I Love 1988

Saturday, March 17, 2001 by

Alright, let’s start with that assumption. Do I love 1988?

Well, it means a lot to me in retrospect because it was my first full year out of college and the year I landed my first job in the media (Design Assistant at the NME). I was 23. It was a year of too much thinking – living alone in a studio flat in South London, sort-of-voluntarily celibate, making spaghetti Bolognese, drinking Kaliber at house parties, hanging around other people’s places of higher education to ease my own withdrawal from college, watching an inordinate amount of TV and renting a lot of videos.

As we have seen from previous editions of I Love the Eighties, the nostalgia offered is mostly specific to my own thirtysomething demographic, we who – eek! – stay in on a Saturday night (hence all the pencil cases and verucas in the early ’80s, when 36-year-olds were still at school), with a few crumbs thrown in for the twentysomethings who tape it and the good-looking TV presenters I have never heard of who appear on it.

So did the items selected for I Love 1988 say anything to me about my life? Loadsamoney, quiz machines, Acid House, Viz, Hitman & Her - yes. All the rest, no. Which is not to say that the programme-makers didn’t nail the zeitgeist. By casting their net beyond pop and kitsch telly to sport and fads, I Love 1988 presented a passable summation of the year.

Using the animated Ninja Turtles as “hosts” was technically clever, but laid the programme open, yet again, to charges of date-fixing. The series debuted in Britain in 1988, but am I going mad or wasn’t it on Sky? Turtlemania didn’t really happen here until 1989-1990 (the hit single and film certainly came in 1990). Perhaps it’s pedantic to fixate on dates, but when a programme seeks to define a calendar year, such “seasonal adjustment” whiffs of convenience.

No arguments about Bros vs Brother Beyond – an inspired start to the show. Both had their 15 minutes in ’88. By ’89 they were toast, which is why disposable pop sums up a year better than more substantial rock music. We had no testimony from the dim-witted Goss brothers, but preening Brother Beyond singer Nathan Barley was on hand to tragically state that his band had gone down “somewhere in history but not too indelibly”.

The Loadsamoney section was all too brief. (What a quiet man Charlie Higson is.) There was, however, very little new to learn about this much-discussed character. The dedicated Turtles bit was launched, in now-traditional style, with the magnificent Peter Kay (underused this week) remembering the theme tune. It’s a simple down-the-pub trick, but it works. What a shame we had Gail Porter asking, pointlessly, “Who thought that up?” Well, some comics writers you fool. Good gag from my close personal friend Maconie (“Donatella, Panatella, Jackson Pollock and Rolf Harris”), and hearing from both creators, two of the voice artists and a consultant biologist was no less than we have come to expect from the tireless I Love researchers.

On the subject of pundits, this week’s virgins were disappointing: pisspoor Guardian TV critic Gareth McLean, weight-obsessed posho columnist India Knight, Brendan Coogan (who seemed to be there solely to represent brother Steve re: Madeley/Partridge) and Patrick Kielty, who at least had something Northern Irish to add about novelty hands and bullet holes on cars. Thank heavens, once again, for Johnny Vegas (who imagined Hitman & Her dancer Wiggy working at a bureau de change: “I don’t trust you with currency”) and the aforementioned Maconie, who appears in two shirts because they asked him back to help fill out the apparently bereft later years. His pub machine reminiscence was up there with Gregory’s Girl.

I never watched Richard and Judy so this cult passed me by, but what is the point of Tara Palmer-Tompkinson saying “Oh I love Richard and Judy!” (likewise, Terry Alderton saying “Bill and Ted was a great film”) – this is not pop-nostalgia, it’s not even strictly comment or punditry. Bald statements have become more prevalent as the series has struggled to fill its insane brief week by week. I recall Dermot O Leary being on once in 1985 to say “I really like Bruce Springsteen.” Let’s hope they have a bit longer to edit together I Love the Nineties.

Nice section on “tragic” US sprinter Flo Jo, with good, relevant punditry (spoiled only by Michelle Gayle saying it was important to bring glamour to track and field – er, why?) and a tasteful obituary, with enough from Jim White to suggest that her heart attack at 48 may have been steroid-assisted. Fine telly. And keen use of backing track: I Know You Got Soul by Eric B and Rakim (Seoul Olympics, geddit?)

1988 was The Year Of Acid House. I was working at the NME when it all went off and so even though I didn’t step foot in a warehouse or take E in 1988, I felt this cultural flashpoint – well told by the pundits, especially erudite DJ Graeme Park, who made the religious point well (DJ in pulpit etc.), and we were allowed to laugh at the dancing, even though the movement had its serious side (nicely put by Miranda Sawyer). Bez summed it up with the old cliché: “Can’t really remember it, it must have been good!”

Being neither a lesbian or a football fan I can’t really remember Prisoner Cell Block H or inflatable bananas so they must have been good, but I enjoyed the sections, especially the comfortable-shoe-wearing woman who brought Bea over to meet the Mayor of Derby, and the footballer Imre Varadi, whose name started the banana craze. Good to see Bob Wilson having inflatables dropped on him. It’s these innocuous bits of TV that encapsulate a year: Bruno Brookes’ misjudged Top Gun jacket on TOTP, Mike Read lamely making a “Top of the Wads” crack about Harry Enfield, Josie Lawrence setting fire to her hair on This Morning and some sports reporter describing sumo legend Dumptruck as “576 lbs of fighting flab”.

The Viz part was slightly flat – again, perhaps it’s a story told too often. And Debbie Gibson vs Tiffany was too similar to Bros/Brother Beyond (apart from Mrs Gibson, telling us how Debbie wrote “eight, 10, 12 songs a day” – no good ones though, eh?)

Bill and Ted? Again, good work on booking the interviewees, but this needed more context, more about nascent slacker culture and where it went next (grunge, Wayne’s World, Wheatus) – maybe it’s too big for the slot.

To finish, The Hitman & Her, who should, of course, have hosted I Love 1988 from some Warrington fleshpot. I was fascinated by Pete Waterman’s comment about turning on the telly late at night and finding Elvis Costello talking about Irish politics – which is why he inventedHitman. And thus was brainless post-pub telly conceived. Me? I’d stay up any night to watch Elvis Costello talking about Irish politics, but there you go.

So, in I Love 1988 were we told that Acid House changed clubbing forever, and then we saw that clubbing hadn’t changed at all. You wonder if the overworked programme-makers even got time to watch the finished programme back before they deliver it to the Beeb. It’s like a dozen little programmes all stuck together, with no central theme and no overview whatsoever. This has been true all along. The only themes have been Stuart Maconie and Gina Yashere.

Still, lots of fun on the night: Brian Blessed, someone describing Bros as “Hitler youth”, Richard Madeley asking Neighbours actor Shane O’Brien if he felt “a bit of a poof” and a reminder of that Sun headline: “SHOOT THESE EVIL DRUG BARONS” I am a little tired of having to give up an hour and half of my Saturday night to this series now, but once I do, it never fails to tickle – more so now that I am not on it any more. Less anxiety.

And where was I in 1988? At a rave? Watching the Olympics? Waving a banana? No. Listening to George Best by The Wedding Present (1987), watching Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and reading Money by Martin Amis (1984). If only life were as neat as a pop-cultural documentary.


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