The Jeremy Kyle Show. You know what it is, but let's go over it again anyway: it is an arena for a man named Jeremy to squat and to leer and to scream, sometimes completely unprompted, "THIS IS MY SHOW – MY STAGE! MY SHOW!" at angry men and women who have chosen a national television show to air their most personal of problems, in the hope that Jeremy – a man whose idea of counselling is to loudly interrupt people – will counsel them into a happier, less fight-y place.
We know all of this because we see all of this. But what about the stuff we don't see? What about the stuff that happens before the cameras start rolling? How do the researchers convince all of these extremely furious people to be furious on the telly? Who pins Jeremy's skin taut over his face and greases him into that grey middle-manager suit before every single episode? Ask Google for an answer and you'll get results about producers allegedly riling people up so they'll make more of a scene onstage, or staff misleading guests into appearing on the show.
In 2013, for instance, the defence lawyer for a male guest who had assaulted another guest onstage alleged that "the man was provoked by [Jeremy Kyle] staff to the point that when he came on stage he was particularly angry". An ITV spokesman said at the time that there had been no such goading.
Further back, 45-year-old David Stainforth was convicted of assault after head-butting a love rival during the filming of a 2007 episode. District Judge Alan Berg, presiding over Manchester Magistrates' Court, concluded that Jezza's staff – who had supposedly "persisted" in reaching out to David, telling him his estranged wife was considering a reconciliation – were partly to blame for the incident.
"This type of incident is exactly what the producers want," said District Judge Berg. "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." An ITV spokeswoman told the BBC: "We do not recognise the district judge's description of our programme, or his opinion of the viewing public and the people who choose to take part in our programme in an effort to resolve their problems."
I accept the ITV spokeswoman's word – I'm sure the makers of the show don't recognise that critical opinion of them – but I did still have some understanding to do. So I spoke to a couple of people who worked on the show, and a couple of people who appeared on it, to get their take.
HOW THEY SOURCE THEIR GUESTS
"The majority of [guests] ring up and it will be followed up," says Steve*, a 26-year-old Mancunian who used be a researcher on the show. "But sometimes we would go through magazines and newspapers such as The Sun and The Star to try and get juicy stories."
Peter*, another former researcher, expands on Steve's point: "On Monday morning we'd get a list of people who had contacted the show. The way it works is that you are basically blagging them. The way you're trained is to just get them onto the show – you manipulate them."
In an emailed statement, an ITV spokesperson flatly denies that any manipulation takes place in any part of the process, adding that "all guests are fully informed of the content of the episode in which they are appearing and are there of their own free will".
Melissa, a 28-year-old mother from Lancashire, was due to appear on the show a couple of weeks ago with her ex, James. However, they were far from happy with the end result after filming and wanted their segment to be pulled. Explaining how they ended up on there in the first place, Melissa says: "I got the number off the internet about getting a DNA test for my daughter. They rang me the same day and had me on [the show] the day after. Then they rang my ex-partner and asked him if he'd go on. He said yeah, so the next day we were picked up in a taxi."
HOW THEY PREP THEIR GUESTS
Interested in the allegation that waiting guests are whipped into a frenzy by staff, I ask Steve if the rows are genuinely spontaneous, or if there's been a helping hand somewhere along the way. Do producers sidle up to already mildly enraged people and whisper in the ear: "Hey, I don't want to shit-stir or anything, but just so you know, Darren's gone and called you a cunt"?
According to Peter: yes, they do exactly that. "You'd get them fired up before [they] go on," he says. "You'd go into the room and say, 'He's just called you a cunt.'"
Steve echoes Peter: "When we were speaking to upcoming guests we would focus on the bad things that others had said about them to get a good reaction out of them on stage," he says. "The guests do get wound-up a bit. You could say [producers] try to bring out the fiery side of them to get a good show."
James, Melissa's ex, gives a similar answer to Peter and Steve: "They ask you questions the night before. They picked out all the bad things I'd said – nothing nice – and used it."
These, of course, are only three people's accounts – and in that same emailed statement the ITV spokesperson says they "strongly refute misleading and false claims that guests are taken advantage of, manipulated, provoked or mislead [sic] in any way".
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WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE SHOW
Is it actually as rowdy backstage as it looks? Do those men the size of adult brown bears really need to be there holding people back, or is that just a piece of TV magic designed to keep viewers engaged, like when Jerry Springer added a stripper's pole to his set, or when the BBC presumably told Phil Neville he couldn't do any more commentary because 445 people complained about how boring he was.
SPOILER: Yes, according to Steve, they really do need those big men.
"It would kick off on a weekly basis when the show was being filmed," he recalls. "I was spat at once. We would get fighting backstage and the police had to be called in."
The ITV spokesperson says they "firmly deny allegations of backstage violence".
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE SHOW
A judge once described The Jeremy Kyle Show as "human bear-baiting which goes under the guise of entertainment", but, for his part, Jeremy reckons he and the team are providing a valuable service. "For those that say it's exploitative, I don't think it's a freak show at all," he once told The Independent. "Personally, I think that misses the point." He then went on to credit the work done by the show's aftercare team, which is headed up by psychotherapist Graham Stainer, who sometimes appears at the end of a segment and has a little squat next to the affected guests.
So there's that – a free bit of counselling from a professional. But what about those who change their minds about appearing on the show, worried that what they've said is going to make them look like a big idiot?
"Obviously when some guests have gone on the show they regret signing the consent form," says Steve. "They can't stop the show going out. So if they feel like they've made a bit of an idiot of themselves they'll start to kick off because they don't feel like they've said their side of the story. That can lead to them getting pretty angry."
You'll be glad to hear that, regardless of signed consent forms, shows are occasionally pulled. "I had a situation once where someone rang [after filming] saying, 'My social worker has said that I shouldn't go on for the benefit of my child,'" says Peter. "If that's the case, they will pull the show."
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WHAT THE STAFF THINK OF THE PROCESS
Now the dust has settled, the DNA tests are completed and the validity of the lie detector tests are being hotly contested, what did the former staff really think of their time on the show?
"Some of [the guests] I felt sorry for; they seemed a bit vulnerable and that they'd lost their path in life," says Steve.
Peter doesn't quite agree with Steve on this point. "I wouldn't say [ITV] use them," he insists. "In this day and age, if you're going on The Jeremy Kyle Show, you should be wise enough to expect that [Jeremy is] going to rip into you."
*The names of the ex-staff members have been changed to protect their anonymity.
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