Why 1990s Nostalgia Is Actually Healthy For Our Own Pop Culture

Spector frontman Fred Macpherson explains why retro revivals stop our standards from slipping…

Richard O’Brien playing harmonica and asking if anyone had seen “mumsy” while leading a team of hapless IT assistants through a waterlogged secret passage from a deserted medieval castle to ‘The Industrial Zone’ isn’t the sort of image that easily slips your mind. In fact The Crystal Maze was probably one of the most formative weekly experiences of my childhood.

While other lads were re-enacting goals from USA ’94 I was donning bald wigs and oversized leather jackets, leading my school friends around our playground’s very own maze (a climbing frame, patronising circus mural and some bins) threatening six year-olds with automatic lock-ins and shouting “the fans please” at anyone who’d listen.


Like many of the TV programmes that changed my life as a child, I loved it for reasons I was yet to understand. It was adventurous yet self aware, preposterous and camp yet taken very seriously. On top of that it was an absolute hit – regularly getting four to six million viewers. I later came to understand it as part of that particularly British lineage of entertainment that relocates the banal and everyday to a world far darker, sexier and more exciting. I rank it alongside ‘For Your Pleasure’, ‘20 Jazz Funk Greats’, Performance and The Devils as one of the UK’s eccentric masterpieces. But in 1995, it was taken from our screens, all too soon. Saying goodbye wasn’t easy. The brightest stars always burn quickest.

So you can imagine my elation when I heard that a couple of tech savvy visionaries had got permission to recreate it as a live action experience, sourcing money through from the British public via indiegogo. Think Secret Cinema without the hefty drinks prices. They’ve already smashed their £500,000 target and come October you’ll be able to live out my dreams, digging around an Aztec sandpit for a crystal likely made of cheap cut glass.

The Crystal Maze experience is just one small part of a far bigger wave of ’90s nostalgia going on at the moment, across fashion, music and film. The recent special episode of TFI Friday attracted far more viewers than even an X Factor final could muster these days. In the ’90s Channel 4 had TV in the palm of its hand. From The Big Breakfast to The 11’O Clock Show, they brought anarchy to terrestrial TV on a daily basis, with Phil Redmond their very own Malcolm McLaren – creator of Brookside, the channel’s flagship show that broke every single taboo first and best (even appearing on the cover of NME back in ’85).

But as much as I’m excited to watch a reformed Ride or seek out rare Versace on eBay, nostalgia for a recent era isn’t always a good thing. I wouldn’t let my unborn child waste two hours of their precious life on Jurassic World, and no one’s gunning for a Fort Boyard comeback, although i would like to see Leslie Grantham in work again. The key thing is that we let any great era of culture serve as a reminder to keep our standards high across the board now. The ’90s saw the UK give the world great artists, great bands and yes, great TV, but so did every other decade, so let’s keep looking forward, unless that is, you can get me another five seconds of time in the crystal dome.