DAYTIME – the drama

This was written during my time with Good Morning with Anne and Nick. It would have done for mid-morning television what MAD MEN did for advertising. Only not as well. Oh, and with a bit of Larry Sanders thrown in for good measure.

D A Y T I M E

Monday morning, 8:00 am.  The first day of a new season of ‘At Home with the Gallaghers’.  We start with the opening titles, which introduce our on-screen daytime experts, including agony aunt Dorothy Simmonds, Dr Stephen ‘Gorgeous’ Grace and housewife supercook, Lizzie Welford, But looming larger and more lovely than any are the two Gallaghers, Rosie and Tim, Britain’s best-known married couple.

The opening titles mix to the sofa, where it becomes clear this is a rehearsal. Two floor managers are delivering, one in high falsetto, Tim and Rosie’s introduction to the show, beginning with a menu that is a classic of its kind: Lizzie’s cookery slot is captioned ‘The Hand that Rocks the Ladle’; the stress phone-in with Dorothy is ‘Going Dotty’; and the Dr Gorgeous item about massage for babies with three-month colic features the doctor clutching a screaming baby and the words: ‘Healing Hands’. All the camera operators are laughing.

Up in the control room, the run-through over, director Peekay and producer Kate make tense conversation.  Kate says the show feels nice, although she thinks she’s got one celeb too many with Christopher Biggins AND Jerry Hall, but still, that was what James wanted…and Peekay points out that it had better be excellent.  Nothing must go wrong on the first day back. Nothing.  Enter James Harvey, the supremo who now runs the show. He asks Kate to confirm not only that Rosie and Tim are definitely on their way but also that the clairvoyant item will definitely work.  Kate assures him all is well and reminds him that the psychic once found a body for Crimewatch and the punters will love her.  ‘Tell you what,’ says James.  ‘Why not ask her if you’ll still be working next week?’ Peekay leaps into action, shouting through talkback to the studio floor and Kate laughs uneasily and flicks through her script.

Down on the studio floor, a plumber is working on the squirting sink in Lizzie’s kitchen, a beefy stage hand is gently rocking the colicky baby – now sleeping peacefully – by the medical desk; an Egyptian scene is under construction in a corner of the studio and Helen, Lizzie’s never seen home economist assistant, is chopping vegetables furiously. Dr Gorgeous and Lizzie are chatting about HRT – and it is clear that Lizzie knows a bit more about it than might be expected of a woman of her supposed age.  The floor manager chivvies Lizzie into her kitchen set.  Lizzie tells Helen the veg are dirty – Helen replies with an assassin’s half-smile that the plumbing is up the spout.  Lizzie sighs.  ‘That’s why I never bother with all this bollocks.  Just microwave one of those cartons of home-made soup – who’d know the difference?’ Helen cuts into a turnip with surgical precision and some force.

In the office, Mark the Shark is on the phone, following up a story from one of the day’s newspapers.  Above his head is a red box, glass-fronted, labelled Break Glass in Case of Emergency, which contains Jim Bowen’s phone number. He’s cajoling, persuading, explaining that appearing on TV will help draw attention to a national scandal, a failure to protect women and children from men all over Britain and even the world.  ‘Don’t be afraid, ‘ he says. `We’ll pick you up and bring you here and – no problem – we’ll film you with your back to camera.  Your own mother wouldn’t recognise you’.  This clinches it and he puts the phone down, punching the air with ‘Yess! I’ve got her!

In the Green Room is a vision of Heironymus Bosch: three Egyptian sand dancers, rehearsing to a ghetto blaster; the colicky baby, now crying insistently; and in another corner, Christopher Biggins demanding another croissant.  Four models in swimsuits are posing, distracting the sand dancers, when Kate rushes in and grabs her researcher Clare Curtis.  Has Clare checked that Rosie and Tim ARE on their way and what the hell has happened to Doris the clairvoyant? Clare explains that she has gone up to the canteen in order to focus better.  Kate is relieved.  She tells Clare they have to make this one work, James is worried about her.  ‘She’s YOUR booking, ‘says Clare helpfully.  ‘Don’t look at me.  I preferred the celebrity flat pack furniture challenge anyway’.

