This Morning

Thursday, July 12, 2001 by

After 13 years on daytime television there wasn’t a black armband in sight. It didn’t feel right Richard and Judy taking their leave on a Thursday. It hasn’t felt right them skiving off each Friday, Chris Evans-style, for a long time. And the inescapable air of indifference that hung over the whole of this, their farewell show, didn’t seem right either. Shots of Judy blubbing and shaking while Richard delivered melodramatic flourishes and funereal elegies to camera weren’t on offer, it seemed: at least not yet, as first, fatally, the pair were determined to have some fun.

The programme began with a Family Fortunes spoof. Richard and Judy led opposing teams of This Morning experts, noisily quarrelling over the funniest and most unusual moments from the show’s history while Les Dennis, present only on a screen, tried to keep order. Competitive environments have always brought out the worst in Richard; sure enough his combative traits soon tumbled forth as he ordered his team about and – as usual – interrupted his wife. The teams cited clips, but we didn’t actually get to see them: hugely frustrating, as making do with personnel hazily reminiscing about “that transsexual makeover” didn’t make for good telly. The whole business overran thanks to Richard getting carried away recalling a recent experiment with lubricants. “Yes, the clitoris cream” announced Richard firmly. “The what cream?” mugged Les. Next was “The testes self-examination,” explained Richard. “The testing self-examination” repeated Les wrongly. “You’re not supposed to confer – but I don’t care,” he sighed. This highly unsatisfactory knockabout concluded with the first of many tributes: “Mornings are never going to be the same without you,” croaked Les, “we’ll all have to get jobs!”

After the news Richard and Judy were snugly back in their normal domain, proudly seated in front of the Thames. As expected – and hoped for – they talked over each other within seconds. “Welcome back …” “Hello …” “Sorry …” “Sorry …” A sense of the pair ditching subtle interplay and going flat out for complete abandonment of poise and timing was overwhelming.

To qualify for the famous Midday Money quiz viewers had to identify a clip from The Woodentops. Once the footage was aired, it wasn’t enough for the pair to simply explain the question. “They were so posh!” snapped Richard, while Judy claimed to have loved the series as a child – “A really pretty house with a really pretty garden.” “And an inside toilet – which you didn’t have,” reminded Richard. He then revealed that just under £3m had been given away since Midday Money began – which begged the response no wonder ONdigital is in trouble. “It’s also the 2635th episode,” he droned on, “although we haven’t actually done 2635 …” “All right Richard, you can get back in the corner with your calculator,” purred Judy. Richard responded with a look of hurt tinged with malice, then threw Judy with a sudden “What was that?” directed to the gallery.

A suitably bombastic competition unfolded during the programme: the semi-final of “Win the This Morning House”. The fact it wasn’t the actual final was a bit of an anti-climax, especially as Richard so loved swivelling his leather chair. “Let’s go through the keyhole …” he cracked. Each time the programme went live to a semi-finalist’s house there was a two-second time delay that meant one of the contestants kept shouting “Hello Judy” at the camera relentlessly. Not for the last time Richard stoically reminded viewers, “It’s not THE last show, it’s just OUR last show!”

Meanwhile there was major trouble brewing. Judy announced that people were misdialing the number for the phone-in and calling what she seemed to imply was a real hospital. “They’re saying patients could actually die”, she gasped. But as has been so often the case, This Morning had to immediately flip from one emotional extreme to the other. Des O’Connor loomed into vision to promote his archive compilation show The Way They Were. He described a clip in painstakingly detail – only for Judy to introduce the exact footage in question, leaving Des looking stumped.

We then saw a very young looking Anne Robinson on What The Papers Say. “I used to be a researcher on that show,” Judy mused, off into another haze of yesteryear, “but I don’t remember Anne Robinson.” “They had guest presenters didn’t they?” pondered Richard. “A different one every week” added Judy pointlessly. Des tried to carry on plugging but of course it was no good. “I’ve got a fly buzzing round my head” muttered Richard, and the whole interview was killed. “Can we see Emma Bunton please?” Judy asked the gallery out loud. Finally Des’ childhood anecdotes sent Judy into a reverie: “When you look back, does it just seem like another world?” she waxed, perhaps already thinking of her own future.

This Morning has stubbornly felt on the edge of minor chaos for years, with items rushed, ended too quickly or simply dropped. This finale was no exception – indeed, even less effort than usual seemed to have been put into organising a workable running order. To give the show some kind of “historic” feel, a world record had been cooked up for them to break: to attempt a makeover of 100 people in 100 minutes. The brevity of this and other features meant it was terribly hard to gauge exactly what was going on, though a representative from the Guinness Book of Records implied it was for real.

