I can’t say I’ll miss The Jeremy Kyle Show all that much, which feels completely out of step with a society increasingly concerned with mental health issues.
There was always something so gruesome about hungover students and comfortable housewives tittering over their plates of toast at the anguished lives of – often deeply troubled – individuals.
The ‘guests’ as they were so cordially referred to, were exhibited on stage with their pain left bare for all to scrutinise. It became familiar to viewers to see Kyle raising his voice at desperately unhappy guests before a grinning studio audience.
It was all so very much an accepted part of UK telly until it wasn’t. The death of Steve Dymond, who had been a guest on The Jeremy Kyle Show, has changed everything.
Steve was found dead by a suspected suicide on May 9, just one week after having taken a lie detector test on the show.
As reported by the BBC, audience members who were present when the unaired episode was filmed have described Steve ‘sobbing’ after failing the lie detector test.
Following Steve’s death, ITV made the decision to cancel the popular daytime TV programme, making the following official statement:
Given the gravity of recent events we have decided to end production of The Jeremy Kyle Show. The Jeremy Kyle Show has had a loyal audience and has been made by a dedicated production team for 14 years, but now is the right time for the show to end.
Everyone at ITV’s thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of Steve Dymond. The previously announced review of the episode of the show is under way and will continue. ITV will continue to work with Jeremy Kyle on other projects.
For 14 years – spanning over 3,000 episodes – complex betrayals of every variety were wheeled out for Kyle to judge with his signature dose of moral chastising and no-nonsense platitudes.
Within this web of disputes were woven a complex mess of personal issues. Addiction, long term unemployment, poverty and mental health issues.
One could argue that guests choose to be on the show, but when a person is embroiled in such emotional chaos, can they really be said to be making an informed choice? And do they really know what they are letting themselves in for?
Following Steve’s death, there has been a long overdue government inquiry into the type of aftercare being offered to participants on reality shows.
The digital, culture, media and sport select committee, chaired by Damian Collins MP, are launching an inquiry into the UK’s reality TV industry, looking at the psychological support currently being offered to participants.
Collins has made the following official statement:
Programmes like The Jeremy Kyle Show risk putting people who might be vulnerable on to a public stage at a point in their lives when they are unable to foresee the consequences, either for themselves or their families.
This kind of TV featuring members of the public attracts viewing figures in the millions but in return for ratings, the broadcasters must demonstrate their duty of care to the people whose personal lives are being exposed.
With an increasing demand for this type of programming, we’ll be examining broadcasting regulation in this area – is it fit for purpose?
In accordance with this inquiry, ITV executives will attend give evidence in public hearings regarding the aftercare and mental health support they provide.
That aftercare is finally being held under scrutiny is positive. But what needs to change moving forwards to ensure a less toxic reality TV industry? And how can executives work towards this?
I spoke with Relationship and Family therapist, Pam Custers, who has a wealth of experience when it comes to couple counselling and family issues.
Custers deals with many of the distressing issues explored on The Jeremy Kyle Show, albeit in an entirely different setting. As Custers puts it, ‘Jeremy Kyle dismantles people as opposed to facilitating growth and enabling people to overcome life’s problems in a way that’s healthy’.
Custers, who has ran her own practice for around 10 years, told UNILAD:
All the kinds of things that would happen on The Jeremy Kyle Show, we would work with here. However, the difference is that the clients that I see have face the self same problems in some ways, but are more affluent.
And Jeremy Kyle deals with people who are incredibly vulnerable and have really no access to support, and really go on to Jeremy Kyle in the hopes that they will get some counselling, some support or get into rehab.
He [Kyle] will often say ‘oh I’m sending you off to rehab’, but, you know, they have to walk the gauntlet before they get that.
They have to go through what I see as public humiliation whereby you know, the entire audience and Jeremy is pitched against some incredibly vulnerable people and Jeremy Kyle lands psychological blow after psychological blow, until he gets enough of a strong response.
Whether it’s anger, whether it’s hurt, whether it’s tears, and then once he’s done that, he kind of manages to finish it off very elegantly – in inverted commas – by saying, ‘oh well, okay, we’ll give you some counselling’. So it’s quite something.
We the viewers at home are not exempt from the cruelty which so often radiated from this show. It is common for people – even those who would never admit to watching the show – to describe people as ‘like something off Jeremy Kyle’.
