I Love 1986

Saturday, March 3, 2001 by

1986 was the year when my family finally decided to buy a video recorder. My dad suggested to my mum that she could record the recipes off Pages from Ceefax and have herself a kind televisual recipe reference cassette. My mum suggested that a better option might be to simply purchase a cookery book. Not long after my parents separated.

1986 was – therefore – a pretty turbulent year for a 13-year-old lad like me. Amidst the unavoidable discovery that my parents were only human, television and popular culture were to become increasingly important vents. By the end of the year I would have attended my first pop concert (spending the preceding weeks internally debating whether or not I should invest in some type of hearing protection), taped my first series of Doctor Who off-air and met my dad’s new girlfriend.

All of these memories are now in some way bittersweet (in retrospect ’86′s Doctor Who hadn’t been that great and then Colin Baker got the sack to boot) and so it was with a very particular pang and a photo album perspective that I came to view I Love 1986.

For over one hour, I Love 1986 formed one of the most cohesive and satisfying episodes of this entire odyssey and threw up a number of those satisfying moments of personal nostalgia that we all seem to need a fix of these days. For example, the opening music (the Bangles) will always remind me of the boyhood taunts directed at one our school friend’s amorous nature (we would cleverly replace the words of the chorus with “gives him an e-rec-tion” and sing it to him in class whenever we felt he was “under the influence”).

Early male teenage lust was of course exactly the kind of market that Samantha Fox tried to corner back in ’86. It is my experience that you never truly appreciate that you are in the grip of a media phenomenon until you come to review it retrospectively; and in retrospect it does appear that Sam had indeed been “big” back then. “It was an accident what went brilliantly” opined the subject. The obvious down-market pitch used to propel Sam to fame (and some notoriety) was well captured as this section was punctuated with a number of The Sun’s crass television adverts of the time. What’s more, in the first of many brilliant snippets this week, the fifth best was Terry Wogan’s cringing segue into Sam’s performance of her (only) hit single: “It’s Touch Me … and who wouldn’t?” Sam seems to have come out relatively unscathed from her brush with stratospheric fame, but what the hell was that Indian version of Touch Me all about?

Moonlighting was 1986′s Friends. Both shows made superstars out of their lead actors and both rely on fast paced, self conscious and slightly post-modern humour. This section was a little disappointing. The ravages of time proved to have been unkind to both Miss Dipesto and Bert Viola, yet aside the obvious curiosity of seeing these people as they look today, there was very little here that added to our sum understanding of this quixotic programme. Sure – we all knew Shepherd and Willis hated each other, but there was too little time spent on the innovativeness of the series (save to briefly mention its propensity to acknowledge the fourth wall) and too much trotting out that wearisome line that unrequited love makes for great television. Unlike our insights into The A-TeamKnight Rider et al no effort was made to truly explain why this series had been able to captivate us so entirely that Songs for Bruno was allowed to make an impact upon the British pop chart. Also, no clip of the infamous Claymation Moonlighting episode.

Crocodile Dundee was that rare exception in 1986 – a popular film that was able to pique the interests of a 13-year old boy convinced (incorrectly) that mainstream culture had little left to offer him. The ending was rubbish though, and seeing it again here reinforced that belief. Disappointingly, I Love 1986 failed to fully identify Hogan’s peculiar place within British culture prior to the film, yet at least there was an attempt at explaining the curious attraction of a film that – at the time and in retrospect – looked like it should never have been a hit. Crocodile Dundee is a rarity of mid ’80s popular cinema in that its credibility has scarcely diminished. Contributions from Mr and Mrs Hogan were pleasing and reminded us once again of the odd mixture of the saccharine and the uncivilised that made the film such a hit. Still, I had grown mightily weary of the “You call that a knife?” joke before the film had even been released in this country, and whilst it was gratifying to see the two leads concur that its repetition has grown exceedingly wearisome, this is a piece of cinema I would still gladly elect to destroy once and for all.

In a quiet night for the pundits we fell rather unimpeded into a more generalised discussion of the wholesale absorption of Australian culture that seemed to occur in the mid to late ’80s. Those Castlemaine and Fosters ads never really appealed to me, yet these (coupled with the Carling Black Label spoofs such as the Nick Kamen shown here) did seem to unite our nation in mirth back then. Tony Hatch playing the Neighbours theme on his keyboard was an original spin on the “pundits sing the theme songs” so beloved of this series of programmes. His musical flourishes actually ensured that this particular song had never sounded better and to watch the man at his craft was a moment to cherish in itself. Any nostalgia once associated with the marriage of Scott and Charlene has been completely dissipated through continual repetition and so the decision to focus on this plotline at the expense of any other was rather disappointing. That Neighbours was initially cancelled and then picked up by another television company is a fact that is now almost completely forgotten and thus could have borne re-telling here (whatever happened to the “first” Scott Robinson, Darius Perkins?). Nice though to hear Peter Kay’s talk of Will o’ the Wisp and Monkey. Also, I swear Harold Bishop turned up in the pundits’ chair for a moment too, but contributed nothing more than a little sing-a-long. The highlight of this section though, was the opportunity to finally meet Michael Grade’s daughter. Her inclusion was a welcome doff of the hat to those who have long since understood her particular relationship with those Antipodean Neighbours.

