Christopher Price 

1 January 2003

To some people reading this, the name above will have very little significance. However, for many digital television viewers, it has great resonance. Christopher was a legend in his own particular area, and it was with great shock that many of his fans learned of his death at the age of 34 on 22 April this year.

Christopher will be remembered mostly for his presentation of BBC Choice’s Liquid News programme. The programme began on 30 May 2000 on the newly relaunched BBC Choice, and had evolved out of a News 24 strand called Zero 30, which had a similar premise. Christopher himself had begun working at the BBC in local radio, and then in 1994 as part of the launch team of BBC Radio Five Live, later moving onto presenting in the evenings on BBC News 24 and eventually his own slot.

It was with Liquid News that he would become known to thousands of regular viewers as an extremely witty man with a wicked, often cutting sense of humour that deconstructed the celebrity tittle-tattle the programme was forced to report on. Never before had reporting of such matters been so cynical, but it would not be fair to describe the programme as unfriendly. Indeed, the days following Christopher’s death saw celebrities queuing up to pay tribute to him. By being totally honest and up front the show had managed to make more friends in two years than most tabloid newspapers could count in their entire histories.

Christopher pioneered a style on Liquid News that appealed to people of all ages. Somehow he managed to make the most trivial show business “gossip” interesting, through comments and witticisms woven into the script. These were often unexpected and hugely livened up otherwise routine reporting on the latest single from a boy band, film premieres and celebrity scandal. Madonna always had the prefix “forty-two year-old mother of two” attached to her name in Chris’ introductions, and Pavarotti was once described as an Italian ice cream salesman being threatened with jail (for tax evasion) in a cell made of reconstituted pasta. These asides were not laboured over at all by Christopher but passed off as part of the report, leaving the viewer (and the studio guests) to recognise the regular in-jokes themselves. It was this mutual respect between the viewers of the programme and Christopher that earned the show so many loyal fans – indeed, an astonishing amount considering the relatively small amount of viewers the show was watched by on BBC Choice.

Christopher didn’t have any pretence about the show’s set-up. On the occasions when graphical introductions to sections of the show went on longer than they should (and there were many occasions of this in the early days), Christopher would often say “welcome back, we just wanted to show you some of our graphics – aren’t they nice?” It was through small comments like this that Christopher appeared a breath of fresh air to many, especially in the murky world of digital television (and some might say the even murkier world of BBC Choice). He managed to cut through the celebrity rubbish and ask the questions everyone wanted to know, such as encouraging a live OB cameraman at an Oxford Union/Michael Jackson lecture to zoom in to his face as far as possible. He encouraged Tom Brook to venture away from the Time Square traffic island he has seemingly been glued to for the last two years or so for various BBC News programmes and talk to “the natives” – and nearly got him run over in the process.

His caustic comments about celebrities on a format that would otherwise praise them to the high hills attracted many fans of his style. There would also be no pretence from him if a guest either failed to turn up or behaved inappropriately. And when The Eagles failed to turn up for one show, Christopher said, “well, our audience demographic isn’t 50 anyway”. Another star who refused to appear on screen because he was forbidden from smoking in the studio was duly ridiculed on air.

Throughout this article I’ve been referring to Liquid News in the past tense, as if the show is now in the past. This is a question that BBC Choice must tackle immediately, as in many people’s eyes Christopher Price simply was Liquid News, and the two are inseparable. Price’s death raises important questions about the BBC’s proposal for BBC Three, now seemingly more in tatters than ever. This is a pity, because the huge publicity that would have undoubtedly have surrounded the launch of BBC Three would have given Price the boost into the big time that many people had been predicting for years. He was to have been a central part of this year’s coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest, and had already hosted a BBC One preview programme.

Indeed, in the past few months Liquid News had been screening weekly on BBC One, nightly on BBC Choice, at weekends on BBC News 24 and with editions also airing on BBC Prime and BBC America. Christopher Price’s popularity was “cult” in the very broadest sense of the word. The deluge of tributes paid by viewers around the world to the BBCi message boards in the days following his death show the enormous effect the man had on those viewers who were lucky enough to see his programmes. He was a truly brilliant broadcaster, and will be remembered as someone who very nearly achieved the fame he deserved. Digital television post-Price seems a little less fun.

Zero 30/Liquid News - © BBCZero 30/Liquid News - © BBC

Christopher Price makes the breakthrough into national television with BBC News 24’s Zero 30, shown at half midnight and popular enough to be repeated as often as possible.

Zero 30/Liquid News - © BBC

The (re)birth of BBC Choice brings Chris Price’s Zero 30 to peaktime under a new name. Thus Liquid News is born.
Zero 30/Liquid News - © BBCZero 30/Liquid News - © BBC

However you look at it, Christopher Price was Liquid News.
Zero 30/Liquid News - © BBC

The Liquid News team say a poignant goodbye to a TVHero.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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