As YouTube celebrates its tenth birthday, TenEighty looks back at 10 momentous occasions for the UK YouTube community. Times when things changed, paradigms shifted, and big events were set in motion.
So join us as we look back, misty eyed, into the history of UK YT in search of those pivotal videos that put us on the path to here and now:
1. How to be English. | Charlie McDonnell | 17 September 2007
We can’t discuss the historical moments of YouTube in the UK without talking about Charlie McDonnell. The first UK YouTuber to crack one million subs, Charlie has long been a pioneer and spokesperson for the platform. His How To Get Featured on YouTube was arguably the initial turning point for Charlie and his own channel, but How to be English would have a more defining effect on how we view UK YouTube even now.
You can tell this vid is from the dark ages of YouTube by the square 4:3 aspect ratio, the continually distorting sound, and the appearance of having been filmed with an etch-a-sketch, but it is truly testament to the home-grown spirit of early YouTube that these things didn’t matter back then.
Little baby Charlie comes on like an old-timey TV presenter as he talks us through that most English of pastimes, the brewing of tea. Charlie hams it up in a manner we haven’t witnessed for a long time, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “mugging for the camera”.
The parodic Englishness of the video tapped into into the Anglophilia that was to become key to the international appeal of UK YouTube. A cute, white, English boy doing English stuff Englishly. Such was the magnetism of Charlie’s English silliness, the video was even featured on Oprah Winfrey’s show in the US. Charlie was taking UK YouTube global.
Charlie even pre-empts the Marvel movies by dropping his own post-credits sting for a final parting joke. The boy was on his way…
2. We Beat BBC Upstaged! | Myles Dyer | 2 April 2008
Upstaged is a now-largely-forgotten talent contest from 2008, in which various competing entertainers attempted to amuse online audiences for hours at a time. So far so irrelevant, right? But the winners of the show were a group of YouTube vloggers led by Myles Dyer.
Myles recalls “getting a phone call from the BBC asking if I was interested in spending six hours a day in a glass box at Bristol town centre. It’s not every day you get an offer like that!”
This was a hugely significant step for the UK YouTube community. It was arguably the first time YouTubers were recognised by “old media” and the first time the concept of “vlogging” was introduced to a mainstream audience. And vloggers winning a “talent” contest by popular vote whilst not technically exhibiting much in the way of traditional talent showed the potential power of a unified online community, much to the confusion of the old-school media and performers.
“It really demonstrated how out of touch the TV establishment were,” says Myles. “They created a show which allowed for online voting, and traditional acts couldn’t get their heads around how our team were beating them by over two or three times the votes. At the end of one show, the producers asked me to stay behind, and to speak to camera in vlog style about ‘how we managed to gather such huge online support’.”
The importance of community influence wasn’t lost on Myles, who admits in this heartfelt video that they won because they “understand how the community works” and had, over the course of the show, delivered not a 40 hour performance, but a 40 hour community interaction.
3. Summer In The City: Are YOU Going? | Liam Dryden | 20 August 2009
“It makes me laugh, looking back at how easy it was to throw an event like that together,” Liam tells us. “And get people to pitch in on a massive collab to promote it.”
Liam is joined in the video by some other lo-res familiar faces to tell us about the upcoming mammoth gathering of YouTubers from across the world, perfectly encapsulating the pioneer spirit of SitC as everyone comes together through whatever video means they have access to, simply to say “I’M GOING!”
Taking a nostalgic look at this video, Liam can’t help but also feel a little sad about the ever-changing face of YouTube. “A lot of those people were really small channels back then. Some don’t even exist anymore,” he says. “For almost everyone, just knowing that all these different – and unknown – faces were meeting in one physical place was enough to get them excited about it. It’s a very different attitude to now, with talent managers, overwhelming demand for a lineup, meet-ups, etc. But you adapt with growth, I suppose.”
Liam’s video announcement that 400 people are coming to SitC, “so you know it’s gonna be huge”, is a great indicator of that growth. Can someone go back in time and tell littleradge about SitC’s move from the 7000-capacity Alexandra Palace to the even grander Excel Centre in summer 2015?
Liam doesn’t think littleradge circa 2009 would be too surprised by the changing face of SitC, telling us: “Personally I think he’d have more to say about what I’ve become!”
The creators of SitC weren’t oblivious to the importance of their enterprise, even back then. “During the first event, there was definitely a point where we all realised we were onto something special. Nobody could have predicted the growth YouTube has had in the past six years; but if we could, I think the position that SitC has reached would make perfect sense.”
It certainly would, Liam!
4. ChartJackers Music Video | Charlie McDonnell | 8 November 2009
If the YouTube community could win a talent show, maybe they could top the UK charts? This was the optimistic premise of ChartJackers, wherein four YouTubers attempted to create a hit song using the input of the online community. It marked the first time a UK TV show was built specifically around YouTubers.
