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I Love 1993

Saturday, September 8, 2001 by

I love 25 August 2001. I remember it clearly because I was stuck on a bus.

There had been an accident of some kind. The bus driver claimed that the car had careered straight into him, the driver of the car recalled the incident somewhat differently, and so it was a dispute over who had recalled the details most accurately that found us sitting, and waiting whilst these two men tried to piece together an accurate reconstruction of what had actually happened. To pass the time away, I cast my mind forward to the prospect of watching and then subsequently reviewing I Love 1993. I tried to recall what had happened in that year, and what would likely appear in that episode. Take That perhaps? The first series of Cracker? What had I been doing in 1993? What memory could I take from the year to sum up my fondness or distaste for that 12-month period? It was only on 26 August 2001 (a day I remember well because it’s the day I wrote this opening paragraph on) that I realised I could begin with a personal recollection, not of 1993, but of my experience the day before. After all, a nostalgia programme based on the ’90s won’t work because it’s just too soon, isn’t it? Anyone remember limited edition champagne Crunchies? Yes, I can thanks – I still buy them at the shop round the corner.

Yet as I Love 1993 unfolded, there were moments of genuine nostalgia – not any sudden reconnection with one’s distant past of course, but there were a few inward exclamations of “God I haven’t heard that in a while”. I Love 1993 seemed to cover national obsessions that have only just fallen off the agenda. Popular culture then seems to have been much like popular culture now, only not quite as refined. In some ways that year – less than 100 months ago, is very similar to today (wherein Coogan is the only comedian in town, and tattoos remain de rigour), however at times I Loved 1993 seemed to be telling the story of a whole other world; a pre-Spice Girls, and pre-Diana world – open to the lure of a good conspiracy theory.

The best bit about the X Files piece that opened I Love 1993 was the brief glimpse of Sue Cook presenting Out of This World. After this, not one person mentioned how nauseatingly weak Mark Snow’s X File‘s theme tune is. Instead, there were signs of a conspiracy of sorts, as each pundit was coerced into discussing the series in the past tense. Whilst imbuing I Love 1993 with a certain timelessness, this was rather irritating, and meant that little discussion could be had on the current health of The X Files. A brief clip of a season one story about a pyromaniac set some memories running in my mind. My first exposure to the programme happened – appositely – after an evening spent attending a lecture by David Icke. At that time he was still suffering in the wake of his infamous Wogan interview, and I – like many others – had been drawn to attend, simply out of a desire to learn what madcap schemes he had in mind now. His appearance then, on I Love 1993 was an act of serendipity that has happened few times in this series, but occurred relatively frequently throughout the previous two. Surprisingly in the midst of this there was little mention of The Fortean Times. This publication had seemed to me to be at the very heart of the pre-millennial angst that we had all supposedly been suffering from throughout the early ’90s.

The section on John Wayne Bobbitt was I Love at its worst. “Amusing” shots of phallic symbols and pundit after pundit re-heating all their favourite Bobbit jokes might have been evocative in the truest sense (evoking the coverage the incident had received at the time), but was obviously borne out of an attempt at genuine humour and not of historical recreation. Thank goodness then, for East 17. A lot of the I Love series have stood or fallen on the basis of their access to key eyewitnesses. Here, the four Walthamstow chaps all turned up to retell their story. Their approach was honest and interesting (although we could have done without yet another tale of fanmania and its effect on the band). “Deep” was always a great song, and it didn’t require the craggy Rick Sky to tell us so. Yet he was quite correct to point out the incongruity of four such ugly lads producing such a well-written pop classic. The other highlight of this section had to be the inclusion of Tony Dortie, who – considering this all happened “yesterday” – looked ancient. Football fans are said to have long, unforgiving memories, but I bet there were a few “boos” when the troubled ex-Top of the Pops presenter popped up on screen. Finally this section afforded us a chance to hear again Brian Harvey’s “pro-drug” statement, and then that was it for one of those finely carved segments that the I Love series can still produce (albeit less often on recent programmes).

