From Tamagotchi to the TFI Friday desk, the 6 iconic objects of Cool Britannia

Relive your youth through these six 1990s icons.

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Tamagotchi

Released in Japan in 1996 and the rest of the world in May 1997, these keyring pet simulators were the cult toy of the late Nineties. It was fiendishly difficult to get hold of one at first – a reminder that the 1990s were a lot less globalised than now. Successful shopping for a rare item was also much harder before Amazon took over the internet (the site launched in 1994, but Jeff Bezos was not named Time magazine’s Person of the Year until 1999). Tamagotchi ate, drank, pooed (a lot) and demanded constant attention, dying if you left them alone for too long. Possibly related: teen pregnancy rates dropped sharply under New Labour.

Platform trainers

No youth movement would be complete without an item of female fashion which gets right-wing tabloids in a lather. In the 1990s, that role was taken by the Buffalo platform trainers, as worn by the Spice Girls. These, we were told, were causing sprained ankles across the land. Still, Baby and Ginger Spice didn’t care – how else could they look eye to eye (or at least eye to chin) with the Big Lads of Britpop?

Kangol hats

Men got off more easily under the Cool Britannia dress code. This was the era of unashamed sportswear no matter the occasion, and lots of Britpop boys wore the type of bucket hats now seen only on babies and fishermen. Casual dressing united Blur (Damon Albarn loved his Fred Perry polo shirts) and Oasis (Liam Gallagher in his sheepskin coat and Kangol hats, above). Girls could at least copy All Saints with baggy combat trousers and a crop top. Adidas stripes were everywhere, and schoolchildren received dire warnings about wearing shellsuits next to a bonfire.

The TFI Friday desk

If MDF could talk, this piece of furniture could publish a hell of a memoir. Chris Evans’s Friday-night Channel 4 show captured the anarchic, self-celebratory spirit of the age; one day when he couldn’t be arsed to go the studio, he got the whole crew and a sizeable audience round to his house so he could interview Noel Gallagher there. TFI was also notable for the frequency with which celebrity guests swore (resulting in Shaun Ryder being banned in perpetuity from all Channel 4 live shows) and for pioneering laddism and ladettism through segments such as Ugly Blokes, where unattractive men had the chance to reject the advances of the model Catalina Guirado.

Nokia 5110

Introduced in 1998, the 5110 was the “it” phone of the era. It featured snap-on facia – perfect for displaying a Union Jack – and the cult game Snake. But one person who didn’t succumb was Prime Minister Tony Blair: according to his press secretary, Alastair Campbell, he “did not even have a mobile phone until he left office”.

Danbert Nobacon’s ice bucket

A bucketful of freezing water marked the beginning of the end for Cool Britannia. It was thrown over Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott by Danbert Nobacon of the anarchist pop band Chumbawamba (real name: Nigel Hunter) at the 1998 Brit Awards. After the event, Nobacon released a statement saying that if Prescott “had the nerve to turn up . . . in a vain effort to make Labour seem cool and trendy, then he deserves all we can throw at him”. When the band split in 2012, Prescott got his revenge, tweeting: “Chumbawho?” 

Helen Lewis is a former deputy editor of the New Statesman. Her history of feminism, Difficult Women, will be published in February 2020.

This article appears in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On