The Accursed 90s: The Word

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[More Accursed 90s: Televised Lad ContestsDon’t Forget Your ToothbrushTalk Show GothsJames Whale on TelevisionCraig Charles’ Funky Bunker]

Unlike a lot of what I cover on here, The Word isn’t some forgotten piece of pop culture, but one of the most frequently reviled, having fully earned its place in the history book of very, very smelly telly. But for each of its oft-cited moments of viewer outrage — members of the public drinking a glass of sick; Mark Lamarr being rude; her off L7 getting her fanny out — every one of its live hours is packed with dozens more that have gotten lost. Like GamesMaster, its scattershot nature perfectly captures a moment in time, and I’ll be sifting though a couple of random episodes, each from early 1995, to see what cursed magic belches up to the surface.

Perhaps the most 90’s thing of all is the show’s sponsorship by Tango, before it’s straight into the Yewtree material, with a voiceover by Stuart Hall, who’d later be jailed over historic sex offences. The opening titles, where a horned-up couple accidentally sit on the remote as they get off with each other, is more explicit than I remember, with a woman fellating a 3-foot-long salami for a cheering crowd, and the guy on the sofa casually sucking the girl’s bare tit as they watch TV. As a mishmash of random stuff, The Word functions as a ‘dark’ version of morning magazine shows, exactly conforming to the structure of This Morning or Anne and Nick. Celebrity guests stick around on the sofa to add their thoughts to issues and topics they know nothing about, there’s live music, and pre-recorded VTs from the exotic climes of America.

01

In a very Loaded-era thing; which we see now in Brexiteer Facebook memes about remembering jam sandwiches and playing out after dark, where anything from twenty-plus years ago is celebrated as Britain’s glorious past; guest Stuart Hall’s intro pegs him as “the greatest living Englishman.” Did they take that title from him too when his OBE got annulled? Accompanied by Dani Behr, Terry Christian bids us “hello, and welcome to the last outpost in maverick television. There have been and will be loads of imitators, but there can only be one The Word!” Even now, at the arse-end of its lifespan, a half-dozen episodes from finishing, the opening’s one big brag about how bad-arse they are, delighting in their status as trash-culture kings, with Behr adding they’ll be “keeping an army of TV critics in work over the next 7 days.” It’s important to remember just how despised Terry Christian was at the time, as a Jeremy Beadle-style national irritant, and his ability to chew my fucking chocolate has held up remarkably well 25 years on.

In case you forgot what decade this was, show proper begins with a number from Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, of whom Dani makes a crack about formerly playing backup for Oliver Reed, during his shambolic cover of Wild Thing, in one of the show’s most infamous moments. Invited on as a guest, Reed’s dressing room was filled with bottles of booze and hidden cameras, as they secretly filmed him getting drunk backstage, before playing the footage as he sat there, in a horribly humiliating sting. Anyway, the band play in front of a greenscreen projecting Windows Media Player visualisations, as the singer holds the mic upside down like a hamster drinking from its water bottle, and a woman in the crowd wobbles her tits at the camera.

02

Terry’s “my first guest had his whole life turned upside down last July, when he was arrested and charged with rape” isn’t the usual cheery intro for Craig Charles, though he does stress, “he’s since been cleared by a jury; he’s been proved innocent.” Craig has become one of the faces on my Patreon’s Mount Rushmore of appalling television, his sweating mug hewn into the rock alongside Noel, Chris Evans, and Jim Davidson. He seems distracted during his intro, fiddling with a Pez dispenser that Terry relieves him of, and repeatedly touching the sofa before looking at his hands as if they’re wet, or have grown tiny little mouths that whisper secrets.

One thing you can say about The Word, is that its haphazard interviews have no sense of the PR-approved backslapping you get with a Graham Norton or Jonathan Ross. Craig’s brutally honest, talking a mile a minute about his time on remand, where murderers were spitting in his coffee and banging on his cell door shouting “beast!” and “nonce!” Note that his accuser was an adult woman, and back then, ‘nonce’ just meant general sex-past. Heck, when I was at school, it was a generic insult, like prick. The governor offered to put him on Rule 43 with the vulnerable prisoners, but “I wasn’t havin’ any of that. I wanted to go out on the landing where the real people were.” This is Craig’s big comeback, having spent “3 ½ months in a cell and 4 ½ months in exile,” and he must be taking it serious, as he barely does the fake Ernie laugh. Little did he know, in two short years, he’d be dominating Friday nights.

