Farewell to the First Couple of TV

For nearly two decades, they have dominated daytime television – and had a huge influence on our wider culture. But now Richard and Judy say that they are going to call it a day. John Walsh laments

It's a sad day for celebrity psychiatrists, minor film stars, career criminals, song-pluggers and paperback writers. Richard and Judy are calling it a day. Not for their marriage, which seems as inexplicably strong as ever, but for the show that has, in various guises, been running for nearly two decades. It was announced yesterday that, at the end of 2008, 20 years after their first joint appearance on the small screen, Richard & Judy will be no more.

Many reasons have been advanced as to why the successful husband-and-wife team should shut up shop. Obliging friends of the couple insist it's their decision, that they're looking for "fresh challenges" after 20 years on the sofa. Others insist that Channel 4 was planning not to renew their contract and is axing the show because of falling ratings: 2.9 million viewers last year; 1.7 million this summer. Still others maintain that Richard and Judy never recovered from being required to alternate their popular 5pm slot with Paul O'Grady, the former Lily Savage, who was lured away from ITV and given his own chat show. And it's generally agreed that Richard & Judy never shook off the taint of corruption that washed around it in the premium-rate phone-call scandal in spring of this year.

Whatever the reason, the show's demise is not an occasion for rejoicing. It was never the most incisive or intellectually bracing of programmes on the networks, but it was extraordinary for three reasons. The first was the often-startling quality of the guests: Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Tom Hanks and Madonna all parked themselves on the comfy cushions, to be subjected to the mildest of grillings. The second was the staggering success of the show's book club, which started in 2004. And the third was the unique relationship between the stars.

Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan weren't like other yin-yang co-presenters. They were no Fern-and-Phillip or Natasha-and-George; they weren't indefatigable gigglers or joshers. They were married, and often they let little cracks and hairline fractures in their relationship show through the bonhomie; sometimes they seemed close to having a full-scale row right there on the comfy banquette. The audience didn't mind; indeed, they seemed to lap it up, as the audience for Oprah (in many ways a blueprint of R&J) lapped up the details of their heroine's marriages and struggles with her weight. People liked the privileged access they were granted into a real-life marriage, conducted, for several hours a week, under TV's pitiless scrutiny.

Many people wondered, frankly, how Judy could stand Richard. While she was small, bosomy, placid and sweet to the guests, he was tall, skinny, cross and argumentative. Where her conversation cooed and meandered around them, he would interrupt and hector, and demand they cut to the chase. Journalists who visited them at Cactus TV, where the show is produced, noted that Richard, off-camera, did 90 per cent of the talking when the couple were asked a question, and constantly interrupted his long-suffering wife. When, in one show, he offered an ad hoc impersonation of Ali G – all rude-boy hand gestures and "Is it becos I is black?" – Judy visibly cringed with embarrassment. Richard is good at embarrassment. He is fabulously indiscreet, a master of the inappropriate story. He has a genius for getting things wrong.

In 1997 he asked Neil Tennant, the famously gay singer of The Pet Shop Boys, how his wife was faring. When interviewing a novelist in 2004, he asked: "If you were going to write an autobiography – who would it be about?" When Bill Clinton came on the show to plug his memoirs, Richard told him, at some length, how he himself had once been falsely accused of shoplifting and how he'd carried the burden of accusation for months, despite being innocent, "so I know how you must have felt". Clinton blinked at this startling moral equivalence between a minor shop-theft and the destabilising of the White House. At such moments, Judy tends to gaze at Richard with a kind of pained, maternal indulgence, and you wonder again about their relationship. She is eight years older than he. When they first met, and she was assigned to take care of him on his first day, her first words to him were, "Hello, I'm your mummy."

They met at Granada TV in 1982. She was a 34-year-old Mancunian TV journalist who'd been the first female news reporter on Anglia TV in the mid-70s, before moving to Granada Reports in 1980. He was an east Londoner of 26 who started in local newspapers, and had early success as a presenter on Radio Carlisle. He began reporting for Border TV, moved to Yorkshire TV where he fronted Calendar with Richard Whiteley of Countdown fame, before his fateful move to Granada. Both were married to other people, but they wed each other in 1986. In October 1988, Britain – or at least a constituency of bored housewives, chronic invalids, stoned teenagers and agoraphobics – woke up to a new phenomenon called This Morning: two hours every day of celebrity chit-chat, phone-ins, cooking demonstrations, health discussions and the like, a kind of televisual balm for the afflicted.

The show pootled along inoffensively for 13 years, occasionally derided by Channel 4 bosses, who resented the growing personality cult of Richard and Judy. The couple were given their own early-evening chat show Tonight with Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan, on which their first guest was OJ Simpson, shortly after he was acquitted of the murder of his wife and Ron Goldman. The show lasted one series and died quietly.

