JAN MOIR: Holly Willoughby and Alison Hammond dancing fooled no one

JAN MOIR: If Holly Willoughby and Alison Hammond dancing was meant to suggest fun, fun, fun… it fooled no one

Oh showbusiness, thou art a cruel mistress. Just ask Phillip Schofield. After 21 years on This Morning (ITV1) where he helped the show win multiple awards and cement its dominance over UK daytime television schedules, he resigned earlier this year over an affair with a colleague.

No one emerged unscathed from the rumpus, but it was a reminder of how pious and censorious even the most liberal celebrities can be about the behaviour of others, particularly when the blowback might cast shade upon their own careers and earning potential. Yoo hoo, Holly.

Now This Morning is back from its summer break and it is as if Schofield never existed. Scho who? Phil what? His place on the sofa next to Holly Willoughby has been taken by Alison Hammond, the Brummie presenter; a one-person portable party whose confetti-gun guffaw could snuff out a roaring bonfire.

Alison seems terrifyingly untethered for the disciplined constraints of a 150-minute live show; from the get go, one never quite knew what she would say or do next.

Holly Willoughby returned to her role on the This Morning sofa on Monday after her eight-week break to present alongside Alison Hammond

‘Did you put on a bit of timber or did you lose?’ she asked guest chef James Martin about any weight issues he might have encountered making his Spanish cooking series. As he melted a pound of butter in a saucepan to make a croqueta, he admitted he had put on weight. ‘That is why I am wearing a black shirt,’ he said, an excuse that didn’t work for Mussolini either.

Later, Alison referenced her own plus size by comparing herself with Ant and Dec. ‘I probably weigh the same as them both together. Two for one,’ she roared.

Many can love her body positivism, but also hope it will not soufflé into a running theme, because that is going to be exhausting. ‘Oh, let’s get a bit of fat then,’ she cried, when James was feeding them some jamon along with his padron peppers.

Along with sweep-clean Holly, the new series was a Phil-free zone; all trace of him vanished like a footprint in a blizzard, his memory obliterated by a fresh fall of the business they call show. Or was it?

‘I’ve got news for you,’ Alison told Holly. ‘There are no more balls.’

‘What?’ said Holly.

‘We got rid of the balls, babes,’ Alison chuckled. This was in reference to a competition called Spin The Win, which has been recalibrated in a ball-less fashion, which perhaps is not something we should read too much into, but still. There was also an item on a worm-charming championship, where contestants used their guile and allure to tempt earthworms to wriggle free to the surface.

I’m saying nothing.

JAN MOIR: Now This Morning is back from its summer break and it is as if Schofield never existed. Scho who? Phil what? 

JAN MOIR: Throughout the show, the dynamic between the two women seemed a little desperate

And as if to ram the Phil-less message home, sofa guest Gyles Brandreth brought along a battered old teddy bear, much loved but past its glory days, with his stuffing hanging out. ‘He needs to be sorted out. Put him on The Repair Shop,’ said Holly. The analogies were there, if you cared to look.

The show began with a total and utter cringe; everyone dancing along al fresco to a medley of hits performed by the cast of Mamma Mia! The Party and ending with Alison and Holly embracing in front of the cameras. If this wincing farrago was meant to suggest nothing going on here except fun, fun, fun – well, it fooled no one.

READ MORE – Body language expert analyses Holly’s return

Indeed, throughout the show, the dynamic between the two women seemed a little desperate. They held hands, cuddled each other and frequently talked over each other, like excitable bridesmaids out on a prosecco-fuelled hen. Special galpals? Please, don’t insult us. We were fed that line about the special relationship between Holly and Phil for years, and look where that ended up. In the best mates bin.

For their debut performance this season, I’d like to report that Holly was in polka dots, whereas Alison was done up like a glam corn cob in green and yellow.

Sometimes Holly was on the left, sometimes it was Alison, they swapped position throughout the morning as if to suggest this was a partnership of equals.

There was a serious item about young children who care for their ill parents, and in their earnest little faces one could see some of the pain of their lives. After their chat, Alison Hammond handed them each a goodie bag. ‘You need some treats, doncha?’ she said, as the kids were given Harry Potter tickets and free make-up. ‘There you go, enjoy,’ she said. It was far too trite for comfort.

You have to admit that Schofield’s astringent composure is a little bit missed. And you have to wonder how these two presenters are going to cope when someone has to interview a political heavyweight or grapple with the grave and the sombre. In the meantime, it’s on with the show.

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