I Love 1992

Saturday, September 1, 2001 by

1992: the year of Europe, the Single European Act, the Treaty of Maastricht, Black Wednesday and the Barcelona Olympics. In short, one of the most momentous years in recent European history. But, wait a moment, this isn’t 1992 – it’s I Love 1992. Here it’s Take That, Gladiators, the Femidom, The Shamen, Absolutely Fabulous, Wayne’s World, Reservoir Dogs and The Tango Ad With The Fat Orange Bloke. And that’s because the purpose of the I Love … series is not penetrating analysis of the shifting plates of political and sociological history, but to take a snapshot of what was happening in the world of pop culture.

Unlike some of the Hollywood-based presenters of previous shows, Mark Owen could at least “get” most of the references within the programme, even if he did seem rather subdued about the whole affair. Although we can’t deny that this was an observer with a stake in the unfolding narrative (and being a member of the biggest boy band of the ’90s makes it a pretty big stake) his delivery suggested a boredom with his limited role in the programme.

Onto the first item, then and it seemed shocking that Take That could be discussed in such elegiac terms. It is a measure of the abiding affection for this apparently throwaway pop group that they are still well remembered nine years on. Nine years is a couple of eons in pop music terms. It was also amusing to see them all so young and fresh in their early videos, and in particular Gary Barlow’s ill-advised bleached blond hair. In addition there was the hackneyed story of the rise and fall of the group (getting together, paying dues, chart success, “artistic differences”, the split) and one or two personal memories from Howard Donald, and Mark Owen himself (Barlow and Robbie Williams were predictably notable absentees). The furor caused by the split up was touched upon briefly, but had been covered better on Channel 4′s TV To Die For a few weeks previously. The personality clashes in the group were alluded to and then, maddeningly, glossed over. But it was really in some choice clips from various daytime television shows that we got a true flavour of what Take That were all about – five fit, likeable lads who could sing and dance a bit.

Unusually, this edition covered not one but two films; Wayne’s World and Reservoir Dogs. This, I guess, was due more to the fact that 1992 presented little else to major on in the I Love Universe, rather than the intrinsic merit of either film. Reservoir Dogs probably had the best claim as the film of the year, however, due more to scenes and images which have entered the public consciousness rather than any depth of characterisation or plot. The myth that this is a particularly depraved flick was usefully taken apart (Barry Norman’s comments on Film ’92n otwithstanding) and the point was made by Chris Penn that this was a film that relied chiefly on dialogue for effect, rather than onscreen violence. Greg Proops was also quick to point out the debt Quentin Tarantino owed to the Hong Kong gangster movies he’d consumed whilst working in a video store.

Come the feature on the Tango advert (joyously featuring both the original “slap” and re-shot “kiss” versions) and some thorough research was evident, turning up the actor who had played that orange “Tango man”. Advertising executive John Hegarty was also on hand to lend us some insight into the development of the ad. This was actually one of the better parts of the show, with one unable to escape the feeling that the I Love production team were more comfortable with the material. Although a particular advert has been featured in every one of the ’90s series so far, for once the coverage avoided the unfortunate psychobabble which often surrounds discussion of television advertising. Instead it concentrated on the previous, conventional Tango campaigns (the “The Whole Fruit” which I recall seeing on Night Network) and the chip shop connection before telling the story of the campaign which has gone on to influence soft drink advertising ever since (cf. Sprite, Pepsi Max and even Fanta).

Other features were less inspired. Absolutely Fabulous was featured in a rushed item which failed to pick up on the one-dimensional Ab Fab‘s saving grace – it’s inspired casting (June Whitfield and Julia Sawalha in the supporting roles). Inevitably, the words “gay icon” were used to describe the Patsy character (played by Joanna Lumley), although at least she has a better claim to that appellation than say, Tinky Winky or Bob the Builder.

As we reached discussion of The Shamen and Ebenezer Good the shock horror revelation that this song was about Ecstasy was less surprising than the realisation that the programme had lasted three-quarters of an hour without any references to recreational drugs – a major achievement for this series. The most interesting part of this segment was the comparison with the Mike Read/Relax controversy of 1983. Simon Mayo was convinced that the Beeb had realised what Ebenezer Good was about, but this time couldn’t be bothered to ban it.

The best part of I Love 1992 involved Ulrika Jonsson and John Fashanu discussing Gladiators. There was a sublime piece of editing, contrasting the wildly differing views of Jonsson and Fashanu as to each other’s merits as a presenter. Fashanu’s massive ego was also on open display with clips from some of his interviews where he demonstrated his awesome technique (“What’s a typographer?”) Some of the internal production politics were also mentioned, such as the worries at the end of each season that this would be the last. Gladiators was rightly proud that it managed seven seasons, particularly being one of the most preposterous game shows ever broadcast in Britain.

Two other features – about the Femidom and For Women magazine – were covered, but seemingly to provide light relief from the machismo of Reservoir Dogs. Being about sex, both items were covered humorously (as is the British way of these things). Yet, it was amusing to hear Gail Porter’s remembrance of having to ask a man in the newsagent’s to pick up a copy of For Women from the “top shelf”. The ensuing penis gags were less so, being predictable and boring. The reason given for showing only flaccid penises (the infamous “Mull of Kintyre” rule) somehow neglected the not-unimportant legal reasons as defined by the 1957 Obscene Publications Act.

So, that was the distinctly post-watershed 1992. A programme which contained more sex, drugs and violence than any of the preceding shows in the series. A sign of the times, or a desperate attempt to maintain interest in an idea rapidly losing steam? I would tend to the latter. As Andrew Collins pointed out in his review of I Love 1988, the arc of this series is aimed squarely at that thirtysomething demographic who were kids in the ’70s, young adults in the ’80s and adults in the ’90s. Tastes change as you grow older and so has the focus of this series – from Space Dust to Ecstasy. More adult themes are now being explored, but the viewer is left to their own conclusions. Mine is that this was one of the weakest of the I Love strand, with the reduction in running time back to 60 minutes never more – erm – timely.


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