Wife Swap. A Channel 4 series which ran for many years and whose name did exactly what it said on the tin. Like A Question of Sport. Or News at Ten. Or Hospital. You just have to see it in TV Times and you’ll know what happens: Wife A swaps with Wife B and inevitably their vastly different home lives lead to important moments of self-discovery and less important moments of shouting.
My role is to drive around Britain ahead of the series airing, to meet as many wives as possible in their homes (and often their husbands) to explain the pitfalls of wanting tabloid fame and imploring them to leave all media matters to the professionals, i.e. me. Most of the wives are extremely grateful that someone from London has come to help them through this potentially traumatic period of their lives. Some are slightly suspicious that this is an attempt by the production company to shut them up. A handful are clearly psychotic.
(It should be pointed out that this job did have its advantages, notably getting me out of the office for days on end; visiting some interesting parts of the UK like Wolverhampton and Dagenham; and claiming back obscene amounts of money in “mileage”).
One trip takes me to the North-West, to a town which shall remain nameless but which I hope never to visit again as long as I live. The stench of resentment hangs in the air. St George flags ominously decorate every front yard. Angry dogs stalk the streets. And I am here to meet a wife whose appearance on Wife Swap will not make her happy. I’ve seen the programme. She hasn’t. I forget her name. It might be Grendel but we shall call her Dorothy.
I manage to keep Dorothy away from the newspapers but she’s insistent she wants her moment of fame so we agree to an appearance on Breakfast TV the day after the programme transmits - the day after she sees it for the first time. I arrive bright and early at Breakfast TV Centre to find her incandescent with rage. If a programme within sight, there would be homicide. Luckily I am not a programme maker. Unluckily she thinks I’m the closest thing. She rises up to her full height and prepares to strike…………
Reader, I fainted. I like to think it was the lack of breakfast but actually it was pure fear. A couple of researchers had to pick me off the floor. Fortunately, the act of fainting brought out the maternal instinct in Dorothy and she decided against pulling my limbs off in favour of making sure I was OK. It also had the effect of making the subsequent live TV interview much gentler than it might have been.