Channel 4 at 30: The Word

On 2 November 2012, Channel 4 will be 30 years of age. One of its most controversial programmes in the early-mid 1990s was “The Word”, a weekly hour long entertainment programme that became regular post-pub Friday night viewing for a youth audience. Produced by “Planet 24” (also responsible for the creation of “The Big Breakfast”) it featured a mix of interviews, stunts, live (and often chaotic) outside broadcasts and music and attracted a lot of controversy. Mary Whitehouse pleaded with Channel 4 for The Word not to premiere Madonna’s “Justify My Love” video (something that would be unthinkable today). The presenters (Terry Christian, Mark Lamarr, Amanda de Cadenet, Dani Behr, Katie Puckrik) did not conceal their dislike of each other. Guests were treated with irreverence regardless of who they were, something that often suprised US guests. Some items such as “The Hopefuls” in which members of the public would do anything to appear on TV attracted particular attention. Whilst some may have seen this as TV executives sneering at the public, it proved to be a very prescient observation on the future direction of television. The Word divided opinions. Some saw it as youthful exuberance breaking down boundaries. Others saw it as the nadir of trash TV.

One thing most can agree on is that The Word did deserve credit for the music performances on the show. Jo Whiley (later to join Radio 1) was responsible for booking artists and bands. Oasis and Nirvana made their first UK TV appearances on the show. At a time when the only two regular fixtures of music on television were Top Of The Pops (and miming was de rigueur) and The Chart Show and Radio 1 had yet to reinvent itself, the live performances on The Word were a novelty.

Below is a selection of live music performances from The Word, beginning with Nirvana and Oasis.

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

Oasis – Supersonic

Blur – Popscene

Definition Of Sound – Wear Your Love Like Heaven

Honky – The Whistler

James Taylor Quartet – Love The Life

Primal Scream – Rocks

Sunscreem – Broken English

Sugarcubes – Hit

Sub Sub – Ain’t No Love, Ain’t No Use

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