I Love 1998

Saturday, October 27, 2001 by

Do you remember I Love 1998? It wasn’t that long ago, but don’t worry if you’ve forgotten stuff because part of the fun is half-remembering something, then humorously recalling what really happened while wondering what you could’ve been “on” to generate such side-splitting amnesia. Coming up over the next 1600 words: Lisa Snowden stating the obvious, Mark Steel being irritating, a fussy list of errors and gaffes that the programme makers could’ve avoided, and some abuse about Cornershop. “Was it good for you too?”

Just because the end is in sight doesn’t make the warped logic of I Love the Nineties any easier to tolerate. If anything the nearer to the present we get the more arrogant and cack-handed the production becomes. It’s perverse that there seem to have been more factual blunders and inaccuracies within the programmes covering the events of the last five years than any of those stretching back to 1970. I Love 1998 included a section on South Park introduced with Blur’s Beetlebum (released January 1997), and one on combat trousers introduced with All Saints’ I Know Where It’s At (released September 1997). Yeah, splitting hairs maybe, but these are elements that are all the more annoying for being so unnecessary and trivial and which would have been easy to correct. As it was we didn’t hear half the most important, popular or successful music of 1998, including Cher’s Believe, Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On or anything from B*Witched, Billie, Aqua, Madonna and The Spice Girls: perhaps not a bad thing, but again, that was what you heard everywhere on the radio and on telly in 1998. Or so I thought. Well, it was three years ago.

Once again with I Love the Nineties the programme had doomed itself instantly through its choice of presenter. Dana International was not the face of 1998. Her micro-bubble of national fame popped after about a week, and the event she remains most well known for is falling over at the Eurovision Song Contest of 1999. Her one hit never made the top 10 so while she may have deserved a passing mention her victory and the concurrent media frenzy over her (already ancient) sex change seemed undeserving of so much attention. After all previous Eurovision winners, let alone contests, have not had much of a look in here. Handing her the spotlight, meanwhile, did her no favours, merely exposing further her musical shortcomings, vanity (“I wanted to co-operate with everyone!”) and poor sense of humour.

More puzzling was the way the programme didn’t even begin with Eurovision, instead opting for another dodgy film. There’s Something About Mary was once more no way emblematic of 1998. The problem of using films as elements within nostalgia based formats was effectively nailed in the review of I Love 1997; but if anything that situation became worse here. Having seen neither this or the other film featured – Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – I found the programme’s attitude glib and patronising, alternately presuming too much then talking down at me for not understanding enough. But even in my relative naïveté I somehow failed to appreciate having Lisa Snowden yet again pop up to describe clips we were about to see. In fact everyone was at it. Joining Lisa in a roll call of serial stating-the-obvious offenders were Ed Byrne, Jenny Powell, Jeff Green and the particularly snide, over-knowing Marcus Brigstocke (who merits a special mention for going that extra bit further and impersonating the voices of characters we were just about to see).

OK, it’s very easy to knock such contributors, so who would go in their place? Who’s left to oil the wheels of the nostalgia industry now Stuart Maconie and Peter Kay have packed up and gone elsewhere? Fear not, because I Love 1998 saw a return to peak form of Jamie Theakston, standard-bearer for cheap shots from reviewers ever since the I Love franchise first began. Even at this late stage in the day Theako delivered the goods, casually chuckling over how he thought Dana International “looked just like a fella!” and how the dreadful Brimful of Asha by Cornershop tickled him because the line “Everyone needs a bosom for a pillow” made him keep “thinking of Claire Rayner – for some reason!” He must be aware of how his contributions to this series have made him look, and how he’s become a byword for the art of talking about a topic and still appearing confused despite having watched a clip on the subject 10 seconds earlier.

