The Richard and Judy way: shifting units from the sofa

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The Independent Online

Richard and Judy had pulled off a coup: the first British interview with an elected politician who had disgraced himself in office - and secured his survival with a public act of humiliation and contrition.

Richard and Judy had pulled off a coup: the first British interview with an elected politician who had disgraced himself in office - and secured his survival with a public act of humiliation and contrition. Councillor Steve Broomfield, whose disobliging commentary on the Tiny Tigers children's motorcycle display team ("they're crap ... they're boring") had been accidentally broadcast to a large crowd of electors at a summer fair, had decided on a strategy of damage limitation - and Richard and Judy were there to record the suitably abject figure he cut as every one of the Tiny Tigers rode over him on their bikes. And Bill Clinton had popped into the studio too - to sell some books.

If you were wondering why "the most charismatic president since Kennedy" (copyright Judy Finnigan) should have opted for a late-afternoon chat show as, what's claimed to be, his British media debut, the answer is simple. It shifts units like no other programme on the air, and Random House have a huge advance to clear. "In terms of immediate impact on sales, nothing tops Richard & Judy," said Waterstone's chief buyer recently.

It can't have hurt either that Richard and Judy don't exactly have a reputation as Torquemadas of the three-piece suite. Judy opened the procedures with a cautiously quantitative assessment of My Life . "It's an enormous book," she said, before leading into the talk-show meat of Clinton's book - the dysfunctional childhood, family counselling, share-my-pain stuff - which makes him the perfect daytime guest.

He declined Richard Madeley's respectful description of him as having a "split personality" and proposed instead - as he does in the autobiography - that he had merely become adept at living parallel lives, tutored by an alcoholic stepfather who could be loving at one moment and armed and dangerous the next. When he was asked about the Special Relationship, in other words, he could have answered as a distinguished world leader anxious about geo-political stability or as a philandering husband caught being debriefed by an intern. Hardly surprisingly he chose to concentrate on the former.

He was asked about Lewinsky of course - but his answers quickly diverted from the personal failing into the political scandal that he should ever have been found out. "I knew that the whole thing was illegitimate," he said, when Richard asked him how he'd held it together psychologically while lying to everyone that mattered to him - and quite a few who didn't.

Hillary, it seems, was even more indignant at the way in which the American people had been let down by Kenneth Starr. But the former president did confirm that he really had had a sustained relationship with the White House couch - an intimate confession that had aroused scepticism in some quarters here. He couldn't recall the day on which Hillary let him back in the marital bed - "I didn't note it in my calendar," he said, a little ungallantly.

He finished with election talk. John Kerry is unlikely to be overwhelmed by his fellow Democrat's endorsement - "He has a better than 50-50 chance of winning now" - but Tony Blair had no cause to complain: the Prime Minister's tricky relationship with Europe and America being described in sympathetic tones by a man who knows what it's like to keep a triangle in good repair.

And then it was time to deploy the charisma elsewhere. "I wish we could do it for another hour," he said. Judy glowed, but I'm willing to bet he's used that line before.

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