Did the Jeremy Kyle Show go too far?

ITV

After 14 years, the Jeremy Kyle Show, a programme often and repeatedly blamed by ex-contestants for ruining their lives, has been taken off air after the death of one of its guests.

For years, it had a loyal following and high ratings. Its defenders have pointed out that guests appeared on it voluntarily and ITV has said in statements that aftercare was offered, which helped some participants turn their lives around. So what went wrong this time? And why, after two former Love Island contestants completed suicide, is that continuing to run, while Jeremy Kyle has been permanently cancelled? 

Since it first aired in 2005, Jeremy Kyle has made a brand from displaying the problems of the poor and vulnerable, making entertainment out of issues of paternity, fidelity, drug problems and abusive relationships. It has been consistently called ‘poverty porn’ and described by a judge a ‘form of human bear-baiting’. The death of Steve Dymond came just days after he appeared on the show to take a lie detector test. 

But the programme went beyond just showcasing these issues. In the wake of Dymond’s death, former guests, producers and others involved with the show have spoken out about what really went on behind the scenes and the truth is that the programme took an active role in inciting the action. It exploited its guests, riling them up before they went on stage, spreading gossip and rumour and encouraging conflict. Guests were even told to change their clothes to suit the narrative. They were encouraged to wear tracksuits, or even given them to wear, in order to fit the stereotype. 

There was also the issue that many of its guests had serious mental health issues. At best, these went ignored. In 2009, Carole Cadwalladr wrote for the Guardian about her experiences of attending a Christmas special of the show. During filming, 18-year-old Jamie Kosta was paraded in front of a drunk and abusive crowd. His stepmother said he was extremely vulnerable as he had bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia. She had told producers and begged them not to let him on; she was afraid of what he would do to himself. She was ignored and Jamie later told Cadwalladr producers had lied to him about what to expect. 

Comedian Fern Brady also tweeted about her experiences of working for ITV, saying, ‘Later I worked at a halfway house for mentally ill ex-offenders. Two of our clients were on that show while under our care so that tells you how low producers were happy to go.’

Craig Platt was arrested a week after he had appeared on Jeremy Kyle, for pointing an air rifle at his wife.

For the guests’ part, the interest in appearing comes as no surprise: they were offered free lie detector and paternity tests, which are otherwise expensive. The programme was set up as an answer to their problems. Instead, they were manipulated and lied to and often come away regretting it entirely.

Dymond’s death might be the first time the programme can be directly linked to a fatality, but it’s not the first incident. In 2008, Craig Platt was arrested a week after he had appeared on Jeremy Kyle, for pointing an air rifle at his wife after he found out that he wasn’t the father of her child. Platt’s lawyer Simon Christie said his client was persuaded to go on ‘for the purposes of producing a public spectacle’ and that the researchers ‘wanted a degree of excitement.’ Platt’s wife Jane also said the couple had been badgered to go on the show by producers and ultimately, blamed the programme for the incident. 

Two years later and Judge Sean Enright said the programme exploited the ‘foolish and vulnerable’ when sentencing another guest, Jamie Juste, to two years in prison after he attacked his girlfriend. Rebecca Langley had failed a lie detector test when questioned about infidelity.

Dymond also took and failed the lie detector test while on the show with his fiancé. It was a staple of the show’s format (along with the DNA test and Kyle shouting at people) and it was consistently touted as being up to 96% accurate. But researchers and a 1997 survey of 421 psychologists claimed it was closer to 61%. Now, there are accusations results were faked entirely.

In 1995, the Jenny Jones Show saw the murder of one of its guests...

The episode Dymond went on won’t be screened, but a member of the audience has spoken about the experience, claiming that both Dymond and his fiancé were obviously distressed throughout and it was uncomfortable for everyone there.

Jeremy Kyle is part of a bigger epidemic in the world of TV talk shows. It was set up as the UK’s answer to Jerry Springer, a show that once screened a segment called ‘Viewers Battle the Klan’, during which members of the Ku Klux Klan came on stage and Springer attempted to interview them. Former guests have also spoken about a ‘fight quota’ they had to fulfil. That show now is being sued by the family of a man who completed suicide after he was ‘ambushed’ on it. 

In 1995, the Jenny Jones Show saw the murder of one of its guests after Scott Amedure was shot and killed by Jonathan Schmitz, who had also appeared on the show. During the programme, Amedure admitting to having a crush on Schmitz, who had been told he was going to meet a secret admirer. Schmitz had a history of mental illness. Amedure’s family sued the programme and were awarded $25 million. The jury found that the programme had created the situation without any thought of the possible consequences. It is too similar to what has happened here.

Love Island has been accused of negligence when it comes to supporting former stars and that has come with terrible consequences. (MPs have now launched an inquiry into ITV’s care of reality contestants.) But Jeremy Kyle went beyond even this. It didn’t just neglect its care (although former producers say aftercare barely existed); it found and exploited the vulnerable and made sure they performed. 

Jeremy Kyle is no great loss. The lives it has ruined or ended are. 

By Amy Lavelle

Amy Lavelle is a freelance journalist and writer who covers everything from crime to lifestyle, for national newspapers, magazines and online. Website: amylavelle.com