Then it was a sudden cut to an interview with two young Emmerdale cast members, and both Richard and Judy pressed ahead asking them questions in character. When Richard then posed a question of the female star herself, and she still answered in character, he quacked, “No no, the real you!”, before drawling horribly, “She’s very pretty.” Judy wanted the cast members’ on-screen relationship to be a success: “Is this going to work out nice and happy?” You felt this was a matter of urgency.

The cookery feature involved Boy George promoting his macrobiotic recipe book. Richard pushed a tea towel into his face. “I can’t believe you’re a good enough cook to write this!” flapped Judy stupidly. Richard continued, “You’ve never cooked before have you?” George responded: “Yes I have – on your show.” A co-helper was present who wasn’t properly introduced, though Richard approached her: “Where are you from – Yugoslavia? They’re all bossy out there.” Paul O’Grady wandered in and Richard gave him a big kiss. The “This Morning House” competition was settled, but the losing contestant went to pieces. Richard tried his best to cheer her up: “You’ve won a holiday!” but Judy looked very distressed by it all – “I hate that, I hate that.”

And so it rolled on. Paul O’Grady, something of a This Morning regular, began, “It’s really odd that you’re going,” then got carried away – which Richard was clearly hoping would happen. “I’ve had a ball – such a good time on this show … We’re taking over tomorrow – me and Cilla.” When he tried to talk about his new series on location in America Richard as ever had to upstage him. “We love the States – we’re completely pro-American,” he announced, then offered his opinion of the entire nation and its history: “They are very rule-bound, seeing as it’s supposed to be the land of the free.” Paul made a dig at the media industry – “What they know about telly they can write on an ant’s thumb”, which Richard laughed at a bit too loudly.

Taking comfort in numbers the whole team assembled for “our last phone-in!” The callers were all classic This Morning vintage: the usual ill-chosen mix of froth – a woman who was also called Lily Savage – and the downbeat. Someone came on the line who first rang in five years ago contemplating suicide, but on agony aunt Denise and Judy’s advice had discovered it was only post-natal depression – and, as Richard explained, “Because Judy’s had that, she was able to help you!” thereby providing a swift reminder of This Morning‘s justification for its existence. Inevitably one of the callers was a celebrity. “Thank you for coming the other night,” George Michael began. He paid tribute – “You will be sorely missed in this household,” but then demanded, “What time is the show you’re not allowed to talk about?” Richard, squirming with relish, countered, “We honestly can’t talk about it,” but it will be on “later in the day.” “Faith was written in your honour,” Richard joked to Denise. “Oh shut up” shouted Judy, fed up with Paul’s teasing. “She started at half seven”, countered Paul as Denise, champagne glass in hand, thrust herself all over him.

Time was almost up. A suitably ill-kempt round of Midday Money was dispatched, the caller bagging £11,000 from piss-easy questions, most of which Richard gave the answers to. Then the result of the world record attempt provided the programme with the climax it deserved. “Are we live from the makeover site?” snapped Richard. No. He panicked. The live link was down – or was it? There was total confusion. “John Scott can you hear us?” he pleaded. Richard barked out orders – and finally the link was restored, and John displayed the re-made 100 though there didn’t appear to be any discernable difference from how they looked earlier. The Guinness woman confirmed that the world record for “The largest televised makeover” had been set by This Morning, which seemed somehow very appropriate. “I’m speaking for the whole nation,” John then continued, “We love you, we’re gonna miss you so much. I give you a tribute to the wonderful Richard and Judy.” And at last, some clips arrived.

With the twilight of the programme now at hand, back in the studio Judy was weeping buckets and clutched her mangy tissue tightly. Richard, on the other hand, was very cool and calm. “Let’s say something to the viewers here,” he began. At this point, only the coldest of cynics could not fail to have been moved by the occasion. Richard’s stirring monologue quoted the man who he and Judy had effectively stabbed in the back, ITV chief David Liddiment: “This isn’t our show, it’s yours – and we’ve always kept that at the forefront of our minds.” Choking on his words, he handed over to Judy who squeaked “We’ve loved you all very much.” But once more the pair had to desperately remind us that, “It’s not THE last show, it’s just OUR last show.” There is another This Morning tomorrow. But after that? “Have we nearly finished?” asked Judy, confused. They made their final curtain call: “As they say, we’ll see you around.” Then one last shot of the studio showed everyone milling around, dazed, unreal: even at the end, This Morning mirroring reality, their audience: us.


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