Ginger snaps

Chris Evans says that television is where the big money, and his future, lie but the key question remains unasked - when the frenzy is over, has he really got what it takes? No, he has not, says Emma Forrest
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The Independent Culture
If Chris Evans is reading this he'll most likely be sneering "Typical press, build 'em up to knock 'em down". And he's right. That does happen a lot of the time. But not in this case. Nobody wanted to knock Chris Evans down. When he joined the London local radio station GLR, he was a cult hero, an office Chinese whisper: "Have you heard this amazing DJ on GLR? You've got to listen."

His Saturday morning show was utterly subversive and funny. Among the highlights was a weekly slot called "The Kids Are Alright So Long As They'reCompletely Wrong" in which children had to ring in and answer a quiz and if they got any of the answers right they lost. Next he helped launch The Big Breakfast which, with him on board, was as chaotic and compelling as Tiswas at its best, smart kids' TV that adults could get into. He was the nerdy little underdog with a quick comeback. Then he stopped being the underdog and along came the knock-down.

The saddest thing is, nobody needed to knock him down. He did it all by himself. The first step was Don't Forget Your Toothbrush on Channel 4. The quiz show was so totally lowest common denominator TV that he managed to sell it to just about every country in the western world, earning himself a good couple of million. The Americans especially wanted to buy it. Bad sign.

Then he joined the re-launched Radio 1 as their star DJ, for pounds 1.4m a year. He had to stick pretty much to the playlist but the tunes weren't what made the two hours every morning most memorable. It was the on-air cruelty he inflicted on his production staff that really stuck. Gone was "The Kids Are Alright". Instead, every morning, he made sidekick, Holly, read out a different list - a phone directory or a shopping list - in a salacious manner. Or he forced the weather girl, Tina Richie, to admit she didn't like Chinese people. He even demanded that one of his minions apologise on air for faking a restaurant receipt in his expenses claim. And he never ceased to tell us how much he earned. When he started doing TFI Friday, his talent was pulled under by hubris overdrive.

He chose television over radio, which is no shock. Apart from the great John Peel, most DJs are not that devoted to radio and are probably only using the medium to get to TV. The pity is that Evans, like his peer Noel Edmonds, chose such bad television. He doesn't realise that TFI Friday exposes him for what he is: a groupie. Most obviously, he is a David Letterman groupie. All British chat show hosts are. But Clive Anderson is quick enough and Jonathan Ross is charming enough to make it worth watching. On Saturday Zoo, Jonathan Ross had Christopher Walken read aloud from famous children's books. Chris Evans recently had Peter O'Toole reading "Wannabe" by The Spice Girls. Ripping off a Letterman rip-off is not good.

The insecure little nerd in him is magnified tenfold by the camera. Boasting about going on stage with Black Grape. Getting Jon Bon Jovi to blowtorch his autograph on to his desk. Having his beloved Ocean Colour Scene do his theme music. There is a sneaking feeling that the reason he needs TFI Friday so badly is that he is obsessed with hanging out with bands.

In Wednesday's NME, Graham Coxon of Blur stated "Chris Evans is the biggest wanker in the world. You can put that on record." He still had them on his show the same Friday. The most embarrassing piece of television last year was The Brit Awards, when Liam Gallagher called Evans "ginger b****cks" and told him to "f*** off". Because you could see how much Evans wanted Liam to like him.

He is, when you come down to it, a classic insecure ugly man, which is why so much of his air time is taken up telling us which models and which blonde assistants he has shagged. The worst segments on TFI are "Ugly Bloke" and "Fat Lookalikes". That he feels he is in enough of a position of power to sit behind his desk, looking how he does, and get "ugly" people to humiliate themselves in front of millions of viewers, is astounding. For the TFI shown after his decision to abandon radio, he really needed something special. Instead he gave us five whole minutes of him conducting a band "because he had always wanted to". For this crap he gave up Radio 1?

By not showing up for his Radio 1 show, the contempt he showed, not just for his contract but for his fans, was quite clear. He also showed contempt for Matthew Bannister who is, apparently, one of his closest friends. Bannister is now after Mark Radcliffe. If he gets him, it will be the final death-knell for dumb. Radcliffe is famous for having rock stars talk about their favourite authors on his show (Damon Albarn discussed Herman Hesse at length). Last night one of his guests, a poet called Jules, announced: "Mark, I just want to say that you've done more for poetry than anyone else in Britain. Forget the Times Literary Supplement and the Poetry Council. You've given us the most encouragement."

The first blow for intelligence against dumb was when the impeccably funny Simpsons came to BBC 1 just as Baywatch was cancelled. Could it be that the wacky and sexist Chris Evans is not the maverick we thought but actually the last of the old guard? It's also interesting to note that for a DJ, he seems to have a poor ear for good music - he gave the world Ocean Colour Scene and Reef. Enough said.

When he announced his departure, Bannister did not fight to keep him. He saw that Evans was losing it as clearly as anyone listening. So Evans decided not to turn up for work. Before Christmas, Evans asked all his staff, on air, what they wanted for Christmas. Holly said she wanted silk pyjamas. "But Holly," he replied "you don't wear anything in bed. I know that because I've slept with you. Haven't I?" Holly had to concede that yes he had. Chris Evans is a bully. And he behaved like all bullies do when confronted in the playground. He picked up his ball and walked away.

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