Eddy Says

Eddy Says: The rise and fall of Up For It on MTV part one – How it started

By | Published on Monday 25 July 2011

EddyTM - Up For It

I still get emails every week from ecstatic fans of this little show I used to do on MTV UK. People stumble onto me on Facebook and Twitter, remember the happy days of their youth, belting home from school early to watch me in the afternoon, and they get in touch, always positively. I’m delighted and amazed to say. One of the resulting questions I’m asked more than any other is “Why did you stop doing ‘Up For It’/MTV?”. It’s too long story for a tweet, so here’s the full scoop.

When I arrived at MTV, fresh faced and dough eyed, from Radio 1 – as I wrote about recently, in a kind of prequel to this piece – I was put into MTV News, because they hadn’t figured out what to do with me. Edith Bowman and I were the talking heads and there were a handful of people assembling ‘news’.

It was a broadcasting joke. The MTV News team, at that time, consisted of two or three nice but hapless journos who didn’t know or care a jot about anything musical. They had teletext on the screen and a little radio tuned into Radio 1. THAT, my friends, was the sum total of their UK news gathering operation. They waited, like seagulls for a fishing boat, on the nightly feed from MTV USA, where they might actually glean a story or two that hadn’t been in the UK public domain already.

While I was there, MTV UK News broke two stories. Just two. I got them both, through random connections: We broke Charlotte Hatherley joining Ash because I knew their manager, and The KLF daubing “What the fuck is going on?” in massive letters on the Southbank, because one of their crew called me while they were doing it.

Months later, when my soul was all but sucked out by that pitiful news studio lozenge, I thankfully got a call from the boss to say she had a two hour slot in the afternoon, 2pm-4pm, which was branded as ‘Up For It’ – a really 90s thing, full of Britpop and logos that looked like The Jam’s or Oasis’s. She said I had to come up with an idea for a “radio show on the telly, to get kids watching” – that’s what they wanted more than anything – children! – and she had zero budget to do this. I’d get 500 quid for a set, no studio (that cost money), no director, no expensive cameras, no production of any sort. When she said zero, she meant it.

So, I put my head together with Jim Parsons, Head Of Production at the time, a veritable production genius and one of the best people I’ve ever worked with. He suggested we use ‘the flat’ at MTV, a little bedsit in the bowels of the building from its TV-AM days, where important breakfast telly presenters used to stay the night if they needed to be there really early. It’s the room where, it is widely reputed, Ulrika-ka-ka-ka Jonson got her first showbiz break.

We used a staff camera person with a mini DV camera, just one, and had the pipes going from the camera straight to the transmission suite (TX), thereby cutting out the need for a gallery, director, vision mixer, any of the usual shit. I just gave a subtle signal and the guys in TX would roll in the next video. I just had to give them a loose bullet point script and running order by lunchtime.

I organised the set, and took the 500 squid to The Flying Duck Company in Greenwich, and spent it on one of those cheesy 1970s bars (it looked like a drum kit), plus a few bits to hang on the walls, a kitsch guitar, flying ducks, gold phone, and map of the UK and Eire.

The production/jingles I did myself with my friend Andrew Paresi, who I’d met at Radio 1, when he was Kevin Greening’s gag man (he later became Major Holdups on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show).

Andrew used to drum for Morrissey and David Bowie, and looked hilarious too, so I filmed him with his top off, drumming and pulling stupid faces and shouting the names of features. Then I painted names of other features on big cards and filmed random school-kids, tramps, alcoholics and passers by in Camden, holding the cards and saying the feature names.

Production done, for nothing. Somewhere, some company will have charged some telly station thousands to do pretty much exactly the same thing.

When ‘Up For It’ went on air, it was the only show that was truly live. All the others were pre-recorded or had a substantial delay between filming and transmission. This gave me a unique opportunity to react quickly. I could take the piss out of ad breaks, promos, anything, and do it right there and then. One camera just followed me around this tiny little room. “Just follow the ball”, I remember somebody saying at the time. I like that. Go where the ball goes.

At first, that 2pm-4pm slot on MTV UK rated zero. According to the official figures, so few people watched MTV at that time of the afternoon, that it didn’t even register a viewership.

Zero budget, zero viewers.

But within a few months ‘Up For It’ was cropping up in MTV’s ten most watched programmes. Soon afterwards, it reached the top. It regularly went toe to toe with huge shows that had massive resources thrown at them, it was a raging success on every level. People were talking about it. Half hated it, and thought it was the worst thing on telly ever, but the other half loved it, and almost worshipped it.

That was the point at which I learned the valuable lesson that for every person who loves you, there is somebody who hates you.

The show hit its peak when Melody Maker, the much missed old rival to NME, ran a cover piece called ‘Reasons Why Britain Is Great in 1998’. Reason number two was “Up For It Live on MTV”.

This was balanced out by Select magazine, who named me “the most annoying man on British television”. For a few years afterwards I ended the list of great quotes from famous people on my CV with “The most…* (Select Magazine)”, then in small print at the bottom, I put “*…annoying man on television”.

I had, almost overnight, become a flesh and blood version of Marmite.

Almost a year later and I hadn’t taken a holiday, because “nobody there could do this show while I was away”, I was told. They confirmed I had to find a new presenter to fill in for me, somebody who could do a show like this, and do it for next to nothing (for that reason they couldn’t ask Richard Blackwood or any of the other comedians working elsewhere on MTV, who were all paid properly while I was on a producer’s contract).

That’s when my boss Christine and I looked at a pile of VHS cassettes that had come her way, full of young, eager, TV hopefuls. We began to make our way through the tapes. There were some buttock clenchingly shit ones, and one quite funny scottish guy who I remember saying: “Radiohead, or for our Scottish viewers RADIOHEED”.

In amongst this pile was a demo by a young Kiwi, who’d interviewed some real heavyweights in New Zealand. He stood head and shoulders above all the others. His tape blew both of us away. At the time he worked in a record shop in Notting Hill. His name was Alexander Zane Lowe.

“He’s the guy!” I said, upon watching his demo. “We HAVE to hire him”.

“Good luck with that”, said Christine, knowing that Mikkiel, our automaton boss, would not abide the hiring of anyone not from the UK. He didn’t want anything to distract from the newly launched station’s UK-based status. Ironically, the show actually aired in New Zealand, twelve hours after it went out in the UK, but I wasn’t allowed to mention the fact, because it “diluted the UK message”. Tossers. One day I thought “fuck it, I’m going to mention it”. I ignored the gagging order and started talking directly to our viewers in New Zealand, then the floodgates opened. We got hundreds of emails every day. And this was 1998; most people didn’t even have email then.

I walked into Mikkiel’s office and showed him the tape.

“No”, he said. “I’m not having a New Zealander on my channel”.

He was adamant.

I had to turn him.

I pleaded, at one point I was on my knees: “You HAVE to hire this guy, I’m going fucking crazy here, you won’t let me take a holiday, Edith is on news, Donna Air can’t string a sentence together, even if she dedicated both her brain cells to the task, Blackwood, Justin LC, Coxy, all too expensive…”

I pleaded, ranted, persuaded and cajoled him. It was like reasoning with a shark, but I wasn’t going to leave that office until he relented.

I persisted.

He resisted.

I persisted.

He began to relent.

Eventually he gave in.

I got my holiday, and Zane got his first break in the UK as my sidekick, happy days.

And that’s how I started at MTV, though it doesn’t answer the question about how it all ended. I’ll answer that in the second part of ‘The rise and fall of ‘Up For It’ on MTV’.

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