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How TFI Friday revolutionised contemporary entertainment

The iconic ’90s TV show returns for an eight-episode stint this November – and I can’t wait.

Colm Boohig

“Old telly is the new telly. New telly looks old. Old telly looks new. Go figure.”

THE ABOVE IS one of the many tweets which Chris Evans posted in the aftermath of the hugely successful one-off return of TFI Friday. The emboldened quote probably best justifies the peak audience figure of 4.3 million which the June 12th swansong/comeback edition enjoyed.

In typical TFI fashion, the return show ran over time by 15 minutes. In even more typical Evans fashion, the presenter illustrated this fact to the camera with considerable glee. TFI Friday proved still, after 15 years, to be organised chaos at the finest and most endearing that British TV has to offer.

TFI is to return for an eight-episode stint in November

The presenter, who made his name in the early 1990s via his hosting duties on The Big Breakfast and Don’t Forget Your Tootbrush, was quick to endorse a long-term return of the Friday night programme – with a new pilot on board.

Evans, in his 50th year, claimed that he had other priorities these days. The cynical possibility is that this homecoming was merely an unofficial Top Gear audition for Evans. If so, then the informal interview was a complete success. If TFI is to continue beyond this year then it will be without the mutli-millionaire producer and radio host. Or so he initially insisted.

The beginning of this past week brought with it the news that TFI is to return for an eight-episode stint in November, with the original host at the helm. While the BBC are allegedly unhappy that Evans will share his new Top Gear duties with the Channel 4 entertainment phenomenon, the fans rejoiced. For many, an extended TFI comeback minus its co-founder would simply not have been worth the bother (a bit like, ironically, how many see Top Gear without Clarkson as a bit pointless). In any case, this fresh news eliminates that potential problem.

Shaking up the old way of making television 

TFI had one special ingredient and feeling in its make-up – basically, we’re all the same. In its original run from 1996 to 2000, the community vibe was always maintained. Confidence and positivity was the new attitude, with this empowered movement about to elect a new government. Nowhere more so than TFI Friday was this mood reflected.

Even in the infrastructure of the building in which the show was filmed, there appeared little disparity between celebrity and fan, guest and audience, with the TFI bar serving as the mutual appreciation society. Meanwhile, for everyone else watching at home in Britain and Ireland, the six o’clock start signalled the end to the traditional working week and the start of some serious play time.

This team-like theme was every bit the kryptonite to the contemporary favouring of the individual in today’s entertainment offerings. TFI had the ‘It’ Factor rather than the ‘X’ Factor – the ‘It’ being that Chris Evans, Danny Baker and Will MacDonald had, accidentally or not, struck up a timeless television format. Admittedly, attention-grabbing was a lot easier in those days with the absence of the social media influence and obsession of today’s world. However, if any classic television entertainment programme is to evade the dominance of the Twitter and Facebook steamboat, then TFI is the most likely British candidate. In fact, a partnership of the above could easily make TFI Friday Part II even more successful.

The backdrop to the camaraderie

The simple reason for its flourishing life to date is that the atmosphere of the show was epitomised by the brains behind it. MacDonald, Baker and Evans, particularly the latter two, were working-class boys who done good. Of course, while Baker’s relationship with money has been famously free-and-easy (declaring bankruptcy at one stage), Evans is a different story.

In an almost juxta-like-position, the backdrop to the camaraderie he had created on-set contrasted with, according to rumour, an ego the size of Everest. Evans had amassed millions, largely thanks to his company which ran TFI, Ginger Productions. While he often proved to be a divisive figure, the creative autonomy in which Evans demanded was ultimately to the viewers’ benefit.

An exercise of consummate ease would be to mention seemingly non-sensical and unconnected phrases like Freak or Unique, It’s Your Letters and Baby Left Baby Right and see anyone over the age of 25 in this part of the world smile with the most pertinent feeling of nostalgia.

‘You couldn’t write this script’

Combine this jovial ambience and the most stellar guest list with coinciding interviews of interest and one’s mind will be cast back to when Evans invited a slightly worse for wear Noel Gallagher to his not-so-humble abode for a live chinwag. Or the time that the legendary Howard Stern dropped by and ripped Evans a new one. TFI was also the location and reason for Shaun Ryder’s expulsion from any future live Channel 4 appearances courtesy of the on-air usage of his favourite F-word expletive, pre-watershed.

While Ryder was missing out on all the the fun, Evans and MacDonald were busy smashing several official TFI Friday mugs with the use of a washing machine from a considerable height. Incidentally, the above was just the tip of a giant iceberg. ‘You couldn’t write this script’ and all that.

Such a frantic pace could never be sustained

On the flip side, there was an ephemeral feeling during the show’s run. If anarchy was to be the solitary rule then the accompanying sacrifice was that such a frantic pace could never be sustained. By 2000, Evans was frequently AWOL from presenting duties. When he was around, then certain liberties would be taken, such as the time the presenter took his crew on a 17-hour bender around town and only stopped two hours before filming.

Evans’ live admission of no rehearsals were becoming more frequent with each passing week. Eventually, the likes of Elton John and The Spice Girls took turns at hosting before ratings gradually slid and TFI exited stage left, without much of a whimper.

However, 12 June 2015 was a piercing wake-up call to the entertainment void which has infected Britain and Ireland in the 21st century. Where else would you see a Hollywood superstar like Ewan McGregor or The Last Leg’s Josh Widdicombe appear as merely enthusiastic audience members? As the show’s most popular anthem of The Riverboat Song blares a consistent and wonderful reminder over the last few weeks of what we’ve been missing, TFI has come screaming back and brings with it a whole new generation to witness this second revolution of fun.

Personally, this writer cannot wait for November.

Colm Boohig is a sports, entertainment and current affairs blogger from Cork with a background in content editing, media and PR. He loves travelling, movies and sport – all typical stuff, but the interesting part is in the detail.

Read more by Colm on his website or on Twitter.

TFI Friday returned to television and made everyone feel wonderfully nostalgic

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Colm Boohig

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