Lizzie is busy rehearsing her soup item.  Proudly she displays the finished product. ‘It’s a bit disappointing, Helen,’ she says in a warning tone.  ‘No Lizzie, that’s the STOCK,’ Helen replies carefully.  ‘The soup’s still in the BLENDER’.  Lizzie laughs.  Helen slowly fishes out the blender blade and wipes it clean.

In the canteen sits Doris the clairvoyant, surrounded by other diners.  She is turning over an engagement ring, picked from various objects provided by the group at the table – and saying: `You’re about to strike a property deal…and there’s a man in your life who is very worried about it’.  This evidently hits the button and she moves on to the next item – a watch.  Everyone bursts into a round of applause as she strikes home another time, including Clare, who has come to collect her.

As they head for the Green Room, a call comes through on Clare’s mobile phone.  It’s Tim and her face lights up.  ‘Great … see you later … give my love to Rosie.’ Doris asks if she can look at the phone, she is thinking of buying that model.  She takes it, and as they enter the lift, she shudders.  No, she’s not cold, she tells Clare, returning the phone quickly.

Back in the office, Mark is typing a brief about the top story while being regaled by one of the researchers with short passages from Kate’s script: ‘And if you thought skutching your flax was something you did with the lights out…’  Then over the tannoy booms the voice of Peekay, saying that James wants everyone down on the studio floor.  ‘I am not a number, ‘ says Mark as they leave.  ‘I am a free man!

On the studio floor, the sand dancers are ending their act, with a final stunt which mimics an erection in their skirts.  The team has gathered, laughing when the sarcophagus collapses … laughter which ends abruptly when James strides in, tall and imposing.  He welcomes them to the new season and set out the show’s agenda: family values, warmth, caring, honesty, straight talking, real people, real stories…but spiced with fun and something for the punters to aspire to.  He tells the team they are the sassiest and best in the industry – or at least they’re paid as though they are.  And finally he wishes today’s show well.  ‘Yes, good luck everyone!’ cries Kate.  ‘We shouldn’t need LUCK,’ replies James, his attention now fixed on the broken sarcophagus as it passes by in the arms of two stage hands, ‘He wants his mummy,’ says one, to James.

Outside, a limousine with blacked-out windows sweeps up to the building and pulls up.  Four autograph hunters in parkas and thick glasses press forward.  Tim and Rosie Gallagher emerge – shades and wide smiles in place – and greet their public.  As they sail into the building, in the front of a growing entourage, Tim turns to Rosie and says: ‘Your little pick-me-up’s worked.  You look much better.’  ‘Thanks,’ she says, slipping her arm through his.

In the gallery, Kate hears that Rosie and Tim have arrived: ‘I’ll come down and say hello’.  She gets up, followed by Peekay.  ‘Cheer up, darling,’ he says.  “It’s only telly.” Kate’s problem is that it’s much more than that – it’s her life.

Tim and Rosie sit in make-up.  Tim can’t bear the tie provided by wardrobe, unknots it and throws it on one side.  He reads the scripts and briefing notes while Rosie reclines in the hands of the make-up girl: cracking Christopher Biggins jokes and catching up on the latest gossip.  Rosie practises her Jerry Hall accent, until Tim shows her a tabloid headline from the file: Child Snatch Mum’s Joy.

It’s the story of a woman whose son has been abducted by her former husband.  He is an Arab from a reasonably wealthy family and he took the boy from playgroup. The plot was foiled before the lad left London, but it had been a big story for four or five days. Now the boy is back and one newspaper has the exclusive interview with the joyful mother. Mark has put together a deal in which the story will be front page on that newspaper and will be the show’s exclusive too – the first TV interview. Rosie is instantly absorbed and looks up only to greet James, who appears to want to talk to Tim.  The two of them leave the room.

