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A 90s Baby's TV Schedule: Revisited

And Other Stuff I Shouldn't Have Watched

By Jessica BaileyPublished 6 months ago 11 min read
A 90s Baby's TV Schedule: Revisited
Photo by Peter Geo on Unsplash

Lets set the scene. It's 1998. It's the height of 90s-ness in Britain - the lads and ladettes are having it large, Richard Ashcroft is barging into people impassively on the high street willy-nilly, bottled water is all the drink you need at the rave you've heard is happening in someone's lower field in one of the Shires, you're either Team Oasis or Spice Girls (Viva Forever) and 'Football's Coming Home' has been on a loop in your head for at least 6 months. Your shoe wear of choice is either a jelly shoe or a buffalo boot and at least every other top you wear has contains at least a strip of Phosphorescence.

Like most children, I was raised on TV. We were a one TV household, and you best believe when the clock struck 3:30 it belonged to me. Typical youngest child, I both embraced and rejected things childish, so it doesn't surprise me that my memory of evenings started when most children had been sent to bed. I know I watched Mona The Teenage Vampire, The Wild House, Blue Peter and Pinky and The Brain but they were merely entrees to the main event - and the gateway to Stuff That Adults Do. So here, let me prepare a gourmet 90s kid's evening based on what I watched, how I watched it and what order I would put it in. Get comfortable, check on your Tamagotchi, review your Pokemon card cache for the day, and let's begin...

6pm: The Simpsons

Well, duh. Every self-respecting British child tuned in to Britain's Channel 4, the 'bad boy' of the channels, every Friday at 6pm. It was TV's looser, smuttier and generally less hung-up cool sibling in the sense it didn't have a Royal Charter and allowed ads - indeed, Channel 4 has been consistently been able to push the envelope for British TV since it was founded in the 80s - and our main resource for American imports. That's why it was channel of choice for a huge chunk of the Friday night in particular, and how we got our shot of the yellow stuff - it was both comforting and funny to see that oddball family dressed the same as they always did, in their little town, with their annoying neighbours, drinking friends and school bullies. The famous intro in particular is engraved in my mind - from the clouds to the weird little glowing thing lodging itself in Homer's overalls. And for the most part it was like a refreshing bath, comforting in its formula - that is until the Treehouse of Horrors episodes, that never failed to genuinely terrify me. There was still something grown up about it - exotic even - it hinted at humour that I would get when I was older and the show was such a behemoth to the culture, it felt impossible to miss, so this is coming in strong in the 6pm slot:

If I had to watch these, you have to do so too. Traumatised.

6:30pm - Hollyoaks (90s edition)

For the uninitiated, Hollyoaks was the soap of all soaps in the 90s. (Soap here meaning Soap Opera: think Dynasty - without so many feather boas) Low-rent, but high stakes, there were so many unmissable moments for the young, unbelievably hot residents of the fictional Chester village, gracing our screens since 1995 to present day. Depicting the 'real issues' of the twenty-somethings of 90s Britain, there are as many murders, freak accidents, extramarital affairs, gay dramas and dodgy dealings as one tiny town could possibly manage - and the 90s TV landscape. It was appointment TV for the fact that in those days kids, there was no catch-up or stream - you had to sit there and witness it in real time to catch up on what possibly else could happen to this village of professional models. I'm placing this in its now traditional 6:30pm slot, as a nice little palette cleanser before the night starts proper. See below. Just insanity, and not at all like the twenties I expected. Liars. Where's my gay husband subplot!?

7pm: TFI Friday

Now. Now. The undisputed jewel in the Friday night crown, and easily edging out the actual slot of Channel 4 News, here's where I'm putting what I've waited all night for. With a swear word in its title (something I learned as a 20+ adult, much to my smirking surprise) this is one entertainment show that was definitely not for seven year old girls - and yet I would not be parted from it, and portrayed a fierce loyalty to the most anarchic and dangerous *pre-watershed show on National TV - something that speaks a lot to the personality I have now. Ahem.

