An Accursed 90’s Christmas

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

It somehow feels dirty letting the horrible 90s get their lager and spunk-covered hands on Christmas, but I regret to inform you there were at least ten of them held in that decade. To get a sense of what a 90’s Christmas was truly like, I’m afraid we must return to some of our previous haunts from that most desolate period, beginning with the televisual stylings of James Whale.

If you read the original piece, you’ll recall Whale’s presenting style is that of a man who neither knows nor cares what’s happening on his own show. Every cue, every link, is either late or incorrect; he can’t make it through three words without getting distracted; and spends his time glancing off-camera to ask what’s happening or to berate the crew. Over a soundbed of awkward silence and people loudly talking over one another, Whale’s onscreen excursions are some of the worst television ever made. 1993’s Whale On Christmas Party takes that atmosphere of perplexed disorder, and adds even more bodies to its eclectic crowd of chuntering gobs, along with copious amounts of booze.

01

We open with Whale in a carpark, flanked by models in Christmas robes which hang open to show their underwear. Marching everyone inside, he dicks around with a control panel for the cameras, erupting into a cheer when it lands on a close-up of a cleavage. There’s a full party in swing on the studio floor, packed with revellers in a Mos Eisley Cantina of Whale’s in-house tabloid tribe. Underwear models stand side-by-side with panto dames, civilians in fancy dress and feather boas, and Beano-style punks with foot-high mohawks, all with glass in hand and mingling with the great and the good of British showbiz’s basement.

Screaming Lord Sutch, in full regalia as ‘celebrity floor manager’, mingles beside Irish singer Rose Marie, camp MP Jerry Hayes in a ballgown, and Doc Cox off That’s Life. “I see Tony Blackburn over there!” yells Whale, pulling weathergirl Sian Lloyd out of the crowd and ordering a close-up of her sexy mouth. She helps him read out a competition, where he tells us to “ring that nimber… number.” It’s clear from the off Lord Sutch is massively sozzled, and in the night’s worst decision, he’s been given a megaphone and head-mic. Subsequently his drunken witterings permeate proceedings like a neighbour’s fucked car alarm. Wobbly as he is in the beginning, as the show progresses, he’ll give Charlie Drake a run for his money.

02

Whale moves everyone back, for Charlie Chuck’s outsider art cover of Tommy Cooper’s bottle routine, ending abruptly with Chuck swinging a plank and sending glass flying into the crowd. “He’s a walking haystack!” bellows Sutch into his megaphone, again and again, until Whale orders he calm down. “Alright,” shrugs Sutch. Not even ten minutes in, Tony Blackburn looks shell-shocked. You don’t get this on Noel’s House Party. Perhaps that’s why he steps in to calm the mood with his party piece, a song familiar to me from many guitar-toting Christian youth leaders, in a childhood spent on the fringes of the church, which goes thusly — “there’s a worm at the bottom of the garden, and his name is Wiggly Woo!

Blackburn is a doe-eyed innocent in Whale’s sordid carnival, joyously leading an acapella sing-a-long of a ditty of which nobody (at points, not even him) knows the words, with the shambolic, embarrassing energy of a teacher standing up at Christmas assembly to serenade the room with a sea shanty. Inexplicably, Whale invites Rose Marie to help Tony perform the entire song again; Sutch stood swaying with his microphone, and Blackburn kicking his legs with such ferocity, if a shoe flies off, it’ll bring down the ISS. After agonising minutes of Wiggly Woo, Blackburn’s push for a second encore is mercifully shut down.

03

In more banter, a drag queen tells Whale she hopes to get stuffed, and Doc Cox gives a quick Wiggly Woo on his uke. Whale pushes past, over to porn star Linzi Drew. What would she like for Christmas? “Me two front teeth… I’ve already got them… um, I dunno…” As a bored Whale leaves, she yanks him back to add “a long, big and thick surprise!” (she means an erect penis) “Okay, fine,” he huffs, informing us a now distinctly queasy-looking Sutch is “not so well at the moment.” An absolutely hammered Sutch assures us “I’m alright, I’m… I’m doin’ alright, I’m working it out,” while in the background, Tony Blackburn can be heard singing Wiggly Woo.

