Published by Qmunicate
Qmunicate's cutting-edge columnist goes to the source of one of TV's most provocative talk shows.
What would you do if a middle-aged woman confided in you this: that she used to be a man who took to binge drinking to combat the frustrations of not being female, and that the hormonal confusions surrounding her subsequent sex change had led her to further alcohol abuse and to regularly fly off the handle in violent rages. Most of us would run a mile, but how's this for advice? “You were a binge drinking man – now you're an alcoholic woman.” Meet Jeremy Kyle, whose daytime show on ITV reels in 1.5 million of us every single day.
This is where it all begins. Huddled together down a damp, dark avenue outside Granada Studios in Manchester on a wet and windy evening, queue The Jeremy Kyle Show studio audience and I – waiting impatiently to put our own problems at bay so we can enjoy Jeremy exploiting other people's.
His guests, raked from the broken homes of Britain's working-class families, are wheeled out every day before him to have their wounds ripped open in public. Kyle's mantra dramatises the negative effects that drugs and alcohol abuse, parental neglect and unemployment have upon Britain's families, and particularly children. His show was this year publicly criticised by a court judge, who, in summing up a case of GBH on the set of Kyle's show, described Kyle's method of counselling as “human bear-baiting”.
I feel underdressed. Everybody around me is caked in make-up and dressed to kill – but why? Perhaps some of them are taking hope from the fact that Jeremy's wife, Carla Germaine, he met on one of his radio shows. Nevertheless, everyone is soaking wet, so it doesn't really matter.
After bearing the rough edge of the rain for half an hour, we are led inside and nudged politely into a seating area, where a clipboard-carrying woman lectures us about the show. She has the enthusiasm of a Butlins redcoat, but sadly one who is now prostituting her services to the daytime talkshow-watching demographic. “On today's show we have DNA results!” she enthuses, to the giddy murmurings of the eager crowd. “You must all show your most extreme emotions together,” she says, “because the other audiences today didn't cheer or gasp much, and Jeremy was very upset. Jeremy likes it when you cheer for him.”
I read my admission ticket – a yellow slip of paper choked with bullet points such as: 'Remember without you there wouldn't be a show. Use body language to help get your points across – it looks better on TV!' For a few minutes we practise in unison our gasps, cheers and boos, and I take a mental note of a group of five women who seem to be taking this far too seriously as we are led into the studio itself.
Does this man really need an introduction? Where Kyle once lurched in the long shadows of Springer, Kilroy and Trisha, he now marches triumphantly. His cut-the-crap attitude, together with his black-and-white understanding of human relationships, along with his ability to identify The Abuser and The Victim in almost every circumstance imaginable, strike a moral chord with the British public.
With all this in mind, I clutch my plastic seat anxiously as I see a black curtain quiver to the side of the stage, and the man himself emerge. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Jeremy Kyle!” The audience goes wild. Understandably so, as they've been waiting another half hour for this. Kyle doesn't blink, and walks slowly towards the familiar stage, sitting down on the chair he'll be yelling at in about ten minutes time.
“My daughter came from school today,” he smirks, “and she's started saying a new word: boys. Well I'm alright with that, because which boy in their right mind will ever want to go near JEREMY KYLE'S daughter?” The crowd cheers and applauds. He turns to the floor manager: “You alright Will, you twat?” Kyle slowly turns towards his audience again. “Listen everybody, Will needs a girlfriend. His last girlfriend was quite rough, so he wants someone a bit more classy.”
It continues like this for about five minutes, Kyle picking people at random, telling them to “Get a fucking job!” or asking them “Are you pregnant? Who's the father!?” and revelling in the laughter and applause. He seems to enjoy caricaturing himself and referring to himself in the third person for a while, before he suddenly goes off stage, and surrounds himself with a TV crew and a couple of make-up artists, preparing to shoot the promos they use for GMTV's ad breaks.
I find it hard to believe that once, Jeremy Kyle was not on television. His ned-bashing career began on radio, where he presented Jezza's Confessions on various frequencies, in the early noughties. A woman once called into his show and, rather shaken up, confessed to having at least two affairs because of her husband's drinking problem. How did Jezza sum up her problem sensitively? “You're a whore and your husband's a drunk. You need to stop sleeping around and your husband needs to stop drinking.” Exactly Jeremy. Fast forward a few years, and his show is a ratings-winner by miles during the day, as well as being repeated around the clock on three ITV channels.
The success of the show must be partly owed to the moral demise of the past kings and queens of daytime television. A gap in the talkshow market had opened up, and Kyle squeezed himself in. He is slightly more abrasive, “Are you a scumbag? YES OR NO?”, than even Kilroy was, yet he still provides more professional support than Trisha did with his much-referenced “backroom team” and of course “Graham”, the show's psychotherapist.
“So let's bring out Kevin,” Kyle announces. In this episode, Kevin is finding out if he is the father of his ex-girlfriend Tasha's unborn child. Tasha, who admitted that she “might have slept with someone on New Year's Eve” while they were still together, is confident that Kevin is the father, and that they could still have a future together. Kevin, still in love with Tasha and willing to forgive her, is hoping that he is the father too. Their future is printed in ink on one of Kyle's cards as he wanders calmly behind the filming cameras. “Kevin,” Kyle pauses as the audience prepare to go live on their gasp rehearsals, “is NOT the father.” Kevin storms off stage, punches the wall, and Tasha begins to cry. It turns out that Tasha had slept with six or seven people that night. Kyle offers some banal advice about “using protection in the future” before quickly cutting to an ad break, and Tasha is ushered quickly off stage.
Back to Kyle bathing in his own self-importance, again. “That was very good,” he says to himself. He doesn't need to be told. “Hey, Dom!” he shouts across the studio, and a man fiddling with camera wires looks up. “Don't you feel like you owe your whole career to me?” Kyle disappears for a few minutes, before re-emerging for two more episodes.
A few more gasps, cheers and boos later, and the whole thing is finished. The TV crew pat Kyle on the back, and he grins. That's a day's work for Kyle, so it's no wonder he has all the time in the world to spend with his kids. I suspect that the people he riles against, those who live in crumbling council estates in the poorest areas of Britain, those who face a glass ceiling when it comes to education and decent work, those who are merely 'bad parents' because they weren't brought up to be any better, those who live only fifteen minutes down the road from the Studios, where I was born, in Moss Side, Manchester, couldn't care less if an uppity talkshow host with a supermodel wife told them his opinions. But still, it makes great television.
If you've watched the show, you'll know that at the beginning, Kyle enters to a cheering, whooping, applauding audience and shakes a few hands. That must be Kyle's favourite part, because after all, “Jeremy likes it when you cheer for him.” Just as the TV crew are about to let us leave, Kyle speaks up over everyone. “One more thing, guys,” he says with a smile, “can we just do the beginning bit again?”
As we are finally led out of the studio, I see again the five women I remember from the beginning of the show. They are laughing, not at the absurdity of the man I have concluded, but at how lucky they all are in seeing Kyle in the flesh, and they were not alone that day. However, to my surprise, there are also those who seem disillusioned with him, perhaps because of his off-camera comments. We wander out into the rain again, and I begin to think about how in popular culture today lies an exclusive clique of celebrity, occupying a unique position in the public mind. Its members generate so much admiration, but also an equal measurement of loathing among the public, that it is impossible for anyone to have a completely neutral opinion of them. Thatcher is one. Pete Doherty is another. Jeremy Kyle is the latest member.