The song was completely crowdsourced, from the lyrics, the melody, the performers, the video… The YouTube community built the whole thing! When our powers combine, we are mighty!
The song only reached number 36 in the UK charts, however, so, y’know, not that mighty.
5. Stickaid 2011 | Myles Dyer | 3 August 2011
The return of YouTube community guru Myles Dyer to the list. Prior to leading his team to victory on Upstaged, Miles had already begun to galvanise the YouTube community into a force for good with Stickaid, a 24 hour live broadcast raising money for Unicef on the now-defunct Stickam.com.
Myles began this endeavour in 2006, when the YouTube community was in its infancy. “It took place in my dorm at University, and was just an experiment to see if any money could be raised by broadcasting to the world for 24 hours.” It turned out that this could certainly happen. “30,000 people tuned in and about £500 was raised for the children’s charity UNICEF.”
By 2011 the enterprise had expanded to include transmitting from a studio, funding from ChannelFlip, a host of familiar faces on board and – at long last – a live broadcast on YouTube! According to Myles, the 2011 event was “watched by over 2 million people including mainstream celebs like Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry, and raised tens of thousands of pounds for a great charity.”
As with his experience on Upstaged, Myles credits a boundless community spirit with the success of Stickaid. “I’m so incredibly grateful to everyone who got involved with this event over the years. Without them, Stickaid couldn’t have got to where it did.”
Myles’ vision of the power of the UK and global YouTube community is still valid even now. “The internet can really change the world for the better when we work together. Whether you are a musician, comedian, philosopher, vlogger or viewer – no matter where you are in the world, no matter how much time or money you have to give, together we can improve the lives of others.”
6. Becoming YouTube | Benjamin Cook | 9 December 2012
Benjamin Cook burst onto the UK YouTube scene with the audacious first episode of Becoming YouTube. Starting as he meant to go on, the episode featured YouTuber cameos, high production values, professional editing and a mixture of interviews and sketches. From the outset, BY seems built to prove that YouTube can compete with television. Ben comes on like the red-headed lovechild of Charlie Brooker and Rik Mayall, sneering down the lens in stark contrast to the chummy vlogging style we had all become accustomed to.
An indicator of the cultural growth of YouTube is the fact that, by this time, it came with its own community in-jokes, references, codes and conventions which Ben could riff on. It could be said that BY marks the moment UK YouTube became self-aware, allowing YouTubers to satirise their own personas in the manner of the movie stars in Ricky Gervais’ Extras.
This first episode now comes with its own brand of ironic “hindsight comedy” as Ben promises weekly episodes, yells “what about the women?” at his Neil Gaiman-voiced future self, and features several interviewees who would likely no longer be considered members of the YouTube community. There is perhaps no better indicator of the speed with which our culture grows and changes than the speed with which a document of it becomes dated.
Becoming YouTube was often divisive, but remains an essential companion to the UK YouTube scene and a fascinating document of where the UK community was – or thought it was – at that time.
The final word on BY is perhaps best left to the man himself, Ben Cook:
“Becoming YouTube! Yes! I remember those days! Back then, I used to be somebody. They say fame and wealth can’t buy you happiness, but Becoming YouTube bought me a house, a yacht, a race horse, a Bentley Continental GT, and enough vodka and Red Bull to drown a horse. Which is lucky, because that race horse had a serious attitude problem. I haven’t re-watched Series One in a while, but people tweet me to tell me to tell me they’re binge-watching it – all 12 episodes in one sitting, which I’ve heard can give you some sort of a haemorrhage – and every few days someone comes up to me in the street, and looks disappointed that my hair’s no longer bright red, and asks me how Becoming YouTube Series Two is progressing, and I run away screaming. So clearly Becoming YouTube has touched some people. Metaphorically, though. I don’t mean—! What impact did the series have on the YouTube community? That’s for others to judge. Hopefully, it inspired some people, angered some others, offended a few, and made at least someone, somewhere, laugh. But I do know Becoming YouTube changed my life. It’s given me some of the best friends I’ve ever had. And Jack Howard. Also, it bought me a race horse. Did I mention the race horse? A race horse that is sorely missed by all who knew her.”
7. Dan and Phil | BBC Radio 1 | 14 January 2013
One small step for Dan (and Phil), one giant leap for the UK YouTube community! Dan Howell and Phil Lester introduce themselves to Radio 1 listeners and, in doing so, introduce the concept of vloggers to a huge mainstream audience.
As the boys say themselves in the highlights video of their first show, they arrived on Radio 1 to a chorus of “Who are you?”s from those uninitiated into the Phandom, but now Dan and Phil’s names are synonymous with YouTube for many people out there in the real world.
