The RIFT Rewind: Christmas 1999
01st December 2020
This is it! The final stop on our 21st anniversary tour of the year that RIFT was born. In the last 12 months, we’ve covered 1999’s top trends and events in everything from TV and music to sport, food and fashions. As the final big blow-out of the RIFT Rewind, and in the spirit of the season, we’re cranking up our trusty Time Telescope one last time to take a look at Christmas 1999.
It barely seems like yesterday: Tony Blair was the UK’s Prime Minister, Bill Clinton was the US President and Terry Wogan was the presenter of Auntie’s Cracking New Bloomers on BBC1. Happy times in a simpler age – so let’s take a few quick snapshots of how we were filling the festive season in the year that RIFT was born...
Rodney Trotter spends a penny in WHSmith
Christmas adverts on British TV have a long tradition of tending toward the... eccentric. Firmly in the category of “they wouldn’t get away with that now”, we find the Christmas advert for WHSmith.
Nicholas Lindhurst, decked out in a wig, skirt and heavy make-up, darts frantically through the newsagent aisles, announcing with increasing desperation his need to “spend a penny”. Of course, it’s all just a big misunderstanding. All he’s doing is trying to get his bill over £50 to take advantage of the £5 gift voucher offer. It all ends happily, much to the relief of all concerned – particularly a flummoxed cashier played by a teenage Russell Tovey from Being Human.
TV was taking over
1999 saw a real peak in goggle-box use over the Christmas period. Every beloved show of the time was kicking out festive-themed specials, with celebrations ringing out from Holby City to Dibley. While Hollywood was trying to drag people out of their homes with the likes of The World is Not Enough (remember festive physicist Dr. Christmas Jones? Anyone? No?), the UK was settled down on the sofa watching The Royle Family or the 2-part BBC adaptation of David Copperfield. Meanwhile, Eastenders featured 2 weddings (one of them not even lasting the day) and Coronation Street promised the sight of Martin falling into Rebecca’s arms while the Duckworths received a surprise guest! Hectic times all round.
None of this is to say that Christmas 1999 was a total cinematic washout, of course. Let us not forget that the 25th of December that year also introduced us to the intrepid crew of the NSEA Protector in sci-fi/comedy classic Galaxy Quest. You’re sadly missed, Alan Rickman – but by Grabthar’s Hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!
Little monsters everywhere
We’ve already touched on the terrifying, dead-eyed little owl-rats in a previous RIFT Rewind, but at Christmas in 1999 there really was no escaping the Furby. Tiger Electronics’ animatronic nightmare came at us in a new form that December with the birth (hatching? Spawning?) of the Furby Baby. Smaller than the originals, this new breed lacked the ability to dance. However, in a frightening evolutionary development, were significantly quicker in picking up the English language.
For those whose taste in monsters ran a little more violent, Pokémon was still a powerful force in the charge toward Christmas. In 1999, it was the trading card game that had kids’ attention - along with October’s EU release of Game Boy epics, Pokémon Red and Blue. Of course, back then, there were only 150 or so of the little blighters to collect. What a time to be alive!
Dreams came true – but not for the bookies
On Saturday the 25th of December 1999, it officially became a white Christmas in London as a couple of sheepish snowflakes fell on the Met Office weather centre roof. Yes, the rest of the city remained a fairly uniform damp grey, but as far as bookmakers were concerned it might as well have been a blizzard. Right up until 2 days earlier, betting odds of a white Christmas had been running at as much as 50-1. That little handful of flakes ended up costing them literally hundreds of thousands of pounds overall in payouts! According to one spokesman for William Hill, forecasters had rated the likelihood of those flakes falling as about the same as “aliens landing on the Millennium Dome” – (which may also have happened; we haven’t been able to check on that yet). To make things worse for the bookies, they’d also taken a huge number of bets on a “wet Christmas” in the city, which obviously came up as well!
So that’s our last glimpse through the Time Telescope for 1999, but the tax refund party rolls on at RIFT. Did we spark any treasured memories over the last year? Are you baffled by the earth-shattering moments we glossed over? Were you too busy arguing on the newsgroups over whether Unreal Tournament or Quake 3 Arena was the superior multiplayer shooter to notice (spoiler: it was UT all the way – FIGHT US!)? Either way, sound off on social media to talk us through your top memories of 1999, and be sure to get your tax refund claim rolling for a stunning start to 2021!