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‘I felt like I didn’t fit in’ – BBC’s Morning Live editor on life in daytime TV, Manchester move and ratings

Emma Morris - Morning Live

It’s been two years since BBC’s daytime hit show Morning Live relocated from London to Manchester.

Now based on the top floors at ABC Buildings in the city centre, there’s a buzz in the reception area with impromptu meetings in hushed tones and staff roaming in and out of crowded doorways with headsets and clipboards.

Hailed at the time as bringing a ‘Northern powerhouse of women’ to TV every weekday morning before the move to Manchester in 2022, the presenter line-up on Morning Live may have had a slight shake-up over the years but there’s certainly no shift in the show’s ambition.

“We’re almost four years into the show. During that time, we’ve had a pandemic, a move from London to Manchester, and various other things. I feel like we were confidently navigating what we do, we’re in our stride now,” Emma Morris, executive editor of both Morning Live and The One Show, tells Prolific North, as the show returns to screens after a brief break away today.

ABC Buildings in Manchester

Away from the hustle and bustle of the Morning Live studio, we chat in the hair and make-up room where Morris modestly opens up about her lengthy career in TV, where she’s worked at major shows such as The One Show, Loose Women and This Morning.

And it all started with an interview she watched with Take That on Big Breakfast.

“I really wanted to meet Take That and thought TV was my way in! I’m from a working class family in Burnley and I didn’t know anybody who’d worked in TV. It was a bit of a pipe dream and it wasn’t something that was particularly encouraged.”

“I felt like I didn’t fit in”

Although she’s proud of her Northern roots, she recalls a careers advisor scoffing at her dreams of a career in television.

“I was made to feel quite stupid and told I should consider being a hairdresser or doing something else. My sister is a successful hairdresser in Manchester city centre, she’s amazing, but you do not want to put me near a pot of bleach. There’s nothing wrong with being a hairdresser, but I’m so clumsy that it was never going to be my path and it felt like my aspirations weren’t supported in Burnley.

“I felt like I didn’t really fit in.”

Although Burnley has since transformed, she had no choice but to move down to London and pursue her career goals. With the belief she “wasn’t clever enough” to work in news at the time, and grappling with slight imposter syndrome, she applied for every job going until she landed an interview to work on The Jerry Springer show.

“My mum drove me down to Norwich, five hours there and five hours driving back. I went in a suit because I thought that’s what you wore for a telly interview!”

With stiff competition against 1,000 people, she landed the job. And that “feeling of luck” has never left her since, going on to secure work on The Jeremy Kyle show and, later, Guardian Media Group’s group of radio stations operating from Salford Quays, which included Smooth, Rock Radio and Century.

Emma Morris - Morning Live
Emma Morris – Morning Live

From being escorted out of an RBS building whilst attempting to do vox-pops to sneaking interviews with a Manchester United footballer following a raid, she soon found her footing in breaking major stories.

Establishing a successful TV career working at Sky News, Daybreak and later acting editor of Loose Women, it was on the news desk at This Morning where she “made a name for herself”, sourcing exclusive stories that made headline news, and would later go on to become deputy editor of the show.

Unexpectedly, she was reduced to tears when recalling one of those stories.

“There was a horrendous story about a lady living with a disabled child who dealt with so much anti-social behaviour,” she says tearfully. “It’s such an upsetting story – the mum killed herself and her daughter.

“We had a case study of a woman who was going through the same, the Justice Minister at the time came on the show and later, the prime minister. The reaction was massive, we’d never had anything like it on the show. I remember the next day Holly and Phil had printed out a big wad of viewer emails.

“Being able to tell a story that really just made a difference and to actually hold people to account was massive. That’s the type of TV I love making.”

With mention of Phillip Schofield, the former presenters on This Morning have hit the headlines themselves in recent times with news of Schofield’s affair and allegations of a ‘toxic culture’ at ITV in 2023. I asked what it was like working on the show at the time.

“I’ve not been there for a long time,” she says. “I don’t think I’m the best person to comment, I was there for on and off for quite some years.”

Moving swiftly on, she says she wanted to continue making the most of the “vast amount of opportunities” in broadcast and quit her job “once again”. It all paid off after eventually securing a job on the BBC’s The One Show. But after her very first shift, the country went into straight into lockdown.

“That very first evening when I went home, that was the Boris announcement of ‘do not leave your homes’.

“We weren’t trying to be the news. With amazing presenters like Alex Jones, we were trying to hold the nation’s hand and try to offer people a little bit of hope. Even thought it was one of the worst times, I can’t think of a better time to have been at the BBC and work in public service broadcasting. I felt a real sense of responsibility as I walked in to the building each day.”

Happily living in London as a single mum at the time, everything was about to change as her boss took her to one side to announce the launch of a pilot run of a new live daily morning show – what was to later become Morning Live.

“I was like ‘no thanks’,” she chuckles. “I think I wanted to stay in that comfort zone. But I knew it was going to be the best opportunity.”

“It was terrifying”Morning Live’s move to Manchester

From working with composers behind the Morning Live theme tune to building the team, setting up a show from scratch was a new world for Morris.

“I’d only ever worked on shows that were already established. I genuinely think if I’m ever lucky enough to do that again, amazing, but if not, I will retire happy knowing I’ve got that experience because it was terrifying. It was daunting.”

