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The Phillip Schofield Scandal Explained, From Daytime TV to Parliament

It’s not every day that Britain’s Parliament discusses daytime television.

But the resignation of the anchor Phillip Schofield, after admitting to a relationship with a much younger man employed by the same show, has dominated British news coverage for weeks, fueling tabloid headlines but also raising questions about workplace ethics.

On Wednesday, executives from ITV, Britain’s largest ad-supported network, insisted in front of a parliamentary committee that they had done all they could to investigate persistent rumors about a star who repeatedly denied inappropriate behavior.

“Nobody here, or on the management board, would ever turn a blind eye to something as serious as this,” Carolyn McCall, the network’s chief executive, told the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee.

Inquiries among other employees failed to produce proof, she said, adding: “With evidence we would have been able to launch a formal investigation because the imbalance of power, the imbalance of dynamics in that relationship makes it deeply inappropriate.”

Here’s a guide to the furor around Mr. Schofield, and why it has attracted so much attention.

Who is Phillip Schofield?

Until recently, one of Britain’s most prominent television personalities. Alongside his co-anchor Holly Willoughby, he made up half of a cheery duo that was a fixture of ITV’s midmorning discussion show “This Morning.”

Holly Willoughby and Mr. Schofield after winning an award for Live Magazine Show at the National Television Awards in London in 2020.Credit…Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Mr. Schofield, 61, has been on the country’s screens for most of his adult life. Raised in Cornwall, in the southwest of England, he worked briefly in New Zealand before becoming one of the main faces of the BBC’s children’s programming in the 1980s and early 1990s, alongside a puppet called Gordon the Gopher.

He has anchored “This Morning,” which blends current affairs and cooking with lifestyle stories and celebrity interviews, since 2002. But he and the show both gained in profile in the era of “Holly and Phil,” after Ms. Willoughby, now 42, joined him on “This Morning” in 2009.

When did things get complicated?

In 2020, Mr. Schofield, who had been married for 27 years and has two daughters, surprised his viewers by saying that he is gay. In an emotional interview with Ms. Willoughby, he praised his wife (to whom he remains legally married) and said that acknowledging his sexuality publicly was something he knew he “had to do.”

Then, last year, Mr. Schofield and Ms. Willoughby fell afoul of public opinion when they were photographed at Queen Elizabeth II’s lying in state. They said they were reporting a segment for their show. Britain’s tabloids said they had simply skipped the miles-long line to view the coffin, an incendiary accusation when “The Queue” had become a symbol of national mourning.

More recently, the old chemistry between the two co-anchors seemed to evaporate, and Britain’s tabloids suggested there were offscreen tensions between the pair.

Why did he quit?

Mr. Schofield resigned on May 20 after claims of tension with Ms. Willoughby reached a peak (and ratings dipped). But shortly after that announcement, Mr. Schofield admitted in a statement to The Daily Mail that he had concealed a relationship with a much younger man who also worked on “This Morning.” Describing his “consensual on-off relationship” as “unwise, but not illegal,” Mr. Schofield said that he had lied about it to ITV, his colleagues — including Ms. Willoughby — friends and his agent.

Mr. Schofield has said that he first met the younger man when the man was a teenager — a 15-year-old drama student — after giving a talk at his theater school. He said they kept in contact via Twitter, and the younger man, whom the British media has not named, then gained work experience at “This Morning” before securing a junior job there. In an emotional interview with the BBC, Mr. Schofield said the relationship had not turned sexual until his former lover was around 20.

Challenged by the BBC, Mr. Schofield denied grooming the younger man, insisting that the friendship was initially completely innocent. He said he understood the affair could be seen as an abuse of power but “that wasn’t how it felt at the time.”

Lawmakers wanted to know whether ITV did enough to investigate internal rumors about an affair between a powerful anchor and a junior employee (who has since left). The broadcaster said both men had misled it. On Wednesday the network’s general counsel, Kyla Mullins, said that the younger colleague denied a relationship with Mr. Schofield no fewer than 12 times.

But some critics think the men’s explanations were accepted too readily. So ITV’s managers face questions about their safeguarding system for staff, as well as separate accusations that there was a “toxic” atmosphere on “This Morning” — claims that executives also denied on Wednesday.

What do his supporters say?

Some of Mr. Schofield’s supporters argue that there is a homophobic tinge to the criticism of him. Despite recent exposures under the #MeToo movement, they question whether the public reaction would have been so strong had his lover been a woman, or had this been a relationship between an older woman and a younger man. While apologetic — particularly to his former lover — Mr. Schofield argued: “If it was male-female, then it wouldn’t be such a scandal.”

What happens now to Mr. Schofield?

In his BBC interview, Mr. Schofield said that he had suicidal thoughts and that only the support of his two daughters had gotten him through recent events. But he held out little hope of a TV comeback.

“I have to talk about television in the past tense, which breaks my heart,” he said. “I have lost everything.”

“What am I going to do with my days?” he continued. “I see nothing ahead of me but blackness, and sadness, and regret, and remorse, and guilt.”

And what about ‘This Morning’?

The show has gone on. After a break, Ms. Willoughby returned to “This Morning” on June 5, beginning with a speech that seemed to assume her audience would be as shaken by the crisis around the show as those working on it.

“Right, deep breath,” she said, before asking her viewers: “Firstly, are you OK? I hope so.”

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