The Whale On party serves up cursed moments like a rotten buffet; a prolonged dance number from male strippers the Dream Boys, shagging at the air, floor, and faces of women sat front row; Peter Straker with a warbling O Come All Ye Faithful, where even the word “Ye” has fifteen syllables; a troupe of Page 3 girls flashing their bras and knickers in another ‘dance’ routine which devolves into a giant conga. Perfectly capturing the grotty office party vibe, the conga line weaves in on itself on the cramped studio floor like Snake on an old Nokia; a kicking flesh sandwich of underwear-clad girls and middle-aged men; Tony Blackburn, porn star Charmaine Sinclair, Doc Cox.

04

As Whale wanders the studio like an elderly dog searching for somewhere to die, Sutch is at his side, slurring nonsense about drinking a cup of tea; “I, I, I… dunno what’s happening?” Me either. At this point, everyone’s had a few, and our host has terrible trouble corralling them onto their marks for the panto finale. For maximum 1993 laffs, their Cinderella’s set in Chigwell with Shazarella (another 6’1” drag queen), but everyone’s so pissed-up and boisterous, Whale’s witticisms about Essex girls being thick slags are lost beneath a barrage of restless shouting and breakouts of Wiggly Woo. To make everyone feel better about our current-day world, we close with Whale telling us he’ll be back in the new year with a show about “political correctness,” as everyone; half-naked Page 3 girls, towering drag queens, Screaming Lord Alcohol Poisoning, and Tony Blackburn, gather round the piano for another go at O Come All Ye Faithful.

But at least ITV knew how to do a proper Christmas, following tradition with cosy trailers of their most bankable faces in festive jumpers under superimposed snow, and idents with holly and robins, and Victorian boys sledding down a hill. Channel 4 on the other hand, chose a more… eclectic flavour, filling schedules with stand-up shows from brash Americans, and films your parents wouldn’t want you renting from the local Video Paradise. Viewers who didn’t fancy the Queen’s speech could flick over at 3pm for an alternative message, exemplifying the channel’s dual personality, with a mix of right-on politics and contentious figures from the year’s headlines. In its 90’s airings, the platform went to names like Quentin Crisp, Ali G, Rory Bremner (impersonating Princess Di), and the parents of murdered black teenager, Stephen Lawrence. It was precious rare grandparents who’d let that on in place of Her Madge, in the boomer TV equivalent of “foreign muck.”

05

As the channel most likely to put a great big dildo in the office secret Santa, it’s appropriate that one of its biggest brands, The Word, had its own seasonal special, airing on actual Christmas Day, 1992. So, while the BBC were pressing play on Victoria Wood and Shirley Valentine, over on Channel 4, The Word‘s opening titles were kicking off, where a man burst a rubber glove over his head and a young Max Beesley frantically banged on a set of bongos, with everyone looking like they’d quaffed a bucket-load of E’s. At least there’s no tit-sucking, as would feature in the 1995 intro.

For tonight’s panto theme, Terry Christian infers two ladies in the crowd are ugly sisters, and yanks a bloke out to get “a lad in… Aladdin, get it?” as Katie Puckrik tells him “Yule never improve!” Is this The Word, or Chucklevision? Come on, someone drink from a still-warm condom! First guest, described in his intro as “the strangest accent in movies today,” is Dolph Lundgren, and sat on the sofa with Terry, it looks like Gandalf and Frodo at breakfast. Terry has not an ounce of creativity in his bones, opening with the dullard’s ‘wrestler/boxer/big guy interview’ standard “I’d better be nice to you, or you’ll beat me up!” Later, when name-dropping the director of Gandhi, he’ll utter the words “Richard ‘luvvie darling’ Attenborough.” The highlight of a terrible interview is when Dolph pretends to throw a punch at Terry, causing him to flinch wildly.

