From the opening seconds of Monday’s edition of This Morning, there was a sense of mourning, that someone close to the show had, very unfortunately, died. And things were, sadly, never going to be the same for any of us ever, ever again.
Stand-in hosts Alison Hammond and Dermot O'Leary sat stony-faced as they greeted the ITV audience with none of their usual mid-morning breeziness.
Hammond, doing her best attempt at gravitas - not a style that comes naturally to the bubbly Brummie - opened with a tribute to a certain someone: “Now we can't start today's show without paying tribute to the man who spent the last two decades sitting on the This Morning sofa, Phillip Schofield,” she intoned.
O’Leary, with equal levels of sadness in his eyes, picked up the thread: “As a show, everyone on and off screen at This Morning want to say a huge thank you to Phil, who helped make the show a success over the last 21 years.”
This was paired with cutaway images of Schofield on screen, gently zooming in on the white-haired presenter smiling in staged shots from happier times in the studio. If any viewers had missed the weekend’s news, they’d have been spluttering on their 10’o clock cuppa. Phillip Schofield? Gone? Surely not? He seemed so… healthy?
Hammond then concluded the tribute by saying: “Quite simply, we all know he is one of the best live television broadcasters this country has ever had. We and all the team wish him all the best for the future.”
Panic over. He’s still in the land of the living then - he’s just dead to the team at This Morning, clearly.
It was one of the most surreal and bizarre things seen on daytime television in many a year - and remember this is the land of talking points like the man with the world’s longest tongue and “I thought I was dating George Ezra”.
It reminded me a lot of an episode of This Time with Alan Partridge, the satirical skewering of the equally anodyne One Show over on the BBC. In the second episode, Partridge starts reading a scripted intro following the death of regular host ‘John Baskell’.
“It’s a sad time on This Time,” he says, gravely. “It falls to me to say he is gone. Over the weekend we were given the news that colleague and tireless man John Baskell has passed away at the age of 65.”
He then throws away his prompt cards and says, “Guys, d’you mind if I speak from the heart?” Before turning the tribute into a faux-impromptu, self-aggrandising audition for the not-even-cold-yet Baskell’s job.
It would have been brilliant if Hammond or O’Leary had gone full Partridge, jumping ‘off-script’ to offer competing anecdotes about behind-the-scenes japes with Phil. Instead, they cut to the usual preview of the usual This Morning mix of chat and lifestyle hacks.
But of course their hands were tied, for all sorts of boring legal and contractual reasons.