It seems only fitting that on the day that ITV announce that the Jeremy Kyle show has been cancelled for good, I should do a posting about television – specifically ‘factual’ series and the rather odd role that reality and truth play in their production sometimes.
But first some thoughts about the Jeremy Kyle show. Well done ITV for axing this excuse for entertainment, which has relied on the humiliation of its poor, uneducated and often disturbed or addicted guests, but why has it taken them so long to do it? Answer: because it draws in 1m viewers per episode and that means a rich seam of advertising revenue that chases such figures. It really has been bear-pit confrontational viewing and I hate it. It’s like the early stages of those Simon Cowell talent shows where sad individuals with no chance of finding success, fame or fortune are ritually shown up for having precisely no talent or X-factorness. Instead they are held up to public ridicule. And ITV and Cowell and Kyle all get fat by providing the 21st century version of visiting Bedlam to laugh at the inmates. Grotesque. Why hasn’t Ofcom, which is supposed to regulate broadcasting standards, jumped in and done something about the more exploitative aspects of these programmes before now? It’s taken a participant’s suicide (in fact more than one if you count the lad off Love Island) to get people to finally act. Bloody disgraceful. If a tv programme needs security guards to protect the participants and the host, there must be something sadly wrong with it. If I sound like Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells I don’t really care.
Rant over. This posting is really about how tv programmes which purport to be factual actually massage the truth a little bit for the sake of a good show. As I get older I’m becoming ever more cynical about it and now I find myself on the look-out for signs of ‘manufactured’ reality. Let me give you a couple of examples. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned in the past that I like rummaging around antique places and reclamation yards etc as I’ve always had an interest in design, restoration and furnishing and like nothing better than finding some lovely piece at a bargain price and bringing it back to life. Right now I’m very much into the vintage industrial look and am driving Carol mad looking for some old metal cupboard/shelving with a lovely patina to display my books. So I’m drawn to tv programmes that pander to my interest.
One of these is a US programme called American Pickers which is shown on the Dave channel here. It’s about a couple of guys – old mates Mikey and Frank – who travel the back roads of America searching out old barns full of junk to ‘pick’ through. They come across lots of grizzled old characters many of whom have been collectors and turned into hoarders of all manner of stuff and the guys are invited to look through it and make people offers for items which they take back to their store in Indiana to clean up and re-purpose and sell on for a profit of course. It’s been going for years and is all pretty harmless stuff. But after a few episodes you start to wonder about the set up between these three…
The woman you see is called Danny D and she’s usually back at the store, ostensibly selling all the items and also supposedly doing all the research finding the ‘barns’ leads for the guys who are constantly out on the road. She calls them up with the details on the sellers and sends through co-ordinates for the guys to chase down. Now I think she’s rather sassy and certainly brightens up the place, but she’s not your demur little girl next door type of shop assistant. It got me wondering hmmm…and with no research effort at all came across dozens of publicity shots for her like his one…
In reality Danielle isn’t working the tills of course nor on the store’s pay-roll. She has her own business somewhere selling items and has been a renowned burlesque dancer for many years. She doesn’t find the locations either of course. All the finds are unearthed by a team of researchers from the tv company, who do all the pre-negotiations and often hunt out the key finds before the fellahs get there. As for the guys, well Mikey has been a picker throughout his life until of course tv discovered him and now he’s, well, a tv celebrity. His sidekick Frank is an old mate by all accounts but his career was in health and safety – a fire equipment inspector or something terribly dull. He became a ‘picker’ when the show was devised and it shows a bit as he’s largely entrusted with just picking out old advertising signs, oil cans and tin toys to negotiate on. Most of the guests on Jeremy Kyle could do his job. In other words it’s pretty much la la land but what the heck I enjoy seeing the hoards of things that some of these old characters from Hicksville have collected and if some lovely items are being preserved and re-used then what’s the harm?
The next programme is based on the same premise but much closer to home. It’s called Salvage Hunters and features on Quest TV. It’s main character is Drew Pritchard who is a dealer based in N Wales. He trundles out in his van always driven by his old mate (again) ‘T’ on the look for items he can restore or just clean up and sell from his shop and online business. He searches out items from country houses, other dealers, factories, antique fairs and shops etc and returns back to base to reveal his stash of items to a massively impressed welcome party consisting of his wife Rebecca and store manager and some odd job men. They all shower praise on his incredible buying skills and then Rebecca does some online research to prove that the items’ provenance is top notch and thus incredibly more valuable. Here’s a shot of the main characters…
Now Drew has become very successful and without question he has a good eye and, accordingly to the programme, is a fearless negotiator. But he is an annoying little twat. His self-regard is just breathtaking and completely without modesty and shame. He constantly tells us what a great buyer he is and that he despises the paint-it-white upcycling shabby chic brigade. He is incredibly condescending to all his support staff treating them like his minions whilst he just loves the landed gentry set, revelling when he’s the first dealer to be invited to look through a country house collection. And faced with a Georgian pile and a plummy accent his famed hard-nosed negotiating skills turn to acquiescent mush (though he’ll later claim that paying on the nose is a deliberate tactic to create rapport). Yeh right. Reality is he’s just a picker like Mikey and Frank.
He has many unlikeable qualities but one thing struck me early on – whenever he returns to base he often gives his little mutt Enzo a big kiss on its slobbery lips but never his wife, who is nevertheless presented as the smart and very supportive partner in the relationship, playing a key role in the business’s success. It’s very much a double act you’re led to believe, as deadly and united as Bonny and Clyde. Yeh but something wasn’t quite right. After a bit of research I learned that Drew had had at least one affair a couple of years ago and that he and Rebecca were actually divorced. Apparently too he had goaded the other womans’s husband over the affair by text and, understandably enraged, the chap had sought out Pritchard and in some local hostelry and beaten him up, in consequence of which Pritchard had been banned from every pub in his local town.
Ah ha. I knew there was something up between them. Why not bring the real life plot line into the programme and make it really interesting eh? But they won’t of course. Still on the whole I do like the things he buys and would love his job, though I suspect he won’t be inviting me for any interviews after he’s read this. Hey ho.