Dick and Dom were its Vic and Bob. It’s quite hard to describe exactly what the format was: six children played games including Make Dick Sick, in which the kids told gory or gross stories in an attempt to make McCourt “vomit” vegetable soup everywhere, and Puppies That Lick Their Own Vases, where each contestant tried to make sure their puppy licked dog food off a vase quickest.
Points were given, points were taken away, and then every show ended with the entire set covered in custard. One series finale saw McCourt start the show pregnant, and end it firing out dozens of babies and torrents of custard and flying away in a hot air balloon.
If you watch clips of their shows now, the appeal is obvious. Children loved the sense that pretty much anything could happen, and that in making it up as they went along Dick and Dom loved playing as much as they did. Their schtick was manic. Scripts were frequently the lightest of pencil outlines: one segment the pair recall simply said “Cow gives birth”.
“We still knew that that was just funny. It wasn’t crossing the boundary too hard,” says McCourt. “I think we all knew where we could go.”
Perhaps their biggest contribution to pop culture was “Bogies”. Wood and McCourt went to places where silence and discretion were paramount – an art gallery, a restaurant, a yoga session in Primrose Hill – and took it in turns to say “bogies” at increasing volume until they were screaming the word, to the bafflement and increasing fury of people around them.
The best ones were the most painful, Wood remembers – one at a production of Peter Pan in Exeter was “absolutely horrific”. “And we’re sat there, cameras are facing us. You think, ‘Shit, I can’t get out of this now. I can’t get out. I’m trapped.’ And so you’ve got no choice but to play the game. And I remember thinking, ‘Oh, these poor actors’.”
Bogies was absolutely everywhere. They got letters from funeral directors admitting to playing the game while on the job. “So wrong,” says McCourt, as Wood sniggers. “Nothing to do with us.”
All this did not go down well with everybody. McCourt has a picture of one particularly good complaint letter on his phone which he shows me, grinning. It’s handwritten in blue ink. “Dear sirs,” it opens, “what in heaven’s name are the powers that be at the BBC doing allowing such a revolting, humiliating, gungy, stomach-churning program such as this?”
Decades later, Dick and Dom are about to head out on a UK tour. It was originally booked for 2022, but demand was such that it was expanded and shifted to this year. Wood and McCourt relay this excitedly, their eyebrows raised in mild disbelief. The show will return them to da Bungalow, though this time with six adults taking the brunt of the “creamy muck-muck”.
“It’s the TV show, basically, on stage,” says McCourt, now 46. “Twenty-year anniversary, we thought, why not? Let’s do it one last time.”
“There’s gonna be a certain amount of expectation,” says Wood (45, wearing a t-shirt that says “TEAM TOFU” – he’s not a vegan – and talking through a Pret sandwich). Doing a live version of in da Bungalow feels like the best way to take it forward, and recapture something of the giddy weirdness which its audience remember feeling the first time around. “And it’s gonna be absolutely nuts.”
“We are going to be reliving it and that is gonna be a really special moment because, you know, it doesn’t matter what else we’ve done with our career…” He breaks off for a second to celebrate McCourt polishing off a spare. “…the Bungalow will always be the pinnacle of our career. It’ll be what everyone knows us for.”
Dick and Dom clicked almost immediately – when they first met, Wood was grabbing a cup of tea, McCourt a coffee and bacon sandwich. Their boss at Radio 1 once told them that he’d often see them chatting away, on their own, happy in their own world, “like the two misfits of the school”.
Their bond was obvious, so they were put together as a duo. Soon they were inseparable. At the suggestion of high-ups at the BBC, and to help them bond more quickly, they moved into a basement flat in Ealing just off the Hanger Lane gyratory, with eight lanes of traffic rumbling past. It was lively. Wood and McCourt’s favourite pastime was practicing their DJing, particularly drum ‘n’ bass and house.
“We would love nothing more than to have parties and get everyone back,” Wood says. These parties became legendary, though never debauched. One interviewer was convinced there were dark depths to be plumbed from the party years, but came up empty-handed.
“He kept trying to get stuff out of us that didn’t exist,” says Wood, shaking his head. “‘So did you do drugs?’ and all this. We were like, ‘No?’”
Even when they fled the concrete and fumes and moved to Ealing proper, it was into flats in the same building. “Dom lived in the front flat and I lived in the back, so we were still living together in a way,” says McCourt.
