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Explaining the TFI Friday Reunion to Anyone Under 25

From the inexplicable appearance of the Archbishop of York to the return of Shaun Ryder.

For anyone with a birth date in the 1990s, the hours of 9PM to 10:30PM, Friday the 12th of June 2015, must have seemed baffling. As inexplicable as The Black And White Minstrel Show to anyone under the age of 28.

Like walking in on a Masonic ritual involving your mother and the Archbishop of York in which a crowd of forty-somethings wearing Kangol were circled round an altar to the sound of "The Riverboat Song", chanting "Wiiiiill".


Once, TFI Friday defined a generation's silliest ambitions. Then the waters receded over it, and it was lost to history, only decodable by 1990s-ologists who could tell you who Pearl Lowe was married to, or why The Wrekked Train left the Lo-Fidelity Allstars.

In the end, Chris Evans' decision to have one last send-off for the show he walked out on in 2000 hit a lot of bases. Part ego-heavy self-celebration. Part lesson in how Zoo TV ought to be done. Part pean to a Loaded-friendly pre-PC Britain.

The sense of a generation looking itself in the eye and realising it wasn't hip anymore hung heavy. The sense of a bunch of once cutting-edge TV professionals who'd turned into over-professional TV professionals hung heavier. It was all very serviceable. Occasionally peerless. Though in the final quarter: very boring indeed.

For those still seeking clarity on what they saw, these are the basics of how it went down.


After some opening pleasantries about how he'd gone mad in the 90s, with gonzo "producer" and chief sidekick Wiiiiiill "Will" MacDonald, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, came on and blessed the show with holy water. He offered some words: "May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face," which he claimed were a traditional Anglican blessing, when in fact most of us know that they are a Simple Minds song. People liked this. It was the right mix of quirky and cuddly – an Archbishop cutting the ribbon on what was obviously going to descend into a bear pit of rock 'n' roll anarchy. Right?


Even if there hadn't been anything new, with a 180 show archive to work from, the reheated yesterdays were fantastic filler. There was enough archive of people being dropped in various types of gloop, of people being covered in various types of gloop, or gloop being covered in various types of people, to last a hundred Comic Reliefs.

Mainly, though, the show comprised an attempt to show what happens to small children if you don't look at them for 19 years. From the baby with an improbably thick head of hair – now a teenager who likes cricket. To the crying losers of the infamous Ofcom-baiting child staring competitions – now just some randos in their twenties. (Evans: "And what do you do now, Naomi?" Naomi: "I'm a resource planner." Evans: "Good for you.")


All around, the stolid scent of physical decay hung heavy in the nostrils. "19 years feels like the blinking of an eye," TFIF kept telling you. But it isn't. It can turn you into lardy blancmange, or shrivel your ovaries into sultanas, or swell you from a 7kg baby into a 70kg man. Or even turn Chris Evans sane and reasonable.


To balance the time-lapse horror, TFI brought back sweary-Mary and alleged "only man to be specifically barred from all Channel 4 live broadcasts by name" Shaun Ryder. For reasons only known to stem-cell research, Shaun looked better than when his effing and blinding version of "Pretty Vacant" almost cancelled the entire show in 1997.


The Oasis version of "My Generation" they once encored with certainly rattled your molars. And The Who's version isn't too shabby either, we hear. So why was the combination of Roger Daltrey – now wilting into a crabby computer repair guy – and Liam Gallagher – now fading into a Liam Gallagher photo-fit – such a depressing sum less than its parts? Perhaps because that is the obvious and inevitable outcome of all karaoke duets between ageing "legends".

Clearly, someone on the TFIF media team wanted two huge names doing something unique they could feed to the press to build the hype. The outcome of that hype was immaterial – we were effectively watching their Monday afternoon press release.



An unreasonably-priced star in an unreasonably priced car – Clarkson skittered across the screen for a few seconds, in what felt so much like the segue into the big proper interview we'd been promised. So much so, that everyone barely listened to the in-car bit. Then it was all over, inside two minutes. Some vague banter about how to describe a supercar. Nothing about Punching That Producer Who Didn't Bring Steak-gate. Done. We get it. Zoo TV. Anarchy. Keep 'em guessing. But, y'know, it was also the only bit you had on here that people genuinely wanted to see, wasn't it, Chris?


Ricky Wilson was a popstar in 2005. He was huge, and everybody loved his catchphrase, "We're gonna have a riot sometime soon". Unfortunately for Ricky, 2005 was five years after the end of TFI Friday, so he'd never get to go on the programme. Especially after his pop career ended in 2008, seven years before the TFI reunion. Ricky didn't give up on his dream of appearing on the show though – and so, in the demotic, "anyone's a star" spirit of Freak Or Unique, he was invited back to appear as a "celebrity guest". Clearly, the 90s' embrace of reflexive irony lived on in Chris' team.


After a while of watching Allsop, Ricky, Stephen Merchant, and the rest of the D-list, it became clear this wasn't deliberate ramping-down of star wattage. It was simply the fact that they'd all been booked by a production team now in their fifties. After all, the world looks very different from Radio 2 land – where The One Show is something that informs you about daily life in Britain. Where property porn of the Allsop variety is as comforting as a pair of Birkenstocks, Stephen Merchant is simply the avuncular West Country voice of Barclay's Bank, Rita Ora is anything other than the cunt's Rihanna, and Nick Grimshaw is the non-threatening voice of Today's Youth. Yes. That was it.



And when you want to book some bands for your music show? Well, you call up someone at the cutting edge of youth – maybe your pal Grimmy from Radio 1 – and they proudly inform you that the hottest new band in Britain is Years & Years. And the biggest festival band is Rudimental. You take this as gospel. Because, well, how could you ever know any different? For a show that once put Napalm Death on at 6PM, and bore witness to the best TV gigs of the Britpop age – this was perhaps the coldest cut of all. Apart from…


Ah, the beatboxing: it made Four Poofs And A Piano seem like John Cale duetting with Rob Zombie.


Lewis Hamilton is worth £180 million. He drives a low-flying plane around various exotic locales at 200mph for a living. He was the youngest F1 champion ever. Yet tragically, he remains tedious company — a Stevenage boy with a Stevenage mind, complete with chunky watch and padded red leather jacket that make him look like he does all his shopping at Zara, Milton Keynes.

Yet rather than dwell on this tragedy directly by saying to him: "Lewis. Do you ever get bored when you hear the drivel coming out of your mouth?" Evans took a darker turn. Simply letting Lewis talk on and on for ages, so that the audience could see his identity swallowing itself right there in one big Möbius strip of banality.



As Lewis Hamilton droned on about his latest trip to Five Guys or the colours of his various front doors, Evans was hatching a cunning plan. He'd get a man no one had ever heard of to drive a Ferrari around a track dressed as a sort of poor man's Stig. They'd also get an old woman on a mobility scooter, and together set the records for the fastest and slowest laps of the Top Gear circuit.

As the clock ticked on past the scheduled finish time, a nation suddenly remembered why they hated Chris Evans – he was an egomaniac whose genius was in doing exactly what he wanted. But his downfall was exactly that too. The national grid popped and fizzed with the surge from a million kettles.

As the final credits rolled, news came in that Evans had succeeded in his audition to become the next presenter of Top Gear. Everyone in the studio clapped, but then felt cheated at having spent 97 minutes effectively being a bullet point on Evans' vast media CV. He would be paid millions to take on Top Gear. Did he really have to abuse the very spirit and soul of The Nineties to make that happen?

It was too late to question things. Alan Carr was already starting, and he had Samuel Jackson and Mark Ronson. Now that might be worth watching…


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