When The Mail on Sunday tried to publish details of the unrest among This Morning’s behind-the-cameras staff in April 2021, ITV instructed an expensive London lawyer to kill the story.
The broadcaster insisted claims that its working environment was ‘toxic and unpleasant’ were untrue – and that there was no culture of fear.
Last Monday, even Phillip Schofield took to Instagram to defend the show he was ousted from last month, saying: ‘This Morning IS the best show to work on, with the best people. In all the years I worked there, there was no toxicity.’
But days after ITV announced it had launched an independent external investigation to be conducted by a top barrister, The Mail on Sunday can expose the extent of This Morning’s toxic culture and how some staff found the atmosphere so distressing that they had to undergo therapy.
Others have had to sign non-disclosure agreements after pay-off packages were arranged, to ‘cover up’ what was described by one ex-employee as the ‘bullying and toxic blame culture.’
Ousted: Last Monday, Phillip Schofield took to Instagram to defend the show he was ousted from last month
Toxic: The broadcaster insisted claims that its working environment was ‘toxic and unpleasant’ were untrue
Sexism has also been cited by an ex-staffer.
This newspaper can also reveal that This Morning’s editor Martin Frizell was the subject of an investigation in 2019 when a senior female member of staff – a single mother – raised his behaviour with ITV executives. The channel said no evidence was found following the probe.
Our dossier comes after the show’s former medical expert Dr Ranj Singh revealed that he, too, had raised concerns of Mr Frizell’s behaviour with the network’s head of daytime Emma Gormley.
It was investigated and once again no wrongdoing was found. The doctor then claims he was ‘managed out’ of his role.
Dr Singh spoke out after ITV’s most senior management – chief executive Carolyn McCall, director of television Kevin Lygo, Ms Gormley and Mr Frizell – all insisted they had no idea Schofield had enjoyed a relationship with a much younger colleague. They also say they did not know the junior staff member was subsequently moved to another ITV show, Loose Women, where another man lost his job to make way for him. But their insistence that they were unaware of the whole scandal has prompted anger among ITV staff.
On Tuesday, Martin Goswami, ITV’s group strategic partnerships and distribution director, will be quizzed by a cross-party Commons select committee on the poison at the heart of the channel. The next day, Dame Carolyn will be quizzed by the MPs.
Meanwhile, several former employees have shared horror stories with The Mail on Sunday.
One woman said: ‘I worked there for six years. I have felt a huge sense of relief this story has finally come out because it is about abuse of power and cover-ups.
‘I left This Morning with a financial payout and had to sign an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] to say I would not talk about the bullying and toxic blame culture that I endured there.
‘Fifteen years on, I still can’t watch the show, and even hearing the theme tune, it brings me out in a cold sweat. I won’t go into details, but my healing from years of hell – when I used to wish I would get run over by a bus on my walk from the office to the studio – starts and ends here with this simple acknowledgement that signing an NDA to cover up toxicity is not OK.’
A man in his 20s said: ‘When Phillip would say things like ‘We’re all one big happy family’, I just thought that was a load of bulls***.
‘He doesn’t know what researchers and assistant producers go through, and I had to quit. It was seriously affecting my mental health. I was belittled and unsupported.’
The man, who claims he was demoted from assistant producer to researcher, said he lasted only five months. ‘After getting a job with This Morning, I felt I had won the lottery,’ he said, ‘but within weeks I felt undermined and set up to fail at every turn. They wanted me out as my face didn’t fit, I was too quiet, not shouty or showy.
‘My producer was a bully. It knocked my confidence and ITV didn’t offer any support other than trying to suggest this was my issue to deal with. I blame the culture at ITV, of which Phil was just a part. They saw me as an outsider because I was from the North-West. There was this culture that if you weren’t part of the clique, you were persona non grata and I felt the hostility almost from the beginning.’
He described the culture at This Morning as ‘toxic, very competitive and cut-throat’ and claimed that Schofield ‘ignored’ junior staff, adding: ‘It’s a top-down organisation… and if you’re nearer the bottom, you don’t mean anything, you’re just disposable.’
Another former member of staff who left in 2019 told bosses in her exit report that ‘there is a culture of intimidation at This Morning’ adding that she witnessed a number of incidents where she felt one of the bosses was unreasonable and unkind to a female producer and it created a climate of fear.’ She added: ‘I also overheard what I found to be sexist comments.’
Behind the scenes, the programme has been on the back foot in recent weeks. Amid very public pressure for ITV to axe This Morning, staff were assured at a meeting that they ‘had nothing to worry about’. But the tensions are palpable.
Bosses were unhappy that Carol Vorderman, a former presenter who takes part in the programme’s newspaper reviews, replied to Dr Singh’s tweet about being managed out with two red heart emojis.
‘It went down like a lead balloon,’ one source at the channel says.
‘But why shouldn’t she be allowed to offer support to a friend? Is that where we are now?’
Last week, Mr Frizell told a journalist that ‘everything will be made public’ from the KC’s report.
An ITV spokeswoman said last night: ‘ITV and the This Morning team are incredibly proud of the 12 and a half hours of award-winning live television they produce every a week. It takes a huge team [and] is a fast-paced environment.
‘We have robust mechanisms in place for complaints to be raised and those that are, are appropriately investigated.
‘What we’re hearing from the This Morning team is that they just don’t recognise the picture that some are painting about the show.’