Nervously launching the pilot, whilst unsure whether there was room for Morning Live in a “crowded daytime market”, there was no need for concern after the show saw success and secured a second series and later a two-year commission which “doesn’t happen as often as it possibly should”.

Two years in, she was told the show would be moving to Manchester.

“In all honesty, I felt really conflicted because it was never an option that I could work on a show like Morning Live up North. My dad would often say he really felt like he was missing out on seeing his grandkids grow up and would ask when I was coming back up North. I used to say: ‘dad, you know they don’t make these shows up North.’ They’re all in London. That’s just how it is.”

But times have changed. With Channel 4’s former flagship daytime show Steph’s Packed Lunch setting up in Leeds and the evolution of MediaCity, recently welcoming BBC’s The News at One to Salford, the North has become a “real success story” with a growing number of TV shows and jobs being created.

“But this type of show, in my career lifetime, hadn’t been done. It just wasn’t a thing that was a possibility.”

With a flat in London and with her children already settled in school, she was initially unsure about moving back up North until she came to look around the studios.

“I thought I would shortchange everyone if I’m not here to bed in what I started and if I’m not with my kids to put them to bed at night time.”

Following a “hilarious” phone call with her mum on the way back to London, as the reception faded she made up her mind about moving back up North to Burnley.

“The first day I walked in here, and it was still a bit of a building site, a guy called Tommy shouted ‘iya love’. I thought wait, this is all going to be okay. That Northern friendliness, not saying anyone in London was not like that, but there is something special about the North and that humour even in the most stressful moments.”

Morning Live four years on, The One Show – and the battle for daytime ratings

Unsurprisingly, there’s no such thing as a typical day working in live TV. Especially for shows like Morning Live and The One Show.

“With live TV, there’s so much that can happen. We try and prep as much as we can in advance so that when things happen, from guests who run late or that may drop out, a story that might change to a headline that comes in and alters how we approach something, we always have a plan b if things change to stop it being stressful.”

The key to Morning Live’s success so far has been it’s “relatability”, from the powerful and real life personal stories shared by Morning Live presenters Kym Marsh or Gethin Jones, to figuring out if a story is what people are actually talking about in the supermarket aisles of ASDA in Stockport or Tesco in Burnley.

“Somewhere along the way over the last 20 odd years, I learnt that being from Burnley was my superpower because I was representing a voice that you didn’t often hear in exec meetings. And I was asking the questions that you didn’t often hear asked.”

Following the show’s move to Manchester, although the “heart” of Morning Live remains the same there’s “definitely more Northern influence and Northern personality”.

Since then, the show has seen successes with factual journalism and winning an RTS North West award, to the “triumph” of Gethin Jones’ 24 hour dance challenge for Red Nose Day last year, which helped to raise £1.3m.

“In the gallery, it was like England had just scored and won the World Cup. Everyone was on their feet, I think my headset got ripped out of the keyboard at the time!

“The thing I love about working on these shows is I go home and feel like it was a worthwhile day, worth leaving my kids for in the morning and that I’ve somehow, hopefully, made a difference either with our audience or with the team. That’s a nice feeling.”

Pictured: Gethin Jones / Credit: BBC

But with the battle for ratings in a ‘crowded’ daytime TV market, is there a sense of rivalry with her former employers and ex-colleagues?

“Everybody’s competitive, we’re in it because we want to serve our audience with the best that we can. But I think it’s wrong to be divisive. We’re in the same category, we are part of daytime, and we’re in a good place if all of those shows are thriving. We have lots of friends who still work on those shows.

“Obviously everybody wants to have the most ratings and it is a lovely feeling to be in that place. But there’s no rivalry in a hostile way, I want daytime to thrive.

“We offer our audience something unique, our USP is to be a really useful show that makes people smile and gives advice in a world of misinformation and false truths. Our experts take something that’s potentially really complex, and break it down in a way that doesn’t make somebody feel stupid, We focus on what we’re doing, serving for our audience, we don’t even really look at what they’re doing.”

But it’s not just Morning Live that takes up her time, she’s also executive editor at The One Show. It may seem like a difficult task to juggle two demanding TV roles based across opposite ends of the country, but not for Morris.

“It would be if we didn’t have the support and the people that we have in place. With Joanne Vaughan-Jones as editor, she does a brilliant job and nobody knows that show inside out like she does, so my job is not to double up and disempower her.

“One of the real keys to the success behind the scenes for both shows is we’re not there to catch people out or get headlines, we’re serving our audience and trying to make it as entertaining and interesting as we can. With different personalities, the teams work really well together because everyone knows exactly what we’re doing.”

Before she had to dash off to catch a train down to London for The One Show, she says viewers can expect the show to be “bigger and better” after Morning Live extended its daily running time from 45 minutes to 75 minutes this year.

“This year, extending offered another big challenge because people watch TV over a longer period of time very differently. We’ve really enjoyed the challenge of that, seeing what works.

“We definitely want to win more awards. We have some amazing campaigns on scam work and have even bigger plans for that this year because the numbers of people who are being scammed are just horrendous.

“There are some brilliant brilliant stories that we’re working on, so more of what we’re doing, but bigger and better plus setting in our presenting lineup. It’s amazing to have Helen and Michelle on the team, but it’s brilliant that we’ve also still got Gabby and Sara in the mix.”

Morning Live is made by BBC Studios Factual Entertainment for BBC One and airs weekdays at 9:30am.

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