“If you think of ’90s Britain, it was all about guys,” says journalist Miranda Sawyer in this first of a three-part documentary series that uses the savage exuberance of pop group the Spice Girls as a Trojan horse to examine a decade that led many women to believe that being a “ladette” meant the battle for equality was won.
It’s a full 18 minutes in Spice Girls: How the power of girls changed Britain (Channel 4) before seeing an interview with a woman who was part of the success of the Spice Girls (Lorraine Barry of Virgin Records, who won the battle to sign them). Before that, man after man volunteered to be hoisted by their own firecracker, including Chris Herbert, who was behind the commercial that initially reunited the Spice Girls, with his father, Bob, and a creepy man named Chic Murphy (motto: “To form a group, to put it bluntly, what I would do is work them“).
After charming archive footage showing the girls’ first auditions – seemingly eerily regular, like the hordes of teenage girls crawling through the fire for them the following year (Victoria auditioned with Cabaret’s Mein Herr!) – Herbert Us informed that the girls were not given a contract “because they [would] be complacent and comfortable ”. It backfired dramatically when the girls were duly sent to the big leagues to join manager Simon Fuller.
You feel a lot more sympathy for another “almost” – Lianne Morgan, who was initially chosen from Herbert’s group but was ultimately fired for looking too old next to the other girls. Morgan was 23 at the time. What Morgan makes clear is that while it’s sad that she missed out on fame, at least she didn’t have to grow up in the limelight like the girls did: especially when a newspaper gave her offered £ 10,000 to say she had an affair with Geri, whose photos of life models were miraculously unearthed by one of the tabloids.
“They wanted to bring her down,” recalls presenter Jayne Middlemiss, who had her own battles with the tabloids in the 1990s. “It’s always about shaming women.”