The Jeremy Kyle Show was axed yesterday following the suspected suicide of guest, Steve Dymond.
And as accusations of 'poor aftercare' and 'dubious casting methods' continue to mount, Manchester Evening News reporter Vicki Scullard talks to a woman who worked as a runner on 15 episodes of the show to find out what it was really like…
"In 2006 while at university, I got a short stint working as a runner on the Jeremy Kyle Show.
When I got offered the placement, I was delighted – it fit perfectly with the brief of my course (TV production), and I couldn’t wait to find out what it was like to work on the set of a real television show.
Back then it was recorded at Granada Studios – a place of wonder and intrigue for anyone growing up in Manchester who wants to work in the industry.
Also home to ITV flagship soap Coronation Street , I was also secretly hoping to bump into a few of my favourite characters in the canteen, which programme stars and production crew shared when they got their well deserved break.
Walking into the building on my first day was very daunting – my hours were 9am until 6pm, in which time they shot three episodes. And fair dos to the production crew, it was a well oiled machine even back then – they didn’t ever seem to run over much.
After very brief pleasantries by a stressed member of the crew, I was shown the green room, where guests can get refreshments (yes, including wine on tap and beer aplenty), and showed the separate rooms where the guests were kept before they went to the studio.
I was given a walkie talkie and told that it would be my job to look after a guest and make sure they didn’t run into anyone they were going to confront on the show – mainly so that there was no chance they could make up their differences before the cameras started to roll.
This meant if a guest wanted to go out for a cigarette break, I would coordinate with the other runners so I knew the coast was clear, also checking down each corridor just to double check no one was wandering about, before I led said guest outside.
Another (paid) runner who I latched onto for advice confided that he often did 12 hour shifts, shooting four episodes in that time, and explained that if he wanted to step up to researcher level, he’d need to go above and beyond in his current position to be in with a chance of being noticed.
“If I don’t do it, they’ll just find someone else who will,” he explained.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Jeremy Kyle in person. He’s smaller than I thought he would be, parading up the corridor barking instructions at the senior crew members. From what I could tell, this was him getting into character before he began shooting, but even so, everyone seemed to fear him a little.
As us runners coordinated cig breaks, the researchers floated between the (often tipsy) contestants, and from what I could tell, it was expected of them to goad the guests before they stepped on the infamous stage, so when the cameras started rolling, they were p*ssed, and p*ssed off.
Filming was when us runners could take a quick loo break, get a drink and watch the show from backstage. I did the latter on several occasions, and was impressed with Kyle’s ability to get the audience in the mood and pump up the energy.
One day while taking a well earned break in the canteen, I was delighted to see Dev Alahan (Jimmi Harkishin) and Gail Platt (Helen Worth) walk in and sit on the table next to me. Another time I saw my favourite character, Tracy Barlow (Kate Ford) while hustling a guest to the smoking area and nearly asked her for an autograph (I didn’t).
One guy I looked after, I will never forget. He was lovely – not the tracksuit wearing scally that people often associate with the show.
He was in his late 40s and his (much younger) girlfriend was pregnant. Sounds nice, right? Well in true JK style, he wanted a DNA test for the child after finding out his son was having an affair with her. As I led him out for a cigarette break, he pretty much told me his life story – and how if this child was his son’s, he wasn’t sure if he could cope.
When he was led to the studio to start shooting, I didn’t have the chance to watch from the wings that time, so when I caught up with him afterwards I asked him straight – who’s the father?
“It’s not either of us,” he replied. “It’s someone else’s.”
That poor bloke’s face will stay with me forever, and I often wonder what happened to him when I have recalled my runner experience with others.
I can’t say whether that bloke and his son got any aftercare help or not, because I don’t know – but I did get the feeling that once the episode was finished the focus shifted quickly to the next dysfunctional story.
That experience made me so uneasy that it really put me off working in TV. I didn’t see any evidence of guests being mistreated, it just felt… wrong somehow.
At the time I didn’t give proper thought to the aftermath of appearing on shows like this – but back then it was in its infancy, and there wasn’t any awareness of how reality style shows could impact contestants.
Only with the benefit of hindsight can I say there were several warning signs.
Obviously the booze – offering alcohol on tap from before 9am for one, also I felt the pressure the hard working production crew were under to make every episode as explosive as possible. And when you’ve worked on more than 3,000, that’s got to get difficult.
After my week’s placement, although I am glad I did it, I decided I wasn’t going to return despite being offered the chance to put my name forward to be a paid runner.
I never thought in a million years that, almost 14 years down the line, someone would be found dead after appearing on there. I feel guilty about all the times I laughed off my experience to my friends.
I don’t want to jump on a bandwagon and kick a show when its down, especially as a lot could have happened in the years since I worked there. But I do think that reality shows (including talk shows like JK) seem to have become complacent with their contributors as they strive to be the best, craziest, and most shocking television.
That said, I can’t help feeling for the entire production crew as they face being out of work.
The aftercare issue on programmes most definitely needs a look at in light of recent events. If issues such as mental health problems – like with tragic Love Island stars Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis – can be prevented, shows need to set out a proper plan to make sure no one falls through the net.
But I do believe that a blanket ban on the genre could set a dangerous precedent going forward.
If you cut TV shows, what will come next?"
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