As weeks in the world of showbiz television go, last week was one of the most dramatic in recent years. Two tidal waves of controversy hit that could reshape the future of television for the better, as well as striking a decisive cultural blow to boot.
On Wednesday, famous house cleaner Kim Woodburn appeared on ITV’s ‘Loose Women’ to reunite with former fourth place finisher on ‘Dancing on Ice’, Coleen Nolan. It was the first time they had come together since a bitter feud between the pair on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ in 2017. Coleen brought her sister Linda along for support. Woodburn didn’t have anyone. It started to go awry immediately, with Janet Street Porter, in full costume, telling them she was ‘adjudicating’ the discussion. It deteriorated quickly from there. In a nutshell, Woodburn and the Nolans traded insults until Kim walked off set and refused to return. You can see the full car crash here:
There was nastiness on both sides. But the way the Nolans ganged up on Woodburn and mocked her even when she was retelling the abuse she suffered in childhood, was appalling. For what it’s worth, I don’t much care for Woodburn either, but there is undoubtedly some mental trauma that makes her the way she is.
But whatever view you have on this, what cannot be argued is that this meeting should never have happened — let alone on live television. The main fault lies with the producers, who unquestionably wanted to create drama and weaponize it for increased viewership but got more than they bargained for. And their silence since speaks volumes.
Then, on Friday, there was The Girl Who Cried Wolf. Former Emmerdale actress Roxanne Pallett, who coincidentally was on Dancing on Ice in the same year as Coleen Nolan but only finished sixth, stunned what remains of the Celebrity Big Brother viewers by accusing Ryan Thomas, formerly of Coronation Street, of hitting her ‘deliberately’. Video footage of the ‘really serious assault’ appears to show a playful jab (but it is dangerous to judge what may or may not constitute domestic violence). Most viewers agreed; over 11,000 of them have complained to OFCOM at the time of writing. And Pallett left the show the following day after discovering the backlash against her. And all of this after another 1,000 people complained about housemate Rodrigo Alves using the n-word, before he was removed a few days later for another offence.
Add this to the 7,000 or so who have complained about Loose Women, and the 20,000 who have signed a petition demanding Nolan be sacked, and OFCOM face a serious and significant workload — as well as a large helping of public pressure.
But they must not rush any investigations they choose to take. They must look at the wider cultural impact of these incidents. Popstar Jamelia made an interesting point when she said she had shown her children the Pallett/Thomas fiasco as an example of false accusations in a domestic environment. But could it have a reverse effect? Could women start fearing reporting actual domestic or sexual abuse in future for fear of a similar backlash (already a major problem)? In this instance, the evidence is so overwhelming that one would hope this would not be the case. But it is at least worth considering.
There is also the issue of the effect on the men, or women, after false accusations. This is something that has been abysmally handled by ‘CBB’s’ producers. Ryan Thomas was given a formal warning after Pallett made her accusation, despite the video evidence that absolves him of wrongdoing in the clear majority of opinions. This Monday morning, Pallett appeared on the rebranded ‘Jeremy Vine’ show in Matthew Wright’s old slot on Channel 5 to apologise for her antics. But his warning still stands. And they’ve offered him the token ‘support’ after he repeatedly broke down after the accusations.
Mess of their own making
This is where OFCOM should focus any investigation they may conduct. The producers should not have allowed Pallett to spread malicious rumours that are patently untrue. They should have reviewed the evidence, spoken with both parties separately and come to a swift decision. Not many would have argued if, following that, they had removed Pallett from the house. And the support, or lack thereof, for Thomas needs to be more concrete, as it should for all men, and women, who are falsely and maliciously accused of acts like these.
And with Loose Women, any move in favour of the Nolans could well be construed as a legitimization of bullying and open the door to more bickering and bile between celebrities on screen — something that is usually only reserved for shows hosted by Jeremy Kyle.
Past their best
While it would not be the intended result of any investigation, a fervent criticism of both could well be the much-needed death knell for two shows that should have been retired a while ago.
Celebrity Big Brother and the ordinary version were trailblazers for reality shows on British television. But others have long since eclipsed them and the Orwell-inspired format has descended into one of his famous dystopias.
Concerning Loose Women, again it was a trailblazer for gender representation on screen in this country. But the feminist movement has moved on significantly since then and the show sort of hasn’t. It has become a talking Mumsnet when it should be more radical and at the forefront of issues that are affecting women at all levels of society. It could live on with a well-executed reboot.
Of course, as a man writing about women’s issues, you are more than entitled to disregard everything I’ve just said.
OFCOM often tackle difficult issues that are represented on television. But how these two are dealt with will determine more than any others have recently done what direction television in this country is heading in, and more importantly, how society treats these problems.