Phillip Schofield: How simple gesture nearly killed off This Morning star’s career

Phillip Schofield is a household name on British TV but far from his current fame and fandom, he had a long and slippery climb to the top of the showbiz ladder. After breaking through on New Zealand show ‘Shazam!’, he landed a job on the BBC – the institution he had dreamed about working for since childhood. But soon after starting, the future This Morning star came under fire from top executives who demanded he be taken off air immediately. Fortunately Phillip managed to redeem himself through his sensitive handling of a NASA tragedy and was recognised as a promising talent after he partnered up with a puppet named ‘Gordon the Gopher’. But as the budding star got to grips with the world of TV, he nearly jeopardised it all because of his sweet and thoughtful nature. 

The near-career ending gesture was recounted in Robin McGibbon’s 1992 biography ‘Phillip Schofield: The Whole Amazing Story’.

At the time, the younger broadcaster was quickly becoming a fan favourite alongside ‘Gordon the Gopher’ – a cuddly toy given to him as a quirky Christmas gift.

The puppet’s on-air debut came on CBBC after a plan was hatched to have Gordon disrupt Phillip during the show and act in an unruly manner.

The comedic partnership worked, with many enamoured by the hilarious duo’s rapport and eventually that success would help the star to buy his first home.

But during his broadcasts, Phillip made a near-fatal error with an endearing announcement to his audience of as many as nine million.

Phillip told viewers that he would personally reply to every fan letter sent into him and Gordon. 

While at first he “coped easily” replying to the “dozen or so letters a day”, the young star could never have anticipated the massive influx soon about to strike.

Biographer Mr McGibbon wrote that as the show “went from strength to strength” the letters “poured in by the hundred”.

Nonetheless, Phillip was “determined” to pen a personal note to every viewer – recalling the countless unanswered letters he had sent out during his own childhood.

CBBC producer Ian Stubbs explained that he knew the situation was getting “ridiculous” once fan mail began to arrive by the sackload.

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Mr Stubbs believed that there were around 600 letters in every sack and that Phillip was receiving multiple sacks a day. 

He said: “Phillip didn’t want to send off just a signed photo – he wanted to write a proper reply because he said he had experiences of what it was like writing in as a child.”

While the star responded “whenever he got a spare moment during the day” there were still countless letters left, which he would take home with him to finish.

Mr Stubbs added: “He would come in the next day looking shattered because he had been up half the night writing to the kids. 

“It got so bad that long hours and strain started affecting his work.”

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The producer was forced to have stern words with the star after he no longer appeared “fresh” enough to be broadcasting to a nation of eager fans.  

Phillip initially tried to fight-off any additional help, longing to send each viewer a unique handwritten response to show his appreciation to them. 

But eventually he buckled and accepted that he needed to allow the production team to hire clerical staff to deal with fan mail. 

Mr Stubbs added: “He had to admit it was the only answer.”

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