I love Richard and Judy

It may be shot through with Little Englandism, but the double-headed chatshow is also diverse, comforting and catholic with a small 'c'.

Patrick West
Columnist

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If you were to compare all five terrestrial television channels to a national newspaper, what would you adjudge them to be?

In my opinion, BBC1 would be the Independent: erudite and ostensibly objective, but pompous, self-regarding and surreptitiously left-wing. BBC2 would be The Times: good-tempered, cultured and conscientious in its coverage of minority ‘sports’ that people like to play in pubs, like snooker and darts. ITV is the Sun, with its crass populism, opportunities for gambling and emphasis on talentless ‘celebrities’. Channel Five is akin to the Daily Star in that it barely even bothers to report what’s happening in the real world, sticking instead to a cheap, blokish, moronic and thoroughly entertaining format. But what about Channel 4?

Channel 4, derided by right-wing tabloids as a vehicle for pornography and proselytising leftism in the 1980s, has always had an identity crisis, which has become more pronounced in recent years. If one were only to watch Channel 4 in the evening, one might compare it to the Guardian. Channel 4 News is manifestly Old Labour, as is the station’s ever-present political comedian Rory Bremner. Both constantly remind us of the shallowness of Tony Blair, of New Labour’s lurch to the right, and always – always – of the folly of the Iraq invasion.

The strange thing about Channel 4 is that during the small hours it turns into the Daily Sport. It then becomes chiefly concerned with swearing and tits. And, even more curiously, come daylight, Channel 4 metamorphoses into the Daily Mail. Morning witnesses re-runs of Friends, an aspirational bourgeois (albeit excellent) comedy if ever there was one. Early afternoon sees a bit of racing from Doncaster or Uttoxeter. Then there’s an old Ealing comedy from the 1950s, usually staring Terry-Thomas or Kenneth Moore, or a long-forgotten Hollywood western filmed in bad-quality colour and featuring blatantly Caucasian actors ‘browned-up’ as Sioux or Navajo.

This is followed by Countdown with Des O’Connor, a quiz show replete with crappy old jokes, fictitious anecdotes from the guest at Dictionary Corner, mandatory remarks from the presenter about his much-mocked singing career, pensioners and idiotic students in the audience, and some spoilt brat child prodigy who can’t take losing. And the entire show is replete with relentless Little-Englander chumminess.

Then there is the piece de resistance at five in the afternoon: Richard & Judy. This double-headed chat show is one of the best daytime television programmes around. Thus, I was saddened to read in the tabloids this week that Richard & Judy‘s ratings have plummeted, and that this will supposedly be the programme’s last ever season, what with Richard Madeley said to be going off to pursue a solo career.

I suspect that this in not a very original observation, but the Richard & Judy show is the ultimate televisual mirror-image of the Daily Mail. Which is why, like the Daily Mail, it is such a great and entertaining product, but simultaneously an unnerving one.

With its diverse tone and embrace of myriad subjects, Richard & Judy embodies all that is excellent about the Daily Mail. In a one-hour show, the husband and wife duo will have a serious talk about anorexia or child abuse, then recommend what to read on holiday, interview an up-and-coming comedian, show you amusing clips off the internet, recommend to you the latest medium/high-brow novel, and then display lovely ladies wearing lingerie. It has a comprehensive magazine format that covers everything, and Richard and Judy switch effortlessly from sombre to silly topics. It is a comforting yet serious – but never demanding – product. Like the Daily Mail, Richard & Judy is truly catholic with a small c.

Yet, if Richard & Judy mirrors much that is admirable in the Daily Mail, it also possesses a great deal of that newspaper’s shortcomings. First, there are the opening credits, which show some sterile, red-tiled houses in a suburban cul-de-sac in Sevenoaks or Guildford, or some god-awful philistine satellite town in the southeast where people who read books (that are not by Frederick Forsyth or Bill Bryson) in pubs get funny looks. Classic Daily Mail-land.

After the credits, Madeley begins, wasting no time on today’s major news subject, lamenting that it’s ‘political correctness gone mad’ or a symptom of ‘the nanny state’ – two phrases to which the correct response is to punch in the face anyone who utters them. I despair when I hear fellow right-wing people regurgitate these clichés, because I believe clichés and sloganeering reflect lazy thinking. Some of my left-wing friends feel the same when they hear their fellow travellers bellow ‘Bush is the REAL terrorist’, ‘Blair=Bliar’ or ‘Iraq is all about oil’. If I wanted to hear a phrase mindlessly parroted I’d go to an aviary or a pet shop.

Richard & Judy similarly has the Mail’s incomprehension of ambiguity and nuance. The presenters, like the said newspaper’s columnists and leader-writers, have an unswerving certitude and frame subjects in extreme binary opposites with the obligatory proverbial question mark: ‘Do mobile phone masts give you cancer?’; ‘Are Polish immigrants eating all our swans?’; ‘Are your children going to drop dead for no reason whatsoever?’ Guests on the sofa are routinely pigeonholed as being ‘for’ or ‘against’ such and such a stance, as a close relative of mine found out having appeared on the programme a number of times. She was duly caricatured by Madeley as a mad Catholic fundamentalist.

The idea that some issues are complicated, or that some guests sympathise with both sides of the argument, and that the answer to these questions is ‘a bit of both’, is seldom countenanced on the show. Add to this the pervasive faint whiff of paranoia in the programme and its constant subconscious intimations that ‘this country is going to the dogs’, and you will appreciate that Richard & Judy is the provisional wing of the Daily Mail.

That said, like the Mail, Richard & Judy is an excellent product, one that I similarly find myself helplessly drawn to each day. I shall miss Judy Finnigan fluffing her lines and her visible nerves in front of the camera. I shall also miss Richard Madeley doing his impression – unwitting or not – of Alan Partridge.

Patrick West is spiked’s TV columnist.

Read on: spiked issue: TV

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