Still top of the morning: Channel Five's The Wright Stuff turns 10
The Independent's Amol Rajan, a former 'mic boy' on the show, celebrates its birthday
Thursday 16 September 2010
Every time I watch it, I look more like a complete chump. Four years ago, I was employed as the mic boy on Channel Five's The Wright Stuff, which celebrated its 10th birthday last week. It was my job to look after and cajole the audience, and solicit their opinions on the talking points of the day, which formed the basis of the show.
Just occasionally, we'd get audience members who had extraordinary personal experiences relating to the talking points. This was one of those times. The subject of whistle-blowers in the NHS was in the news, and a chap called Eric told me that, when he was a student nurse, he lost his job for ratting on fellow students who were siphoning off drugs. He promised to confess this on live television.
As was customary, I used the advert break to sling round to the gallery, and make recommendations. You've got to make sure we get Eric on, I said. Back on air, the presenter, Matthew Wright, read his script on camera. Not long after, he turned his attention to me:
Wright: Enough about my little secrets. Amol, I hear you've got a whistle-blower?
Me: Well, it takes guts to confess, but we've got one here. Eric, tell us your story.
Eric: Hi Matthew...
Eric: Do you fancy a bum?
Wright: A what?!
Eric: A bum. Do you fancy a bum?
Wright: In what sense?!
Camera 4, the one that gets right up in your face – my face – caught my swivelling around to Wright in bafflement, shamelessly revealing myself to be the kipper that had been proverbially "done". What the camera could not detect, but which posterity should nevertheless record, is the sound of the gallery staff – the director, producers, editors, autocue bunnies – screaming in my ear: "Get the bloody mic away from him, Amol! Move the mic away!" And, for reasons I still cannot fathom, I declined this request, so that the microphone sat just below Eric's lips as he ventilated his final enquiries: "You know, like a bit of man-on-man action? Do you fancy a bum?"
Wright recovered the show, dismissing Eric as a strange man and moving on. Eric was Eric Page, from Channel 4's Balls of Steel. He had made me look like a complete idiot. And the clip is there, on YouTube, as it presumably will be for eternity.
What makes that moment remarkable, other than the degree of shame it still causes me, is not that it was so unexpected; but rather, that it happened on a show where such comic capers were a regular occurrence. During a special prime-time broadcast last Thursday to celebrate the show's first decade, a series of magical television moments from those years were broadcast. Even they merely skimmed the surface.
There was Vanessa Feltz pouring water over John McCririck, after the latter said nobody could ever fancy her; the singer David Van Day dumping his girlfriend live on air (before having a change of heart and marrying her); Jade Goody doing her first television appearance after the Shilpa Shetty scandal; the Culture minister, Ed Vaizey, swallowing "herbal Viagra"; and John Leslie being outed as the anonymous "rapist" in Ulrika Jonsson's autobiography (police subsequently investigated Leslie but no charge was brought). There wasn't room, alas, for my gliding up to George Galloway in a skin-tight red leotard, to re-enact his cat impression on Big Brother.
Wright's show has lasted longer than any other on Channel Five. Its 9.15am slot means it is reliably supplied with mums, students, and the unemployed. But a few other key factors ensure its audience numbers are still rising, and explain why rumours abound that Richard Desmond, Channel Five's new owner, is keen to expand it.
It is more intellectually stimulating than the morning exhibitionism on ITV (Jeremy Vile, they call him), and genuinely belongs to the viewers. Wright describes the format as a radio phone-in show on television, and his scripts are laden with the assertion to camera "It's your show, not theirs [referring to the panellists]". That breeds loyalty, and trust.
Above all, there is Wright himself. Recently remarried, his background on The Sun's Bizarre desk, and then at the Mirror, gives the show genuine journalistic edge. It breaks scoops – aside from Leslie, it's notable that Goody and Galloway chose this show to "speak", having declined interviews elsewhere – and campaigns aggressively on Wright's pet hates.
He brings in big names largely through his other media work. Inside Out, which he presents on the BBC, is in its fourth year, and he spent two years presenting Radio 2's culture show The Weekender, during 21-hour Fridays. Having been a regular substitute for Adrian Chiles on The One Show, the surprise is that the BBC isn't getting more from him.
Wright himself feels that, despite the production talent, his show couldn't be converted into a regular prime-time slot without a bigger budget. Yet Desmond is known to want more from one of his most trusted brands. Britain's brightest daytime show, as Wright styles it, is probably about to get brighter yet.
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