The Jeremy Kyle show: When the cameras are off, what vile scars are left?
The Jeremy Vile show: When the cameras stop rolling, what scars are left behind for the stars
1:50 PM on 10th May 2011
Even if you have had a full-time job since July 4, 2005, you will be familiar with The Jeremy Kyle Show. Apparently conceived in the image of The Jerry Springer Show, the programme gets together troubled families to have a fight on air.
Occasionally, the conflict will be rooted in some outrageous Dickensian injustice, such as ‘My dad ran off with my fiancee’ or ‘My brother stole my mother’s life savings while she was cooking his tea’.
Very occasionally, it will be a tear-jerking story of child illness or similar, in which the sorrow is its own titillation and none of the guests is required to be a monster or get booed by the audience.
Generally, though, the argument will centre on a sad story about elemental human weakness: domestic violence, infidelity, hooliganism, antisocial behaviour, bad or nonexistent parenting.
Underneath all that, almost always, there’s drug abuse, alcoholism or mental illness, often all three, in what sociologists call ‘constellated disadvantage’.
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There’s always a villain and, while I haven’t watched every episode, I think it’s safe to say the people on it rarely walk off stage reconciled.
It has had its critics: in 2007, a Manchester district judge, Alan Berg, was required to pass sentence on a man who had head-butted his love rival on the show. He called the Jeremy Kyle experience ‘human bear-baiting’ and told the accused man: ‘These self-righteous individuals should be in the dock with you. They pretend there is some kind of virtue in putting out a show like this.’
That pretence of virtue is almost worse than the programme itself: the show’s psychologist, as well as various producers, make large claims about the good they do. They offer counselling, or they get people into rehab or, with their trusty lie detectors and DNA tests, they claim to sow the seed of truth that blossoms into a happy, if complicated, family unit.
Kyle started his career as a salesman, moved to local radio, then on to present Jezza’s Confessions for Manchester-based Century FM, which seems to be where he got his appetite for shouting at people with problems. He says he ‘believes the only way to solve a problem is through honesty and openness’.
He himself is not free from human weakness; he was addicted to gambling, which led to the disintegration of a very short marriage in 1990. His former wife said he stole thousands from her in the service of his habit, which he has now kicked. He says he has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and licks his mobile phone to see if it’s clean, but that’s by the by.
Deep regrets: Chris Lyons and his mother Andi wish they had never appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show
On the show’s website are heartwarming stories of people who have rebuilt their lives thanks to Kyle’s trusty sword of truth and extravagant aftercare. Even though it is impossible to imagine a family whose life would be improved by an inaccurate lie detector test result or even an accurate DNA test, followed by a load of shouting, it is possible, from a distance, to believe them.
I contacted the press office to see if they could put me in touch with a couple of former guests. We spoke at length about the idea, and then silence — a total stonewall.
That’s pretty unusual: even shows that think of themselves as quite low-rent, such as Deal Or No Deal, still like attention. So I think these people know they’re not doing a huge amount of good. But I don’t think they realise how much harm they can do.
Chris Lyons was 17 when he went on Jeremy Kyle, with Andi, his mother. They were living on the Isle of Wight; she was running a hotel with her now ex-husband and Chris was running amok, abusing drugs and solvents and customers.
He applied to go on Trisha Goddard’s show, which was soft and supportive and made apparently genuine offers of rehab.
Kyle started his career as a salesman before moving to local radio in Manchester
When Kyle replaced Trisha, he took over her files, so producers contacted Andi and Chris and brought them to London (this was before the show moved to Manchester). Each was interviewed separately. Andi says: ‘Chris was up until two or three o’clock in the morning, talking to them.’
I heard this from everyone I spoke to, bar one: they keep the families technically together, but functionally apart, with a researcher assigned to each, seemingly with the brief of winding them up.
The next day, they were taken to the studio and put in separate rooms, where they say the baiting continued until it was time to go on. Chris says: ‘They kept coming in and saying: “Your mum said this about you. Your mum said you were a dirty crackhead.” Some of the stuff they told me, I thought: “My mum doesn’t even talk like that, my mum would never say that.” ’
I can’t help wondering what Newsnight would look like if all the guests were exhausted from the night before and had spent hours in a green room, listening to researchers whispering: ‘You’ll never guess what AC Grayling said about your book’; ‘David Aaronovitch called you a fat ******.’
For the show’s part, a spokesperson says: ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show has been on air for six years and is incredibly proud of its record in helping thousands of people across the country via a properly structured and resourced system of help and care for a wide range of issues and problems.’
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Anyway, Kyle seemed to decide, as the show started, that Chris’s drug problems were actually Andi’s fault. ‘Because I’d been married three times, he said: “Any child would have problems after going through three marriages with you.” But their dad died. He was making it sound like it was my fault their dad died.’
Chris interjects: ‘I actually said at one point: “This is really unfair on my mum.” And the audience clapped, they agreed.’ That bit was lost in the edit. So, they had the confrontation, Chris had a drug test, which came back negative (‘He said: “You’re clear. Well done for that.” But I’d been on pills and coke two nights before, so I thought: “Your test’s wrong”), Andi got shouted at, and afterwards there was half an hour of counselling.
