The cult of TFI Friday
The zany Chris Evans chatshow perfectly defined the Britpop era
Published 12/06/2015 | 02:30
It was the mid-90s and for a generation of people who now find ourselves on the wrong side of 40, things had never been better.
Britpop had arrived with a bang and a swagger and while Blur and Oasis stole the lion's share of the headlines, each week seemed to see a new band emerge - Suede, Gene, Echobelly, Ash and the Divine Comedy had all brought their own dark and quirky slices of pop to the masses while Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, fresh from rushing the stage and mooning Michael Jackson at the Brits, was fast becoming the Poet Laureate for the jilted generation.
Loaded foisted the first lads' mag onto an unsuspecting world in 94 and a publishing phenomenon was born - one that is still with us, but utterly unrecognisable from the fresh and vibrant and furiously iconoclastic scene ushered in by Loaded and, to a lesser extent, Maxim and FHM.
It may only have been 20 years ago, but they did things differently back then.
Loaded had been launched partly in response to the increasingly tedious and strident political nature of the NME and the identity politics of the Riot Grrrl movement.
In their first issue they promised that: "A new magazine dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of sex, drink, football and less serious matter.
"Loaded is music, film, relationships, humour, travel, sport, hard news and popular culture... Loaded is for the man who believes he can do anything, if only he wasn't hungover."
This was a new firmament, one which would need to create its own stars who were open about drinking and drug-taking and revelled in their hedonism, and Chris Evans was straight from celestial central casting.
Evans first entered the public consciousness in the early 90s when he hosted the first Big Breakfast alongside Gaby Roslin. But it was the launch, in February 1996, of TFI Friday, that really saw him surfing the zeitgeist.
Going out at 6pm on a Friday - the slot once occupied by The Tube - TFI Friday was an eclectic, shambolic and hugely entertaining way to kick-start the weekend.
Fittingly for a man who had become notorious for his infamous sickies, which would frequently see him forget to turn up for his Radio One morning slot, Evans gave the impression that he wasn't so much hosting a chat show as merely enjoying a party in his house.
For Irish viewers, the high point was undoubtedly the special St Patrick's Day episode filmed in Dublin's Eamon Doran's Bar in 2000.
Bono was the main guest that day, when Evans famously asked him if the Rosary beads given to him by the Pope 'were a bit like a Blue Peter badge'.
But for any man who was in the room that night, the abiding memory will surely be of American actress Shannon Elizabeth, a woman so utterly beautiful that she might as well have come from a different species.
Whether it was Loaded, Oasis or even the more cerebral, art-school educated Blur, being part of a gang was de rigeur back then, and Evans was smart enough to assemble to one of the brightest gangs of them all.
From collaborating with producer Will MacDonald to riffing with writer and gag man Danny Baker, the host managed to flip the normal rules of television presenting on its head.
While most presenters desperately strive to appear calm and collected while secretly panicking, Evans always appeared to be only a fluffed question away from a live meltdown and no occasion was this more eloquently, and profanely, demonstrated, than whenever Shaun Ryder appeared as a guest.
Having become notorious for his debauched lifestyle as frontman with Happy Mondays, Ryder's first interview saw him liberally turn the air blue, much to the evident mortification - but secret glee - of Evans.
Furious Channel 4 bosses insisted that he never be interviewed live on the show again, which seemed reasonable. In fact, his next interview was pre-recorded, but the producers allowed him sing a live version of Pretty Vacant while doing a Stars In Their Eyes-style tribute to Johnny Rotten.
The f-bomb was once more dropped with gay abandon and, once more, Channel 4 bosses were forced to publicly apologise, publicly reprimand Evans for his role in the controversy and, much to Ryder's delight, he became the only person to be specifically banned by name from ever appearing on a Channel 4 programme again.
That ban has apparently been lifted ahead of tomorrow night's eagerly anticipated, one-off 20th anniversary show; celebrating a 20th anniversary which, in typical Evans style, won't actually occur until next year.
The guest list for tomorrow's show is a fitting homage to those heady days. Alongside Ryder - anyone want to take bets on whether he swears or not? - the guest list harkens back to the glory days.
Liam Gallagher is scheduled to appear alongside Roger Daltry, Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds and Zak Starkey to do a version of My Generation (although what the vocally challenged Gallagher can contribute if Daltry is there remains a mystery).
Jeremy Clarkson is scheduled to make his first major TV appearance since his defenestration from Top Gear and he will find a fellow traveller in Evans, a car fanatic and owner of a famously expensive collection of classic motors.
For many of us, the most intriguing attraction is the prospect of The Stone Roses turning up as well, which would make it a truly memorable show.
But should it even be coming back?
Are some things best left in the attic?
After all, we live in much more prudish and thin-skinned times than existed two decades ago and it's not hard to imagine new viewers, who were too young to enjoy proceedings the first time around, being shocked and appalled by such gleefully offensive items as 'Freak Or Unique' or the infamous 'Fat Lookalikes.'
Whether this special episode is a nostalgic once off or a misbegotten return to something that was better left in the memory banks, remains to be seen.
But I doubt anyone who remembers the show's glory days will be watching anything else come 9 o'clock tomorrow.
'TFI Friday' airs on Channel 4 at 9pm tomorrow
Standout moments from the iconic show
As mentioned, Ryder caused so much consternation among the Channel 4 suits that he was banned from ever appearing on the network. A visibly nervous Evans, half in awe and half intimidated by the notoriously garrulous Mancunian, even offered him his own designer shoes if his guest didn't swear.
Ryder was so impressed by the shoes that he immediately swore...
SAMUEL L JACKSON (1996)
A firm favourite on chat shows now, Jackson first showed his skewed sense of humour on TFI, and he has a lot to thank Evans for. According to legend, it was Jackson's praise for Star Wars during the interview that inspired George Lucas to cast him in The Phantom Menace.
The legendary hell-raiser remains one of the greatest guests to have appeared on the show and his rendition of the lyrics from Wannabe delivered with full thespian gravitas, remains a highlight, which was fittingly called 'Peter O'Toole Delivers Lines That Are Plainly Beneath Him.'
UGLY BLOKES/ FAT LOOKALIKES
Doing exactly what they said on the tin, both these regular slots would have been crude, belittling, insulting and downright mean, except for the fact that everyone was in on the gag and there was a waiting list from eager punters who wanted to appear for some ritual hazing...