By 2001, the couple had had enough of ITV. They decamped to Channel 4, bringing many of their ITV team with them. They also linked up with Amanda Ross, the glamorous, omnicompetent producer of the Soap Awards they'd hosted. She and he husband, Simon Ross, formed Cactus TV, which from 2001 produced the show, now bluntly titled Richard & Judy. After a disastrous start ("Our first show for Channel 4 was shit," was Richard's judicious comment) they settled down to a steady nine-months-a-year series in the 5pm slot, with a similar anodyne mix as before. This time, though, their pay was estimated at £1m apiece.

One new strand of the Channel 4 show was books. Amanda Ross, their producer, thought it might be interesting to exploit the new-ish vogue for readers' groups and start a TV book club, discussing and recommending new paperbacks. The idea took off like a Scud missile. Their first recommendation – Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea – was praised on Richard & Judy by Bob Geldof. In the week before the show, it sold 4,421 copies; in the week after, it sold 18,255. It happened to other choices: Notes on a Scandal, The Lovely Bones, The Bookseller of Kabul. Sales of the titles picked by the show in 2004 were 4,300,000, or £25m in hard cash. The following year (The Time Traveller's Wife, My Sister's Keeper) the show shifted 3,345,000 copies, worth £18.4m. The book trade rubbed its eyes in amazement. Cynics who doubted that Madeley and Finnegan read anything more demanding than Heat magazine, or who sneered that their choices were low-brow adventure stories, were confounded when the book club offered their vast audience the Booker-shortlisted Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and the 24-carat literary heavyweight Julian Barnes's Arthur and George. People started talking about "the Richard & Judy effect", a modern version of the Midas touch.

In February this year, the show ran into Phonegate, when a Sunday newspaper alleged that it had defrauded viewers of thousands of pounds in the daily quiz slot, "You Say, We Pay." Viewers were encouraged to phone in, paying £1 a time, for a chance to play the quiz, and an average of 15,000 did so, each day. The paper alleged that people were being encouraged to phone in even after a winner had been chosen. Madeley and Finnegan weren't blamed for the scam – the quiz provider, a Hemel Hempstead firm called Eckoh, was fined £150,000 and Channel 4 had to pay back viewers – but had to make a grovelling apology on air.

"Richard & Judy Not Unscrupulous Public Cheats After All" – you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from an audience. Eccentric, wayward, menopausal, indiscreet and sometimes phenomenally dim though they both sometimes seemed, they had, over 20 years, taken what seemed like a permanent residency in the nation's collective affections. They were popular because they never seemed to be acting. They gave themselves away all the time. Viewers gazed at Judy, battling against the onset of terminal frumpiness, and at Richard, turning before their very eyes from a handsome devil into a cantankerous git, and instinctively warmed to them. They were the perfectly British odd couple, inviting you into their warm parlour, probing and bickering and keeping the conversation going at all costs.

The world of Richard and Judy: a brief history

* 1988: The couple begin hosting This Morning on ITV.

* August 1990: Richard is accused of stealing champagne from Tesco after absent-mindedly forgetting to pay. He is acquitted a year later.

* November 1998: A caller is asked by Richard whether her "little lad of 12" is "a boy or a girl".

* September 2000: Richard's on-air impersonation of Ali G, above, is voted "worst television moment of all time" in a Channel 4 poll.

* October 2000: Judy accidentally exposes her breasts when accepting the National Television Award for Most Popular Daytime Programme, right, prompting Richard to promise: "If you vote for us next year she will show you both of them."

* July 2001: George Michael phones in to This Morning, telling Judy: "You've had your work cut out over the years with Richard next to you talking rubbish – divorce him love, divorce him."

* March 2002: Richard tries (and fails) to comfort a woman who missed out on her £928,000 Lottery win by telling her that "maybe it was for the best".

* July 2004: Bill Clinton appears on the show, above; Richard confronts him about Monica Lewinsky, saying: "I was in a similar position to you. I was accused of shoplifting. But, unlike you, I knew I was innocent."

* January 2004: The Richard and Judy Book Club launches and is an immediate hit, boosting the number of viewers by 400,000.

* February 2005: Richard tells the transvestite artist Grayson Perry: "You're just humming with sexual energy! Is it the fabric? Is it wearing tights?"

* January 2007: The couple confess on air to using Viagra.

* March 2007: Police confirm they will be investigating the show's "You Say, We Pay" competition slot, right.

* November 2007: News that show will end in 2008.

Alice-Azania Jarvis

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Sales Engineer - Cowes - £30K-£40K

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Engineer - Cow...

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice