The Steph Show***

Channel 4, noon

ALL hail television. It has brought the moon landing into our homes, allowed us to explore the world from sea to sky, enriched our souls and blown our tiny minds.

Now here we are, in 2020, and there is a woman on the screen wearing a cushion cover on her head. Like the man Lennon said, nobody told me there would be days like these.

But that’s the virus, The Thing, for you. No aspect of life remains untouched by it. Now it has given rise to a new strand of programmes, which for want of a yuckier phrase we’ll call virus viewing. Among the first examples of this aired yesterday on, where else, Channel 4.

The Steph Show comes live from the home of presenter Steph McGovern. You know Steph. Yorkshire. Working class. Blonde. Gets on with everybody. The Aldi version of Clare Balding. She was due to start a conventional daytime chatshow soon, in a proper studio, and when all this is over, and there are blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover, she will get that. For now, though, Steph is stuck at home like the rest of us, so why not do the show right there?

There she was, broadcasting live “from my actual house”, where she lives with her five-month-old baby. We did not glimpse young McGovern on this occasion, but we did see the 12-strong Hann family from Dundee, Strictly’s Anton du Beke, the comedian Keith Lemon and others, all beamed in from their homes courtesy of the internet. Otherwise, the production team were in Steph’s garage, the sound man was outside, and everyone was the regulation two metres apart.

The interview with the Hann family exposed one of the pitfalls of this kind of Blue Peter, sticky back plastic programme making in that the sound was too low and the signal kept breaking up. While other interviews were clearer they were interrupted by screen freezes and phone pings. The odd instance of such things happening might be considered charmingly ramshackle; too much will be just plain annoying.

The content, including a money management section and a fitness routine, must have taken a whole five minutes to think up. There were local radio style “shout outs” to the various heroes and heroines of the virus crisis, including a GP and a chap who had helped stock a food bank. In the middle of the show was a Channel 4 news bulletin with Cathy Newman. The smoothness and conventionality of this segment made The Steph Show look even more thrown together when we switched back.

It was, as McGovern herself said, a bit rough round the edges. “That’s how I’ve been described for most of my career,” she joked. McGovern is too modest. That’s one of her many charms. The only reason the show stayed together, and remained watchable, was her. She could think on her feet, she was good with the guests, and she did not stop rabbiting for a second – all essential qualities for a presenter of a live show. She could have a giggle, too, as when she and Lemon were trying out ideas for masks and she put a cushion cover over her face. You would never catch Fiona Bruce doing that.

At times the chat descended to the depths of banality, as when Lemon told us that he had hot dogs for dinner the previous evening. “So did I!” shrieked McGovern as if it was the most fascinating coincidence ever.

Oh, and it turned out that Lemon’s wife had the same jumper as McGovern. Gripping stuff, eh? This is going to be a tough gig to do day after day. By day five the format might have found its groove, or jumped the tracks entirely.

Much of the interest lay in seeing what other people’s homes were like. McGovern’s was modern, sleek, all John Lewis cushions and fresh flowers. Everything looked brand new. Du Beke had curtains that were as gaudy as some of his Strictly costumes, while Lemon appeared to live at the bottom of a well.

The hour flew by in a rush of silliness. Stumbling, frantic, and held up by undercurrents of terror and goodwill – if McGovern’s show set out to be a metaphor for the UK in Spring 2020 it can consider the job done.