Our guides come and go. Ultimately, big figureheads have to give way to the next generation. The old order will one day collapse. And yet, a year ago how many of us really believed that Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby would be at the center of a scandal? It is perhaps fitting that two gods of daytime television were dethroned by something as typically British, as inherently petty as snake jumping.
I seem unique in that I didn’t see a single second of The Queue (which hasn’t just created a miniature welfare state and weather system in its short lifespan) nor the state funeral. But even I couldn’t avoid the “news” – and punctuation marks do a lot of work here – that the moderators of This morning allegedly, allegedly, possibly, jumped to the front of The Queue to see the queen who was in state. ITV insists they were there as a broadcaster without having to queue.
Here in the UK we like to think of ourselves as role models for fair play; We are fueled by hypocrisy, shortcuts and deceit. The reason we berate someone who presses the tube is the same reason we howl at footballers who dive during games and are taught by our moms to share the last cookie.
I mean, sure, we might have a private education system that kills any hope of a level playing field and turns a blind eye to the odd bit of international money laundering, but locally we like it when people stay nice and stick with the Rules. Especially when those rules are unwritten.
So what other major British crimes could have led to other television treasures facing such criticism? What else has the power to shock us to the core?
Maybe Prue Leith could admit live and on air that she finds dogs kinda gross. During one particularly thorny moment involving a pudding, a hot microphone blares and six million people hear chef Noel Fielding say, “They lick your butt in the middle of the room and then try to kiss your face. No wonder Brits have teeth that look like popcorn. They are just ridiculous when it comes to their pets.”
In the altercation, Leith is forced to donate half of her fee for the show to the Dogs Trust, is directed by the show’s producers to adopt a rescue worker from the home of Battersea Cats and Dogs, and even offers to do the next pedigree Chum to provide shareholders’ meeting and yet everything is too little, too late.
Or maybe a story will come out that Alexander Armstrong has shared with all runners pointless that “I don’t talk about the weather. I just don’t do weather chat. Don’t try to talk to me about rain or unusual fog. I find the weather boring.”
Dismay at such un-British sentiment about something as uniquely important to the national psyche as meteorology prompts the man to be fired, only to be replaced by Sian Lloyd – in a clever cast by the production team. She’s a woman, she’s Welsh, she’s sick of the weather. She is, in the words of one senior team member, “a safe pair of hands.”
Could Fiona Bruce be canceled for not apologizing after someone else hit her outside a supermarket? Maybe Alan Titchmarsh will be caught refusing a boat meal? The list of potential offenses that would outrage a British public is enormous.
Imagine Sandi Toksvig directly asking a good friend how much he earns. Huw Edwards is seen actually asking a stranger on the bus why he’s crying, rather than just ignoring him for the duration of the ride like everyone else. Is Rylan Clark accused of saying anything other than “un peu” when asked if he speaks French? Did Davina McCall just accept a compliment about her clothing/bag/shoes/hat without immediately offering the price and the name of where she bought it?
Of course, there are occasional acts that would evoke more pity than anger. Chris Tarrant is seen through the window of a greasy spoon eating eggs and fries with a spoon instead of a knife and fork. Stacey Dooley visibly cries in frustration as the bus she was running for pulls away at the last second. Ben Fogle is secretly filmed in Regent’s Park yelling at a crowd of pigeons while trying to eat his sandwich from a Tupperware. Zoe Ball may be spotted ordering an omelet with mushrooms and fries at an Indian restaurant. Or maybe even the great Monty Don will finally get fired after secretly standing in line at an ice cream truck and saying, “I just don’t see the point of football. Unless it’s Aussie Rules.”
Of course, none of these things can happen. Because it’s the year 2022. Because this is a decent country. Because this is England.
Nell Frizzell is a journalist and author of The Panic Years and first place