Richard Madeley

Don’t write off Piers Morgan yet

Don’t write off Piers Morgan yet
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I wish I could persuade certain cabinet ministers to put their money where their mouths are. Several times last month on Good Morning Britain I exhorted Tory frontbenchers, including Liz Truss, to place cash bets with me. If they’d agreed, I’d be richer than Rishi by now. Well, obviously that’s an exaggeration, but I could have at least afforded to hire a private jet to fly me and Judy to our summer hols in France. Oh, all right then, a single-prop Cessna. Bet one was that there would be a swift U-turn on refusing to place a windfall tax on oil companies. I would have staked my house on it. But no takers, despite absolute denials that it was going to happen. Bet two was that there’d be a vote of confidence on Boris before midsummer. Again, no takers, even though the mere possibility was routinely rejected by the designated minister of the day in our 8.30 a.m. set-piece set-to (ministers do Sky first, then us, then the Beeb, then LBC, then the lunchtime news shows – I almost feel sorry for them). And lo, it came to pass. By Monday night the deed was done. Boris had been handed the Black Spot. Next time I interview Dominic Raab, I’ll bet him that Boris is Tory toast before Bonfire Night. If he agrees, that should pay for a nice little display on the 5th, no?

Much ado about nothing in the fuss over Piers Morgan’s ratings for his new show on TalkTV. After an impressive launch with his exclusive Donald Trump interview – 400,000 viewers, trumping, ahem, every rival news channel – figures have fallen to around 50,000 a night. This has been seized on as evidence of the kind of failure that usually stalks close behind hubris. But obituaries on the death of Piers’s television career are premature, to say the least. I know, because I’ve been in pretty much the same position as he is now. When my wife Judy and I quit ITV’s This Morning 20-odd years back, there was a blaze of publicity, much as Piers’s abrupt departure from Good Morning Britain sparked days of headlines. We announced we were joining Channel 4 to make a live teatime talk show. More headlines, features, speculation. You couldn’t pay for publicity like it. Piers received similar treatment when he revealed his TalkTV deal. We launched Richard & Judy on Monday 26 November 2001. Next morning, the ratings were in. By Channel 4 standards, they were huge. Result! But after that heady start, they went into meltdown. By Christmas, those headlines were slightly different. ‘TEATIME TURKEY!’ ‘RICHARD AND JUDY FOR CHOP!’ ‘C4 AXE FADING STARS!’ By early January, C4 execs were muttering darkly about get-out clauses. Fortunately, the then head of the channel, Tim Gardam, had a backbone. I vividly remember a breakfast meeting with him on a morning the Daily Mail had carried a searing front page predicting our imminent downfall. Tim slammed his fist onto the café table, making other customers jump. ‘I won’t be told by Paul bloody Dacre what programmes I commission! We carry on!’ And we did. The show slowly got better, as did the ratings. The series ran for eight years.

Piers has it much tougher than we did. He’s launching not just a new show, but a new channel. I’ve watched his programme, and it’s good – a far cry from the chaotic rival GB News. Piers seems undaunted by the negative PR (he would be – the guy’s unsinkable). I predict a slow-burn success of the kind we experienced. Don’t forget who’s got his back. Rupert Murdoch is not a man to walk away from a fight.

While some verities about television don’t alter, new truths come along – and the biggest change I’ve seen since Judy and I worked together is the one wrought by social media. I only have to cough in the wrong direction when I’m on Good Morning Britain and there’ll be a Twitterstorm raging by the time we go off air. The last was over comments I made about civil servants working from home. ‘What’s to stop them taking the dog for a three-hour walk?’ I asked with what I thought was glaringly obvious hyperbole. The roof duly fell in. Hey ho. But if the civil servants angry at me on Twitter were working from home, how come they were watching the telly? #justasking

Are robins the bravest birds on the planet? We have a pair in our garden and the male redbreast will challenge all and any intruders. Yesterday I saw him take on not one but two magpies, hurling himself at them with such ferocity when they dared to land on ‘his’ sunny lawn that they scarpered despite being ten times bigger than him. Later, while I was lying on the grass reading the papers, he landed about two feet from my face and gave me a furious telling-off. Totally unafraid. Maybe he’s from Kyiv.

Richard Madeley is a presenter on Good Morning Britain.