One other thing: during the show, Kyle said to Chris: ‘Have you got a job’ ‘And I went: “No.” He said: “Do you want a job” And I was like: “Yeah, of course I want a job.” He said: “Would you like a job working with me” And I said: “Yeah, of course.” When they was filming it, he talked to someone on his earpiece and said: “OK, we can do that, yes.” Then he turned back to me and told me I’d be given a job as a runner.’
Andi claims they received a letter two weeks later, saying the job was of course voluntary, no expenses would be paid, and she would have to pay for somewhere for Chris to stay. ‘That’s his idea of a job,’ Chris says, smiling.
They returned to the Isle of Wight. Andi was embarrassed, but relatively unaffected, by the broadcast, but it was hard on Chris. ‘It ruined my life. All of a sudden, I wasn’t Chris Lyons any more. I was just that guy off The Jeremy Kyle Show.’
They never did get him any rehab, or give him a job. He did get half a day’s unpaid work experience at a kennels. Douglas Naylor was nothing like so vulnerable when he appeared on the show, to be the voice of hooliganism. He was in his 30s, had co-written a book, and was in stable work.
I meet him at a pub opposite Sheffield station. His daughter is with him, but she sits away from us, at the bar, with a friend. She looks sleek, young and successful, and I can tell she really wishes her dad wasn’t doing this interview. She’s eyeing him as if he’s someone who habitually does a regrettable thing.
Naylor, a Sheffield Wednesday fan, was invited on to The Jeremy Kyle Show in 2006, pitched against the parents of a Leeds fan who had been killed in Istanbul in 2000.
He says he didn’t know that before he went on. He thought he was being invited on as co-author of Flying With The Owls Crime Squad, a book about football violence, written from the point of view that it is a legitimate, fun hobby.
He’s no angel. ‘Well, basically, I am a thug,’ he says. ‘But within reason. I would never attack someone unreasonably. My football thing was proper organised stuff with gangs. That was what I was brought up with, since I were a little lad. I’ve never been one to bully anybody. I’ll have a fight with like-minded souls.’
So the show was vexing — but its impact, of course, came later. ‘They said I was a football hooligan, going to Germany [for the World Cup] to cause trouble. Weeks after the show, I was going to Germany, I’d got flights, I’d got car hire . . . I got deported.’
I suppose that’s life when you’re on the record as a football hooligan. He was known to the police already, before the show. ‘But only to Sheffield police.’ Naylor was fired from his job as a tree surgeon. ‘They wouldn’t say they fired me for going on the show. But they fired me for one mistake, after a whole career in it.
‘A criminologist spoke to me afterwards. He wanted me to come and do a lecture at his university [Leicester]. So I ended up on the university lecture circuit for a bit, describing the hooligan mindset to criminology and psychology students.’
So it wasn’t all bad ‘No. Not until I was nearly killed.’ The hooligan dynamic here is interesting: there was a feeling among Sheffield United fans that Naylor had overstated his role in the Wednesday firm and was actually a ‘nondescript’ (this sounds mild, but is a very profound insult in the culture of fighting for fun).
‘Before I knew what was happening, I were the most famous thug in England. There are only certain places I can go without getting into a fight.’
This notoriety, coupled with bad luck, landed him in a horrific fight: just him against a pub full of Sheffield United fans. Someone hit him with a lump hammer. When he arrived at hospital, he was technically dead and had to be resuscitated twice. One of his eyes is lower than the other now, but it’s quite subtle. You’d only know if he told you.
Robert Dunnill is the great success story of the Jeremy Kyle experience. Aged 42, he lives in Scarborough and his spick-and-span house is papered with photos of a Russian woman he met on the internet, whom he intends to marry.
When I arrive, he has a video of the show he appeared on, back in 2005. We stand in his kitchen, watching it together. This is what happened: he met a girl, Sammy, on the seafront, took her home, and soon they were engaged. Opinion differs on the order of things, but they split up and she started going out with his dad, Frank.
Robert’s mother had died not long before. After father and almost-daughter-in-law fell in love, they sold their story to various papers. One particular article, in Love It Magazine, was the final insult.
‘That were disgusting. I don’t mind being famous, but when you look in a magazine and they’re discussing being in bed, and how me dad were better than me, that’s the part I didn’t like. They were showing them having pillow fights.’
Frank and Sammy quickly married and, on their wedding day, they told Robert that Sammy was pregnant. He was distraught. ‘It made it worse because I wanted kids with her. If me mam were here now, God help me dad.’
At this point, he applied to go on The Jeremy Kyle Show. And finally, he felt vindicated. It wasn’t as if the public scrutiny was new, after all the media appearances his father and ex had made.
The difference with The Jeremy Kyle Show was that it told the world who was wrong and who was right. ‘They give me a lot of backing. And Jeremy Kyle himself was fantastic.’
Robert says the show gave him his dignity back; it was a huge relief, it took the stress out of the situation, it meant that people at work gave him more support, and it’s been repeated 12 times now, so the world keeps on seeing how wronged he’s been.
‘Before that, all me family were half with me and half with them. Because of Jeremy Kyle, they understood where I was coming from.’
So that’s how it works when it works. Some people need the validation of pure victimhood, and they deserve it — and then they’re happy when they get it.
It’s just a shame Jeremy Kyle’s brand of victimhood and vindication has so many other undesirable side-effects.
Guardian News &Media Ltd