03

In a way, The Word‘s closest cousin isn’t the chat show, but the Mondo genre of exploitation films, sandwiching their interviews between random scenes of ‘shock’, introduced with the insincere nonchalance of a teenage edgelord peeling off his jacket at Sunday lunch to reveal a shirt with FUCK on it. Suddenly, we’re off to San Francisco; “a place where women can get all the essential features of men just by taking the right medicine,” with lots of shots of transmen’s genitals and an interview with a “a hetero-affectional homosexual queer guy” called Shadow (in a classic case of picking your own cool-sounding nickname), shown riding a motorbike, and soundtracked by Born to be Wild. There’s footage of black market testosterone being injected into arse-cheeks, and lots of talk about big clits, and when we cut back to the studio, a shaken Craig’s holding Terry’s arm for support; “all I can say is, they put me in jail!” He points at the screen in disbelief, repeating “they put me in jail!

The rapid change in how we tackle trans issues is always the big shocker in aged television, and even this side of 911, beloved family entertainer Harry Hill was getting laffs from dry-heaving to clips from There’s Something about Miriam on TV Burp. If he did that now, they’d be burning his effigy in the streets, with only Graham Linehan on hand to provide a bucket of water. Later, there’s a ‘funny TV from Japan’ bit, even name-checking Clive James, who they stole it from, where a woman has a plaster-cast of her big floppy breasts.

04

We return to Hall pointing at a girl in the front row who was retching, and of whom Terry says “can’t compete, can she?” intimating her tits are too small to bother making a mold of. Then we’re shown a naked keep fit video, which is just a load of boobs and nobs bouncing up and down, as Terry makes an unbelievably hackneyed reference to nudity appearing in “the middle pages of National Geographic.” Like The Big Breakfast, ad breaks are topped and tailed by fun little quizzes, like asking which celebrity has not spent the night in a bed at Cedars-Sinai hospital? “The answer is River Phoenix, he spent the night in their morgue.” Fucking hell.

In what will be an unintentionally remarkable interview, tonight’s second guest, Stuart Hall, is flanked by two of the ludicrous Knockout costumes as he makes his way to the sofa. It’s an interesting mix of sexual assault charges, respectively dealt with and still yet to come, with the found-innocent Craig Charles and guilty Hall sat side by side. If Hall’s hoping one could view his TV work and not associate it with his crimes, it won’t be happening here. Even in appearance, he’s cartoonishly sleazy, with an actual medallion around his neck, and unnervingly white teeth beaming out of a Ronseal tan, like the Millennium Falcon jumping to hyperspace. He looks like he should be selling you a blimp at marked-up prices in an old click-n-point videogame.

05

At the time this went out, It’s a Knockout had been off air for 12 years, yet Hall’s fury about its cancellation still hasn’t cooled, blaming the BBC Controller, who “took off 12 million viewers and gave them to ITV in one week!” He rants and raves, trying to get the young crowd behind him with an aghast “they also took off the Good Old Days, and gave ITV another 8 million!” Shockingly, the audience of horny students chewing their jaws off aren’t exactly rioting over the loss of the Beeb’s tribute to Edwardian music halls, over a decade prior, but Hall keeps at it. “I said ‘what are you going to replace it with?’ He said ‘The Thorn Birds’. The Thorn Birds!” he scoffs, swishing a hand dismissively through the air, to utter bemusement from kids who, twenty minutes earlier, were moshing and fingering to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.

Hall seems to view Knockout as the character-building equivalent to National Service. The show’s still ongoing in Europe, “but Britain aren’t playing!” he says, standing to illicit boos, in a damning prognostication on a future Brexit, shouting “D’YA WANT TO PLAY FOR BRITAIN?!” Terry’s lost control, as Hall bangs on about taking “boys and girls like these” and forming them into Knockout teams, to face the best in Europe at… tripping over in silly costumes? Finally getting a question in, Terry brings up Royal Knockout, as “the start of the rot for the Royal Family,” putting its co-creator on the defensive. “IT WAS A WONDERFUL IDEA!” bellows Hall, blaming the press for killing a show that would otherwise still be running. Perhaps of all their terrible crimes, the papers robbing us the sight of Rylan and Hugh Jackman throwing giant plastic sausages at Vanessa Feltz is their worst.