Snobbish shorthand of course for supposedly low-income people expressing emotion and despair in public.
Although ‘Graham and the aftercare team’ were often discussed, did these troubled individuals really have to go through this ordeal to access adequate care? And did we as a nation really have to be exposed to such naked, dehumanising hatred?
I spoke with Karen Downes, from Blackpool, who appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show alongside her husband Bob to speak about their missing daughter, Charlene.
Charlene went missing in November 2003, at the age of 14. Her body has never been found, and Karen hoped her appearance – fifteen years after Charlene’s disappearance – would help raise awareness about the case.
Karen had also written a book about her missing daughter, entitled Sold in Secret, which she wanted to discuss.
Although Karen feels okay about her time on the show, her husband Bob was left deeply upset after personal details irrelevant to the case were discussed on the show, leaving him open to public ridicule and abuse.
Jeremy Kyle belongs to a different era: demonising poorer people lost salience, I think, because too many people (often in work) were hit by benefit cuts, or knew someone who was; and because a politics which said be angry at at the elites, not poorer people, won support.
— Owen Jones🌹 (@OwenJones84) May 15, 2019
Speaking with UNILAD, Karen said the team treated them with the ‘greatest of respect’ before they went on the show.
Karen also told UNILAD how she herself was made to feel comfortable while up on the stage:
He [Kyle] was very nice. I’ve always found him a bit intrusive, but that’s his job. In general, he was very nice. I can’t really fault him, not so much myself.
However, Bob was unhappy with the way he was spoken to once the couple were on stage, and quite understandably so.
According to Karen:
He [Bob] thought we were going to raise awareness about the book, and about Charlene, which he did to a point.
But then he [Kyle] started asking him about other personal issues, like his cross dressing and things like that about my marriage.
Which really he shouldn’t have done. That really wasn’t anything to do with him really. We wanted it to be about solely Charlene, you know?
Jeremy Kyle glaring at the mirror telling himself to get off his backside and get a job.
— Tom Rosenthal (@rosentweets) May 15, 2019
It is unthinkable to me that this would be seen to be an appropriate line of questioning for a grieving father trying to bring about justice for his daughter. I can’t help but wonder about the outcry if a more affluent family were spoken to like this.
I’m okay with it, but I was upset for him, you know? He took it pretty bad. People have been horrible to him, calling him horrible names […]
He’s had a pint threw over him and he’s been through it pretty badly in pubs. He likes a drink, and he goes out. And he’s been insulted quite a few times, and assaulted too.
Karen was also left unimpressed by the aftercare side of things, telling UNILAD:
The aftercare wasn’t so good. Because they only rung us once, and never rung us again after that. So we never had much on the aftercare side of it.
We are all of us fascinated by personal stories. By people letting us take a glimpse into raw parts of their lives which are usually remain hidden.
In this line of work, I love human interest stories where ordinary people overcome odds or work through issues to find a happier version of themselves. And this goes way beyond sheer nosiness.
It’s easy to dismiss reality television as ‘trash’, but there is a reason it holds such a draw. Relationship problems and family difficulties affect us all to varying degrees, and such shows can offer a sense of solidarity, when done properly.
Custers told UNILAD:
I think there is a place for a show that facilitates people’s growth, emotionally and psychologically.
And that is done with empathy, with compassion, and by someone who has got the psychological skills to also assess whether actually, someone should be within this context. Because some people really shouldn’t be up on stage.
Custers, who referenced the gentler talk shows of Trisha and Oprah, continued:
I think there is space to do that because actually the more we talk about our vulnerabilities within our relationships, the more other people can grow and feel like they’re not alone.
We’re all human, and if we boil it down – really right down to the bottom nugget – we all wish to be loved. And we all wish to love.
And, you know, love is something that hasn’t been seen a lot on The Jeremy Kyle Show at all. But you know, I kind of liken it to cage fighting. But a psychological cage fight where we are watching blow by blow.
The days of The Jeremy Kyle Show are behind us, but that doesn’t necessarily spell the end of ordinary men and women being exploited for ratings before being tossed aside.
I genuinely hope this new inquiry will push audiences and TV executives alike to view reality contestants in a more human way, with more care given to what their lives will be like once the cameras have stopped rolling.
A documentary series about the disappearance of Charlene Downes, entitled The Murder of Charlene Downes, will air on Channel 5 beginning 9pm on May 21.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.