06

Mostly, it’s business as usual, with the true Christmas meat found in their celebration of panto, following an open invite to the stars of every theatre in the country. Consequently, backstage looks like the Garden of Earthly Delights as painted by Christopher Biggins; mince pies, mulled wine, a terrifying cat-beast from Puss in Boots, Simon Groom from Blue Peter; multiple Nolan sisters from multiple pantos, CBBC’s Simon Parkin, and dozens of little people in elf outfits. The American Puckrik’s deeply confused, with interviews conducted at cross purposes, drowned out by the carols of drunken revellers. A car pulls up containing Carmel off EastEnders and Sabra Williams from Ghost Train, and as a pantomime cow tumbles out of the back seat, they break into a rap.

     “We’re MC Rapper and Pinocchio,

     we’re here from the shore, dontcha know?

     we’re on until January nine,

     so come along, and you’ll be fine; YO!

Biggest takeaway here is what a fabulously lazy name MC Rapper is, like Dr Doctor. Next guest is Milla Jovovich, dropped into the carnal fight club of The Word having turned 17 the day before. “Seventeen and never been kissed,” says Terry. “Not by you!” she zings. Evoking memories of Liv Tyler’s appearance, his opening question is whether she’s attracted to older men; say, ten or twenty years older? I can’t hear what Dolph says, but Milla jokingly slaps and shoves him, with a “your girlfriend’s gonna kill you!” But Milla’s more then they can handle, armed with a plastic yellow hammer with which she beats Dolph over the head. “Jesus Christ,” he says, “all because of last night?” licking his finger and striking an imaginary point against the air as the audience bray. Even in the Word’s anything goes atmos, Terry knows he’s lost control, pleading she “please behave yourself,” before squealing in pain/fright as she smashes him in the knee. In the chaos, Dolph hands Terry a fruit flavoured condom, which he gives to the 17-year-old.

07

Later, Milla accidentally says “fuck,” covering her mouth as the audience ooh like someone dropped a glass at a pub, and we cut back from the final ad-break to find Terry in a Dolph headlock; a bit that’s broken up by Milla cracking Terry over the head with the hammer, really, really hard. Final guest is boxer Nigel Benn, who they immediately humiliate by showing a Playgirl shoot where he’s got his arse out and naked cock covered with a boxing glove. “That’s very nice, isn’t it, Milla?” asks Terry. “I wouldn’t know,” she says, “I’m just 17.” At this point, someone in the production booth obviously realises it all looks a bit noncey, as Terry pushes a finger in his ear, trailing off with “I don’t know,” and moving on very quickly. Benn’s an ill fit for the show, with a dour interview playing to silence, until he calls Chris Eubank “a pig,” inciting cheers.

Back in pantoland, they’re joined by Kodi from Neighbours, Tony Monopoly (me either), and Bucks Fizz’s Mike Nolan. Christ, a fire in the studio would’ve devastated the British Christmas industry for a good decade. Barbara Windsor’s the Fairy Godmother, leading everyone in a sing-along of Nat King Cole’s Christmas Song, where a self-conscious Nigel Benn, arms folded, gets through his solo line like a man pleading not guilty to a string of child murders. A flurry of fake snow falls from the ceiling, but far too aggressively and straight into people’s mouths, and as Babs gives it large, Mike Nolan can be seen retching at the edge of frame, batting it away like he’s being attacked by wasps. We go off air to the sound of Carmel from EastEnders‘ voice, heard above the carolling, with a half-laughing, half-revolted “I can’t breathe!

08

As a horrid 90’s stocking filler bonus, let’s drop in on another infamous Channel 4 show, and a frequent point of reference on here, Eurotrash. Despite 153 episodes in the can, online footage is rare as angel cocks, as I doubt you could find a full thirty seconds which didn’t break YouTube’s rules on nudity. For the generation of British men who spent their early teens in the pre-internet dark ages, back when actual pornography was literally illegal in the UK, the post-parents’-bedtime borderlands of Eurotrash were many chaps’ first proper exposure to actual fannies and that. More kitsch than perverse, it was tongue in cheek and knowingly, joyously garish; a high camp Mondo, celebrating the wonders of the continent, before everyone got online and became as deviant as each other. That said, the show mostly consisted of naked foreigners dubbed with funny voices and men who painted portraits with their own shit.