06

The silence now is palpable, with a real sense of ‘I can’t cheer or wank to this!’ as he goes into a meandering anecdote about pole vaulting over a dyke. Time stands still; my beard trails to my ankles; new species are born and fade into extinction, and even the bloke from the opening credits’ erection is deflating, as Stuart Hall fills the silent studio with tales of raw sewage, a Dutch mayor, and crushing his own testicles. Craig welcomes us back from the break with an “awooga!” as Hall distracts from a question about “a copper, and like, going the wrong way up a motorway?” with another tall story about Liverpudlians making wine for charity, and all the “verrucas, varicose veins and anthrax” on their feet exploding the bottle factory. Everybody looks exhausted.

Mercifully, they hand over to their own Knockout revival, which in the cramped studio, is like trying to recreate Gladiators in a toilet cubicle. A girl in a furry bra selects audience members from a tumbler, as three men dressed as budgies dive through hoops and burst balloons with their tummies, while Hall does his thing of laughing really hard at people falling over a bit. The winner’s presented a key to the city on a pillow by an elderly and comically nervous mayor who seems afraid for his life surrounded by half-dressed clubbers.

07

The final segment has the same energy as Gary Glitter’s “shh!” on his This is Your Life, when Terry asks Hall if it’s true the coppers once knocked on his door with a noise complaint and he answered it naked. “It was a set up!” he says, launching into a rather panicked story about hosting a pool party and getting chucked in — “and suddenly, down the slide, came this young lady with breasts like the north face of the Eiger…” Craig’s “this isn’t gonna stand up in court!” is ironic in hindsight, as Hall witters on — “she was wearing nothing but a faint smile, so I turned to the guests and said…” At this point, a thonged muscleman comes out with a tray of champagne, and the others begin talking amongst themselves. But Hall’s alibi must continue. “The girl was a total stranger, and the guy with her was a journalist. It was a set-up!” Wait, so what’s that got to do with answering the door naked?

Finally, in her first words since the opening, Dani introduces Luscious Jackson to play us home. Janeane Garofalo and Mark Morrison were both trailed as appearing throughout, but presumably got cut for time with Hall’s incessant yacking. Interestingly, tucked away in the credits as a researcher is the name Eliot Fletcher; a unique spelling we’ve seen before, swearing down the phone at Five Star on Going Live. Next, we’re jumping back a few weeks to February 3rd, 1995, in an episode which cold opens with Trevor Jordache, who’d recently been dug up from the patio in Brookside, in ghoulish make-up asking if he’s in Hell — “Worst than that, buster. You’re on The Word.

08

Terry’s at a family funeral this week, so Dani and Jasmine Dotiwala are running the show — “the sisters are doing it for themselves!” — and we open with the first live television appearance of Supergrass. But from here, it’s a downhill slalom into the abyss. Our first guest is “one of Britain’s brightest comics.” It’s 1995, so that’ll be Vic Reeves? Steve Coogan? Close. Out comes cheeky chappy, Shane Richie, immediately leaning over Dani to kiss her face and neck, pinning her down as a funny joke. He’s got puffy shirt sleeves like a 19th century vampire, and is clearly very, you know, ‘energetic’, chewing on gum the whole time like a cow, and unable to stop showing off. It’s like a shit Robin Williams; pulling faces, and doing voices and insufferable schoolboy bits like rewinding himself like a video or pretending to eat his own eyeball.

09

There’s a weird energy between Shane and Dani, and when she brings up her appearance on his Win Lose of Draw, he blurts “shall we tell them about that night in the hotel in Edinburgh?!” leaning into the camera with “I’ve got it on video, we’ll be showing it later, ladies and gentlemen!” It’s less an interview than a power struggle of information, and she tries to wrest control by asking about “you and your geography teacher when you were fifteen,” but Richie flips it to the topic of Ryan Giggs (Dani’s then-boyfriend, as the first real tabloid WAG), as the audience goes wild. “Don’t go all silly on me,” says Shane, wrapping Dani in a big hug, before a brilliant segue, about fortune smiling down on Shane, unlike those kids from Diff’rent Strokes.

