The geek years: looking back to 1997

Feature Alex Westthorp
12 Feb 2013 - 07:17

Join us on a nostalgia trip back to 1997, a time of new Bond, New Labour, Alan Partridge and er, Batman And Robin...

Welcome back to the latest in our geek years lookbacks, and this time, we’re going back 16 years to experience the sights and sounds of 1997.

News and events 

Tony Blair’s New Labour party won the General Election in May and after the ups and downs of 18 years of Conservative rule there is a genuine mood of change. In Stafford, a young David Cameron is defeated on his first attempt to be elected to Parliament. The death of Princess Diana in a car accident in Paris shocks the world and changes the way the country views the Royal family and how it deals with national grief. Channel 5 is launched by the increasingly ubiquitous Spice Girls and Teletubbies arrives to delight pre-schoolers and stoned students alike. The wrestler Shirley Crabtree, better known as “Big Daddy” dies. The first Harry Potter novel, The Philosopher’s Stone is published and a sheep named 'Dolly' is cloned.


At the movies, Titanic was the biggest film of the year but geeks everywhere flocked to see Men In Black fight extra-terrestrial life whilst looking like US Government-Issue Blues Brothers. Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery saw Mike Myers return to the box office in a colourful pastiche of James Bond with its tongue firmly in its cheek. More specifically it drew on the long-forgotten 1966 BBC series Adam Adamant Lives! sharing its conceit of defrosting a man out of his time. Whilst Adamant had been an urbane Victorian gentleman frozen in 1902 by his nemesis The Face, then thawed in 1966; Powers was a dentally-challenged sixties swinger, photographer and would-be spy frozen by his nemesis Dr Evil in 1967 and defrosted thirty years later. James Bond proper saw the second outing for Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies. Batman and Robin was, arguably, the weakest entry in the caped crusader saga, in some ways more akin to the high camp hokum of the Adam West era than 1989’s Batman.

Uma Thurman, seen as Poison Ivy, also featured in Gattaca, which explored the potential consequences of the advances in eugenics. Gattaca presented a biopunk take on the future and also starred Ethan Hawke and Jude Law; an intelligent film it remains somewhat underrated. Anaconda received much negative press on its release yet it was a box office hit, spawning three sequels. The Fifth Element, Luc Besson’s stylish futuristic comedy thriller made a star of Milla Jovovich. Meanwhile, Lawrence Fishburne and Sam Neill starred in Event Horizon which reached number one at the UK box office despite negative reviews. A sci-fi horror, it featured a rescue party responding to a distress call from spaceship Event Horizon, which had disappeared seven years previously, it has since become something of a cult movie.


On the small screen, sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf ended after nine successful years on BBC Two. Over on BBC One, BUGS reached its third season and was joined by the initially popular but ultimately short- lived series, Crime Traveller. Despite the best efforts of Michael French, Chloe Annett and Sue Johnston the show proved the audience wasn’t quite ready for a time- travelling policeman... at least not yet! Alan Davies and Caroline Quentin, on the other hand, got it just right in Jonathan Creek. A magician’s assistant with a neat side line insolving locked-room mysteries and weird goings-on, Creek met his match in Maddy McGellan, an intrepid journalist.

Chris Morris returned with the spot-on Channel Four satire Brass Eye, a remarkably well-done if overtly sensationalist pastiche of the weekly documentary strand like World In Action, This Week, Dispatches and Panorama. The story of Cake – a made-up drug from Czechoslovakia was a highlight, notable for inclusion of dire warnings from those prone to self-promotion: Noel Edmonds, Bruno Brookes, Bernard Manning and the then Tory MP, David Ames, who even drafted a motion about Cake for parliament! Then there was the fake news report that Clive Anderson had been shot by a deranged Noel Edmonds, who’d taken to a helicopter gunship, prompting shock from John Challis and igniting 'Mad' Frankie Fraser’s outrage. Meanwhile, Morris’ erstwhile colleague Steve Coogan was back in I’m Alan Partridge. The series found the former chat show host as a Radio Norwich DJ, living in a Travel Tavern, trying to befriend the staff and bossing his nervous PA, Lynne. A superb six episodes of cringe-making comedy ensued as Partridge desperate for a second series of his chat show manages to offend everyone he comes into contact with, especially Norfolk farmers.


In football, Manchester United’s dominance continued with their fourth Premiership title. Their unpredictable talisman, Eric Cantona retired. The FA Cup was contested by Chelsea and Middlesbrough, with Chelsea victorious. The Grand National due to be run on the first Saturday in April was postponed until the following Monday, after a bomb scare at Aintree. The winning horse was Lord Gyllene. Pete Sampras and Martina Hingis were the winners at Wimbledon. Hingis, then just 16 years old, became the youngest winner of the women’s trophy. Boxer Mike Tyson twice bit opponent Evander Holyfield’s ear as the pugilists contested the WBA Heavyweight Championship.


1997 saw the end of the Britpop era. Many musicians were deemed to have 'sold-out' when they attended Tony Blair’s Downing Street “Cool Britannia” party. The Spice Girls had a string of hits bringing so-called “girl power!” to the charts. The group became ubiquitous, being photographed with everyone from a confused Prince Charles to a bemused Nelson Mandela. The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up was the most controversial video of the year. Appearing to be misogynistic and condoning violence against women, the single was banned by some record stores. The Verve’s Urban Hymns was one of the albums of the year. Radiohead released OK Computer and Oasis Be Here Now. Elsewhere The Chemical Brothers took dance music in a new direction.

In late August, Chumbawamba, who would cause outrage at the following year’s Brit Awards, were headed for the top of the charts with Tubthumping. Events overtook the charts and the death of Princess Diana gave Elton John’s reworking of Candle In The Wind a massive 4.7 million sales. The second biggest sales figure of the year was, somewhat surprisingly, Barbie Girl by Aqua… September’s Mercury Music prize went to Roni Size/Reprazent for the album New Forms. The Spice Girls scored their second of three Christmas number ones with Too Much, which their detractors probably felt was an understatement.

Next time in this series, we're going to take a look at 1978...

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