“They don’t make ‘em like they used to…”
It’s the mating call of a boring bastard like me, but there are some occasions (and I’ll admit, they are very rare) when there is a modicum of truth in the nostalgic ranting of this jaded thirty something… and in my humble opinion, what is to follow about Chris Evans’ TFI Friday is one of those times.
You see, TFI was that very rarest of TV formats. It was not just fun and entertaining… it perfectly encapsulated the mood of its audience at the time. If you wanted to bury the nineties ‘Britpop revolution’ in a time capsule, you need only have chucked a VHS of the show in the ground. Job done.
TFI Friday was the jewel in the crown of a golden age for Channel 4, when it was the only place that under thirties would be on a Friday night – filled with silliness, comedy, fun and music in equal measure. At that time the 17-year-old me and my friends would have a genuine dilemma as to whether to go out to the pub, or stay in and watch C4’s offerings – from TFI to Ali G, Banzai and beyond.
A teatime kick-off to the weekend (with the well thought out post-pub repeat), TFI Friday was essentially the internet on the telly. A heady mix of music, gossip, celebrities, silliness and complete crap (Fat Lookalikes, Freak or Unique, Wooden Bird With Purple Hair) it was the great grandfather of YouTube, Buzzfeed – and perhaps even certain elements of RadioTimes.com.
Filmed in front of a live audience in a bear pit atmosphere, even after the show stopped being ‘live, live’ due to the infamous Shaun Ryder swearing incidents, it retained an energy and “anything could happen” atmosphere that kept you on the edge of your seat.
But unlike some of its ‘anarchic‘ predecessors, TFI Friday seemed like organised madness. It was the 90s, after all – an age when Indie music made up the charts… but the charts were still important. It was mainstream anarchy that owed more to The Big Breakfast than The Word and The Tube.
At the centre of the big noisy circus (half pub/ half sixth form common room) was a ringmaster/ head boy who had a gift for edgy populism. Chris Evans and writer Danny Baker could not have had their finger on the pulse of a generation more closely.
I know because I was that generation. TFI Friday perfectly summed up Britpop’s brilliantly populist appeal – it was a revolution in our heads (as Noel Gallagher might have put it). We were rebelling, but everyone was rebelling… and we didn’t really have anything to rebel against.
We didn’t want to be punks from the 70s getting things pierced and sitting on each other, nor did we really have any politics to worry about – it was a time of peace and plenty for many as Cool Britannia rolled into town and Oasis had tea with Tony Blair.
No, we were rebels without a cause – and Chris Evans the leader of our pack. TFI Friday was a televised shrine to just how lucky we were to grow up at a time when arsing around was considered a mainstream activity. The show was a student house in a television studio – but one from which you would never graduate (hence this article).
It was sadly a child of its time, and despite repeated calls (mainly from me to Channel 4 publicists at parties) that it must return – outside of the 90s it could never survive as anything more than a one-off nostalgia-fest.
But before a new generation (who definitely won’t have got this far into my rant) write off these words, there is still something to be learned from this story.
Empathy with the audience is the key to great TV. There will always be room for another TFI Friday – it just needs the next Chris Evans to emerge and capture the mood of the 2010s the way that the Radio 2 man did for us.
I hope in years to come my children have the chance to fall in love with telly the way I did as a teenager (and an Ocean Colour Scene soundtrack would be the icing on the cake.)