Backstage on The Jeremy Kyle Show, a wife stood trembling as she waited to confront her cheating husband in front of an audience.
At least, she assumed he had been unfaithful, and any doubt in her mind had long been dispensed of by the show’s staff.
She absolutely should be angry, they goaded. This was her opportunity to fight back.
Seconds before she stepped on stage, the producer touched her on the elbow. This might have looked like a comforting gesture.
Jeremy Kyle presenting his show, which was today axed by ITV
The producer in question had been trained in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) specifically to manipulate guests’ reactions
In fact, as the producer who spoke on the condition of anonymity to the Mail yesterday said, it was anything but.
A clever tactic known as ‘anchoring’ was being deployed – designed to fire up the guest’s fury seconds before she walked on to set.
The producer in question had been trained in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) specifically to manipulate guests’ reactions.
Steven Dymond was said to have been left in tears and feeling suicidal after filming
‘If I wanted to wind a guest up my trick was to touch their elbow every time they told their story,’ they said.
‘Touching them on their elbow again just before they went on stage would then make them angry. We were very good at bending them to our will.
‘It felt very coercive, the way we were taught to control people.’
For years, the fraught scenes that unfolded on the popular ITV daytime programme were often regarded as a harmless pantomime. How woefully misplaced that assumption seems now, after it has been alleged that guest Stephen Dymond took his own life because of his ordeal on the show.
Mr Dymond, 63, had failed a lie detector test to find out if he had cheated on his fiancee Jane.
After the test suggested he had been unfaithful, presenter Kyle apparently ‘ripped into’ Mr Dymond during filming, in scenes that have never been screened.
Steven Dymond (left), 63, was said to have been left in tears and feeling suicidal after filming for the show with his on-and-off girlfriend Jane Callaghan (right, with Mr Dymond)
The vulnerable machinery operator from Portsmouth took an overdose shortly afterwards.
He is the not the only guest who appears to have been exploited.
Dwayne Davidson, 27, whose girlfriend took a lie detector test to prove she was not cheating in 2014, says he was goaded into anger and was so distraught by the resultant negative publicity that he tried to take an overdose in 2018. ‘They’re good at manipulating – it’s almost magic what they do,’ he said.
So what exactly did working on Jeremy Kyle entail? I spoke to two former members of Jeremy Kyle’s staff to find out – and uncovered a toxic combination of ambition, youth, exhaustion and stress that appears to have fuelled a climate in which a tragedy such as Mr Dymond’s death had long been anticipated.
‘The nightmare scenario was always that someone would come on your show and kill themselves, and you’d be held responsible,’ says one producer, who worked on the early series.
Now in their 30s, still working in television, and speaking on condition of anonymity, they added: ‘It is a miracle this hasn’t happened before. It was inevitable.’
Mr Kyle, was spotted at his Berkshire home wearing a baseball cap and navy blue hoody, as calls amplify for the Jeremy Kyle Show to be axed
Producers – who had an assistant and two researchers beneath them – had four days to turn around a show requiring three or four guests each. The hours were – and apparently are – ‘insane’, with 3am finishes on the days before filming in their Manchester studio de rigueur.
Working to the wire, guests were often found just hours before they were due to be filmed, making mistakes perhaps inevitable.
‘We’d be booking guests the night before, sending taxis to their home as we were trying to confirm their stories were true,’ they say.
‘There was immense pressure to find sensational stories with fights and swearing. Your professional progression relied on it.’
Some 95 per cent of guests were sourced through call-ins, via the number trailed on screen. On a good week, there would be 50 calls, with those whose dilemma could result in a lie detector or DNA test prioritised – a cheating husband or paternity dispute being sure fire ratings boosters.
The promise of a DNA test – which costs up to £600 – invariably enticed cash-strapped callers in crisis and wanting conclusive proof as to who, for example, had fathered their children.
The Jeremy Kyle Show has been pulled off air by ITV and suspended indefinitely (file image)
‘There was no payment offered. We used to sell it as a holiday, with transport, food, DNA and lie detector tests and counselling on offer,’ one former researcher tells me.
‘These are naturally sensational stories, about infidelity,’ says the producer. ‘They offer a resolution, a definitive answer.’
Or do they? Mr Dymond, after all, apparently insisted he hadn’t cheated and many experts believe a lie detector test – a device conducted with a polygraph, that measures physiological indicators such as blood pressure, pulse and respiration – to be unreliable.
‘You can cheat on a polygraph and they’re not used in court,’ admits the researcher, who says the results were kept from guests until they were on stage to provoke maximum reaction.
Backlash: Fans of the Jeremy Kyle show have hit out at ITV, accusing them of hypocrisy for failing to axe Love Island after the deaths of Mike Thalassitis (left) and Sophie Gradon
‘I’d be very surprised if some of the results weren’t wrong. I remember guests in tears, fathers having to say goodbye to their children and leave in different taxis.’
Prior to going on the show, guests are assessed with a 16-page psychological report that sounds exhaustive but could, according to the researcher, be conducted in half an hour by people with no qualifications in this field.
‘We looked into their previous mental health, sexual history, relationship history and drug taking,’ says the producer. ‘We had a drugs book to help us. A bit of Prozac was okay – a lot wasn’t. Lithium was bad. A guest who had attempted suicide wasn’t ruled out – unless it was for a story involving lie detector or DNA tests because the stakes were so high.