Mark walks into make-up, just behind a pretty dark girl holding a toddler’s hand.  He introduces them to Rosie as Jasmine and Oliver, the snatched boy and his mother.  Rosie is warm and sympathetic – she holds Oliver’s hand and gently asks Jasmine how he’s settling back in at home.  She is interrupted by the return of James and Tim – James insisting that she changes her blouse AT ONCE as the colour matches Jasmine’s. With a charming smile, she tells Jasmine she’ll see her later.

Tim is then introduced to Jasmine and tells her warmly that she is doing exactly the right thing by appearing on the show to draw attention to her terrible ordeal. Furthermore, did she know she was a wonderful-looking girl with marvellous eyes? She should not have to hide herself and her child away – that is giving her ex-husband a kind of victory.  Before she knows it, Jasmine has agreed to appear on the show in full view – not with her back to camera.

In the Green Room, the clairvoyant is at the centre of an admiring crowd as she does her readings.

Back in make-up once more, Rosie, Tim and James are discussing Jasmine’s story.  Rosie insists they should make it the subject of the phone-in.  ‘We can do stress anytime’ she says.  ‘This is different: it’s a mother’s nightmare, it’s an issue we should cover.  Auntie Dot can easily handle an abduction phone-in, with Stephen maybe talking about how it affects the child’s long-term health’, James nods as if considering it, but they all know he’ll do as she says.

Jerry Hall enters the Green Room with her personal assistant.  The sand dancers are practising their erection trick for the benefit of the models and the colicky baby is now screaming hysterically.  His mother is becoming quite alarmed and is contemplating taking him home. At this moment, Clare walks purposefully up to Jerry Hall and says; ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking, Miss Hall, but have your children ever been threatened with abduction? I know it happens a lot in Hollywood and it would fit in perfectly with the rest of the show.’

James walks into the gallery as Kate is being told about the new phone-in. Kate is panicking at the number of items that will need to be rewritten and the knock-on effect on the running order.  James looks at her, then turns on his heel.

In the Green Room, Jasmine sits with Oliver on her lap alongside one of the models, really warming up.  She’s flattered that Tim was so friendly and she’s now quite sure that, nervous as she is, she is doing the right thing by other mothers.  Plus it’s a lot of money she’s getting – enough to keep her comfortable for a good while if she’s careful. The baby, now quiet, is obviously ill and Dr Gorgeous is making his examination, baffled.  Clare is telling a furious Christopher Biggins that his celebrity chat has been dropped and instead they’d like him simply to taste Lizzie’s soup.  ‘Someone call an ambulance!’ shouts Dr Stephen.  ‘But of course this could all still change’, Clare tells Christopher.

At the last minute, Rosie and Tim take their places on the sofa, Kate’s still writing new links on the studio floor as the opening titles begin.  She dashes back to the gallery as the PA is counting in, Peekay is yelling hysterically ‘EYES AND TEETH, LOVES!’ and we’re once more enjoying. . . . ‘At Home with the  Gallaghers’.  Serene and smiling, they talk about how good it is to be back, their `awful’ holiday in the Seychelles, the children, great summer and the happiest woman in Britain today, mum Jasmine O’Hara, whose five day agony finally ended last night, when she held her son Oliver in her arms’

In the gallery, Kate looks relieved.  So far, so good.

On the way to the studio floor with Doris, Clare remembers that she was supposed to provide some objects for the coffee table so Doris could do her stuff.  She rushes into make-up and picks up a heap of items, including a pair of earrings and a discarded tie.

Tim and Rosie are in the kitchen with Lizzie now.  There is some confusion about the stock and the blender, but they’re soon back on track and Lizzie serves up the steaming broth.  Rosie and Tim taste it and beam, praising Lizzie’s skill.  Off camera, Helen the home economist is polishing a long bread knife.

Rosie links into the video insert: ‘Now if you thought skutching your flax was something you only do with the lights out, think again… ‘.

Everyone in the office cheers as she delivers the line.