Note: *Pre-watershed, is like censored TV in the US: no swearing, violence or anything graphic before 9pm. Or else.

Enter TFI Friday, on an unassuming grey February day in 1996, in it's actual slot of 6pm, with a visibly nervous Ewan McGregor accidentally swearing. On National TV. Live. And so the legend of TFI Friday was born. Hosted and founded by Chris Evans, household name from TFI's younger sister programme of The Big Breakfast - anarchic and wild on-before-the-school-run breakfash show, with interviews of incredibly high-level A List guests, lying literally in bed with the attractive, suggestive hosts - all set in a fluorescent dream-like 'house' decorated by someone on acid that had recently read all of the Dr Seuss books - this kids show, yes KIDS SHOW, birthed the careers of some of England's most revered and successful TV personalities and interviewers. Chris Evans (no, not that one) was one of them - dry, naughty, and a puppet-master in spirit - somehow able to pull out the worst and best in all that came into contact with him- was destined for far more than a lightly suggestive kids show. And this show would make his name in both the best and worst way possible.

TFI Friday captured an era. It was a fully 90s production - always reliably non-elegant, rough around the edges, never glamorous and taking place in a bar in London, complete with pub and punters. It mixed, perhaps unreliably, 90s untucked shirt lads, and crop top tattooed girls, a Friday night, and a functioning bar. Part of why TFI succeeded and became such a cult classic was because it had such a chokehold on the pulse of 90s England - drinking, football, beautiful women, obvious and dirty innuendo, good music, the worship of celebrity - and all of this, coupled with Evans' lack of embarrassment and insane temerity meant you were going to get a celeb interview with a twist - naughty, controversial, undercutting, downright rude - in it's four years on Channel 4 the guests became more and more A-list, with stars flocking to the Riverside Studios bar for a walk on the wild side and a moment that probably felt like feeling alive after a relentless, sanitised press junket.

Despite all markers suggesting the opposite, it did have a format of sorts - two to three celeb interviews/stunts, some pub games (many of which would be un-PC or possible now, for good reason) and absolutely AMAZING live performances in the cavernous gig space attached to the tiny bar upstairs.

Amazing moments include Segments like In Bed with Cher, Samuel L Jackson making an appearance for one gag and then leaving, and a live kiss between pop princesses Kylie and ginger herself, Gerri Halliwell. Shakespeare it wasn't, but still, a lot of fun.

Again I have to state NOT FOR CHILDREN. But it was for me, and it gave me a contact high as a seven year old observing adults and how these adults, so unlike any I knew, behaved. It serves now as a capsule of a wild, unmanaged and insane time where things were not in place that should be -stuff was dangerous, toxic, unprecedented - but so addictive. It was freedom, but not always for the good, and once again, NOT FOR KIDS. Here are some of my fave moments from the ridiculous 90 minutes of Friday night anarchy that was somehow allowed on national TV.

Bjork, 1996

Bjork's first appearance on a TV show just after her recent infamous vicious attack on a paparazzi at an airport. Chris Evans sends up the event best he can, pretending to be scared on the pint-sized pop queen and has her playing along by the end of it.

Dawn French, 1996

Comedy legend Dawn French in a typically insane and unstructured interview with the Vicar of Dibley herself, the inmitable Dawn French. What I love about this, is that she refuses to be bamboozled, playing him at his own game, out-entrendre-ing him, and winning outright from the start with the unexplained lipstick choice. Nice.

Natalie Imbruglia - It's Your Letters

A lot of things on TFI happened, Just Cos. One of these was a pointless but pivotal segment called 'Its Your Letters' quite simple, really - does what it says on the tin, amnd frankly, was second to its theme - performed every week by the musical guest for free, presumably. Everyone from the Bee Gees to Bruce Springsteen did their versions, but I have a soft spot for this reimagining of the chart topper - Torn - for such a silly reason. Such is the cult of TFI Friday, it got people to do straight up silly things.