The Eurotrash Christmas special dates from 1997, opening with German musical group Die Jacobs Sisters, a trio of older ladies in Santa suits holding sleepy poodles and singing over techno. Hosting solo after Jean Paul Gaultier moved on, is its creator, Antoine de Caunes, one of the early 90’s most impersonated men, thanks to easily-copied attributes of speaking with a French accent with his arms behind his back, on BBC2 yoof show, Rapido. Though fluent in English, de Caunes flowery, alliterative dialogue for his “gullible British chums” took the form of swipes at our uptightness and “terrible sexual reputation,” which considering the whole ‘grot was illegal’ deal, was well deserved.

09

Dressed as a reindeer and pulling a sleigh filled with underwear models, we’re straight into a gift buying guide with French model, Lova Moor, as an excuse to show to her rolling on the grass in the nip. Moor’s emblematic of Eurotrash‘s role as spiritual predecessor to Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, with a supporting cast of oddballs from the fringes of European showbiz, their awkward pauses, asides to the crew — “that was okay?” — and goodbye waves that go on far too long, all kept in the edit. Featured Whack Pack member this week is elderly Belgian singer Eddy Wally, shilling his CD of Chinese-language songs, and looking like ‘Fluff’ Freeman with jet black printer ink slicked through his hair.

It all feels like you’ve been dropped into the after-hours of a weird 60’s euro cartoon, with puppets, wonk-angled, lurid backgrounds, and extremely Carry On voiceovers rambling on about “hard willies.” It tears through segments with the speed of a schoolboy flipping through his dad’s jazz mags before he gets back from the shops, with roughly the same amount of bare flesh and pubes. There’s a nude pseudo-aerobics video, with flopping tits and great big wangers, a naked hippie with his balls out, and an Austrian inventor who made a spinning coffee table with a hole in the middle you can do sex through.

10

Even a Santa convention — filled with requisite jokes about coming down chimneys or only once a year — has Mother Christmases hiking their skirts, a pink-bearded Santa distributing condoms in the street, and a beach Santa, giving the opportunity for zooms on thonged bottoms and oiled boobs. Covering the scatological, there’s the Catalonian tradition of pooing in nativity scenes, with one featuring a human pooer; a bricklayer “who’ll be laying bricks of a different kind!” Antoine closes by interviewing a female director/star of amateur pornos, back in prehistoric 1997, when people taking nudes of themselves were still a wild phenomena, and not a daily occurrence for half the population. Her responses are dubbed with a Thatcher-esque voice by Kate Robbins; bons mots like “English guys have thinner dicks than French guys,” and as it’s Christmas, she’s wearing a Santa hat, with one of her nipples hanging out.

11

We’re played out by Die Jacobs Sisters, as the models toss fake snow out of buckets, a plucked turkey is puppeted into a high-kicking jig, and de Caunes pretends to bum a pantomime cow. Honestly, it seems rather quaint now, and even considering all the dicks and tits, oddly innocent.

In terms of sheer faux-casual gratuitousness, it doesn’t touch fellow 4 show Naked Attraction, or men getting out their glistening micropenises for the Embarrassing Bodies doctors to bend over and sniff, in glorious HD. I was out walking a dog the other evening, and while he weed against someone’s gate, I glanced up at the window, where an enormous 4k TV, with the Channel 4 logo in the corner, had its entire screen filled with an erect woman’s nipple, individual bumps on the areola visible from my position on the street — and it’s all perfectly normal. What cruel irony. No sooner did we finally start fitting in with our European brothers and sisters, than we have to leave.

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 January 11, 2021.

3 Responses to “An Accursed 90’s Christmas”

  1. Have you thought about doing a piece on Robert Llewellyn 90’s tv appearances he did not have shows like Chris or Craig.

    • The Robert thing I’m most interested in, The Corner House, hasn’t shown up anywhere yet, but I’m always keeping an eye out for it. Outside of that, possibly Scraphead Challenge, as I’ll be doing some quiz show stuff this year.

      He does show up briefly in my post about Captain Butler though.

  2. […] [More Accursed 90s: Televised Lad Contests — Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush — Talk Show Goths — James Whale on Television — Craig Charles’ Funky Bunker — The Word — The Girlie Show — An Accursed 90’s Christmas] […]

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