Piers Morgan is irascible, dogmatic and for me highly entertaining. He of all people knows that media interviews are a sometimes uncomfortable blend of entertainment and information, often generating more heat than light. And for a hapless interviewee, the pressure occasionally gets too much. But tempting though it might be, storming out of a TV or radio studio in the middle of a discussion is never the best course of action. Piers should know that, too.
Whilst leaving gets you out of your immediate predicament, what you were trying to say will be forgotten, whilst the memory of your disappearance will last for years – and, as in the case of Piers, will have its own consequences.
“O.K. I’m done with this. Sorry, no, sorry. You can trash me, mate, but not on my own show. See you later. Sorry – I can’t do this.”
With these words to fellow presenter Alex Beresford, Piers walked off the set of Good Morning Britain: he clearly didn’t like being criticised for his provocative comments about Meghan Markle, live on air.
The footage – which has now gone viral on the internet – may only have happened this week, but it followed in the footsteps of a long line of TV appearances interrupted by an unexpected departure.
One of the most famous, of course, was then Defence Secretary John Nott being quizzed by veteran interviewer Sir Robin Day on the BBC’s Newsnight in 1982:
RD: “But why should the public, on this issue, as regards the future of the Royal Navy, believe you – a transient, here today, and if I may say so gone tomorrow politician – rather than a senior officer of many years…”
JN (getting up, removing microphone): “I’m sorry, I’m fed up with this interview. Ridiculous…”
Nott’s autobiography, published twenty years later (after he became Sir John Nott), ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’ (2002) was named after the incident.
But it’s not just in the world of politics that a sudden flounce off set brings things to an early conclusion. Take singing trio The Bees Gees on the chat show Clive Anderson All Talk in 1997, when the host adopted his trademark cynical questioning of his guests. First, it was Barry (“In fact, I might just leave”), then Robin, and then Maurice (“Oh well, I guess I better join them”), who became the last of the Gibb brothers to disappear backstage.
TV commentators can also fall foul of the temptation to remove their lapel microphone and vanish from the screen. After the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016, it happened to Guardian columnist Owen Jones, who objected to the stance of Sky News on Sunday presenter Mark Longhurst and fellow guest Julia Hartley-Brewer during the newspaper review (“I’ve had enough of this… I’m very upset… sorry”).
The common theme amongst all these interactions is that any of the main points being made (we call them ‘key messages’) are lost amongst the drama of the departure. In Owen Jones’ case, he wanted the shooting to be “called-out for what it is – an intentional attack on LGBT people”. But for the viewing audience around the water cooler in the office the next day, the gossip was likely to be about his leaving the set, not the message he was trying to convey.
No one remembers what the Bee Gees were saying, nor John Nott’s point on Newsnight. Similarly, Piers Morgan’s lengthy critique of Meghan Markle has now been overshadowed by the impression of a petulant host unwilling to take what he so regularly gives out.
So, whether you’re a TV presenter, commentator, or interviewee; whether you’re from the world of politics, entertainment or sport; however much heat is being generated by the discussion, it’s always best to stay in the proverbial kitchen.