I Love 1997

Saturday, October 13, 2001 by

A few hours before watching I Love 1997, I went on Friends Reunited and sent an e-mail to a mate from college I hadn’t seen since, yes, 1997. As I was writing the e-mail, it struck me how much has changed which I wanted to tell him about – since I last saw him I’d been to university, made a bunch of new friends, started full time work and had at least three different haircuts. 1997 was the first year of adulthood for me, and so I Love 1997 should have had extra resonance. I should have done everything that this programme told me the nation had done.

At the start of the series, I appeared to be the only person outside the production team who thought that it could have been worth making. I based this idea on Goodbye to the Nineties, an excellent 90-minute show broadcast on 31 December 1999. Produced by BBC Manchester, it expertly married together brilliantly-chosen clips with amusing, wry commentary to effortlessly entertain. If I Love the Nineties was half as good as that programme, it would have been well worth doing. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

While I Love the Seventies made you go “Ooh, not seen that clip before”, and I Love the Eighties made you go “Ooh, great to see that clip again”, I Love the Nineties is simply spawning resigned “I knew they were going to show that clip” comments. With this run, you can tell that the production team have got a few back issues of newspapers and magazines, a couple of reference books and some tapes of The Sunday Show and other topical programmes out of the archive, and based their selection of topics on what was included. Maybe it’s because the production team weren’t experiencing the topics first hand anymore, but making programmes about them at the time. It’s a view of 1997 based on what was on the telly, not what people were actually doing. You could see this throughout the hour. Too often it’s the sort of programme you could make yourself.

With a few exceptions, I’ve not enjoyed any of the sections about films on any of these programmes, right back to the early ’70s shows. If you went out on the street and asked members of the public when, say, Indecent Proposal came out, you’d probably get answers ranging from 1988 to 1998. Films very rarely sum up the year they were made in, unless they were massive blockbusters that spawned acres of merchandise and publicity (yet neither Jurassic Park nor Batman, which really were big deals, have appeared). The Full Monty could have been made any year, and to me they don’t belong in this series as they weren’t ephemeral. Anyway, I’ve never seen The Full Monty, as I was sick of people telling me to when it came out, and the clips didn’t make me want to rent the video either. The piece therefore passed me by, except to note that Lisa Snowdon demonstrated punditry at its worst when she just described clips we were about to see.

On seeing the section about Chumbawamba, I was reminded of Stuart Maconie’s “Commandments For Modern Living” that appeared in the great but short-lived Deluxe magazine in 1998. One of them was “Thou shalt never admit you bought a copy of Tubthumping”, which I’ve adhered to ever since. Yes, somewhere at the bottom of a drawer in my bedroom is a copy of that single, and I haven’t played it since about a fortnight after I bought it. Still, I wasn’t alone, and the best bit about this section was seeing the band at a Radio 1 Roadshow with Simon Mayo instructing the audience to “go and buy it”. The other good bits about this section were some clips of the band backstage at Top of the Pops, which I’d never seen before, and the fact that they didn’t play Amnesia, which is an awful record. Unfortunately we also got the first of tonight’s appearances from Mark Steel – like Mark Thomas only even more irritating and unconvincing. In many ways he’s the Chumbawamba of comedy.

We quickly sped through features on the “Diet Coke break” advert, which I don’t think is from 1997. A brief glance at the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles – no doubt often taken off the shelf in the production office – shows us that I Just Wanna Make Love To You was released in February 1996, presumably to cash in on the advert. So what was it doing here? Melinda Messenger’s section was basically a retread of the Sam Fox appreciation from I Love 1986.

And then it’s the Teletubbies. I will not hear a bad word said against this series, as when it began I was slap bang in the target audience – which was, of course, aged between 16 and 22 – and I watched it, and genuinely enjoyed it, practically every morning. I knew this feature was going to be full of comedians regurgitating all their 1997 material about the series, so I didn’t hold up much hope for it . In fact it all started off really well, with a bunch of kids in the pundit’s chair. Best quote of the night came from one of them, saying “Such a long time ago, it was my favourite show”. Unfortunately, this couldn’t last, and then we had Dave Thompson still riffing on his dismissal from the role of Tinky Winky, four years on. And then … Sheryl Garrett said it was “on drugs”, Claire Gorham said it was “on acid” and Mark Steel made reference to “a giant E” that Laa-Laa held up, pretending he hadn’t seen the clip five minutes earlier.

The section on Bridget Jones included clips from the film, which is all wrong. Then it was the viagra section, which was bound to be rubbish. Kevin Day talked about how comedians did loads of rubbish jokes about it, which was a bit rich as last week he’d recycled all of his “Posh Spice isn’t very posh” material from 1996. Oddly, Terry Wogan showed up, who was good, though I thought this was a bit too “dumbed-down” for him. Though I knew we were going to get that Richard and Judy clip, and sure enough it showed up again. Mark Steel seems to be the only person in the country who hasn’t seen this clip several hundred times, so he must have been in a cave for the last four years. Though given his stand-up act, maybe he has. There was nothing else of interest in this bit, save an amusing clip of Richard Madeley letting slip a “bloody” and immediately apologising.

Then we got a piece on The Prodigy, which was initially baffling as surely 1996 was the band’s biggest year – they had two number ones, for a start. The reason why they were here were because this was the year of Smack My Bitch Up. In fact, as I didn’t own the album and Radio 1 didn’t play the single during the day, I don’t think I actually heard this song until a year or so later. Still, this segment did offer up an interesting demonstration of how times have changed since just four year ago, as we got to see practically the whole of the video. I remember that on its original release, the video was only shown once on terrestrial TV, on a pilot chat show with Will Self at midnight on Channel 4. This whole section, though, seemed to concentrate on something that was big amongst the media, but made little impact on the general public. Oddly, series regular Leeroy Thornhill didn’t comment.

Last up – thankfully we didn’t get the promised Titanic feature – were docusoaps. Make no mistake, Driving School was a killer of a series, a real talking point. Indeed, I put the timer on for two episodes while I went on holiday for a fortnight. The clips are still fun to see again, as well. Thankfully this section was spared the likes of Arabella Weir making pointless, outdated and unfunny comments on how “they’ll make docusoaps about anything now”. Jeremy Spake wasn’t involved, though, which is odd given that he’s commented on loads of other things, but not the one he’s qualified to speak about.

On the whole, this programme is becoming a real chore to watch, and the only reason that I – and no doubt, many others – are sticking with the series is basically out of brand loyalty. I’ve watched all the others, and I can’t stop now. There are some plus points – Miranda Sawyer’s still good, and it’s nice to see Jenny Ross on telly again, but that’s about it. You really could make an entertaining and amusing programme about 1999, I really do believe that, but it’s becoming obvious that this strand isn’t going to deliver it. It’s a shame what was once a great series is becoming dull and uninspired viewing.

Does anyone want to appear in my new nostalgia show – I Love I Love the Eighties?


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