Human bear-baiting’ on TV

A year of television controversy has been well and truly crowned after a judge told a courtroom the Jeremy Kyle Show was “human bear-baiting” and that its producers should be in the dock.

A year of television controversy has been well and truly crowned after a judge told a courtroom the Jeremy Kyle Show was “human bear-baiting” and that its producers should be in the dock. So has the box in the corner gone too far? LORNA MARSH looks at the case for the prosecution.


It is what the phrase car crash television was coined for. What else, within Britain's legal system, could come as close to a Roman gladiator arena than paternity test results being revealed live on TV and cuckolded husbands meeting their love rivals for the first time in front of a studio audience?

Add into the mix an antagonistic presenter then stand back and watch - along with a few million viewers.

Judge Alan Berg described the Jeremy Kyle show as “a human form of bear-baiting” and that “the whole purpose of the show is to effect a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people who are in some kind of turmoil” during the sentencing of one of its guests for an assault committed during filming.

But that is precisely the attraction.

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Internet forums are full of people only too happy to slam Kyle but they strangely also seem to have detailed knowledge of the programmes.

It's not just the lynch mob baying for blood being drawn in but people like you or I who can smugly sit there on a day off and think superior thoughts. It is, after all, Britain's most watched daytime TV show.

However, according to many, it has gone too far after a husband was provoked into attacking his wife's lover in front of the studio audience.

David Staniforth, a security guard, brought the ITV1 show to a halt when he head-butted Larry Mahoney, a bus driver, on stage.

His former friend had had an affair with his wife of 26 years after moving into their home as a lodger. Mahoney was left with blood pouring out of his nose.

Staniforth, 45, claimed that he lashed out because he had become emotional at seeing his wife again and was furious at seeing Mr Mahoney, 39. He also cited criticism from Mr Kyle during filming at the Granada studios in Manchester as provocation.

Staniforth, a father of two, told the court he had repeatedly tried to meet his wife but she refused and this was his first opportunity to see and talk to her since she left him.

“I feel totally manipulated by the producers who took advantage of the fact I wanted to see my ex to find out what was going on. Jeremy was having a go at me. He was getting me in a state. I would warn anyone to steer clear of these programmes. They aim to provoke you, that is what they are there for,” he said.

“When Larry came out I had no intention of getting up but he started pointing at me and shouting and before I knew it I was on my feet and I head-butted him.”

Staniforth was spared jail and fined £300 instead, with an order to pay £60 costs.

Judge Berg, the district judge in Manchester, told the courtroom the circumstances were “exceptional” and the provocation “paramount”.

“I have had the misfortune of viewing The Jeremy Kyle Show and I feel bound to make some observations,” he said.

“It is for no more and no less than titillating members of the public who have nothing better to do with their mornings than sit and watch this show, which is a human form of bear-baiting under the guise of entertainment.

“The people responsible for this, namely the producers, should in my opinion be in the dock with you, Mr Staniforth.”

Broadcasting rules state that television shows must not place participants at risk of violence but Ofcom could not take action because the attack was edited out of the final broadcast.

A spokesman for ITV said that guests were always told from the outset who else would be on the show, adding the programme never encouraged or tolerated violence and that the aim was to help those involved resolve their conflicts.

That might be true, but only partially so, for while we might like a good “conflict resolution” there would be no point, and considerably less viewers, if it was amicable and without at least a few fireworks.

Inciting the audience and guests into an incendiary frenzy of emotions and aggression for the sake of entertainment sounds like something out of a sci-fi film but you can catch it for real on weekdays at 9.30am.

And we are all complicit, or at least 1.5 million of us. Ironically the publicity is likely to push the viewing figure up even further. Perhaps it's time we just used that button marked “off”.