Charlie Parsons, creator
Channel 4 requested me to make a youth arts present referred to as Membership X nevertheless it was a catastrophe. I advised them: “Younger individuals don’t watch arts programmes. Let me do one thing entertainment-based: a mixture of superstar interviews, cool music and quirky world tales, all in a loopy reside format. A present for younger individuals, made by younger individuals.” After they mentioned OK, I received a crew collectively and The Phrase was born.
I made a decision the presenting duo needs to be north and south. That’s how we ended up with Terry Christian, this mouthy man from the Madchester scene, and Amanda de Cadenet, a posh-sounding It Woman. Polar opposites however a superb distinction. We at all times needed presenters who weren’t the same old Oxbridge-educated, Soho media circuit varieties. That’s why, later, we went for individuals similar to Katie Puckrik and Huffty. The present’s look was influenced by Prepared Regular Go, Hairspray and Bridget Riley. A 60s American pop vibe with a mad studio viewers.
We recruited Jo Whiley as music booker as a result of she had good style. Bands needed to carry out reside, no lip-syncing. It meant we missed out on pop acts however received the likes of Nirvana and Oasis. Its unpredictable reside nature led to wonderful moments similar to L7’s guitarist Donita Sparks dropping her trousers and Kurt Cobain saying: “Courtney Love is one of the best fuck on the earth.”
We launched in August 1990 at 6pm. 5 weeks in, Michael Grade, then chief govt of Channel 4, moved it to 11pm, the place we could possibly be extra outrageous. The Phrase turned the post-pub present for the 90s era. It modified viewing habits. We received rankings of 2m in a slot the place no earlier programme had received greater than 300,000. It lacked polish however had actual power. The purpose was to get talked in regards to the subsequent day – usually unflatteringly, nevertheless it didn’t matter.
To start with, we shocked by chance. The stunts really designed to shock didn’t occur till three sequence in. The thought with The Hopefuls slot was that anyone may get on TV in the event that they did a dare, like snog a granny or lie in a shower filled with pig shit. It was a precursor to actuality TV and social media: a manner for bizarre individuals to be well-known. It was fairly un-PC. We wouldn’t be capable to do the drunken Oliver Reed interview these days. It was exploitative however he’d been drunk on TV earlier than and knew what he was doing.
There have been harmful moments. One presenter, Alan Connor, received kidnapped by German pornographers. One other night time, the police surrounded the studio as a result of anyone phoned to say their pal was speeded as much as the hilt, had a gun and needed to kill Terry Christian. Through the advert break, we searched the viewers. No person was armed, so we simply carried on. Grossly irresponsible however what enjoyable all of it was.
Ultimately a backlash got here. Not from viewers, who nonetheless liked the present, however from the channel. They have been consistently in hassle with the regulators and cancelled us after 5 sequence. I don’t assume Grade notably loved being referred to as “pornographer in chief” by the tabloids both.
Katie Puckrik, presenter
I used to be knowledgeable dancer at a unfastened finish in 1991 after touring the world with Pet Store Boys. A pal mentioned: “This TV present is on the lookout for a brand new host. No expertise vital. It’s best to go for it.” So I cobbled collectively a showreel. 1000’s utilized and so they filmed the audition course of for a spin-off referred to as Phrase Search. Alongside me within the last 20 have been Davina McCall and Jez Nelson. For the following spherical, I needed to interview this horrible Liverpudlian politician referred to as Derek Hatton and a boyband who have been like unruly puppies and groped me. I used to be thrilled once I received provided the gig. I’d by no means seen The Phrase till I used to be on it.
I launched the notorious L7 efficiency however missed Nirvana as a result of I used to be doing an out of doors broadcast at a disgruntled viewer’s home. He’d written in complaining that we by no means had respectable bands on, so I took the Bay Metropolis Rollers to play in his kitchen. That was the fantastic thing about The Phrase. It was so random and slapdash however that’s the way in which individuals’s brains work. You need a style of the hippest stuff but additionally to be amused. I liked its mix of British seaside selection and scorching younger issues. It was like a fever dream. One minute I used to be interviewing Zsa Zsa Gabor, the following I used to be encouraging a younger man to eat a cereal bowl of maggots. Possibly that’s a metaphor for all times.
I did hard-hitting tales, too: exposés on teen beauty surgical procedure and Scientology in Hollywood. I met some intercourse addicts, which was a brand new idea on the time. After I received again to my lodge in West Hollywood afterwards, the man I’d simply interviewed was discovered up a tree, peering into my room. My first interview was with Demi Moore and he or she virtually referred to as it off once I requested her about nudity. Hollywood PRs had no concept what they have been letting their purchasers in for. Humourless A-listers would sit on a settee within the studio with risque questions being put to them in a roomful of baying youngsters.
The wheels consistently got here off. That’s what made it leap off the display screen, nevertheless it in all probability took years off the lifetime of everybody who labored on it. The Phrase wouldn’t get made at the moment. Persons are manner too bet-hedging. This was the pre-internet age, earlier than all of the portals of alternative have been locked down. The Phrase predicted actuality TV, Jackass-style stunts, TikTok pranks. It was a crucible of Twenty first-century tradition.