‘…well, it isn’t. Here’s the first film in our special new series all about crafty cottage industries.’  As the VT runs, Tim, spitting soup into a napkin, calls Helen over.  She holds up a teaspoon, then a tablespoon.  ‘Guess which one she used for the nutmeg?’ Christopher Biggins appears, complaining: ‘I thought I was tasting the soup too.’

Doris is installed on the sofa, chatting jovially with Rosie.  As the VT ends, Rosie begins with an enumeration of Doris’s triumphs on Crimewatch.  Then Rosie asks her to choose one of the objects on the table.  Doris picks up an earring and says; ‘Whoever owns this is a very strong caring woman… a mother… I can feel great courage and honesty… and intense passion.’ Rosie admits it is hers and Doris picks up the tie.  She takes it between her hands, stroking it rhythmically. Rapid eye movement begins, her head jerks back and forth and she begins to moan.  Then she flings the tie away, as if it has burnt her fingers.  She cries out: ‘Oh! An empty, treacherous man!’

In the wings, Clare is startled.  In the gallery, Kate is frozen by panic.  But Rosie takes over smoothly, grinning cheerfully: ‘You know, I always tell people the director of this show is an absolute nightmare … but this is ridiculous! More from Doris later, but right now, a working mum who also happens to be one of the most beautiful women in the world…’

While Rosie reads her link, Jerry Hall rapidly appears on the sofa.  As the interview starts, Jerry flirts with Tim…and Tim, a little on edge now, points out that he’s married.  He makes a joke about going out for a hamburger when you’ve got fillet steak in the fridge and la Hall is instantly piqued at the comparison, Tim makes matters worse, but Rosie saves the day by asking Jerry about her latest acting role.

In a corridor, Doris is shaking her head: ‘Who’d have thought it? Of all people!’ She suddenly turns to Clare and looks at her closely.  ‘I’d watch it if I were you, young lady,’ she says coldly.  Clare’s smile fades.

In the office, a couple of researchers are trying to dream up an item for the following day.  Mark the Shark, standing by a printer, looks up. ‘There’s something here about breast-fed babies being more likely to be tall and intelligent.  So how about Breast IS Best with the Bosom Buddy himself, Dr Gorgeous?’ Dr Grace, as it happens, has just entered the office and smiles nervously at Mark.  Mark smiles back, but the doctor looks away.

We glimpse the last seconds of the how to makeover your bathroom tape, as Rosie’s voice on talkback fills the gallery.  What is happening about Jasmine’s interview? Where is she to sit so that her back is to the camera? James grabs the switch from Kate, who looks utterly confused, and says ‘Change of plan, Rosie.  She’s ON camera now’.  Rosie is just starting to argue, Kate looks horrified – and the VT ends.  Bang on time, Rosie makes the transition from bathroom decor to genuine human misery and reads the link into the interview with Jasmine.

In the office, Mark looks up at the screen, horrified.  ‘What about the back to camera?’ he roars.

Now we see the real magic of Rosie and Tim, leaning a little towards each other, working as one.  Jasmine and Oliver are basking in their warmth and Rosie is in turn sympathetic and angry on their behalf.  She ends the interview with a defiant ad-lib directed at the abductor himself. ‘I’m speaking as a mother! I know you love your son, but what you’ve done is so wrong!’  The item is a tour de force – Rosie smiles at Jasmine as Tim links into the next VT insert.

It’s Tim and Rosie’s holiday home video – the `awful’ holiday in the Seychelles. Impossibly blue seas and skies play on a monitor as Tim and Rosie congratulate each other on the previous item, while Jasmine is led away. As the film ends, we see Tim and Rosie dressing for dinner in their hotel suite.  Tim is wearing the tie that so unsettled the clairvoyant.  Rosie is just asking what made Jasmine change her mind when she catches a glimpse of it and frowns.

‘After the news,’ reads Tim, ‘he’s a big star in every sense of the word.  He’s Christopher Biggins and he’ll be joining us later.’