Dick and Dom in da Bungalow started as a title in search of a show to hang it on. The pair had proven they had something sparky together while doing links on Children’s BBC’s morning programme The Broom Cupboard, so in 2002 they were asked to do a three-hour Saturday morning show on the new standalone digital channel CBBC. Jokingly, they named it after Ali G Indahouse. It was a huge step up.
The audience was tiny to begin with. “But each week it went from, like, 5,000 to 10,000 and it got up to [around] 300,000,” says McCourt. “And they [CBBC] were like, oh right, okay. Something’s happening here.”
It became a hit, not just with the primary school kids it was aimed at, but with older children and students who loved its very genuine sense of freewheeling chaos. “Our lives very quickly went from not a lot happening to a hell of a lot happening,” Wood says. “It even got to the point where our parents’ houses were being doorstep by bloody tabloids,” says McCourt. In da Bungalow transferred to BBC One in 2003, and ran for three more years of almost entirely uncontrolled mayhem.
They always loved working with children. “There’s no cynicism involved with them,” says Wood. They’re just openhearted. We used to speak to them as equals as well – we wouldn’t condescend them and say, ‘Did you have a nice holiday? Are you looking forward to Christmas?’” Instead they would become big kids themselves, encouraging and rewarding silliness with pints of custard.
In 2006, after playing Bogies 250 times, they decided it was time to move on. Stints at Radio 1 and hosting Are You Smarter Than A 10-Year-Old? followed, as well as occasional returns to CBBC. They’re sanguine about the in da Bungalow days being their peak, and they’re fiercely proud of it. But they do have a lingering feeling that they weren’t cherished at the BBC.
“The BBC will never put it back on, ever,” says Wood. “It’s a shame that it wasn’t given the credit that it should have got,” says Wood. “It’s almost like a dirty word really, like they’d like to think it never happened.”
McCourt agrees. It’s unlikely, he thinks, that something as strange could be made today. “I think we are a bit – a little bit – in that cancel culture thing, that kind of, ‘oh no, they were the naughty boys’. We were saying to someone the other day what we did, it wasn’t bad – just stupid, just silly.”
In the years since, though, the show’s legend has grown. They’re anarchic older brothers not just for the kids who watched them 20 years ago, but the ones finding their old clips on TikTok. Ed Sheeran, Foals and Fontaines DC have all told Wood and McCourt of their love for the show, and their reputation has been burnished further by their splenetic Twitter account.
It says something about the madness of the last year that @dickndom became the voice of reason on energy companies making record profits (“Pricks!”) and the Conservative government, especially in the dog days of Liz Truss’s tenure (“#GeneralElectionNow you twisted fucks”).
It’s obvious they men are still very close. When they answer questions they pick up each other’s sentences, run with them and then let the other pick them up. It even looks – for a moment – that they have somehow managed to score the exact same number of points, but a late strike sees Wood take the win.
Both are fathers now (Wood’s two boys are in their teens, and McCall’s daughter is 22 months) but they see each other regularly for their DJing gigs, and often stay at each others’ houses. What, I ask Wood, are they most looking forward to about the tour? Without hesitating, he says: “Being together.”
Over a drink (coffee for McCourt, a blackcurrant squash and club soda for Wood) we talk about the various furores which their antics occasionally brought. The birth sketch resulted in complaints to Ofcom, and Wood got a telling-off for presenting while wearing a t-shirt reading “Morning Wood”.
I read them the words of Peter Luff, MP for Mid Worcestershire, who in 2005, in the House of Commons, criticised games including Pants Dancers in the Hall of Fame and Make Dick Sick. “Is that really the stuff of public service broadcasting?” he asked.
The absurdity of the whole thing – and the extra publicity from Luff’s statement – still tickles them. “That is brilliant. It’s almost like he was employed by the BBC to stand there and read that out,” says Wood, as McCourt cackles. “That is so ridiculous.”
On their way out of Rowans they’re stopped by two more young people for pictures, one of them only 18. They’re very gracious with fans, but they do seem bewildered by quite how many generations know them. There is clearly still a lot of love out there for Dick and Dom. But this will, they think, be the last time they return to da Bungalow.
Dick and Dom never became light entertainment juggernauts. But they wouldn’t do anything differently – even if they’ve always felt like people want them to apologise for something.
“There was not one thing that happened that didn’t add to it making it the success it was,” says Wood. “If I hadn’t worn that t-shirt or we hadn’t given birth loads of babies covered in custard, then it wouldn’t have been that show. Why would we apologise?”