The Accursed 90s: The Girlie Show

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

As a frequent stablemate on lists of Britain’s worst ever television, The Girlie Show was essentially sold as The Word, except instead of Terry Christian, there were a trio of female hosts talking about boozin’ and shaggin’. Wait, that can’t be right?! That’s exclusively men stuff isn’t it? Sorry pal, this is the nineties, and the ladies — sorry, ladettes — enjoy sex now too. Subsequently, like many of the things we’ve suffered through on here, it’s firmly placed in that post-pub wanking slot. The three presenters had little to no collective television experience, especially not in the bear bit of live TV, with an initial line-up consisting of Rachel Williams, an American model with a pierced lip; journalist Clare Gorham; and Sara Cox, now a comfy face of middle-England radio, televised pottery, and tweets about parenting, but back then, a 21-year-old model in her first onscreen role. Sarah Cawood would join in the second series, some years before being used as a human shield by a panicked Eamonn Holmes.

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The show’s whole angle is a turning of the gender tide, with a vibe of “look out lads, these loud-mouthed birds will probably crush your willy like sausage meat (though it’d still be nice to have someone touch it)!” Even the pre-show bumper has Cox brandishing a dominatrix whip, complete with kung-fu style swish noises, threateningly advancing towards camera with a knowing “are we sitting comfortably?” Most likely, this show raised a generation of men who identify on Twitter as submissive PayPigs and send money to other men pretending to be rude younger women.

The opening credits are the most on-the-nose thing since Fabio met that goose, with fast-moving shots of Girl Power which can only be appreciated frame-by-frame. The titular Girlies exhale cigar smoke; poke out their tongues; cut the heads off flowers; bite the head off an action man who’s been emasculated in a pink tutu. They circle a chained, half-naked fella like predators in the wild, before tattooing the show’s logo on his chest. As Coxy rides a hobby horse in a way that insinuates if she took you home from the pub, she’d fuck your brittle pelvis into crumbs, everything’s designed to leave us chaps clutching our tiny winkles in fear, with its soundtrack of witch-like cackling, spanking noises, and lion snarls when they open their mouths. But this is female empowerment by male committee, and for all its crowing of the girls finally being in charge, it’s all just something to have a lonely toss over.

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An episode airing March 1996 opens with Sister Sledge singing We Are Family below a gigantic statue of a suspenders-clad torso, jigging about right under the fanny as the dancing studio audience hold up banners like they’re at the wrestling, one of which is a cartoon cliché made real, reading “HELLO MUM!” As the very first word is spoken, a propah lad in the crowd can literally be heard shouting “OI OI!” and it’s all so ruddy wild, Rachel makes bunny ears behind her co-hosts head as she speaks. We’re two days from Mothering Sunday, so the girls’ mums are sat front row, to be presented with flowers. Coxy thanks her mum for the genetics of big tits, while Rachel thanks hers for not giving her up for adoption, “though she could’ve and should’ve,” which is pretty awkward, coming right after Clare’s thank you speech to her own adoptive mother. There’s a nightmare candy factory-cum-cathouse aesthetic, the studio walls pink and white, with decals of big red lips, while a close-up of puckered pink mwahs kiss us between segments.

Audience participation comes with a Viewers’ Husband’s slot, where it cuts to a sent-in photo of a smiling naked bloke, hands on hips, holding up a newspaper with his erection. In a pastiche of Readers’ Wives, there’s also a lad reclining in tiny pants, and a nude bloke covering his dick with what looks to be a Toblerone. Surprise, he’s in the studio, rising from his seat to lap up the cheers with an arms out “are you not entertained?!” pose, for a 90’s hero’s welcome. Sat next to him, his shocked girlfriend’s clearly fuming, mumbling into the mic about being “extremely embarrassed,” as another picture of him wearing only his pants sends the crowd into raptures.

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If it’s remembered for anything beyond just existing, then The Girlie Show‘s most notable mark on popular culture was the Wanker of the Week segment, where a famous man was put in his place with what we’d now call a roast. Liam Gallagher’s in their sights, for a monologue of bad jokes that get lost as Sara Cox rushes through it, to call him “a professional Mancunian, a scally wannabe, and a silly muppet.” I don’t remember how history panned out, but I think Liam was so ruined by this that he retired immediately. It’s topped off by a comedy song, voiced by some guy doing a Mexican bandito voice; “well, first you smoked a spliff, then you recycle riffs…

A key component of these type of shows is the need to constantly show off how grown up they are. Regard a section about “the S-word. It’s not sex, it’s not shagging…” no, it’s shoplifting. A man in the audience gets a big cheer as Rachel shows him a pack of condoms. “Twelve in there, in’t there?” he asks, as she goads out a story about nicking some as a 15-year old, giving him the packet as a prize to big cheers — go on, mate, catch yer cum in the end of those, wahey! Take it from someone who lived through it, it was impossible to do anything below the waist in the 90s without everyone going completely wild. Even in the toilets, there were crowds of excited men cheering you on at the urinal. “Weeey! He’s got his todge out! Give us a hold of it, lad!”

