Thank f*** it's over: Chris Evans' TFI Friday is still awful, twenty years later

TFI Friday was quite nasty at its edges: it gave off a strong whiff of bullying and low-level belligerence. The male graduate population of north London seemed not to notice this.

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TFI Friday
Channel 4


I was going to begin this column by making a joke along the lines of: I enjoyed the first five minutes of the TFI Friday 20th birthday programme (12 June, 9pm) but the following six hours bored me to sobs. But then I thought: why lie? Even the first five minutes, during which time it became clear that the show would be a more or less woman-free zone, were irritating beyond all endurance (the actress Amanda Seyfried was trailed as the only female guest, though Kirstie “Let’s Turn This Old Mangle Into a Child’s Bunkbed” Allsopp did show up later, of which more shortly).

Archive clips were kept to a minimum, the better that Chris Evans might wang on all the longer – a torrent of turgid rambling that climaxed 85 minutes later with what looked very much to me like a full-blown audition for Top Gear, a show he’s rumoured to be interested in presenting. In a brief film, we saw him “rehearsing” with Jeremy Clarkson, after which Lewis Hamilton appeared, sweaty in conker-brown leather. When the world’s most boring sports star is your surprise guest, you’re really in trouble. Didn’t David Bowie once appear on TFI Friday? Or have I imagined that? (I just checked and it’s on YouTube.)

Ah, the old days. TFI Friday ran from 1996 until 2000, when Evans, as he put it last week, “went mad” (while he was down the pub it was left to a series of guest presenters to front the last seven episodes). I think I watched a pretty high proportion of the original shows for the simple reason that I was then: a) broke and thus unable to afford to go out on Friday nights and b) in possession of precisely the kind of liberal, music-loving, Guardian-reading boyfriend who found the series funny. Its laddishness was, I think, aimed very specifically at middle-class blokes, the sexism and general stupidity tempered for them by the appearance of some good bands – or what some people thought at the time were good bands (Ocean Colour Scene, a favourite of Evans’s, didn’t appear in the anniversary show, which tells you all you need to know about his taste).

Plus, there was Will Macdonald, a studenty producer type with thick hair and spectacles, to whom they could all strongly relate (they imagined, I suppose, that he read Philip Roth backstage, though I think this may have been wishful thinking: when I googled him to find out what he’d been up to since, I learned that he worked with the production company behind Made in Chelsea). TFI Friday was quite nasty at its edges: it gave off a strong whiff of bullying and low-level belligerence. But the male graduate population of north London and elsewhere seemed not to notice this. They were too busy honking at the Lord of Love (the actor Ronald Fraser, in a quilted smoking jacket) and praying that Blur would be on this week rather than Kula Shaker. In the ad breaks, they would nip to the bathroom and give thanks as they looked in the mirror that they were not Ugly Bloke (every week, an “ugly bloke” was given the chance to reject the advances of a good-looking woman on camera).

Laddishness aside, the anniversary edition of TFI was more like The One Show, which Evans now presents on a Friday. Lots of people who’d appeared in the series as kids were wheeled on to be oohed and aahed at, and Kirstie Allsopp could be seen freaking out in the bar area, as if an invite to the studio was the second best thing ever to happen to her after meeting Phil Wotsit. Liam Gallagher came on with Roger Daltrey and sang “My Generation” exceedingly badly, as if he was appearing in a very early round of Britain’s Got Talent. Evans’s 89-year-old mother, Minnie, appeared on her ­mobility scooter. So did his daughter, though not on a scooter, who brandished a picture of her baby (yes, Evans is a grandpa). “You should all have children!” he yelled at the crowd, who could be heard talking loudly over every link (even they were bored). On it went, running madly over time – an indulgence that was all of a piece with Channel 4’s unfathomable decision to broadcast it in the first place when it could have turned out a clips show at half the price.

While we’re on the subject of nostalgia, misplaced or otherwise, Clangers is back, too (weekdays, 5.30pm). I once tried to knit a Clanger, a project that went badly wrong. First, I had to turn it into a scarf, and then into a woolly hat. I tuned in to the new series with a feeling of dread but all was well. The Clangers look just as they ever did – a lot of little pink hippies in medieval armour – and they sound the same, too. Best of all, their qualities are intact: kindly, hard-working, conscientious and stoical.

You can no more imagine a Clanger taking a selfie than you can Chris Evans reading The Dialectic of Sex

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article appears in the 19 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Mini Mao

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