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13 June 2012

The Jeremy Kyle Show has been axed. Here’s why it was only a matter of time

By Anoosh Chakelian

After a guest died a week following filming, The Jeremy Kyle Show has been cancelled completely. It was suspended earlier this week, after a 63-year-old participant called Steven Dymond was found dead after recording, having “failed” a lie detector test. He reportedly died by suicide.

Although his fiancé Jane Callaghan praised the show’s aftercare team, and you cannot attribute a person’s decision to take their own life to one factor, it was felt by ITV that “now is the right time for the show to end”.

Following the news earlier this week, MPs and a spokesperson for the Prime Minister weighed in to express concerns about the show. An iconic staple of British daytime TV, Jeremy Kyle is the most-watched show on ITV’s daytime schedule. But for its 14 years, it has attracted regular criticism for its perceived exploitation of people in vulnerable situations.

The premise is for guests experiencing relationship breakdown, family dysfunction and problems like addiction to have their stories picked apart by Jeremy Kyle in front of a studio audience. Because of this format, it has faced questions over the years about its duty of care towards participants.

Looking at the history of the programme, you can see why it was only a matter of time before a tragedy unfolded that was linked to the show.

Twice, assaults related to the programme have gone to court and resulted in sentences. The judge of a case heard in 2007, sentencing a man who head-butted a lodger at the recording of the show for having an affair with his wife, said producers of the show deserved to be in the dock with him – accusing them of provoking him and asking him six times if he would participate.

“This type of incident is exactly what the producers want,” said the judge, who described the programme as “a form of human bear-baiting… under the guise of entertainment”, and “a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people… for the purposes of titillating bored members of the public”.

In 2009, a man was sentenced for assaulting his girlfriend at home several weeks after they appeared on the show, when they watched the episode air. It included a lie detector test about her alleged infidelity. The judge in that case also claimed that the programme makers were partly to blame, saying they fed the man’s “insecurities”, persuaded “foolish and gullible people” to reveal their stories, and that there was “plainly an element of cruelty and exploitation in what takes place”.

A year earlier, a man was given 18 months for pointing a loaded air rifle at his wife’s head a week after finding out her baby was not his during a recording of show. She managed to escape through a bathroom window. The man’s barrister called it “a tragedy” that he had been persuaded to appear on the show, which was “for the purposes of producing a public spectacle”:

“My client indicates that the researchers wanted a degree of excitement,” he revealed to the court. “His wife was made out to be a slag and he was to get out there and stand up for his wife. When I spoke to my client in conference, I was horrified by what he had to say about the manner in which the audience was ‘whipped up’.”

In 2014, the show broke Ofcom rules by failing to inform viewers about the care it provided to a teenage participant, after her appearance on the show. The 17-year-old guest appeared distressed after “failing” one of the show’s classic lie detector tests about stealing from her mother. The regulator noted the teenager’s “degree of humiliation and distress”; she was called a “crackhead” and “silly anorexic slapper” on the programme by her older sister.

In 2016, Ofcom found it had broken the watershed in an Easter Sunday morning show, “Did You Sleep With My Boyfriend And Is He Your Baby’s Dad?” The episode “contained several aggressive confrontations between the participants and Jeremy Kyle, as well as sexual references and themes,” said the watchdog.

There was post-show counselling available, and guests have been helped into rehab on-air. But incidents like the above suggest the standard aftercare provided couldn’t always make up for unravelling people’s most distressing problems in a nationally-broadcasted pantomime.

In a statement to the BBC, ITV has said:

“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.”

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