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In their ‘investigation’ into shoplifting, with CCTV of pixelated thieves sticking CDs down their jeans, a Tower Records security guard notes that girls make better shoplifters, “because they’re a lot more devious… as I’ve found out in the past.” Been red-pilled have you? They bring out “Britain’s most notorious and brazen shoplifter” for a dry interview, though even the mention of her having “a store detective on your backside” gets a few laddish cheers. An actual shoplifter is about The Girlie Show‘s level of guest, also boasting a ‘psychic’ who’s been transcribing recently-deceased Patric Walker’s Sunday Express column from beyond the grave when he visits her in dreams.

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The astrology segment is notable for the hilarious anger in the community regarding Mystic Meg, whose theatrics are making those people who believe that everyone born in the same month goes through an identical day look silly. Like Posh Spice played by Fenella Fielding, Meg’s weekly appearances on the National Lottery made her a household name, and it was a very 90’s thing to rake up people’s ‘shameful’ past, so The Girlie Show takes great pleasure in exposing her as someone who once wrote pornography, with a dirty magazine spinning into frame like a newspaper in a Dick Tracy cartoon.

I immediately Googled for more info, and it appears she penned some stories for Men Only in her younger days, but there’s scant information, and one of the only links goes to a grumble video entitled Mystic Meg Doesn’t Tell Futures, She Opens Her Legs Instead. Like any good journalist, I sat though the whole thing six or seven times to confirm that it wasn’t her. Another astrologer’s ‘porn past’ is highlighted via a clip of her tits out in a Lovers Guide video, and boy the evolution of what we class as porn then vs. now is fascinating. In those days, you were a filthy pornstar if your towel accidentally slipped while you were getting changed at the pool, but today, half your street’s running an OnlyFans and nobody bats an eyelid.

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But there is one big celebrity guest, in Corrie’s Reg Holdsworth, aka Ken Morley. In 2015, Ken would be kicked off Celebrity Big Brother for being a dirty old man and using the phrase “nice, big fat negro” during a chat with Alexander O’Neal, so it’s fully on-brand when “Randy Reg” takes a good long look at Coxy’s breasts. I’m amazed his nob doesn’t go off like a rocket when they’re reading out the names of rude-sounding foreign biscuits and she says “I like to spread a bit of margarine on my Kunto.

The other celebrity bit, trailed throughout the show, turns out to be paparazzi camcorder footage of “blobby” Robbie Williams on holiday, where they rip the piss out of his weight. Barring Cox’s joke, most of the ‘outrageous’ moments come from the great British public, relying heavily on footage of 90’s clubbers, either in clips of sweaty lads dancing under scathing commentary, or in the Toilet Talk section, where women stood in the bogs give their thoughts on whether big dicks are better than small ones, or if they’ve ever been bought a dildo as a present.

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The Girlie Show‘s worst segment doesn’t feature women at all, but a group of unbearably boorish lads called the Naked Apes, who, for some reason, have been given airtime with a regular slot. Documenting their lager-soaked lives on camcorders, it’s essentially a nascent reality show, pre-dating the Osbournes, let alone the Kardashians, with a group of “loveable rogues” who ride in with frosted tips like the Four Horsemen of the 90s. There’s barman Johnny; Kevin, “who loves his beer first and women later”; Brian, “a real-life Sid the Sexist”; and Nathan, “the shy student who’s desperate for a woman.” If you’re thinking “come on, boring old Millard, give them a chance; we were all young once,” then it opens with the Naked Apes title superimposed over a fart being lit on fire straight out of a bare arse.

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This week’s story is Kevin moving out of his parents’ into his own place, and the subsequent flat warming party. It’s standard blokeness for the time; posters of big-titted women, a joke about a toothbrush that’s covered in shit, and using the kitchen sink as a punch bowl, to huge cheers from the audience. There’s talk of bringing “some slapper back” and the “damp settee” the next morning, footage of toenail eating, and a party piece where one pulls down his jeans to set his pubes ablaze, wafting away the stink in the packed living room with a laugh. “Good harmless fun,” says his mate, “next time you’re at a party, just whip your wotsit out, get a lighter…” Nah, you’re alright. Next week will see them off to Amsterdam’s red light district, because of course it will. I actually found one of them on Twitter, where — presumably approaching his 50s — his posts are all about Cage Rage, gambling and boobs.

