The Phillip Schofield affair shows us not all is well in TV land - Jayne Dowle

The Phillip Schofield affair, in all senses of the world, threatens to damage irreparably not only his own reputation but that of the broadcaster, ITV.And this looks likely to have serious repercussions, not just for the professional future of the 61-year-old presenter, who was dropped as a Prince's Trust ambassador earlier this week, but for the public’s love affair with ‘the box’.

I was standing in the queue at our local Post Office on Saturday morning tuning in (sorry) to two older ladies chatting about Schofield. “I’m glad to see the back of him, honestly,” said one. “And she can go as well for me,” replied the other. “She’s far too false.”

That story about the toothsome twosome apparently queue-jumping at the late Queen’s lying-in-state in September clearly won’t be forgotten any time soon.

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We’re seeing and hearing things that those of us of a more cynical bent – I worked as a TV critic and interviewer for several years in the 1990s, so nothing surprises me – have long known, or at least suspected.

Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield in 2021. PIC: Gareth Cattermole/Getty ImagesHolly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield in 2021. PIC: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield in 2021. PIC: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

The cheery smiles of so many television ‘stars’ never quite reach the eyes. The bonhomie is buoyed up by too many glasses of whatever in the Green Room. And when the cameras go off, the world of light entertainment television is as hollow and false as a stage prop tree.

Speaking on GB news, Eamon Holmes, former co-host of This Morning on Fridays between 2006 and 2021, with his wife, Ruth Langsford, said that Schofield created an “atmosphere where people hated him”, and that he and his on-screen partner Holly Willoughby, 42, were high-handed and distant with the production team, not even bothering to learn their names.

There’s obviously a long-standing feuding between 63-year-old Holmes and former BBC children’s presenter Schofield, and it’s pretty nasty for the public to watch it rolling out so scathingly in all its grubby detail. Bitterness is rife in this industry.

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What you see is certainly not always what you get. Remember David Walliams? The successful children’s author and Britain’s Got Talent judge was forced to leave ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent after he was caught making foul and derogatory comments about the show’s contestants behind their backs.

As Schofield is now finding out to his cost, no one ‘star’ is bigger than the network. If you’re one of those people who maintain that they rarely, if ever, watch ‘commercial television’, preferring to pledge their allegiance to the BBC instead, let me tell you. Rude, arrogant and high-handed behaviour is by no means unheard of in the hallowed halls of Broadcasting House.

There are decent people who work in television and I consider some of them as friends and professional contacts.

However, far too often, junior staffers, contractors who work for outside agencies, and sadly, members of the public, are treated like cannon fodder.

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Too often, any duty of care is sacrificed in the chase for ratings. Suicides and serious mental health problems have plagued the participants of reality TV programmes, for instance.

There have been wake-up calls. Following the death of 63-year-old Steve Dymond, of Plymouth, who died seven days after taking part in ITV’s warts-and-all Jeremy Kyle Show in May 2019, the long-running programme was axed and MPs called for an inquiry into reality TV and the way participants are cared for.

But no-one has held up a hand and said, ‘we need to take a long, hard look at what we’re doing’.

I’m not saying that we should cling without deviance to the strict principles of Lord Reith, who became managing director of the BBC in 1923. His watchwords for any public service broadcaster were that it should aim to ‘inform, educate and entertain’.

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However, as this unedifying Phillip Schofield business is showing us, the pendulum has swung much too far in the other direction. All broadcasters know that the public’s allegiance to mainstream TV is massively under siege from streaming services and myriad other forms of entertainment.

ITV’s big answer to regaining ground this summer is to resurrect the 1990s reality show Big Brother, described by Kevin Lygo, ITV’s managing director, at the Edinburgh Television Festival in August 2022, as “arguably the sort of best thing there’s ever been on television”.

If that’s the thinking from the top, is it any wonder that those at the bottom are treated as expendable? And those in the middle, the so-called stars and celebrities, have such an inflated opinion of their own worth?