Dan and Phil’s move to Radio 1 was a huge validation for “talentless” vloggers, as radio disc jockeys have long been celebrated for basically doing just the audio version of what vloggers do. It could be said to be an attempt by mainstream media to package YouTubers in a way they understand, but the fact that Dan and Phil have both continued making YouTube videos makes them more like ambassadors for YouTube, bravely taking word of our ways out into the world.
8. Project: Library | Tim Hautekiet | 10 October 2013
If Becoming YouTube set out to prove YouTube could stand up to TV, Project: Library is arguably UK YouTube’s first step towards competing with Hollywood. Tim Hautekiet’s series shows that YouTubers aren’t just vloggers, as he pulls together a vast team of filmmakers, writers, actors, musicians and more to create something pretty special.
“I set out to make something big, spectacular, and long-form that I felt like you didn’t see much on YouTube,” says Tim, of his ambitions for Project: Library. The series’ kinetic and funny style and myriad YouTuber cameos mixed with scene-stealing turns from pro actors were certainly a breath of fresh air.
“It’s a bit of a blur,” Tim says of the production, remembering long days and night-shoots taking their toll on cast and crew. “Despite the exhaustion I felt that morale for the crew was at an all time high. Everyone was giving 110% to get this thing we all cared about made.”
Project: Library was part-funded by ChannelFlip’s Multiverse channel – which also invested in the feature-length Ashens movie – and laid the groundwork for outside investors contributing to YouTuber’s passion projects such as New Form Digital funding Tim’s Bad Burglars and subsequently turning KickThePJ’s Oscar’s Hotel into a series of their own.
Looking back on the finished product, Tim says “Being my own worst critic, I can’t help but see the flaws. Despite all that, I mainly feel pride. I think it’s because I know how much we all learnt from it and how it pushed everyone into the next phase of their career.”
9. YouTube Culture | Louise Pentland | 6 May 2014
Is this the most important video of post-celebrity YouTube? A perfect indicator of how far we’ve come since the days of Charlie’s home-made fame, and also how much remains the same.
Louise Pentland sits in her bedroom, talking to a camera. Yes, the lighting is better, the picture sharper and in widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, but it’s still just someone sitting down to speak their mind to an audience.
This video addressed something that had been bubbling up for a while in UK YouTube, as well as worldwide. The rise of celebrity culture on YouTube had become more and more noticeable, but this was perhaps the first time such a high-profile UK YouTuber spoke out on the subject. Louise discusses what she sees as the unwarranted passion with which fans approach their favourite YouTubers, and how that can be overwhelming for the creator in question.
This marked a turning point as it began a conversation between many YouTubers and their audiences – a conversation we covered here at TenEighty – which helped address, for instance, a change in dynamic for YouTubers and their audiences. From Myles’ ideal of a united, motivated community to the increased separation between creator and viewer, as exemplified by Louise’s confusion at being screamed at by people on the other side of barriers.
And, in case all that serious discussion got too heavy, there’s the grand finale reveal that Louise is rocking a tutu to make everything better!
10. We Are Here For You | Francesca Georgiou | 13 November 2014
Not all turning points have been positive for the UK YouTube community. Last year there were several revelations and allegations of sexual abuse against notable YouTubers. It’s impossible to overstate the significance of these events and their repercussions for the community at large. Some of the videos featured here have even contained appearances by alleged abusers.
Throughout all this, it was easy to focus on the YouTube personalities being accused, but Francesca Georgiou wanted to make a video delivering a communal message of support for those who had suffered abuse.
“My intentions were to help YouTubers who were struggling to know how to support others,” says Fran. “To help everyone feel less helpless and most importantly, to help shift the focus back onto survivors; to give them all the support we could through a screen.”
Fran wanted to focus less on how these events affected the YouTube community and more on what, if anything, the community could do to help. “We were all talking about our culture and the perpetrators,” she says. “Which is great, but I felt there wasn’t the right balance between our vocalised perpetrator focus and our vocalised survivor support.”
Fran, who only had a couple of hundred subscribers at the time, managed to assemble a small army of YouTubers from the UK and across the globe including Gary C, Daniel J Layton, Jack Dean, Khyan Mansley, Morgan Paige, and NeonFiona.
Fran is proud of the video’s message and the people who contributed to it, but understands the ongoing complexity of the situation. “Still wish I could have done more, of course,” she tells us. “I’m not sure that feeling will go away. I hope it is still getting out there and helping someone today.”
Some would say the real turning points were the videos wherein the allegations were made, or in the videos where some of the accused said their pieces or announced their return to YouTube – this video has certainly not been seen nearly as many times as those, but it still stands as evidence that there is a small pocket of the YouTube community willing to get together to try to do something positive, however small it may seem.
“I’ve had people say that the video helped them personally,” Fran says of the impact of the project. “I guess that is all I need to know to believe that we achieved what we wanted to.”
So there you have it: ten turning points for the UK YouTube community. What do you think? Did we miss anything? What will the next turning point be? Let us know on Twitter!