Richard and Judy

Monday, November 26, 2001 by

There wasn’t much sense of occasion on this first day of the new term with Madeley and Finnigan. No glossy title sequence showing Richard picking the kids up from school or Judy popping the tea in the oven. Publicity stills that had showed the pair decked out in cold black designer gear also turned out to be a sneaky ruse. When the opening credits were over – a startling neon pink montage of the duo pacing earnestly around computer generated nothingness – Rich was back inside a suffocating jacket, while Judy proudly re-acquainted herself with favourite kind of outfit, the sort that does her figure as few favours as possible. Everything looked perilously normal. But then came the killer moment. “Hello, I’m Judy Finnigan and this is my husband Richard …” quipped Judy in a knowing inversion of the first words ever spoken on This Morning. One for the fans – hooray!

If there was little trace of melodrama or celebration then that seemed to be exactly what Richard and Judy wanted. This was business as usual, no messing. They had less than an hour to play with, not a luxurious 100 minutes. Richard in particular went to great pains to affect a more brusque, managerial tone, hurrying through the menu as if to make everything sound incredibly urgent and frighteningly important. Judy flapped about, already displaying (wholly welcome) signs of drifting into those surreal and heady reveries that typified her last few months on ITV. But there was very little here that was genuinely new. Virtually all the staple features of This Morning showed up, from the defiant celebration of suburban net curtain twitching to the promotion of homespun Madeley kitchen table philosophy. Neither Richard nor Judy appeared concerned about re-treading their greatest hits. This was an exhibition of good-natured arrogance, and consequently remained compulsively watchable.

However there’s a couple of basic problems. One is the set, which is too claustrophobic. The lack of gigantic windows gazing out over waterfront vistas actually worked against the fabric of the show, deflecting everything ever-inwards and re-focusing attention with increasing intensity on the words and actions of our hosts. They might think this personally worthwhile, but in reality it means that Richard’s hectoring bounces off the set’s tiny walls and never seems to disperse, in contrast with Judy’s sappy rejoinders that instantly and eerily fade away into nothing. It also means that visiting guests and experts may perhaps find it harder to interact with the pair and also the fabric of the whole show.

Secondly, little thought seemed to have been given to programme structure. The show had begun promisingly, with a classic This Morning-style take on the world of weird science. Two sportsmen appeared, seated in comfy chairs, wired up to various medical machines to measure their heartbeats and pulse rates. The aim was to test an American theory (it’s always American, of course) that stated it was possible to expend energy slumped in front of the telly by simply imagining you were doing exercise. A doctor was on hand, sporting a lightweight grey jacket, to make it all look official. We looked in on the progress of these “armchair triathletes” throughout the show, a neat device that gave the whole programme coherence and, by returning right at the end to reveal the experiment’s results, some symmetry.

However the various features that filled up the rest of the hour seemed badly sequenced. Rather than lead off with some special guests, Richard and Judy headed straight for one of their favourites: a consumer issue. A man had found his bank account wrongly credited with £250,000, but he wasn’t going to give the money back. What would we do? Judy was tickled by the dilemma. “You can’t get away with it for the rest of your life!” she shrieked. Richard quickly took charge with his usual assertiveness: “You’ve had a bank statement, right,” he began, as he sought to impose his own logic on the situation. It all felt a bit pointless and uncomfortable – both presenters were shamelessly poking fun at what they believed was the man’s foolhardy bravado – until, at last, Richard explained, “You’ve got some brass neck – and it’s given us an idea for a phone-in!”

There had been rumours that the phone-in was to have no place in this new show, which would have denied Richard his chief vehicle for vocalising his many prejudices. Its re-appearance may prove to be a bad decision. When the phone-in took place towards the end of the show, there wasn’t enough time to give as much attention to callers’ problems or queries as they perhaps deserved. While on this occasion the topic was fairly innocuous – moral scruples – darker subjects might end up compromised for the sake of running to schedule. And though it’s always fun to hear Richard’s bizarre interrogations – “Would you give the money to charity?” he demanded of a caller who’s been offered the chance to kiss and tell – even his pearls of wisdom could lose their appeal when forcibly reduced to a 10 second soundbite.