‘We talked to their doctors and social workers, but there was no time to do CRB (criminal record) checks. People with criminal records could go on, but I wouldn’t put on someone who had committed a violent crime.’
Ultimately, it appears to have been up to the producers – most of whom were in their 20s – to make the call. ‘The people making these decisions are so young – you had to be able to cope with the hours and pressure. We were kids. I was a producer by my early 20s,’ they say. ‘You don’t question yourself as much at that age.’
Once the guests had been booked, their overnight accommodation was arranged at one of three hotels near the programme’s Manchester studio. Food vouchers were provided, cigarettes liberally dispersed to calm nerves (although I am told no alcohol was supplied) and every effort made to anger them before they appeared on stage. The producer I spoke to says Jeremy Kyle staff used NLP – the practice of understanding thought processes, language and behaviour – to manipulate guests before the show started.
For example, they explain: ‘If you get someone to say ‘yes’ three times it’s very difficult for them to say no. It’s a technique estate agents use.’
In other words, once someone had said they wanted revenge on their spouse, they would find it hard to retract that desire.
Another trick was handing a guest a tissue backstage: ‘If you wanted someone to cry – a mother grieving for her son – you’d crush a tissue in their hand.’
Warring factions – most shows had a husband and wife, siblings, or a parent and child in some kind of conflict – were separated until they went on stage.
‘The men were put in dressing rooms on one side, the women on the other, and we’d go from one side to the other getting them more riled up. We’d tell them they were here to get answers, and the last thing they wanted to do was leave without.
Another trick was handing a guest a tissue backstage reveals the former Jeremy Kyle producer
‘We’d baffle them with science about body language.
‘We told them to stand over their partners, gesticulate in their faces and walk off to get sympathy. It was stage managed.’
Guests were, they admit, ‘disorientated in an alien environment’.
Unsurprisingly, frightened guests were liable to lash out at staff. A researcher told me that within weeks of starting to work for the show – being paid £70 for 11-hour shifts that often didn’t finish until midnight – they were trying to defuse fraught situations.
‘I had a mother shouting and screaming at me while waiting for the results of a DNA test to find out who her child’s father was,’ they say.
‘I felt out of my depth. I said she needed to leave the anger until she got onto stage.’
But on stage, guests were often railroaded by Kyle, as Fergus Kenny, who appeared on the show to be reunited with his estranged 18-year-old daughter Hayleigh in February 2016, discovered.
‘[Producers] made it sound like it would be a happy reunion. So I agreed and the next day they sent a taxi to take me from Tamworth to Manchester,’ Fergus, 49, a former soldier who hadn’t seen Hayleigh for ten years, told the Mail.
‘I was in no way prepared for what happened when they started filming. Jeremy Kyle had not spoken to me at all before I found myself sitting opposite him with the cameras rolling. Then he just laid into me. He assassinated me.’
Thrice-married Kyle labelled Fergus a ‘disgrace’ and asked him why he hadn’t been crying himself to sleep every night.
‘Look at your daughter, you have failed her,’ he said. ‘You don’t deserve your daughter, pal.’
Fergus recalls: ‘I was left feeling totally worthless. When it finished, he told me to go with my daughter and they’d get some after care. Nothing came.
‘We just stayed in the room and then we were taken home.’
Both Fergus and his ex-wife Crissy, 59, a former Army counsellor, hold the show responsible for the breakdown of their marriage.
‘The way Jeremy Kyle spoke to Fergus was as if he’d put his hand down his throat and grabbed his insides and pulled them out,’ says Crissy. ‘It was absolutely disgraceful.’
As part of the programme’s much trumpeted ‘after care’, counsellors were made available in dressing rooms to soothe guests after their appearance. But, at least in the early years, the professional help offered was regarded as a chore by staff.
‘With the show over, we wanted to get on to the next one, or go to the pub,’ says the producer. ‘We offered counselling but were very glad when guests didn’t take it.
‘We’d say they might face a 90-minute wait, or we could get them into a cab straight away. We told them they were probably tired.
‘If they were humiliated they’d be keen to go. ‘Get me out of here as soon as possible’ was the common response.’
They acknowledge the attitude to ‘after care’ may have changed. Certainly another, more junior member of staff, who left more recently, was circumspect.
‘It was horrific to see people crying. All you can do is to tell them you’re very sorry and give them a cup of tea,’ they said.
A spokesman for ITV said Jeremy Kyle had ‘significant and detailed duty of care processes in place for contributors pre, during and post show which have been built up over 14 years’.
They said there was a ‘comprehensive assessment’ of guests carried out by a team consisting of ‘four members of staff, one consultant psychotherapist and three mental health nurses’. They added guests were ‘seen by a member of the welfare team after filming, their needs evaluated and they were given a welfare check by the production teams afterwards’.
Current Jeremy Kyle staff, I am told, only found out they had lost their jobs yesterday after hearing the announcement on the news. They are said to be furious.
And what of the producers I spoke to. Do they regret working on the show?
‘At the time I didn’t,’ one said, but added: ‘There is a reason I left. It doesn’t sit well with me now. I don’t think anyone has died because of the way I behaved. My conscience is clear. Would I do it again? Absolutely not.’
Additional reporting: Ross Slater and Stephanie Condron