Long Runners / No 22: This Morning

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The Independent Culture
Age: five-and-a-half. First broadcast Monday, 3 October 1988.

Frequency: every weekday morning, September to July, 10.35am-12.20pm.

Creator: David Liddiment, then head of entertainment at Granada TV.

Formula: husband-and-wife team Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan host the show live from Liverpool's Albert Dock. Studio interviews, fashion features and phone-ins mingle with pre-recorded segments that call on an established team of regular wine-tasters, hairdressers and agony aunts.

Unsung heroes and heroines of the supporting cast: Fred Talbot, frontier weatherman, delivers his forecasts atop a large map of Britain, half-submerged in the stormy waters of the dock. His death-defying leaps from England to Northern Ireland often bring gasps of amazement from the dockside, and are widely believed to be subliminal propaganda for an end to the Union. A scale model of Ely cathedral poses further danger. No-nonsense financial adviser Anne Ashworth and psychotic cook Susan Brooks also pack a considerable emotional punch.

But the real stars are? Richard and Judy, of course: the Torvill and Dean of the misguided makeover, the Nicholas and Alexandra of cross-stitch.

When and how did they meet? In 1982, on Richard's first day at Granada Reports - having just moved across the Pennines from Yorkshire TV - his nerves were stilled by a friendly hand on his shoulder and a calm voice proclaiming 'I'm your mummy'. It was Judy. Four years later they were married (both for the second time) and the rest is television history.

What are their children's names? Jack and Chloe, seven and five respectively, and 15-year-old twins Tom and Dan, from Judy's first marriage.

Do Richard and Judy ever give the viewers the benefit of their own experiences? I should coco.

Extra-curricular activities: Richard presents the superb daytime quiz show Runway and the not quite so impeccable (and recently axed) Cluedo. Judy's weird current-affairs series, The 500, has been moved to a daytime slot. She continues in her role as the Coronation Street cast's representative on earth. The couple's big night-time venture, The Richard and Judy Show, got off to a shaky start, not least because of its title's unfortunate echoes of seaside puppet conflict.

Current status: buoyant. Richard and Judy signed new contracts just before Christmas, guaranteeing them a total of almost pounds 1m over the next two years. The ratings war between This Morning and the BBC's pale imitation, Good Morning, is an ugly one. Richard and Judy's ratings, at around 2 million, are double Anne and Nick's.

Following: anyone at home in the mornings with the time and the taste for real-life drama.

Fatal attraction: the delicate balance between slickness and catastrophe. The rare gaffes are usually made by Richard: falling off his stool and swearing, or, after a particularly dull guest-slot, being overheard to say, 'It's terrible. We don't have any control over who we have on any more.' When things like this happen, the ebb and flow of Richard and Judy's relationship comes into focus. Their much-publicised 'chemistry' depends on fury and resentment as much as affection. So it's genuinely touching how they leap to each other's defence when under attack.

But who would want to attack them? Almost everyone. There is something about Richard and Judy that brings out the baser instincts of watching media and guests alike. Tabloid photographers pursue them on holiday in search of unflattering bikini snaps, and there is endless sexist harping on 'the age difference' (a paltry seven years).

Lasting contribution to British television: This Morning was the first programme to take advantage of the IBA's relaxation of sponsorship regulations. It was autumn 1989. The sponsors were Pedigree Chum. The segment was 'Pets and People'.

The bottom line: is it any good? Like laudanum and chocolate marshmallow tea-cakes, This Morning is best taken in moderation, but even the boring items never last more than 10 minutes - and the format gives occasional longueurs a soothing quality. Richard and Judy are not always as sensitive as they might be, but when compared with the crocodile tears of Anne and Nick, their sincerity is transparent.