Monday, September 23, 2013

Rewinding Rewind The Tube

Channel 4 did an 80s night on Friday, and like most 80s nights, it was unrecognisable to anyone who lived through it.

A 15 to 1 remade as a jokey celeb gameshow in a studio which looked like Thomas Edison's torture chamber missed the point of a programme where the only thing that mattered was the questions; 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown's sole concession to the theme appeared to be Jimmy Carr wearing a mullet wig for two seconds; Alan Carr - Chatty Man featured those 80 icons Jessie J and Matthew Fox, but probably had a Rubiks Cube on set.

That just left Rewind The Tube, yet another official history of the programme which, supposedly, put an end to this sort of hagiographic genuflection to the past. At some point, there will be a programme that really explores the series, but instead this was the standard 'it was unlike anything before or since and mostly was about sex and shocks'.

The trouble is, even on its own terms this official history made no sense.

Paula Yates was supposedly a complete outsider - and yet she got the job off the back of getting rock stars to pose in their knickers. Which is hardly something an outsider would be able to do.

The guests were the sort of people you'd never see on staid old Top Of The Pops - except here's Glenn Gregory, talking about having done Pops before The Tube.

Before The Tube, there was no programming which allowed young people to address the horrors of Thatcherism - but this claim is illustrated with clips of young people on a different programme talking more directly about unemployment.

The Tube gave a platform to striking miners to kick over the traces. Hang about, though, this footage shows that it was The Redskins, not the producers, who brought a miner on to the set; and when he attempted to make a statement, his microphone was meekly cut by the gallery.

In order to work in an anecdote about an exploding car stunt, Rewind The Tube had to hope you didn't stop to think how 'Jools Holland driving around America meeting the people from his childhood record collections for what felt like months' looked a bit like the sort of self-indulgent travelwank middle-aged TV executives have been enthusiastically green-lighting since Logie-Baird got back from the patent office.

Oddest of all was the bid to try and claim Band Aid as a Tube thing - "nearly all the artists were Tube-related" ran Tim Healy's voiceover. Which is true; but given you've been trying to frame the series as the home of cultural outsiders, how could what was the original Rock Royalty Potluck fit into that narrative in any sensible way?

The clips from the final Tube really nailed the story that wasn't being told - Duran Duran, U2, Tina Turner bidding the show farewell. The legacy of the Tube was as much Q Magazine as Network 7.

The suggestion that The Tube came from nowhere and was like nothing else on TV is also vexing. It must rankle with the people who made Tiswas - which had ripped up the idea of well-organised, linear television while Jools was still working out how to play four-bar blues on a school recorder - but also ignores Malcolm Gerrie's ITV kids pop show Razzmatazz. Out the blocks over a year before The Tube, Razzmatazz was pretty much The Tube fuelled by tartrazine and midget gems rather than booze n coke.

Curiously, for a programme celebrating a show about live performance, there was very little live footage - indeed, whenever a musical discursion was called for, they went more often for a clip of a pop video. Did we hear anything about how The Tube was running against the MTV-fuelled promo tide of the times? No; but then if we had, it might have thrown too much light on how the ballyhooed "launching" of U2 relied mostly on shoving Live At Red Rocks into a tapemachine and pressing play.

There was a load of good stuff on The Tube; but there were also a lot of editions where it was blessed relief when Peter Sissons turned up with Channel 4 News. For every Frankie Goes To Hollywood doing the sex, you'd have to sit through an overlong giggly-but-awed interview with Paula Yates helping George Michael launch his solo career, Go West playing the same song forever, and Paul Young sweating into the camera.

The upshot? Rewind The Tube conceded that the most famous moment on The Tube wasn't on The Tube, and wasn't even on Channel 4. But it never really pursued the question of why a show that could call on a-list musicians and had access to the hottest upcoming comedians is mostly remembered for a trailer and something said by a presenter.

There's a great story to be told about The Tube. I fear, though, we'll just get another half-dozen of these every five years or so. The Tube would never have treated The Tube like this.

1 comment:

Simon said...

Don't forget that it singlehandedly changed British comedy, coming as it did after the Comic Strip and only a week before The Young Ones. I did like how Jools was being presented as a rebellious figure who pushed back the boundaries of presentation at a time when you could turn over to BBC2 and have the theory immediately disproved. And of course the constant idea that the show and by extension the channel angered the right wing press, as proved by a quote from NME and a clip from Right To Reply.

It was right to suggest Jools went on to spend lots of time in Portmeirion with Rowland Rivron, though.

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