A brief section on men’s duvet spreads brought back startlingly fresh memories of my friend Damon’s bedroom (which aside from the removal of a homemade “burner” from his wall is unchanged – duvet included – from those halcyon days) and then it was onto a piece of genuine nostalgia. When were Sigue Sigue Sputnik last mentioned on national telly? That their music was actually okay was one of the first revisions that we were forced to make to our collective memories. This section included some more fantastic pieces of archive footage (certainly unmatched in any of the preceding episodes) with a startled Anne Diamond attempting to glean some answers from a bunch of lads who – whilst sharing the same sofa – really did not share the same planet as the TV-am crew. Better still, and really priceless in fact, was the footage of one of Sputnik’s concerts descending into an out and out brawl between the band and the audience. This was unpleasant stuff yet neatly encapsulated all that was dangerous about these “miscreants”, in the process providing tonight’s fourth best moment.

The section on No Limits was something of a delight too, yet to my mind failed to tell the whole story. Ex-presenter Tony Baker looked as horrible today (resplendent in his West Ham top) as he did back then. The montage of the No Limits title sequence will have sent a frisson up the spine of many a viewer as, once again, I Love 1986 was unearthing long forgotten artefacts. Yet where was the odious Jonathan King? Perhaps the revisionist history of No Limits starts here. Still, considering the raison d’être of the programme had been to create a pop show presented by talent new to television, a reunion (or at least mention) of all of the No Limits presenters would not have gone amiss, nor would a repeat viewing of some of the audition footage. On the same night that E4 unearthed a young Davina McCall auditioning for a presenter’s slot on The Word, one would imagine that a cursory review through No Limits would chance across footage worthy of sending to Angus Deayton round about Christmas time. Here the pundits were in their element as each to a man trotted out basically the same joke: “Here we are in sunny Newquay which has a fascinating history. Now here’s Huey Lewis and the News.” Yet, this same formula has been recycled ever since to the joy of cheap and cheerful TV producers.

It was at about this point in the proceedings that it became apparent that within a decade generally recognised for its crassness, 1986 represented the absolute zenith of unsophistication. Our favourite films (Arnie blockbusters as covered in the previous week’s programme) were as devolved and unsophisticated as our taste in fashion (Essex girls) and – of course – music. Cutting Crew, Peter Cetera and Jennifer Rush all fell under scrutiny in another great section. That Su Pollard should be held up as the Power Ballad’s greatest supporter would seem indictment enough.

Yet again though, I Love 1986 chose to serve us up a gem of clip as we were able to enjoy once more Su’s rendition of I Am Woman. As easy as it is to laugh, watching the litany of Rushes and Europes storming our charts made for unsettling viewing as each of us had to face up to the fact that we had actually liked some of this stuff. For me it was never to be Jennifer Rush (who I still think sounds exactly like that woman who sang The Day We Went To Bangor), however – at the time – I believed Europe’s The Final Countdown to be a worthy song and the opening foray of an onslaught into the British charts of some real, subversive Heavy Metal. Alas, of course I was somewhat off kilter with this interpretation. Stick to the facts instead. As we sat through the (still) interminable Take My Breath Away I recalled that I had regaled many a school friend with the fact that at one time the charts had contained not one, nor two but three songs all called The Power of Love. This kind of recollection is exactly the stuff that these kinds of programmes were created to induce.

From herein it all got a little bitty with fleeting mentions of big spectacles (and my realisation that Timmy Mallet is in fact Harry Hill), the launch of The Sunday Sport, Prince Philip’s faux pas in the Far East and Freddie Starr eating hamsters. This was all too scatter gun for me as I Love 86 attempted to cover too many bases in too little time. Still it did contain my absolute favourite clip from the many served up this week (Paul Coia mid-interview proclaiming “Flip!” upon learning of the vast quantity of spectacles owned by Christopher Biggins). Still just as it seemed 1986 had been a year 20 minutes short of a 90-minute programme, the final section on Five Star (as fleeting, mercurial and sensationalised in their way as Sigue Sigue Sputnik) ensured we departed this week on a high note. One of this series greatest strengths has been to crystallise the speed in which truly big stars are able to form, shine and then blink almost completely away. Little has been seen or heard of Five Star since their supernova year. Archive footage of Anthea Turner traipsing round the Five Star mansions made for enjoyable but bizarre viewing. Surely they can’t have got that rich that quickly? Even more surprisingly, they all seem relatively well adjusted as a result of their experiences (although Stedman’s mid gender reassignment look is rather suspect, leaving him to resemble – as others have already identified – a podgy version of Stuart from Shipwrecked). Still the obvious highlight of this section and (for many) this episode has to be the unexpurgated repeat outing for the redoubtable Eliot Fletcher and his abusive telephone call on Going Live!. To my knowledge this often talked about clip has never been repeated in all its glory on national television, so to see it again here really was a delight which sent those who had seen it first time around hurtling back 15 years in time. It’s just a shame they chose not to show the next caller (“Did you hear what he just said?” asks an amazed girl “He said that you’re …” – or at least that’s how I remember it), or allow Sarah Greene the opportunity to regale us with her account within the eye of the storm. If it hadn’t been for that “Flip!”, this would have been my most treasured moment from a night of wonderful archive surprises.

So 1986 then. It was a year in which our popstars looked like superheroes, our favourite film stars were superheroes and we were all holding out for (any) hero. Can this programme get any better? Could this decade get any worse?


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