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Popular Music on British Television

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THE WORD

C4 / Planet 24
4th August 1990 to 24th March 1995

24 Hour, a new television production company, had been invited to tender for a new Friday evening pop show to debut late summer 1990. They assembled a production team, led by Charlie Parsons, who hired Manchester DJ Terry Christian and media friendly ‘wildchild’ Amanda De Cadenet as main hosts.

The pilot show was filmed 10th August 1990, with the first edition debuting two weeks’ later. The intention was to bring back a little of the spirit of The Tube by mixing pop music with lively, informal chat. What they got was the nearest British television got to proper anarchy since Tiswas. It got under way without much fuss and evidently not much of an audience either, but it was deemed successful enough by the commissioners at Channel 4 to warrant a second series, with the suggestion that that the show go out live, late at night, when people were coming back from the pubs and clubs. If they had known then what was in store for the presenters, the home audience and the producers, they might have thought twice. Luckily they didn’t.

Drawing on the newly confident dance and indie scene in Britain and grunge from America it’s to the show’s credit that they brought onto television acts that probably no-one else would be bothered with. However, the show would be remembered for the unexpected, un-scripted gems that would happen from time to time like a member of one of the ‘Riot Grrrl’ acts shouting sexist abuse at Terry Christian, Danni Minogue throwing water over co-host Mark Lamarr, various expletives, various parts of the anatomy of both sexes bared live, another co-host Hufty shouting “lesbian power” at the end of her final show. There would be vile and sometimes dangerous party pieces perpetrated by The Hopefuls, members of the public who would do anything to get on television. One of them included someone ingesting some vomit, eating leeches and one incident involving a colostomy bag. The decision to invite Oliver Reed and give him full run of alcohol in the Green Room, led to on-screen consternation from fellow guest Bill Hicks.

Other legendary articles included a report from America on a penis enlargement, with shots of the surgery to prove it wasn’t a fake. Another Word classic was a comment made by a member of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphopcrasy, wearing a “fuck homophobia” t-shirt as a response to an outrageous homophobic comment made by Shabba Ranks the previous week, he commented “I’ve got a poem about homophobia, but I can’t do it because the breast enlargement article went on too long”.

The set design was basic white with two stages, a large dance area for both the audience and professional dancers, while the host was separated from the guests in the seated interview area with a television screen, while on the table a photo of a personality from that week’s news would be in a frame surrounded by vibrating petals, responding to any noise. The budget (which included sponsorship from Swatch) would stretch to various live reports via satellite from around the world, including Spring Break in Florida, gay and lesbian parades in Australia, handled by, usually female, co-hosts, who would be hired for one series only. After the second series every final show had a ‘final show of all’ feel to it, not knowing, or not believing that they would be asked back, but amazingly they were, time and time again, only to perpetrate further stunts and cause dyspepsia for the bosses at Channel 4.

The show was musically perfectly cast, giving early breaks for Nirvana, Oasis, L7, in fact most of the later baggy bands and American indie / grunge and hip-hop, dance acts from the time who were worth bothering with were given a chance by band booker, Jo Whiley.

After nearly five years (and fearing that they had to be seen to be doing something about the show) it was eventually censured by the Independent Television Commission (the organisation Channel Four are answerable to) and shortly afterwards it was announced by Channel Four that the show would not be invited back for another series. This time the farewell was for real. P45s were dished out and at time of writing Terry Christian and most of old friends are nowhere to be seen on British television, with the exception of American Katie Putrick and comedian / broadcaster Mark Lamarr, while Amanda De Cadenet (who left after the second series) embarked on an acting career in Hollywood. Although the new lad / new girl cult was to be exploited to better and more obvious effect elsewhere (The Girlie Show / They Think It’s All Over) The Word was genuinely groundbreaking, and much missed.