Terry Christian – In Conversation

Since the dawning of modern popular culture, each and every town in Britain has boasted a thriving scene. Whether it’s music, football or entertainment, it’s not difficult to find a united passion which brings communities together for the common good. Growing up in Manchester in the sixties and seventies with strong Caribbean and Irish influences, writer and broadcaster Terry Christian cultivated a broad passion for popular culture from an early age. Growing up in the suburbs of Old Trafford, Terry grew up with future music stars Morrisey, Denise Johnson, Diane Charlemagne and Johnny Marr, Terry found himself in the company of creative talent who would later go on to define the soundtrack of northern England. The son of first generation immigrants, Terry was part of a cultural boom which was a direct response to the downtrodden conditions of the time.

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Standing on the terraces of the 1960’s Old Trafford just behind the legendary Matt Busby chanting the songs of the day offered the young Terry a glimpse of culture for the very first time. He quickly realised the influence of music, sport and entertainment to defining a community. This was the era when northern working class England was at the centre of the world and Terry was sure to make the most of it. Manchester had always boasted a strong musical heritage ranging from The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits to Joy Division so this creativity had always been there but had been dormant for a while. Yet Terry could see a revolution coming and had the desire to be part of it.


Rising unemployment, political unrest and class divisions led to the 1970’s being quite a gloomy decade for Britain. Yet as we were just about to enter a new decade, the Conservative party led by a forthright Margaret Thatcher burst into power with an overwhelming majority which was to have a devastating effect on the lower classes. Bands like The Buzzcocks and New Order took inspiration from such bleak events to pioneer a musical social revolution. The rave and Acid House scene of the 1980’s has forever been associated with the iconic nightclub The Hacienda, figure headed by Tony Wilson of Factory Records. Despite this phenomenon, Terry insists that there was so much more to the 1980’s Manchester scene than just The Hacienda and more often than not, found more events happening elsewhere. History can frequently be a very fickle species in giving false significance to those influences which defined a certain time and Terry believes that this may be true of The Hacienda.


This northern music revolution suddenly made Manchester into a worldwide cultural hub and suddenly BBC Received Pronunciation became phony and outdated. Finally regional accents were in vogue and Terry found himself in demand just for the way he spoke. Securing a spot on BBC Radio Derby in 1982 for the music show Barbed Wireless offered Christian a platform in which he honed his craft as a broadcaster. This was a role which he honoured for over six years despite significant interest from the heavyweight Radio 1. Gaining a reputation for his entertaining, informed and natural broadcasting style, Barbed Wireless, won him the best specialist music show at The Sony Awards which elevated Terry to a whole new level. Barbed Wireless offered Terry the opportunity to feature a diverse range of different figures from the world of entertainment ranging from Robin Day to The Pixies. In late 1988, Christian joined Piccadilly Radio’s Key 103 FM, presenting weekday evenings and Sunday afternoon but it was his journalistic talent which would surprisingly catapult his career in a brand new direction.


In parallel with the radio show, Terry was also given a column in the Manchester Evening News with the title The Word. With his connections with significant figures in the British music scene, this became a popular feature as a result of his purely music background. Inspired by The Beatles’ Abbey Road song, Christian inherited the column from Sarah Champion who had joined the long line of journalists to cover Manchester’s thriving music scene. However, now with Terry’s contacts within music The Word took on an extra significance and it was only a matter of time before he realised its potential. This was the perfect outlet for a geeky, specialist feature which appealed to Terry’s broad passion for music and a union with TV producer Charlie Parsons would help him realise this.


Britain was just about to experience a substantial explosion in music with politics, entertainment and sport merging together like never before. The television audience was desperately craving a new type of show which echoed this significant change and on the 24th August 1990, they got it! The Word was a cutting edge music show featuring some of the biggest artists in the world presented in an uncool way hosted by Terry alongside Mark Lamar. Boasting the first television appearances of Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene, the programme was a quintessential music show for the modern age. With the aim of giving the audience the feeling of a night out without leaving their living room, The Word celebrated the very best in pop culture with an irreverent take on the zeitgeist of the time. The show offered a platform to bands and music stars who would go on to define a generation and cultivated a new brand of television which others would attempt to emulate in the coming years.


Watershed moments in pop culture including Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain declaring their love, a very drunk Oliver Reed giving a barely coherent interview before performing “Wild Thing” by The Troggs or members of the audience agreeing to eat worm sandwiches live on air have since become part of pop culture itself. This was television entertainment which had never been attempted before. Hated by TV critics and the British media but adored by the youth demographic which it targeted, this was a show which rebelled against the fixed concepts of television and offered misfits of the eighties something just for them. For this, Terry acted as the perfect ringleader maintaining a good balance between spiraling chaos and satirical anarchy. Such a winning formula helped elevate The Word from merely a music magazine show to one of the most influential Light Entertainment shows of the decade. This is something that Terry remains extremely proud of despite this association being somewhat of a poisoned chalice.


Over a quarter of a century since the final episode of The Word, the show is still heralded as a significant part of the story of music Light Entertainment which influenced everything from TFI Friday to Later With Jools Holland. A regular audience member at The Word, Chris Evans attempted to bring the unpredictability of the show to his future TV formats thus continuing the legacy of the series. Yet Terry is adamant that it’s almost impossible to replicate the magic of The Word in today’s TV landscape but in the last few years has created a live theatre show entitled The Word…Is Terry Christian. In this, he looks back on the series with humorous anecdotes and stories to compliment moments from the show. It seems incredible that over thirty years after the birth of The Word, there remains a strong appetite for such an influential and groundbreaking piece of Light Entertainment. It was an absolute honour to celebrate Terry Christian’s many achievements with the man himself and when the history books are written about nineties culture, it will be impossible to omit his name. That’s a great achievement!