Jacob's Ladder: People...You Are The Reason I Am...

Christopher Price

The Guardian
Wednesday April 24, 2002

Irreverent broadcaster casting a caustic eye over pop culture

Christopher Price, the BBC Choice presenter, has died aged 34 amid the sort of lurid headlines he would sardonically quote as a professional observer of pop culture. As the anchor of Liquid News, he projected both ease and intelligence in the innovative, live, show-business news format he had made his own. It was a rare combination, which had only just begun to show its potential. There was talk of network projects, and he was going to co-present the Eurovision Song Contest next month. Last year, he signed a two-year contract for £280,000.

A linguist, who especially loved to speak Italian, he used his verbal wit to chart the British fascination for celebrity. During the launch of the re-made Planet Of The Apes, his deadpan description of its star as Helena "Baboon" Carter became an industry standard. Whitney Houston became "Hooters", and Madonna was always "Forty-two-year-old mother of two".

Adopted by a Norfolk couple shortly after birth, Price attended a Catholic boarding school. A languages graduate from Reading University, he joined the BBC as a trainee local radio reporter in 1991, and worked his way up. His national broadcasting career began on Radio 5 Live's Up All Night programme, where he communicated his love of both pop music and the circus that surrounds it.

Among the hundreds of cassettes littering the floor of Price's little Renault, in which he terrorised the streets of London in the mid-1990s, were the latest offerings from Mai Tai, Kylie and Eros Ramazotti. But he was more than a passionate fan; he applied his considerable intelligence to understanding the culture that spawned the music, and made stars of the performers.

The first few days of his career with the BBC's 24-hour TV news channel were bumpy. Not only was the technology unreliable, but Price knew the format was not working; he described his role anchoring the mix of pop and politics as "conducting a slow motion car crash".

To his relief, the programme was eventually slimmed down to a 30-minute show called Zero30 - over a celebratory vodka tonic, he wryly acknowledged that entailed "zero budget." Eventually, more money became available, and Liquid News started flowing on BBC Choice. Price had finally found his vehicle; holding nightly court on his banquette, he turned his barbed wit to devastating effect against boy bands and lightweight Britflicks.

He became a cheerleader for a backlash against the Hello magazine sensibility. He treated celebrities as objects of curiosity: some deserving scorn, others deserving respect. His tribute programme to George Harrison was widely considered one of his best. He did not just observe popular culture, he shared it. The idols of our times actually mattered to him, and it showed.

And it showed whenever Price went out socially. The celebrity scourge had become a celebrity in his own right. It embarrassed him, but he loved it. He was complex, and not always happy in his own body, though at home somehow on the screen, where the rough and the smooth came together. There was nothing normal about him; if you didn't get his style, you had to worry that the joke was on you.

Television executives wonder constantly about how to keep younger people watching. Christopher found it came naturally. The cheek, the camp, the near-subversion were all on the surface. He also had a deep respect for people who had made something out of performing or entertaining, and his knowledge matched any journalist in his field. In early years, he supplemented his much lower income by betting on who would win the Eurovision song contest - and he claimed his winnings for 10 years running.

He lived large, but also alone. He did not make friends easily, but if you were one of them, you knew it, and would not forget. He leaves behind his adoptive family.

Christopher Price, broadcaster, born September 21 1967; died April 22 2002

© Robert Nisbet, Patrick O'Connell, Steph West.

Reprinted with kind permission of The Guardian


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