After a video about the rough old lives of Gary Coleman and co, where Todd Bridges talks about being molested as a child, Shane’s yells over Dani’s comments on how sad it all was with a gag — “the moral of the story is, don’t take drugs and hold up laundrettes!” — which, even with this rabid crowd, doesn’t get a laugh. She asks how many groupies he’s got, and he holds up four fingers, before they bring out the next guest, “the most lusted-after teenager in America,” the then-17-year-old Liv Tyler. Dani jokingly tells Shane to leave her alone, and he says “she’s alright, we’ve been in touch for a couple of years now.” Asked if she’s a “flirtatious sex-kitten” like in the Aerosmith video, Tyler describes herself as shy, to which Shane butts in, “you’re not coming round my house then, ooh no!” Then Dani asks if she’s worried she only gets cast to take her clothes off, and a cheer goes up from the blokes in the audience.

10

There’s one of their Mondo type videos, where they dredge up a mucky old softcore that Eric Pollard from Emmerdale did when he was younger, like a pre-internet Mr. Skin, and the Hopefuls section where a bloke sucks on an old man’s dirty foot, which has the audience shrieking in horror, but seems delightfully quaint in a future where rolling news will happily show footage of freshly-blown up bodies. The band Live do a number; and what a delicious shitpost of a name. Not just “is it Live or Live?” but having to Google for ‘live band’. Trendy, hip, young Shane Richie, still rocking his Teddy Boy look into the mid-90s is not a fan, sneering over the wailing feedback and shrugging “is it just me? I miss The Rubettes.

Dani brings up Shane’s famous wife, Colleen Nolan, and suddenly writhing with embarrassment, he’s back to his Giggsy material, before Dani deflects with rumours that Shane’s a “screamer” who flies into rages, and “a bit of a naughty one to live with.” More Giggs jokes leave an exasperated Dani whining “it’s not funny anymore,” and he admits he got into in rages when he was writing his sketch show and got interrupted. Ooh, mustn’t disturb the maestro! I’m presuming the show he’s referring to was 1990 BBC series Up To Something!, co-starring David Schneider, which remains the only time Shane Richie’s shared writing credits with Richard Herring and Armando Iannucci, in one of my biggest televisual holy grails.

11

Incredibly, we’ve yet to hit bottom, but arrive flat-back and concussed to a Mr. and Mrs style quiz called Perfect Partners. Every question is indicative of the era everyone was shagging their little willies off, with the answers a revealing picture of the 90’s Lad. A sex trick the boys use to turn on their partners? Have a bath. Take it out. What do they think about to stop from cumming too quick? Lager. Having a fight. But under the surface of this hedonistic decade, it was all rather vanilla, with nobody eatin’ ass, and struggling to even name a fantasy, beyond doing it on the pitch of your fave footie team. Agonisingly slow, every contestant is monosyllabic and camera-shy, having to be pushed into each answer, and their names seem made up — Fathom and Aleace?!

12

For the final question, with the girlfriends in a soundproof booth, they bring out three blokes and ask a contestant which is the one his partner recently slept with. Bear in mind, they’ve been together for years. He’s clearly distressed, and when Alan the host is later running down the answers, he accidentally brings the three men back out too early. A crew member can be heard yelling “no no no!” and a whisper of “second question,” and now the lads have to stand there, while Fathom’s hand-to-mouth in shock, confronted with someone she cheated on her boyfriend with, until they get around to revealing who it was. Finally, we reach the end, as Shane holds onto Dani’s hand for ages when she shakes it goodbye, because he’s a cheeky wee lad, and I have suffered far worse than any of the Hopefuls who gobbled old men’s feet or drank horse piss to get on the show, just by watching it.

[staring straight into the camera, my eyes dead and haunted]

I’ll do anyfing to get new Patrons…

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my podcast, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi.

~ by Stuart on June 6, 2020.

2 Responses to “The Accursed 90s: The Word”

  1. If it makes you feel any better, I think it probable that ‘Perfect Partners’ was a faked scandal performed by actors. The Word had form for this sort of thing in its last days… Have a look, for example, at ‘Win Or Weep’ on 13 January 1995, a similar attempt to generate outrage. Who’s that humiliated contestant? Only beloved Oscar-winning actress Olivia Coleman, that’s who! It was all a fix, we now know.

    • What a fantastic find! What with the 90s being what it was, it never occurred to me it might not be on the level. It would explain the ridiculous names. Here’s me, sat playing the big expert, but getting tricked by the oldest game there is.

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