A BBC newsreader sits politely as she adjusts her hair, seemingly unaware the camera is still rolling. Seconds later, EastEnders legend Natalie Cassidy bursts onto the screen, and chaos ensues for a solid two minutes over the face of the oblivious newsreader.
This is not the confused end of a coronavirus press briefing, but the start of one of Twitter user Jake McBain’s .avi videos, which he posts routinely on his account to the attention of celebrities including Radio 1 DJ Greg James, Olly Alexander and Drag Race UK’s Divina De Campo.
Jake, 26, is one of a small but influential number of people online who have drawn thousands of social media users together by resurfacing utterly ridiculous – but somehow recognisably iconic – moments of British pop culture.
“They’re nostalgic,” the Manchester-based user explains of classic moments like Katy Perry shouting “get out of my pub” on The One Show and Alison Hammond dressed as Kylie in her “Can’t Get Out of My Head” era. “When clips like that resurface, you’re reminded of that era and can openly discuss it with more friends and new people from all over the world.”
There’s also something uniquely British in style about this corner of the internet, where snippets from Big Brother UK, EastEnders and vintage X Factor auditions (the fun ones from before they had to audition in arenas) compete for attention and retweets.
Twitter user @BritReacts created their account after catching on to people embedding these niche references as reaction clips on tweets and wanted them all in one tidy place – an arguably essential internet resource.
The anonymous user, who says they would like to remain an “elusive figure”, rates Sharon from Corrie’s “‘avvv it” moment as one of their personal favourites, along with “Gemma Collins stressing out about lockdown to her brother, and Meena from Emmerdale dancing to ‘Toxic’ by Britney right after killing someone – three dames in my eyes!”
When asked why they think people love these clips so much, @BritReacts says keeping things simple to understand is key: “I think part of it is the relatability – a lot of British television is relatable, which makes for good reaction videos!
“A lot of my content is from places such as the five British soaps and Big Brother, which people eat up every time since it's popular viewing in the UK. For non-British people that watch/use my videos, I think they're intrigued by British television moments since they vary so vastly from American clips!”
Comparable US content – think Keeping Up With the Kardashians or the various Real Housewives franchises – tend to be embellished with glamour and endless glasses of chilled rosé. The UK, on the other hand, still has an undeniable fondness for all things gloriously tacky.
“The British clips I post feel so much more real and representative of the people watching and using them, including myself,” the owner of the @BritReacts account says. “I do tend to post certain US clips if I can't find another account that's posted them, but I find that my British clips are more relatable and funnier due to the shared Brit culture.
“I think non-American audiences are spoon fed so much American culture that it feels rare to see clips of British people/clips going viral – we see so much American culture online that I'd hope people like to see British clips as a change!”
Jake and @BritReacts are not the only ones putting this sort of content on their social media platforms, with many already well-acquainted with Love of Huns, the Twitter and Instagram account that has over half a million followers in total.
Love of Huns has successfully built a following based almost entirely on the continued nostalgia of early 2000s UK pop culture, with favourite huns including Gemma Collins, Katie Price and even Nigella Lawson (following the “mee-cro-wah-vay” saga, later nominated for a BAFTA for most memorable moment).
Once described by FKA Twigs as the “highlight of [her] career” to feature on, Love of Huns notes that one of the appeals of this specific subset of pop culture is the way it’s so uniquely British and not so globally understood – unlike much US content consumed in the same way.
“Ultimately they [US shows of a similar calibre e.g. Real Housewives] have a bigger audience with American and worldwide viewers,” says the owner of the Love of Huns account, who prefers to remain anonymous. “UK stuff is niche as it only really has the British/UK following. An outsider may struggle to understand why Sharon tasering Jenny on Corrie is so iconic.”
The more recently aired clip in question features character Corrie’s Sharon Bentley fire a taser at Rovers Return landlady Jenny Connor – featuring all the ingredients to become an instant classic in the pinot grigio-soaked TV hall of fame.
Elsewhere, the revival of some older snippets also gives the internet the chance to give the Gogglebox treatment to shows like early Big Brother UK and Popstars: The Rivals, the latter two predating the arrival of social media.
They tell me: “Lots of these iconic moments can still be appreciated today and for some people, it's the first time these moments/clips have been brought to their attention. We are able to dissect how ridiculous and funny some of these moments are in comparison to everyday pop culture now.”
“It’s extremely British and niche,” they add. “Almost a bit of a ‘if you know you know’ aspect to it - you almost feel part of a club by knowing certain references, like Lisa Scott Lee being B-list on Capital.”