A recently-acquired friend has just emailed me an invite to his 40th birthday party. It has a 1990s theme. “I can’t wait to see what a 90s-era Anthony might have looked like,” he writes, adding a smiley face.
As anyone who knows me will confirm, a 90s-era Anthony looked very similar to a late-2010s-era Anthony. On the matter of dress code, however, he is quite clear: “If, like me, you came of age in the 90s, you are kindly requested to wear an outfit that you would actually have worn in the 90s.”
No worries (a phrase I remember first using back in the 90s). Following a quick check in my sartorially-challenged wardrobe I see that all my 90s “outfits” are intact. Indeed, I am wearing one of them – white T-shirt, faded blue jeans and Nike trainers – as I write this column in a cafe bar in Call Lane, Leeds.
Or is it an 80s outfit? Whatever: it’s like the noughties, and whatever we have decided to call this decade – tens, teens, tenties, tenners – never happened.
I am too old to have come of age during the era of Lads and Ladettes, Young British Artists, BritCulture and Beatles tribute bands (apologies to Oasis fans) but I have a natural fondness for the 90s.
The biggest thing going for it, perhaps, was that it wasn’t the 80s – a low, dishonest decade when Thatcher closed down the mines, people thought it aspirational to wear shoulder pads and it was compulsory not only to watch New Romantic videos but to insist they were arty.
But as I perused a press release asking me to publicise the fact that Leeds had made it on to a shortlist, along with Manchester and Birmingham, to host Channel 4’s first national headquarters outside London, I was reminded of a more positive reason to revisit my complete set of Now That’s What I Call The 90s compilation albums.
For that was the decade that was. The decade when both the post-industrial Leeds and the postmodern Channel 4 came of age.
As the former was transformed into a dynamic, 24-hour, city-living metropolis, so the latter escaped its shambolic 80s’ beginnings to reinvent itself as a ground-breaking, edgy, dissenting, devil-may-care, scourge of the establishment. As the city centre was, suddenly, dotted with pavement cafes – like the one I’m sitting in now – minimalist restaurants, cappuccino bars and chic clubs – and derelict mills, warehouses and scrapyards were converted into loft apartments, offices and designer-boutique hotels – so Mary Whitehouse’s least-favourite TV channel began to change the face of British broadcasting.
This was the decade of Brookside’s lesbian kiss – the first ever to be shown on TV – Queer as Folk and Big Brother. The decade of Chris Morris’ legendary Brass Eye series and an “alternative Christmas message” presented by someone other than the Queen. The decade which launched digital channels Film4, E4 and More 4. And the decade that gave us, er, The Word.
Which is why I’m more than happy to publicise my home city’s bid to become the broadcaster’s new home.
Back in the 90s, of course, Leeds celebrated its rebirth as the biggest legal and financial centre outside the capital by attracting top national retailers like Harvey Nichols, top national museums like Royal Armouries and top international footballers like Eric Cantona.
Although, it must be noted, the first two didn’t proclaim their love for their new home and then cross the Pennines to relocate in a place best known for producing swaggering, overhyped pop stars (again, apologies to Oasis fans).
Birmingham is a pleasant enough place but, just like the battle for football supremacy in the 90s, it’s really between us and a city which, as we all know, is far too cocky, big for its boots and, well, establishment to be a good fit for the broadcaster. Leeds and Channel 4, on the other hand, are made for each other.
So Channel 4, if you want ground-breaking and edgy, if you want independent-minded, dissenting and devil-may-care, if you want to resurrect the spirit of the 90s – you’ve come to the right place.