Mr Blobby was a shoe-in for inclusion in this series. Like most other ironic comic creations (e.g. Loadsamoney), Blobby has long since become disconnected from his origins, and so it was a useful exercise to reshow moments from his original outings on Noel’s House Party. That this section refused to pass comment on either Noel Edmonds’ output during the last decade, or indeed the impact of House Party on light entertainment as a whole, is indicative of the BBC’s reluctance to acknowledge the great man’s importance now that their relationship has become strained. Instead then, we were to focus exclusively on his spotty creation, and unbelievably here we encountered that most hackneyed of nostalgic clich├ęs as Mr Blobby’s designer confessed that a colleague had actually asked her if – when coming up with the Blobby look – she had been on acid.

The section on tattoos was pretty useless and arbitrary in the extreme: could you really isolate this trend to just those 12 months? This was to be another chance for the pundits to recycle some of their best material. Purveyors of comedy tradition would have been delighted at the inclusion of the joke about someone getting a Chinese word tattooed onto them without knowing what it means. Archive footage was again to be the saviour. This time a series of vox pops from 1993, and a chance to gaze again upon a pre-diet Vanessa. Such footage is included only to add a little historical authenticity to the piece, but often serves to evoke the most nostalgia in the viewer. This was certainly the case for the next section as we were treated to a montage of introductions to Eternal. Much was made of the band’s potential for longevity, as well as their ability to mix pop and gospel, yet I found myself wondering how they would have survived should they have stuck around long enough as a foursome to take on the Spice Girls. There was nothing in the footage shown that made me think they would have retained their dominance as the top girl group, and I was left feeling that perhaps there had been quite a lot of water under the bridge (certainly for pop music at least) after all.

A brief tour through Middle America and Greater Manchester allowed us to meet some of the faces (and voices) behind Beavis and Butthead and the Boddingtons ad campaigns, and then it was a whistle stop trip back through the career of Steve Coogan. Having all our pundits recite “bag of shite” was a typically predictable moment, yet Beavis and Butthead’s attempt at Paul Calf’s catchphrase did at least raise a smile. Condensing the career and comic creations of Coogan into five minutes of Saturday night easy nostalgia was always going to be a formidable task, particularly as The South Bank Show devoted an hour to the same subject matter just a few weeks ago. I Love 1993 chose to let the pundits make obvious statements concerning Alan Partridge’s ineptitude and Paul Calf’s irrational hatred for students. Yet, there were some choice moments here; particularly Gail Porter’s genuine fondness for Coogan’s work and the inclusion of little snippets of insight from some of Coogan’s co-performers. Felicity Montagu – like Dortie before her, reinforced the distance between now and then by looking absolutely nothing like the character she played in I’m Alan Partridge. Amidst this uncritical reverie though, I think I detected a slightly barbed comment from Paul Morley, who somehow managed to imply that perhaps Steve Coogan is no good anymore.

“Booty shakin’” and “bump ‘n’ grind” are phrases that have only just fallen out of common circulation. Hearing them again was like finding an English pound note in your pocket. Yet there was little else to be said about the invasion of Ragga into the British charts, and thus I Love 1993 ended with the obligatory film section. That Will Carling should claim that everyone talked about Indecent Proposal when it came out, perhaps says more about the circle of friends he orbited at the time then the impact of Adrian Lynne’s controversy-by-numbers movie. Lynne is an exploitive director, and throughout the ’80s and ’90s we let him shovel rubbish like this down our throats. Lest, we had any intentions of finally forgiving him, he turned up on I Love 1993 with a sweater draped across his shoulders and spouted forth about the tantalising questions that Indecent Proposal raised. In truth it’s a terrible film, with a garbled message and a story that quickly runs out of steam, yet no one else seemed to mention this. There was scope here to consider that whole run of American films addressing sexual politics in a crass, tabloid style (Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Disclosure) and especially the British public’s seemingly endless appetite for such fare. However, this opportunity was studiously avoided, and instead I Love 1993 had one last dose of nostalgia: back to I Love the Eighties and that piece on Flashdance – only here the “shock horror” body double for Demi Moore was not even interesting enough to be a man.

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