Gareth Malone: the excruciating downfall of Mr Choir

He’s gone from a lovable vicar type to an embarrassing berk who dabbles in dabbing. The moral? National treasures should never try to ‘go young’

Everyone loves Gareth Malone, don’t they? Lovely Gareth Malone and his lovely face. He’s like a nice little vicar, isn’t he? A patient vicar trying to get people to sing church music all the time, even though they don’t want to and are bad at it. Gareth Malone is so perfectly inoffensive that criticising him would be like criticising a doily. He was born a national treasure, wrapped in cheesecloth and submerged in polystyrene. He’s what would happen if Saga magazine went sentient and started roaming around the place tutting at dust. Gareth Malone is the greatest.

But then he had to go and make Pitch Battle, didn’t he? Gareth Malone had to take everything we loved about him, bundle it up into a little ball and fart it into a gutter, didn’t he?

If you didn’t see it, Pitch Battle is BBC1’s new Saturday teatime singing contest. This brief description should mean that you already know exactly what it’s like. There’s a shiny floor. There’s a brightly-coloured set. There are swarms of singers who still haven’t figured out, despite the genre now being two decades old, that appearing on one of these shows achieves nothing but a swift creative and commercial demise. It’s like Eurovision, if everyone who ever appeared on Eurovision came from Preston and only agreed to appear on Eurovision to fruitlessly attempt to escape the tyranny of having a proper job like an adult.

Gareth Malone is a judge on Pitch Battle. On paper this makes sense, because it is a choral singing contest and Gareth Malone is Mr Choir. However, on Saturday it became apparent that this did not make any sense at all.

His Pitch Battle entrance – following the sort of VT explainer that Celebrity Big Brother contestants tend to receive – was excruciating. As the crowd roared, he opened his jacket and showed off his shirt, like a professional wrestler would if he was doing double duty as an usher at his cousin’s wedding. He sat down and tried to distill his worldview as Choirmaster General into the sort of bulletproof soundbite these shows require. But he was unsuccessful. Faced with choir after middling choir, he tried to dig deep into any flaws he noticed, but the pace of the show prevented him from anything more than a surface buff.

Reducing him down to a Louis Walsh level of criticism is a huge waste of his talents.
Reducing Gareth Malone to a Louis Walsh level of criticism is a huge waste of his talents. Photograph: Elliot Neal/BBC/Twenty Twenty TV

You got the sense that this frustrated him as much as it did the viewer. Gareth Malone’s big thing is extended tutelage. On any number of his shows – The Choir, The Big Performance, Sing While You Work, The Naked Choir – he would struggle manfully in the face of vocal ineptitude. It’d take him weeks of careful manoeuvring, and the sort of polite frustration you usually only find directed at village fete tombola hogs, to actually get anywhere. Gareth Malone is a man who goes all in, systematically unties any problems he locates, and is rewarded by soaring off to a world of near-constant Radio 2 rotation.

Reducing him down to a Louis Walsh level of criticism (essentially asking him to say “That was good” or “That was bad” against a backdrop that looks like churned-up WKD vomit) is a huge waste of his talents. The fact that he’s also deliberately “going young” to do this – skewing away from the dotty old aunties who make up his primary audience to awkwardly dab for photographs, as he did in the Radio Times recently – makes Pitch Battle one of the illest fits since they dressed Arlene Phillips up in leather and forced her to do gang signs in the justifiably forgotten 2007 BBC1 series DanceX.

But what would you do if you were Gareth Malone? You’ve spent the last 10 years forcing every single person in the entire country to join a choir, and now there’s nowhere left to go. You’re still as charming and youthful as a Christingle chipmunk, but your job is complete. What else is left to do? Release a range of branded choir paraphernalia? A Gok-style transition into cookery? I’m a Celebrity? As awful as it is, perhaps Pitch Battle was the least bad option Gareth Malone could have picked.


Stuart Heritage

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