Richard and Judy
Wednesday, July 1, 2009 by Ian Jones
Richard Madeley is a student of history. He knows this because he says he is. “I take a strong interest in both world wars,” he declares. Wispy words leave his mouth and take on immediate solid form, simultaneously seeing off two hundred years of atomic chemistry and a pinch-lipped frown from his missus.
Perhaps Richard’s scholastic pursuits stretch also to the history of his own berth on British television, for he chooses to close this last-ever edition of Richard and Judy with precisely the same valedictory address he wielded almost exactly eight years ago on This Morning: “As they say, we’ll see you around”.
Then, it was true. Then, enough people were bothered to want to see such vapourish vows materialise into something tangible. Now, evaporation beckons. Richard and Judy’s journey beyond terrestrial television has been the most inconsequential celebrity-hued pilgrimage since Simon Bates tried to voyage around the world the wrong way in 67 days.
“Everything’s going to be digital in a few months time,” vowed Richard in September 2008, and he knew this because he said it. “That’s how everyone’s going to be watching television.” But it wasn’t and we aren’t. Richard and Judy’s New Position, a name that sounded like it had been brainstormed by Richard Curtis, attracted 100,000 viewers on its debut in October. This was a twentieth of those who enjoyed their show on tired, unwatched and unloved terrestrial Channel 4. The new position the pair found themselves in turned out to be burgeoning professional failure.
A patsy was needed. Richard came up with one: every single programme on every other channel on television. “Viewers have been telling us they are torn between watching us and their favourite soap,” he blustered when the show got moved to another new position of 6pm in January 2009. Except this was rather too close to their old slot on Channel 4 to be called a new position, so rather than acknowledge they were assuming any kind of position, the show became simply Richard and Judy – precisely the same title as their old slot on Channel 4.
Then came another new position when the show moved to 4pm in April. This was a tautological assault course of diminishing returns, both for the English language and Richard and Judy’s preferred taxi firm. With the programme pared back to a humiliating once-weekly outing, the pair had only marginally greater cause to find their way to and from their place of work as viewers had to the show’s home on their digital TV menu.
Ratings touched, or rather pitched camp, at 8,000 in April 2009. A month later, marching orders were served.
Exhibiting not only a remarkably elastic interpretation of destiny but also prophetical timing to rival that of the soothsayer in Carry on Cleo, Richard insists this very review you are now reading is “being written about a disastrous moment in our careers when it’s not. It’s just a project that hasn’t worked.”
The word ‘project’ implies a degree of order and determinism the show’s nine-month lifespan has singularly failed to display. A project is something that has pre-conceived aspirations and a methodology, and which seeks to get from a to b, thereby proving c.
In addition, Richard is blinding himself with a potently self-delusional brand of science. He speaks as if he and his wife are somehow personally independent of ‘the project’, when ‘the project’ has their names in the title.
The couple won their £2m contract with Watch on the basis of who they were – two of the most popular presenters of mainstream television – and not on what they would be doing when they got there. They took the money; they have now taken the hit. The last time this writer switched on his TV, Watch was still on air. Richard and Judy were not.
“Welcome to the last of our weekly shows,” whispers Judy at the start of this final communion. There is a Sispyhean air to proceedings. The pair are trapped in a cycle of greeting and fleeting. They labour in the foothills to establish a rapport with a guest, edge upwards towards a plateau of conviviality, only for conversation to be terminated after a few minutes, sometimes mid-sentence, for a sting or commercial break. When our hosts return, a new guest has arrived and they are back at the foot of the mountain to begin all over again.
They are never allowed to reach the summit. They are never permitted to poke their heads inside the clouds of rarefied chat that knit themselves around the peak of a well-planned, sympathetically-timed TV feature. This is a shame, for there is two decades’ of evidence that the pair can prosecute fruitful small screen conversation, but only when they are given enough time to do so.
They need a format that can breathe, and for Richard and Judy this has always meant live television. This is not what they were given on Watch, yet it’s worth pointing out it is not what they asked for either (more evidence, need it be given, of their responsibility for the ‘project’ and its downfall).
If the sort of stunts Richard enjoyed pulling on Channel 4 – waving his fist at the camera while berating the mugger who had just “jacked” his daughter – were now no longer possible, he cannot say he was innocent of collusion. He and Judy are architects of this edifice, one they tried to build from the top down.
With no foundations, there are no floorplans. Not only can you not get from a to b, it’s scarcely possible to get beyond a.
Instead guests are shuttled on and off like trains being signalled ineptly though sidings. For one segment an unidentified man sits on the guest sofa. He is never addressed, he never speaks. Yet he remains on camera for five minutes.
Dialogues are rushed, fractured. Nothing is allowed to be interesting, because this would take time. Jimmy Carr says “the expenses thing…quite a boring story.” “It is actually,” begins Judy. She never finishes. Questionable assumptions go unquestioned. “Everybody’s larynx is pretty much the same,” asserts Jan Ravens. There are few female impressionists because of “the same old boring thing”, i.e. sexual discrimination and gender inequality. Twitter is “banal” says Carr. A book is reviewed. A few bits were “rather good”, especially, for historian Richard, “the war bits”. Quentin Letts compares it to “supermarket chicken: slips down very easily, not necessarily a strong flavour”.
You can tolerate a programme that is lazy, so long as you feel the same. But you can’t tolerate a programme that tries to pass off boredom as entertainment, no matter how bored you are.
At one point Judy waves her white flag. “TV is the main source of our conversation these days,” she sighs. Unlike her husband, she doesn’t know this because she says it. She knows it because it is true.
Madeley and Finnigan do not need a format that has Roland Rivron ripping off Play Your Cards Right or a champagne bar boasting a dozen audience members made to look like fiftysomething housewives let out for the first time in 30 years. They do, however, need enough self-awareness to concede they need enough of the right kind of format to build an empire upon, rather than merely take themselves into exile and assume the masses will follow.
Their show’s production company, Cactus, shares its name with something that can flourish in the harshest of conditions, deprived of all the staples most other varieties depend upon to survive. After trashing the laws of chemistry, Richard has now junked the principles of botany. He and his wife may still be welcomed back to terrestrial television, but only once they learn to adopt one last new position: supplication.