Edward Meadham: How The Word Changed My Life

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Terry Christian presenting The Word

In the second instalment of his AnOthermag.com column, the designer writes about the 1990s’ most outrageous TV show

Edward Meadham has a remarkable mind, to which his work as a fashion designer attests. His creations are infused with references to his loves, interests and obsessions – “Beautiful things, craft and subculture,” as he once told us. In a new column for AnOthermag.com, Meadham will write about these obsessions, guiding us through the things that inspire him.

In 1993, February 14 fell on a Friday. I remember it so clearly, not because it was Valentine’s Day – I didn’t care about that, I was only 13 at the time – but because I saw something that day which blew my mind.

I was just a year or so out of total Kylie fandom and had barely graduated from the Sex Pistols and Adam Ant’s Kings of the Wild Frontier. I was obsessed with Belly’s album Star. I absentmindedly liked L7 and Daisy Chainsaw, who had both had accidental mainstream hits the previous year. I had pictures of Courtney Love torn from Just Seventeen magazine on my wall and loved her, though I didn’t know why. Everything hadn’t quite fallen into place yet. That is, until that night.

I never learned a single useful thing at school, so instead I got my education from bands, lyrics, films and TV shows. There are a few things I saw in my formative years which came as definitive and pinpoint-able catalytic atomic bombs in my brain; which introduced me to ideas, aesthetics and that left a visible and indelible imprint on who I am now and everything I have done since.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s in the monolithically grey middle-of-nowhere-bumfuck-England was bleakly isolating. Not only was I the only gay in the world (at least it felt like I was), I also had no interest in being a “raver” smothering my hair in ten tonnes of gel, or wearing Spliffy Jeans. On on mufti day for Red Nose Day in 1993, I wore 70s Wrangler flares, a huge purple and white polka-dot viscose shirt and Cuban-heel boots. I was (and still am) a weirdo, an alien at home, at school and everywhere in between.

BUT there were a few rays of light. One of the most piercingly bright was a show called The Word which was beamed live onto my TV, illuminating my existence every Friday night and taught me everything I needed to know about music and trash. 

Airing between 1990 and 1995, The Word was what was described in those days as “yoof” TV and consisted of a chaotically unpredictable mix of live studio performances and interviews, with pre-recorded outside broadcast segments featuring everything from a very defensive River Phoenix talking about his dreadful band (Aleka’s Attic), to live visits with presenter Hufty (who I still think is probably the butchest dyke who’s ever been on TV), random house parties, penis enlargement operations – anything you can imagine. The Word was the only place you would have seen it.

Eventually, a weekly segment called ‘The Hopefuls’ – where people would ‘do anything to get on TV’, like submerge themselves in a bath full of cow excrement or eat a bowl of chiropodist clippings – ensured that the broadcasting standards commission took the show off air for being too obscene in 1995. 

The Word was an unprecedented exercise in irreverence where the boundaries of good taste and rules of live television were pushed and anything could happen, and generally did. Presenters were usually ill-prepared, often slapped by guests and harassed by a rowdy and drunk audience. It is hard to imagine something like The Word existing today in a culture so piously governed by liberal tyranny, where offence has become the worst crime imaginable, where a person’s entire existence can be “cancelled” over one misplaced step. The Word revelled in being grotesque and offensive, which taught me to be open-minded and unshockable. An invaluable lesson. But, more importantly than that, The Word showed me music, against a swirling psychedelic green screen projection, in front of an intoxicated, furry-bikini-wearing audience.

Basically every band who was around in the early 90s performed their first (and often only) live TV appearance on The Word, including The Pixies, The Manic Street Preachers, and Nirvana (Kurt once introduced Courtney as “the greatest fuck in the world”). Hole less memorably performed Beautiful Son, while L7’s Pretend We’re Dead (Donita Sparks stunned us all by dropping her trousers and showing us her vagina), Pulp’s Lipgloss, and Stereolab’s French Disko, all sent me scuttling off to hunt for their records. But it was that February 14, when Huggy Bear performed Her Jazz on The Word and it felt like I was being electrocuted with adrenaline, the way it is only possible at that age, I knew THIS was IT.

Watch more of Edward’s favourite The Word performances below.