Judy, however, still took up several minutes giving an example of how she faced a moral dilemma back at school over whether to pick up a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover she’d found lying on the pavement. “That’s not a scruples story,” immediately corrected Richard, before he went on to say there wasn’t time for his own personal story about how he once pretended to give up smoking … but then told it anyway. An American female psychologist joined them for this phone-in, but – as with all the guests – wasn’t billed on screen, which was somewhat bizarre and frustrating, though maybe intended to ensure everyone knew they were second fiddle to the real stars of the show.

Other features included the repeated playing of a short videotape they’d obtained from a society called Strange Phenomena Investigations. This pandered to Richard and Judy’s well-worn obsession with anything of a freakish nature. The footage showed an ordinary person – or “Spookman” as Richard instantly dubbed him – whose face ostensibly changed into others as you studied it. The studio crew were convinced, gasping on cue, and Richard was rapt: “Oh man, I could watch this all night” he gushed. But later another expert showed up to rubbish Spookman, so it was a rather meaningless item despite Judy’s attempts to make it sound relevant – “It’s a real-life transfiguration, like in the Harry Potter movie.” Both Richard and Judy also made sure we knew they were experts on this sort of thing, referring back to one time they’d interviewed a man who had denied murder but was later convicted – yet “we knew he had murdered her,” all along.

A dose of outrageous nosiness came in the shape of an item about how Oldham council have been going through people’s private rubbish on behalf of the Government. “I think it’s terrible,” snapped Richard straight away. This was pure That’s Life! territory. Richard relayed to us an account of what the programme had tried to find out, and how, “The bosses told us … well, they would say that.” Another uncredited guest came on who had suffered at the hands of a man that had “stolen his identity” and set up bogus bank accounts. Nothing to do with stealing rubbish then, though it gave Richard the chance to reveal to viewers how he made sure he burns all his unwanted mail rather than throw it away, and that if we had any sense we should do the same.

The proper guests, when they finally showed up, were Les Dennis and Amanda Holden. “Well, we know you’re both very happy,” began Judy, implying that everyone else, including the press, were therefore wrong to doubt the pair’s notoriously rocky marriage. Les had been on the very last edition of This Morning but this wasn’t referred to once. Instead we were treated to a rather distasteful display of ego-massaging, Richard’s face set stern when talking about the tabloids and using the fact he and Judy were close neighbours of Les and Amanda to conclude “it’s obvious that you’re happy.” Both this, and the interview with two cast members from EastEnders (splendidly conducted entirely in character) took place in a special part of the set: a kind of parlour area, with Richard and Judy perched on a lovers-seat and the two guests propped up in thrones. This contrasted with the main area, a sofa and easy chair set-up that was sinisterly reminiscent of early-era GMTV. It was also possible to make out a fish tank built into the wall, and some pots and plants standing self-consciously about. All in all not that impressive.

There was one final element to the show. Not only were viewers able to join in via the phone-in, but also through the memorable quiz game “You Say We Pay”. This has huge comic potential, as callers have to describe to Richard and Judy an object that is projected onto the screen behind them but without referring to its actual name, and the pair have to guess what it is. Amusingly it all went wrong, the lucky caller unable to grasp the elementary concept which caused Richard to leap up and down in his chair like a five year old. It’s “Midday Money” by another name, and just as enjoyably annoying.

So it all ended, and in much haste and confusion as they’d run out of time, unsurprisingly, and we were left with a garbled farewell involving those armchair athletes and rushed goodbyes. It must be a historical first to have a debut TV show end without any credits or proper closing sequence. There had been other problems, mostly of a technical sort (poor sound quality on the phone lines and several jerky camera shots, all fuel to Richard’s fire: “It’s just the first night, we’ll get it all straight!”) The pair also seemed uncertain of how to deal with commercials: when the first break approached, Richard pleaded, “We’re going to take a very quick break, it’s just one minute long,” and Judy echoed “We’ll see you in just one minute,” as if that mattered.

But Richard and Judy is a wholly welcome addition to C4, a station short of really big name signings for too long. In the event The Weakest Link beat it in the ratings by almost two to one; and it seems the show also lost viewers over the hour. Its future cannot be in doubt, though; the bizarre, the titillation, the kitchen table pontificating: it’s all there. Just not in the correct order.


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