Aubergine comments by This Morning editor ‘extremely ill-judged’, says ITV boss

This Morning’s editor made “extremely ill-judged” comments when he was confronted about allegations of a “toxic” work environment at the programme, an ITV boss told MPs on Tuesday.

Martin Frizell, who has produced the morning show for nearly seven years, launched into bizarre remarks about aubergines when he was confronted by journalists over the fallout from the Phillip Schofield scandal this week.

He was approached by Sky News ahead of presenter Holly Willoughby’s return to the programme following the furore over Schofield’s departure after he admitted having an affair with a much younger colleague.

During a hearing of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, ITV’s group director of strategy Magnus Brooke, was questioned about the scandal.

MP John Nicolson called Mr Frizell’s remarks “outrageously dismissive and flippant on camera about an immensely serious issue”.

Asked if there is a “toxic” work environment on the show, Mr Frizell had told journalists: “I’ll tell you what’s toxic, and I’ve always found it toxic – aubergine. Do you like aubergine? Do you? Do you like aubergine, because I don’t like aubergine. It’s just a personal thing.”

Mr Brooke told MPs: “I wouldn’t endorse what he said.”

He added that the comments were “bizarre” and it was “extremely ill-judged to say what he did”.

“I can reassure you on behalf of ITV that we do take all of these allegations very seriously precisely because we do have a culture where people’s conduct matters enormously,” he added.

In her first on-screen appearance since Schofield’s departure, Willoughby told viewers: “Firstly, are you OK? I hope so. It feels very strange indeed sitting here without Phil.”

In the committee hearing, Mr Nicolson said: “I spent some time at the weekend talking to whistleblowers from ITV, including people who work and have worked at This Morning. It seems like a very unhappy place.

“Are you satisfied with the duty of care that the editorial team and senior managers provide to staff, especially young staff working there and at ITV more generally?”

Mr Brooke said: “I think there is a very sophisticated and significant system of safeguarding and duty of care at ITV.”

Addressing the bullying allegations made by staff, Mr Brooke said: “We take our responsibilities in relation to safeguarding and duty of care very seriously.

“Bullying is absolutely in breach of our code of conduct, it’s very clearly set out.”

He added: “Bullying is unacceptable. If we find bullying it’s inconsistent with our policy and we expect people to report it and and we would expect it to be dealt with appropriately and it will be.”

Ex-This Morning presenter Eamonn Holmes and former resident doctor Dr Ranj Singh have both made allegations of a “toxic” culture behind the scenes at This Morning.

The latter said he raised concerns about “bullying and discrimination” two years ago when he worked there.

Committee chairwoman Dame Caroline Dinenage earlier said she was “worried” about the presenter after he spoke about how his mental health had been affected by the This Morning saga.

She told Sky News: “I think this case has been incredibly sad and two careers have been devastated by this case, two lives have been really severely impacted and not to mention their families and loved ones.”