Multiple staff on Good Morning Britain made complaints to senior managers about Piers Morgan’s comments on the Duchess of Sussex before he quit the show, the Guardian understands.
Morgan’s departure from the programme followed the announcement of 41,000 complaints to the regulator Ofcom over remarks on Monday which cast doubt on Meghan’s statement that she had been denied help with mental health issues.
Meghan’s representatives also complained on her behalf to Ofcom, with the substance of the complaint understood to have focused on how Morgan’s comments would affect others dealing with mental health problems.
Now, sources within the show’s editorial and production staff have described how dozens of people inside Good Morning Britain were also uncomfortable about his intervention, with some making complaints.
“Everyone is used to Piers saying things like this, but Meghan had literally said that the media wasn’t treating her fairly because of who she is, and he was just doing it again,” said one.
Another said that management’s attitude changed after Morgan walked off set when he was confronted by weather presenter Alex Beresford on Tuesday morning, and with an Ofcom investigation pending. “They felt that they had to be seen on the ‘morally right side of the argument,’” they said. “Piers wouldn’t back down and had to go.”
Others within the programme characterised the opposition to Morgan as “very much generational”. One said: “There has been a bit of a culture clash but it’s about that, not about his treatment of people.”
Beresford had not been scheduled to appear on the show on Tuesday but was drafted in from his other role on ITV West Country to add a “balance of views” after he tweeted critically about Morgan’s statements on Monday, it is understood.
ITV declined to comment. On Tuesday it said Morgan had “decided now is the time to leave Good Morning Britain” and “ITV has accepted this decision”.
Morgan is understood to have quit after a clash with ITV executives because he refused to apologise for casting doubt on Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. He had reasoned that his clarification on Tuesday that “it’s not for me to question if she felt suicidal, I am not in her mind and that is for her to say” was sufficient to emphasise that he was not referring to the state of her mental health.
On Wednesday he told reporters: “I don’t believe almost anything that comes out of her mouth … If I have to fall on my sword for expressing an honestly held opinion about Meghan Markle and that diatribe of bilge that she came out with in that interview, so be it.”
Later, former BBC presenter Andrew Neil said he wanted to talk to Morgan about a role on the soon-to-launch right-leaning news channel GB News. “I think Piers Morgan would be a great asset to GB News and we’ll certainly talk to him about it. I think he needs a little period of quiet reflection before anything happens. And I wouldn’t simply transfer what he did at GMB straight to GB News, I think we’d probably want to do something a bit different,” Neil told BBC Radio 4.
Neil said he would not want “any shouting, or ranting, or raving” on the new channel but that Morgan’s controversies helped ITV’s ratings challenge those of BBC Breakfast.
Morgan’s longtime co-presenter Susanna Reid addressed his absence on Wednesday morning, telling viewers that they “disagreed on many things” including his remarks on Meghan, and describing him as an “outspoken, challenging, opinionated, disruptive broadcaster”. “It is certainly going to be very different but shows go on and so on we go,” she said.
If Reid’s remarks were carefully phrased, some behind the scenes took a more negative view of Morgan’s time on the programme, painting a picture of a figure with disproportionate control over the on-air agenda. One said the last six years had been an “exhilarating and exhausting experience”, adding: “Management lost complete control of Piers years ago – once the on-air sign flashed up above the studio door he was making all decisions. Editorial and gallery team had no clue what was coming next, or any real ability to shape the output once the programme had gone live.”
They said that when concerns were raised with senior management about that pattern, “you’d be told there was nothing that could be done. Not to worry they would say, he won’t be there forever”.
A senior source acknowledged he had “strong opinions” but denied he had editorial control and said: “Many of the team do have a lot of respect for how he helped raise the game of the show with exclusives and leading on big issues like the pandemic, he was a brilliant force.”
One staffer said that they complained to a manager over Monday’s broadcast. “I haven’t ever done that before [because] I think a lot of what’s said about him is exaggerated by people who view him as a useful bogeyman,” they said. “Also he’s been a brilliant interviewer on coronavirus. But I had friends asking me what he was thinking and I felt embarrassed to work here for the first time.”
Another source close to the show said that they were aware of complaints from “many, many staff” over Morgan’s remarks. There had been “unease” over some of Morgan’s positions for months, the source said.
Viewing figures revealed that GMB had beaten its BBC rival for the first time on Morgan’s final day, with 1.29m viewers against 1.25m for BBC Breakfast. Morgan tweeted: “BREAKING NEWS: Good Morning Britain beat BBC Breakfast in the ratings yesterday for the first time. My work is done.”