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Last year, a man appeared in the Manchester High Court on a charge of assault after head-butting a “love rival” on ITV’s The Jeremy Kyle Show. Commenting on those unhappy spouses, siblings, parents, children and others who take part in this popular programme’s spiral of accusation, denial and confession, Judge Alan Berg told the court: “It should not surprise anyone that these people, some of whom have limited intellects, become aggressive with each other”. The programme, he said, amounted to little more than “human bear-baiting”.

Such sentiments echo those of many, if not most, members of the enlightened classes who, as the learned judge put it, may “have the misfortune” to tune in to The Jeremy Kyle Show. The programme is frequently cited as an emblem of the vulgar dross that is daytime television.

Kyle himself (a former radio DJ) is widely regarded as aggressive and patronising, while his guests appear to be promiscuous, work shy, violent, abusive or alcoholic — sometimes all at once. The show is, again in the carefully chosen words of Judge Berg, “a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people whose lives are in turmoil”.

But isn’t that a workable definition of many of the finest works of opera and literature? Of Rigoletto, with its base motives and crooked dealings; or of Tosca, with its jealousy and betrayal; or Don Giovanni’s monumental philandering; or the filial rejection and violence in King Lear; or the pain and injustice in Dickens — all so elemental, so visceral.

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