Channel 4 at 30: Terry Christian’s memories of The Word
Terry made his name as a radio presenter on local radio, before achieving nationwide fame on Channel 4's controversial, but iconic, late-night show, The Word.
Love it or hate it (and I loved it), the 1990-1995 show remains a cultural signpost for early 1990s Britain. Terry shares some memories of those crazy times with MSN.
How did you come to be on The Word?
I'd always worked on radio, and I'd always done that kind of left-field specialist show, I was never mainstream. If I had an ambition, it was to be the next John Peel! 24 Hour Productions made a show called Club X and they had a commission for Club X 2, but they wanted to make it different.
Manchester was trendy at that time - the back-end of 1989 - so they rang up a dozen journalists in Manchester asking who they should audition - all of them said me. I said: 'unless you pay my train fare, I'm not coming down!'
Funnily enough, they didn't know what the show was going to be about so then we had a huge meeting, and this was before I'd even been given the job. But the idea of The Word emerged - which was to bring a night out into your living room.
Why has it been so difficult to make another series like The Word?
I'll be quite honest with you because now I think about it, all these years later, it had me. I still can't believe they gave me the gig, but that's what made it work.
I didn't want to do one of these aspirational shows, one of these - 'look at us, listen to us because we're cooler than you'. I wanted it to have some kind of accessibility. Even when we did the music, we'd always try and have something fairly credible that was coming through, but we'd also have something pop in there as well.
Of all the stars that sat on the sofa, who excited you the most?
I remember being really thrilled when we had Whitney Houston on because she was our first big name guest. For the first 12 weeks, we were on at six o'clock on a Friday night on Channel 4; Whitney did the first late night one. We had her, Boy George and Flavor Flav, but she was a huge guest at the time.
My Word is Terry Christian's take on life behind the scenes at Channel 4 in the nineties.
I was also really excited about having Barry White, however, he pulled out on us. But my best moment ever on The Word was interviewing James Brown in South Carolina.
Set the record straight about the late Oliver Reed being drunk, and Coronation Street's Lynne Perrie's slurring.
That was Oliver Reed's manager who'd set that up; he wasn't that drunk, he was more acting drunk. As for Coronation Street's Lynne Perrie, she'd been on anti-depressants - she wasn't even drinking before the show.
Her speech was all slurred because of the medication; her son had been diagnosed with AIDS that week, but of course, the papers didn't report on that.
I seem to recall The Word taking a lot of heat from the press. What was it like?
It was crazy. I remember thinking: I'm doing a show that gets 49% audience share, loads of people watch, but the press slagged us off and slagged us off and slagged us off. For five years, all my personal press was along the lines of: "moron, cerebrally-challenged, thick, inarticulate."
Why did they say that about you?
Partly jealousy, I think. But again, I was very much the outsider. I'm a kid from a council estate in Manchester that got lucky. They couldn't have a go at my credibility so that's what they did.
I've got to ask you about The Hopefuls.
I didn't like it. That came from Paul Ross, Jonathan Ross' brother; he was our editor in series three and four. He'd seen this Canadian TV show in which they'd paid people to do something, and if you do it, you get on telly. That was the idea.
We didn't pay The Hopefuls, but I didn't like it - not because of big moral grounds, mind. I was against it because I don't like gimmicks and contrivances. Up until that time, anything mad that had happened on The Word hadn't been contrived as such, it happened spontaneously. And that's one of the reasons why they haven't been able to make another show like The Word.
We ran The Hopefuls for most of series four, and something similar in series five, but it became a gimmick that killed us in the end. Big-name guests and bands basically said, 'what's the point of us going on that show when all anyone's going to be talking about is some bloke from Stoke that ate a worm butty.'
Looking back, what's your abiding memory of The Word?
Channel 4's attitude to The Word was very peculiar - they never really liked the show. But I wanted to make something good and something truthful, and that's one of the reasons I think The Word is still remembered today.