However even his performance paled alongside that of Mark Steel. Never a man to make it easy for you not to dislike him, Mark has cleverly used the whole I Love the Nineties series to set about cultivating even more reason for viewers to become consumed with irritation the second his giant face looms onto screen. His pompous comments boom out thanks to the way he’s filmed (like Fi Glover) in ultra-close up, which also amplifies the degree to which everything he says is so unfunny (ditto). There’s Something About Mary, therefore, was like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s, except Audrey Hepburn never had spunk in her hair!” During a section on the Coronation Street storyline involving the wrongful imprisonment of Deirdre Rachid, Mark helpfully reminded us how foolish we all were for confusing fiction with reality: “I hope they never go to see Shakespeare – they’ll be running on in the middle: ‘That’s murder!’”

Even though he later he faced stiff competition from Paul Ross (telling us about a trip he made to Leicester), Vanessa Feltz (trying to remember when she remembered something to do with the papers) and Peter York (looking at a bottle of Sunny Delight), on balance Mark has to rank as the most useless, counter-productive element of any I Love the Nineties programme. He’s one of those who’s done the most to drag this series so far downwards and belittle the fine work done by his forerunners in I Love the Seventies and Eighties.

The inevitable lewd content came in the form of an officially “lewd act”. George Michael’s arrest for indecent exposure was a big event of 1998, but typically mis-handled here. We had to endure a whole stream of “careless Wispa” style gags reeled off by “comedians”, and the chance for a bit of insight into George’s career up to that point (the wilderness years during the court case, the comeback LP), or even previous celebrity scandals was swapped for the sight of a George Michael impersonator listing his diary engagements for the week his alter ego got banged up. It was interesting hearing about how the video for Outside was made, but it felt out of place and sat awkwardly amongst so much trivial conjecture. The end was botched as well, as Johnny Vegas fluffed some pointless joke about Panini stickers, for which Panini then got a credit at the end.

Goodness Gracious Me began life on Radio 4 but this wasn’t mentioned once during the short section designed to convince us it was the most important programme of 1998. I’ve always found it a rather patchy series, with fantastic sketches rubbing shoulders with really banal, obvious ones. Being reminded of all the dreadful musical pastiche sequences was not pleasurable (nor enduring the requisite bit from “Going out for an English”). Intriguingly, though, the song Vindaloo was played during the background: a very popular hit, of course, and to do with the World Cup, though again neither were properly mentioned. We stayed with TV for the bit on Deirdre Rachid, a segment memorable for Margi Clarke confusingly describing her on-screen relationship with Deirdre as being “like Ronnie Barker to her Porridge.” It was somewhat bemusing to see the programme making so much of this age-old tactic of involving the press in soap opera storylines. Don’t they remember “Give Us Our Crossroads Back”? Owen Aaranovitch also appeared, complaining about how nostalgia programmes are holding his career back. You didn’t have to show up, Owen.

Combat trousers were laughed at for having so many pockets. All Saints wore them, so they were mentioned, not because they had some of the biggest selling singles of 1998. Gangsters were praised to the skies in the Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels section, making me not want to see the film even more; and to demonstrate the controversy over Sunny Delight we saw a child putting orange make up on his face. Brimful of Asha – a song that has less chords, and imagination, than Three Blind Mice – was causing a problem for Marcus again: “What’s a brimful of asha?” he asked. “I should imagine it’s something to do with drugs,” suggested Wayne Hemingway (nice to see him back). But it was good to see the song’s eponymous hero – Asha Bhosle – interviewed, and let’s not forget Cornershop’s fine work in providing backing music for Mark Radcliffe’s Radio 1 shows for the last four years.

Finally we had South Park, a show, it’s true, you either “love or hate”. I fall into the second category, and I knew nothing I Love 1998 was going to say would persuade me otherwise. So again, here was something I’ve never really “got” being presented to me as obvious, and my bemusement made a source of humiliation by implying I was just the same as the fusty expert who didn’t like it because of all its swearing. A really miserable end to a deeply unsatisfactory, instantly forgettable programme.

Anyway, I Love 1998 – was it good for you too?


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