This Morning

Monday, September 2, 2002 by

Yes, fear not, ITV1′s great mid-morning behemoth is back – lurching out of the starting gate, with an opening shot of Fern Britton careering wildly toward the camera; black evening gown, bosom heaving, male models everywhere.

Quite why the producer felt it necessary to inflict this on the viewer is difficult to fathom, but its deeply disturbing nature was written all over John Leslie’s face – quite patently, his mugging up of the “Oh dear, you’ve really gone and embarrassed yourself this time, Fern” routine required no acting whatsoever. (David Essex: “She’s obviously a natural mover … She’s got lots of things moving.”) It’s indicative of the “Oh well, nobody’s really watching anyway, they’re just waiting to turn over for Bargain Hunt while they iron the cat” attitude which has so obviously rotted this tired old format-coffin to its core. I’ve seen some barrel-scraping ideas, but I have to admit: “Fern, get your tits out” was a strategy that boggled even me. Expect John Leslie’s home photography circa 1993 to be worrying Michael Douglas’ lawyers very soon if this carries on (“So, Raj, what would Freud make of this one, eh?”)

Basically they’ve tried freshening up the format, in a rather pathetic “deodorant on a dead horse” kind of way; each of their famous panel of “experts” now gets their own day of the week. Monday is Joanna’s “Carnival of Obesity”, more of which anon. Tuesday is Dr Chris Steele (“Ask your GP about the possibility of reducing the dose, or have you perhaps considered exorcism?”), followed on Wednesday by psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud (“It should only interfere with your relationship if your mother minds him wearing them”). Bringing up the rear on Thursday is wobbly-bodied, hand-wringing, squinty-eyed “Duurnt give up huurp, love” agony aunt Denise, and then a sublime week’s viewing is capped by some generic, cliché-dictionary, camp hairdresser/gardener/whatever he is.

“Anthea Turner and Grant Bovey are here!” exclaims a now mercifully de-corsetted Fern. Naturally I took this to be some sort of sick joke – “But don’t worry, Security will have them removed! If not that, then Paraquat should do it …” – but sadly, no. There they were, the entertainment media equivalent of Foot-and-Mouth disease, “chatting” to each other ‘midst the pot plants and MDF. Their “interview” was just as bumsquirmingly awful as you might expect. “I’ve got three lovely girls from my first marriage, so I’ve been very lucky in that respect”, smarmed the delectable Bovey; quite a beautiful way to begin a discussion of infertility with your childless second wife sat grimly at your side. I know the brain cannot compute “felt sorry for” and “Anthea Turner” in the same sentence, but for a fleeting moment, it was so. “Even though Anthea can’t conceive”, he intimated in his most compassionate tones, “no doctor on Earth can tell us why!” (Well, there’s five million people currently coming up with some cracking theories, you insidious Brylcreemed tit.) Sadly, Dr Madeley has now long since left the building, so we were spared what would have been a priceless attempt at cod fertility analysis (“Ah, well, no, it’s your womb, you see. See, Judy’s womb, that’s been a real bummer …”)

No less painful was the aforementioned fitness guru Joanna, as emaciated and over-makeupped as these lifestyle Fundamentalists always are. Two poor women called Donna and Nicky were vying for the dubious honour of a “DietCam” installed in their homes; presumably so Joanna can spend her weekends snorting Jaffa Cake crumbs all over the editing suite whilst compiling the highlights. “Dropping under 18 stone is a great psychological hurdle, isn’t it Donna?” she smarmed. (Translation: “Now you only weigh the equivalent of a small horse!”) It got worse, though. To add weight (snigger) to this “DietCam” business, a celebrity victim was needed: Hey, its Brummie Alison from Big Brother! Now you too can watch her hoover up the West Midlands every Monday morning.

David Essex looked like the nurse had wheeled him on under the medicine trolley. To say he appeared “a bit old” would be like saying Christine Hamilton is “a bit annoying”: he looked like an gypsy-earringed Transylvanian corpse doing an impression of a faded ’70′s pop star. Plugging his book, plugging his new album, plugging his trawl of every WH Smith’s from Clacton to Aberystwyth – did Pebble Mill not die with Judi Spiers? (“Yes, I’m in Me and My Girl with Su Pollard at the Birmingham Hippodrome, firebombs permitting.”) This really is like TV stuck in East Anglia, circa 1983; right down to the pastel sofas. Why on earth don’t they just admit that the format is like rigor mortis? What’s wrong with just bunging a mélange of crap at the viewer, à la BBC1? It brought us the Thin Orange Duke, don’t forget (now resplendent for a full – live! – hour in the mornings, as well as primetime.)

Truth is, R&J fans, though Fern and John do a pretty commendable job (as long as she keeps her assets to herself), their predecessor’s lack of professionalism had long since turned This Morning into a tatty, tiresome, amateurish mess. I can only sympathise with the 77% of people who phoned in to tell Denise they were “close to a nervous breakdown”. They, too, must have seen the face of the abyss shimmering back at them in Grant Bovey’s fake tan.


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