Friday, 29 April 2016

Remember When...Gail Porter and Big Ben

Just recently I've been taking regular trips down memory lane thanks to Lee and Herring's This Morning With Richard Not Judy being available to watch on YouTube.

For those not in the know or simply too young to recall the last couple of years of the twentieth century, TMWRNJ (as it was known) was a satirical spoof magazine show that aired at Sunday daytime on BBC2. For two series in 1998 to 1999 it was required viewing for the late-teenage me.

Virtually every edition from the second series sees Stewart Lee performing a rant against what was a worrying trend at the time; female presenters from children's TV stripping off or dressing provocatively for the lads mags (a trend that was examined in Kirsten's Topless Ambition which I've previously blogged about) There were lots of these presenters doing this, but perhaps the biggest culprit was Gail Porter, who Lee neatly served up with this most spectacular roasting...

"This week I've been going into every newsagents in the UK and taking down all the copies of this month's FHM that I can find with the cover of Gail Porter's scrawny Kentucky Fried Chicken bargain bucket breasts, airbrushed bum newly-hatched raptor-foetus body, and drawing a yashmak on it and then putting them back on the shelf. Put your clothes on Gail. You won't get the Live and Kicking job now. Spare yourself a shred of dignity and spare the nation in turn the sick-making sight of your wrinkly walnut bum. You look like a tiny naked child. There's something very strange about it and it's not a very nice sight to see down at the corner shop first thing in the morning when all you want is a newspaper, a packet of fags and a Ribena Light. Get dressed, Gail. Wear a yashmak"

This, along with another reference explicitly regarding the incident that immediately came to mind, reminded me of the time when a 100ft Gail Porter, her bare arse and side boob was superimposed upon the Palaces of Westminster as a stunt for FHM magazine.

How? Why? Just bizarre. Its a stunt that would be unthinkable now, and reminds you just how very different the 1990s where. 


  1. Maybe it’s just me, but I actually find the roasting far more problematic than the original picture. I get the point about kids’ TV presenters appearing in these sorts of photo-shoots (though were they actually appearing in both at the same time? — I remember that stunt with Gail Porter and her bum being superimposed onto Westminster Palace, but am pretty sure she’d already made the transition to the Friday night TV circuit at the time), but Lee’s rant reads to me as a seriously nasty critique of a woman’s body — bargain bucket breasts? Raptor foetus body? I’ll grant you, the descriptions are quite inventive, but I think under any other context we’d be calling that sort of thing misogyny.

    1. I must admit I winced at the first attack I heard, but taken in the context of presenting nudity and a 'perfect body image' to a public that includes a fanbase of children and teenagers does perhaps deserve some scathing vitriol. IIRC, Porter was still presenting Fully Booked and the Electric Circus slot on Live and Kicking in '98-'99 so yeah the careers were running concurrently, though it was clear her ambitions were to move into more mature entertainment. The question is, why was stripping off seen as the most logical step into gaining a foothold in the evening and late night schedules? Ironically enough, in looking through this lot when posting, I found Kelly Brook criticising Porter and telling her to put some clothes on too! It's fair to say Lee wouldn't do that sort of thing now, mind. Too easy and bland a target I guess, though his wife and fellow stand up Bridget Christie does some great stuff about lads mags and how worryingly accessible these images are too their children - Sunday Sport for example is positioned at perfect toddler height on the forecourts of every petrol station in the land.

    2. It’s a difficult one, but ultimately I just feel really uncomfortable with the notion of body shaming the women who choose to go down that route, and indeed with the notion that just because you are (or were) a kids’ TV presenter, you’re be locked into presenting this wholesome, whiter than white image of yourself. It should be possible to appeal to different markets, in the same way that, say, an actor can appear in 18-rated stuff as well as kids’ movies (not a perfect comparison, admittedly). Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely a problem if these mags are on sale on the same shelf as the Beano annual or whatever, but if the issue is presenting unrealistic standards of beauty to impressionable youths, I really don’t think describing a woman as having “scrawny Kentucky Fried Chicken bargain bucket breasts” does anything other than reinforce said standards. To be fair, I think the discourse has moved on nowadays to attacking the proprietors of the mags in question instead, but I think there’s an ugly “burn the witch” sort of puritanism lurking behind Lee’s original comments.

      Mind you, full disclosure: while I’d completely forgotten about her until I saw your post, I do remember being quite partial to Gail Porter back in the late 90s. If memory serves, she presented a show about weird and wonderful things on the internet that was a staple part of my Friday night viewing.

    3. It's context though isn't it; remember the 90s were a time before plus size modelling and a time of rife airbrushing as Porter's arse in that picture clearly proves! With less realistic images of the natural form around you automatically jump to the extreme to criticise, using the same kind of scathing comment against the 'stick thin' model set as you would have heard at the time - especially in those very lads mags - against a woman who was simply a size 14 say.

      Equally it's the context of the remarks. Granted there really is a burn the witch angle to it, but its a ramped up comedic device to be as OTT as possible. Plus, the remark comes after 6 editions say of smaller, less OTT remarks so in that context the comic persona of Stewart Lee and Richard Herring has been building up to this volcanic explosion of bile. But as I say, it's something Lee wouldn't touch now and I can imagine him having similar reservations on the material as you do (he winces at sketches from the same show that depicts a divorced dad failing to entertain his son on an 'access day' for ridiculing an innocent and somewhat tragic set up of everyday life) and would focus his comedic vitriol now on the mags and proprietors themselves.

      I take your point, but I do think there was a seriously worrying blurring of lines around this time, having someone being all wholesome on TV and then stripping off for the lads mags. It was bound to impact on the audience and fanbase such a person had built up and raises awkward questions. Especially worrying was how often some of the photoshoots were quite subtly reinforcing rape fantasies. Like you as you know, I'm a big fan of Claire goose but there's one FHM or Loaded photoshoot I recall which sees her with hand and feet tied in the boot of a car. Arty or perverse?

      More importantly though, and what was really behind my posting of this, was the fact that this actually happened in the first place! It seems seriously weird now that a kids TV presenter got to flash her arse on Big Ben, don't you think?!

  2. I realise increasingly that context is key here and, in my rush to post and essentially say 'hey, remember when Gail Porter's 100ft naked figure was projected onto the palace of Westminster? What was that all about?' I neglected to give Stew's comments their proper context. Thanks heavens then for Richard Herring's extensive behind the scenes diaries of TMWRNJ that can detail the exact scene I have quoted and the reasoning behind it;

    Gail Porter - We're truly fed up with this latest trend of TV presenters acting like soft porn stars. Why should they do it and what message is it sending out? Porter is the worst of these, and I think the audience reaction showed that many of you feel the same way. Really it was just a way into having Stu as a puritan (we wrote this bit Tuesday and then the Porter pictures came out on Wednesday and it just fitted so well it was spooky - for once the news acting in our favour). And that's as much about puritan's being repressed as the question of what Porter and co are up to.

    Yes that's right, I completely forgot to give the context of Stew wearing a Puritan's outfit as he did this bit of comedy! So yeah, context...

    Nevertheless Michael, it does/did trouble me is the move from kids TV to mature 7pm onwards TV for female presenters is the only move that requires the rites of passage of stripping off for men's mags, and I wonder why that became a thing really?