A smashing bomb of a revelation

Seven days after Steve Dymond appeared Jeremy Kyle Show in 2019, he took his own life. His last lyrics to his fiancée, Jane, read: “They are responsible for what happens now … I hope it gives good reviews for them”. His suicide led to the show being abruptly canceled after 14 years on ITV.

Death a dayChannel 4’s sharp new documentary, revealing the ugly underbelly of ITV’s daytime ratings, revealed that Dymond was not alone. Another guest, Erica Pawson, also died by suicide while others suffered mental breakdowns, received criminal convictions, lost jobs and took home homes.

In the interview here, they still seemed shocked by their ordeal, which stretched far beyond the time they spent sobbing on stage when they were insulted by Kyle.

Four former employees agreed to speak and in this careful study of questionable production practices and their dire consequences, with their words performed (surprisingly effectively) by actors.

Young, inexperienced and mostly working class, they were carefully selected to join what they describe as “a kind of cult”. One that manipulated them into manipulating others in turn, leaving 21-year-olds two calls a week from previous guests who threatened suicide.

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They admitted that they had cheated with the required mental health checklists, that they had been trained in inducing “psychological carnage” and routinely lying to guests.

Perhaps the most heinous example was when drug addict families were led to believe that they were competing for places on rehab, enticed to expose themselves, while rehab was actually guaranteed, no matter how they “appeared” on the show.

Jane Callaghan shows off her tattoo of Jeremy Kyle’s signature. She now wants to remove the tattoo (Photo: Channel 4)

With so many topics, the two-part documentary occasionally loses its thread (it would be helpful to subtitle the names of the interviewees), and the second episode, which airs Monday night, struggles for a coherent balance between exploring the socio-political context, one parliamentary inquirysham of the holy lie detector and the suicide of a producer.

The gigantic trail of destruction left behind Jeremy Kyle Show is almost certainly too much to condense into a documentary (and no doubt this only glimpses the surface), yet it is a bomb of a revelation that dissects how a program nurtured by class contempt and fronted by a selfish bully became what certainly one of the most toxic and exploitative empires in television history.

Jeremy Kyle Show: Death on Daytime is on Channel 4 on Sunday at 9pm

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