In the Green Room, Christopher Biggins has his coat on and is saying goodbye.  Clare rushes in and drags him off with her to the studio.  ‘Told you it might change,’ she says.

In reception, Jasmine meets her taxi driver and says goodbye to everyone, She is clearly elated by her five minutes of fame and cheerfully waves at the clairvoyant, who is looking at her with alarm.

Christopher Biggins bas been introduced to Tim and Rosie.  Tim bluntly tells him that he’d read an old link that Kate had forgotten to change when he was dropped, so now he’ll have to take part in the Jerry Hall swimwear item.

On come the models and Rosie asks sharply: ‘But why don’t you design for real women?’ Jerry points out that she IS a real woman, in case Rosie hadn’t noticed, but Rosie presses on regardless, ‘What if you’ve got hips and breasts?  Don’t you deserve nice clothes too? Or is it only fantasy women who can wear a swimsuit like this?’  Furious, lost for words, Jerry walks out.  Rosie calmly continues, explaining why the high cut of this one would not suit a larger woman, or the bandeau top on that one would cut into the breasts of anyone who wasn’t flat-chested.  And how would you swim in ANY of them?

In the gallery, Kate has her head in her hands and is looking at the monitors through her fingers.  James turns on her. ‘Did you brief the presenters about this item? Did Jerry Hall know that Rosie feels like this? Did YOU? Did anyone actually PRODUCE this show?’

Jasmine’s in the taxi, still bubbling away.

The show’s moved on to the phone-in and we’re talking to a caller who’d rather not give his name.  He wants to speak out for men like him, men driven by love for their children, whose lives have been devastated by a woman.  He starts off controlled and articulate, but he gradually lurches into a tirade against women who poison their children’s minds against their fathers.  Rosie moves into the attack on behalf of all womankind and Dot advises relationship counselling. The caller is increasingly aggressive, but they keep talking and just as he is about to say something really offensive, James reaches over Kate and fades out the call.

Jasmine has arrived home and is on the phone, excitedly talking about Rosie and what she’s like in real life.  Oliver is playing with the TV controls.  We can hear the Egyptian sand dance music striking up on the telly.

Now Tim and Rosie are bidding their farewells. It’s great to be back! See you tomorrow at half past ten, when we’d very much like you to join us – ‘At Home with the Gallaghers’ …

James steps forward with champagne, Other members of the team are applauding, big smiles in place as they toast the Gallaghers.

Jasmine turns off the TV and goes into the kitchen.  A hand fusses Oliver’s hair as he busies himself with his toys.  Oliver looks up and beams innocently.  Jasmine has made him his drink but when she opens the door, her mouth opens wide to scream…

Cut to the screams of the end-of show party.  Tim is asking Mark for Jasmine’s address.  ‘Rosie and I would like to write and thank her.’ Rosie is downing her glass of champagne, laughing.  She catches sight of herself in the makeover mirror and her smile dies.  She looks intently, as if she’s not sure what’s out there.

DAYTIME – IT’S DARKER THAN YOU THINK

It’s the 25th anniversary of ITV Granada’s This Morning. This auspicious date has made me think of my time spent working in the bizarre continuum television refers to as Daytime.

I worked on This Morning for more than eighteen months and, for reasons that now elude me, allowed myself to be lured later to the BBC’s Good Morning with Anne and Nick.

Suddenly I found myself on the other side in a war of attrition that would not end until one of the opponents was completely destroyed. I needed all my wits about me to devise ever better Celebrity Flat Pack Challenges, build up “star guests” who frankly often surprised us by being still in the land of the living, and think of some kind of antiques that expert Eric Knowles hadn’t already explained and valued. Oh, and write captions that might keep students watching – over footage of our chef making soup, The Hand that Rocks the Ladle. For an item about looking after privets, Postcards from the Hedge. And for a piece about budget lingerie, Going for a Thong.

Continue reading “DAYTIME – IT’S DARKER THAN YOU THINK”