Ben Folds Five

There was something clearly in the water by the Riverside Studios - the musical guests were INSANE - Bjork, Van Morisson, Elton John, Blur, Oasis, Garbage, literally everyone and anyone. And it was thanks to compilation ep put on YouTube that I discovered Ben Folds Five and my fate was slealed. Ben, as you know from my previous works here on Vocal, including My 'Whatever And Ever Amen' review, BF now a way of life for me, so this amazing thumping version of 'Army', one of my faves from the 'Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner' album of '99, complete with Ben's faux British accent, makes this one for the ages.

After 90 minutes of games, fun, jokes I was too young to get and amazing live music, I was about ready to hit the club and tear it up, but no! The night continues.

8:30pm: Friends

Like The Simpsons, a show that dominated a British TV channel like no other, and the main reason us millennials are able to do passing American accents, Friends, in all its glamorous idealised beauty where rent is always paid, clothes are always straight off the runway, and nothing hurts created international names and near cult status for its cast here in Britain.

I'm hard pressed to think of another sitcom that caused such shaping of a generation and generated that much fame and mainstream appeal, but this was Friends through and through - seven and eight year olds shouting 'WE WERE ON A BREAK!' and 'OMG CHANDLER AND MONICA' and 'Tartletsss' at each other in the playground was common place.

In 1998, this was the main thing going on in thee 90s sitcom - and what a moment it was:

OMG. They were in LONDON. :D Also, he said Rachel, or whatever.

9pm: Spaced

Were you even a cool person in 90s England if you didn't watch Spaced? Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes' genius off-brand, multi-reference anti sitcom of the 90s is surely one of the best comedies ever, taking the housemates trope and turning it on its head, and then putting it in the hands of Edgar Wright - and something genius was born.

Two friends just trying to sort of cope and make the rent whilst being film fanatics and mentally unstable feels kind of redundant to explain the majesty of this comedy, so you're just going to have to watch, and you should. Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino have hosted Q&As and done commentaries for episodes, showing just how amazing and forward thinking the show was, on such a tiny budget and so avoidant of the mainstream. I repeat, this show was lightyears ahead, and you're cool if you watch it now, coolest if you waited to watch it every week on channel 4. Some of my favourite moments below and here, some of their best reference work:

And oh my god, the best getting out of a tight spot down an alleyway with some juvie delinquents EVER:

The music cue, the cast, the pacing, just the idea that this actually worked in this scenariou, and filmed as well as Edgar Wright does action scenes - it's one of the most seminal moments of the series (two only, we're British, no overkill, please) and birthed a Trafalgar Square finger gunfight flashmob en masse around 2012.

And after all that excitement, it's time for bed. My belly is full, as well as my brain, and I have to rest up so I can watch my cartoons on Saturday morning - Batman, here I come - and yes, surely I would like to watch 'So Graham Norton' - his show decades before his current phenomenon and of course it's ruder, dirtier cousin, it is channel 4 after all. But bedtime calls, my eyelids droop and to my bed I must trudge.

Anyway, I hope that was passably interesting and a look into British culture and its dichotomies: both show-off and low key, dirty but not explicit, rude but fond, British but American, testing the boundaries and staying behind the line - but most of all, entertainment for entertainment's sake. My childhood was punctuated by these bold, and fun figures, and I will forever be grateful I had them. British TV raised me, and I dig it.

This wasn't a nightmare you had, swear. This...was 'Bananas In Pajamas'.

Night guys! Sleep well, 90s babies.

'Til next time, loves,

J xx


About the Creator

Jessica Bailey

I am a freelance writer, playwright, director and lecturer from London. Self professed nerd, art lover and Neurodivergent, vegan since '16, piano player since 7 - let's see...oh and music, lots and lots of music

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