Sister Sledge play us out with another run through of We Are Family, and in case you hadn’t made your mind up about the decade, there’s a post-show trailer for a Tony Parsons show called Big Mouth. Though that’s the only full Girlie Show to have made it online, unfortunately it’s joined by a scattered handful of clips, which are at least interesting in trying to figure out what deemed these moments to be worth saving in someone’s eyes. Ten minute highlights from a football special are noteworthy for once again exposing the supposedly-unashamed 1990s as a real missionary position of a decade, collapsing into faints at stuff us 21st century kids got bored of years ago.

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Here, they give a female fan the “Millwall ta-oo” she’s always wanted, live in the studio, with Sara Cox biting her nails in fear at the shocking television moment of a tattoo being put on. Why, it’s virtually a snuff film! There’s real audience unrest, with everyone giddy that a human being’s going to be STABBED WITH INK right in front of them, mouths agape, shrieking in shock, and leaning forwards to get a better look like they’re at the Roman colosseum. The drill-like buzz of the ink gun elicits screams of horror, while Coxy commends the woman with an “oh my god, you’re so brave!” Later in the show, we actually see some go on live, as the tattooist dots it once with a full stop’s worth of ink, and Cox screams “gor blimey, I feel sick!” Meanwhile, the audience gives the sort or reaction usually reserved for walking into a public toilet to catch someone spraying diarrhea right up the ceiling. There’s also a viewer letter, signed “from two proper lads,” rebutting complaints to the show, a section of which is transcribed below.

only men with little willies,

who only pull with dirty mags,

could be afraid of lovely fillies,

discussing sex and jammy rags

Who were these mysterious lads, John Betjeman and Ted Hughes? Also deemed worth saving, and giving a window into the exact target demographic, is an interview with a female jockey, which ends with Cox riding on a practise horse; a kind of low impact bucking bronco; frantically riding up and down — like in sex!!! — and having to cover her cleavage. Thankfully the Naked Apes’ visit to a gay bar did not make the cut. Elsewhere, a visit from the Spice Girls has survived. Interestingly, the Girlie Show‘s producers claim the very term “Girl Power” was invented by the show and pinched by the Spice Girls — like Fash nicking Awooga off Craig Charles — after their very first televised appearance on there. They bring the cartoon anarchy familiar from all their interviews of the time, with the best bit when invocation of Thatcher has Mel B lifting up her bum to mime a blow-orf. Plus, it’s always funny to remember how comically h-dropping Victoria was for the one who got labelled Posh.

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But we must end at the very bottom, with another visit to the Naked Apes, in a segment someone liked enough to preserve as its own thing. This one follows them on a night out in Newcastle, described ideally as pints, puking, “and getting a shag at the end of the night. Except Nathan, he goes home and has a wank!” For some reason, there’s copious footage of one of them naked in the shower, including spreading his cheeks to spray water directly up his anus, all intercut with his mum moaning about getting him up in the mornings and finding random girls in his bed. The whole segment is a 90’s nightmare, with Britpop over a montage of the city centre on a Friday night; dirty ashtrays and broken glass; a drunken homeless man singing; a women pulling a moonie; a lad gobbing down himself for bants.

The extremely straight lads enter a club yelling how they are “shaggers,” before pretending to bum each other, and pulling down their trousers to show off their holes. Is this how everyone else’s twenties went? Did I miss out on all the alcohol poisoning and sucking my mates’ dicks for a laugh? The lead lad gives his philosophy on pulling, which may surprise you, as he doesn’t consider looks to be important, “so long as she’s got great big tits.” Luckily, they all like the same type of women, “just easy ones.” It’s then that he looks to camera to give an address to the watching ladies, speaking as representative for his entire gender. “All you girls at home, spoutin’ on about equal rights in your boiler suits and shaven head, lighten up. All you need’s a good shaftin’, and we’re the guys to give it to yer.

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What follows is an egregious shot of one of them sloppily getting off with a random girl, as the others pump their fists in celebration. Soon, they’ve got their fingers down their throats like they’re puking; “she were fucking rotten, face like a blind cobbler’s thumb!” The clip ends with a lovely group chant of “get your tits out for the lads!” as the rampantly hetero fellas segue into “get your bollocks out,” pinning one of their mates down and pulling his trousers off. Funny, but while The Girlie Show is (rightly) remembered as one of television’s worst, as a showcase for ladettes proving they could be just as crass as the lads, in hindsight, the thing that really stands out, from conception as pseudo-feminist fiddling-fodder to content, is the rancid behaviour of the men. Oi oi!

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.

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~ by Stuart on September 23, 2020.

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