Last week something very important was happening on television. It wasn't Gary Barlow kick-starting a talent competition with a musical number straight out of your mum's weird sex dreams, and it wasn't Tom Hardy starring in something that looks like Peaky Blinders but with a different Batman villain.
No. It was Richard Madeley standing in for Matthew Wright on The Wright Stuff.
If you've never been a student, unemployed or pretended a really bad hangover was norovirus, and as such haven't seen The Wright Stuff, a brief explainer: it's essentially a roundtable discussion of current affairs, lifestyle and culture, exclusively featuring panelists who are in no way authorised to speak as confidently as they do about those things. Imagine Newsnight, but in the middle of a story about primary education reform, someone who released a top 10 single in 1996 pipes up: "I think the idea that you need to wrap children up in cotton wool is ridiculous – I smack my kids!" To understand The Wright Stuff is to understand that, despite it being ostensibly a news show, there was once an episode where David Van Day dumped his girlfriend live on air.
The show is so called because it is normally hosted by Matthew Wright. But whenever Matthew Wright can't make into the studio for a few days, the steering wheel is handed over to television's premier Alan Partridge impersonator, Richard Madeley. And this is when we need to stop and pay attention. Letting Richard Madeley present The Wright Stuff is like dropping a shark into a fish tank. The man will feast. Blood will be spilled. Last week proved no different: Richard took on immigrants, he took on trains, he took on health experts, he took on the EU. Nobody was – or is – safe from little Richard.
Let's see what Romford's rebel without a cause has been tackling by easing ourselves in with a clip. In this short section, Richard has been outraged by recommendations from health experts – in this case a report from The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons – that we should stop bringing cake into work to share with colleagues, as the daily presence of sweet treats in offices is supposedly fuelling the UK's obesity crisis. There is one sentence at the end of the report that reads: "If you want to give them anything, give them a smile, a hug or both!"
Of course subjects like this are undulating red capes to the likes of Madeley. He will not be told where he can and can't take cake by a fucking dentist. This clip demonstrates classic Madeley in motion – misunderstanding a lifestyle recommendation for a diktat, he becomes a self-professed insurgent. A man so set on righting the wrongs of political correctness-cum-health and safety, he feels the need to roll up his sleeves, push the boyish flicks of brown hair from his face and get the job done himself. "Right," he exclaims, his mouth dry, his blood a molten-rush through each capillary, "I'm baking a Victoria sponge. Do you understand? I. Actually. Do. Not. Give. A. Fuck."
Thankfully for us – the collectors of Richard Madeley moments – his week in the hot-seat was full of magical moments like this. Here, some quotes:
- "Would you welcome beavers being reintroduced to the Welsh countryside?"
- "I've got a device next to me every night to stop me snoring… it's called the Judy jab."
- "I'm sure that hugging burns off some calories!"
- "It's called free speech, and we're in the cradle of it."
Richard Madeley hosting The Wright Stuff is your retired uncle at Sunday lunch. He's got too much time on his hands since the divorce, he's just discovered Twitter, he's reading a big book about the Luftwaffe, he's optimistic about what leaving the EU could bring to the UK, he thinks Theresa May is a firm hand and that vegans, quite frankly, can stuff off! As his stint on The Wright Stuff has proved, Madeley is low-key the UK's leading common sense, Brexit-Britain merchant. He writes a column in the Daily Express, he thinks Jeremy Corbyn is soggier than a damp dish cloth, he loved the Iraq War and he writes novels set in the Lake District. Richard Madeley is all Middle England entitlement compressed into one quite tanned man.
The most celebrated moment of his recent spell was this little section where Madeley tackled disruptions to Southern Rail:
"Boo! You're rubbish! You're late again! Booooooo!"
In a way, this sums up Madeley's approach – and the approach of the plethora of newspaper columnists and TV presenters of his ilk, who would rather common sense over the "elitism" of experts. To look at the Southern Rail situation, with all its many facets and fuck-ups, and suggest booing at a big metal train – a train that would remain completely emotionally impervious to your booing – is to ignore nuance on all accounts.
"He's joking," you might say in his defence. But to that I say: "Is he really?" Are you telling me that if you were stood next to Richard Madeley on a platform in Croydon and you started booing, he wouldn't join in? He wouldn't feel a rush of giddiness in his bloodstream as he realised the potential dissent? Of course he would join in. Richard Madeley would join in and boo louder than you.
Last week we got to peer deep inside Madeley's mind, a place of slicing through red-tape with the kitchen scissors of injustice; a universe of booing at trains and speaking your mind even if you don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about. For this is a man who will do that. Tell you a fact about something you're the expert on and cry nonsense in the face of empirical data. A man precision engineered for the smarmy cultural future of little Britain.
More importantly, he is a man who will tell you, in pretty harrowing detail, his vasectomy story – even if you didn't ask.
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