More Nineties nostalgia to round out the weekend. Growing up as a kid in that decade I was subjected to huge ignominies in the name of yoof TV. “Yoof TV” was the British expression for television programs made by people in their thirties and forties for people in their teens and early twenties, trying hard to represent the energy and anarchy that being young supposedly represented. YEAH! Like down wiv ver kids anthat?! Yoof!! Energy!!! Rissspekt!!!! YOU KNOWORIMEAN?! It was baaad (meaning just bad). MTV built an entire channel around it, but the biggest, smelliest turd lurking at the bottom of the yoof barrel was undoubtedly The Word.
The Word was Channel 4’s first stab at a concept called “post-pub” television, and as the name would suggest it had a rowdy, boozy, “anything goes!” atmosphere, though I think the show’s primary audience were still too young to go to the pub. Launched in 1990, it was presented by the annoying Manc Terry Christian with a rotating cast of inept co-hosts, most famous of which was probably the ex-model/whatever Amanda De Cadanet. She lives in LA now, and you can have her. Fans of River Phoenix, watch this clip and prepare to have all your romantic illusions about the best and/or best looking actor of his generation (and his crappy band Aleka’s Attic) shattered.
The show certainly was ground-breaking, paving the way for reality tv and the general circus-of-humiliation we now take for granted on the goggle box. One popular feature was called “The Hopefuls” where people would do anything (literally anything) to get on TV. Giving a homeless person a toe-job, drinking a pint of puke, licking an obese man’s bellybutton sweat, yeah these crazy yoofs will do ANYTHING man! Like putting on a pair of sandals filled with dog shit?! Yeah they’re so desperate it’s KERRAZY!
There were moments of genuine unscripted tension too. The best of the co-hosts, Mark Lamarr (currently a dj for BBC Radio 6) famously took issue with Shabba Ranks over his homophobia. Oliver Reed was secretly filmed getting drunk in the dressing room (a very classy move by the producers). The British riot grrrl group Huggy Bear and their fans were forcibly removed from the studio for protesting over a segment about a couple of porn star twins, and funniest of all was an altercation between Snoop Dogg (then just emerging with Doggy Style) and the British kids TV host Rod Hull’s puppet Emu, which had a reputation for violently attacking guests.
There’s a piece on the Guardian’s website by The Word’s creator Charlie Parsons called “How The Word changed televisiion for ever” that would be funny if it were not so depressingly true.
The show provided a glimpse of the future of television – some would argue a horrifying one. No longer could celebrities be treated with total reverence, as on The Des O’Connor Show or Wogan. Five-minute videotaped pieces tackled subjects that would these days be given whole series on ITV – dog plastic surgery, fat farms, child beauty pageants.
Yet, while Parsons only mentions it in passing at the start of the piece, 20 years later The Word does have one lasting positive legacy - the live music. Sure, they went for what was then currently popular, but this ensured a diverse range of bands and lead to the television debuts of both Nirvana and Oasis (Nirvana’s spot including the infamous moment when Kurt declared that Courntey Love was “the best fuck in the world”). The tone may have been jarring (see the fluffy bra podium dancers gyrating to Stereolab’s kraut-punk!) but the energy was real. This was one of the very few places on TV you could see bands whose shows you had only read about, and if you were lucky they gave good show too - like L7’s Donita Sparks dropping her pants. Charlie Parsons, speaking as someone who WAS a lonely teenager in a bedroom at the time, THIS is why we watched your towering pile of faeces of a show. Not for “The Hopefuls”, not for the interviews, the wackiness, the innuendo, the edginess, the supposed rule breaking, the sticking-it-to-the-man-down-wiv-yoof-culcha-yah - we watched your show for THIS:
L7 - “Pretend We’re Dead” live on The Word
After the jump: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Hole, Stereolab, Blur, Daisy Chainsaw, Pop Will Eat Itself with Fun-Da-Mental & Huggy Bear