Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Nuggets from the Loft… Volume 4

OK, here’s another priceless antique for your inspection…

Yep, a genuine dog-eared match ticket for a crunch North-Eastern derby, from the days when professional football was played by slightly pot-bellied men with sideburns the size of the Indian subcontinent. And the kind of persistant bronchial conditions that suggested most of their pre-match warm-up consisted of a drag on a Rothmans Kingsize.

My first Boro match was in October 1981 (a 1-1 draw against Nottingham Forest, fact fans) so this ticket must have belonged to my Dad… who, in September 1976, was 36 years old and will no doubt have grumbled endlessly about the extortionate entrance fee (“65 bloody pence? I can get two pints of Tetleys for that and still have change for a bag of chips on the way home”) as he walked the mile and a half from my Gran’s bungalow in Acklam to a seething, overcast Ayresome Park.

Sporting mustard-coloured BHS flares and a fur-lined parka, he’ll have wriggled onto the packed concrete terrace of the Holgate End and taken his place amongst the 26,014 fans who saw Boro sneak a 1-0 victory over their bitter Geordie rivals with a goal from David Mills. Yay! And then, at 4.43pm, he’ll have muttered ‘Right, time to get get a flyer…’ and shuffled to the back of the stand, waiting for the shrill parp of the final whistle before jogging gently out onto Roman Road amongst a streaming flock of ebullient Boro fans.

Meanwhile, I’ll have stayed at my Gran’s house. Three years old, and probably messing about with Mr Men colouring books for the afternoon before steadfastly refusing to watch Part One of the new Doctor Who story ‘The Masque of Mandragora’. Too scary, you see, and likely to make me choke on my Chocolate Flake Cake. Although I imagine the Doctor’s nail-biting battle against the Mandragora Helix was a walk in the park compared to my Dad’s afternoon spent in such close proximity to Micky Burns.

Nuggets from the Loft… Volume 3

Happy New Year, everyone! I’ve never been much of a one for making resolutions, but I’m hoping to post on here a bit more regularly during 2012. Especially as I’ve spent much of the Christmas period ‘sorting out’ in the loft (translation: pointlessly moving piles of stuff from one cardboard box to another) and have a whole host of little nostalgic nuggets that I’m absolutely itching to share.  Still, that’s fibre-glass loft insulation for you.

So my plan is to present you with a little Nugget from the Loft as often as possible throughout 2012. First up we have a treat for fans of On The Buses – a rarely-seen theatre flyer…

You might assume that this comes from some long-forgotten dark corner of the sexist Seventies, but – brace yourself – the dates mentioned at the bottom of the flyer are undoubtedly from 1990. I distinctly remember this little missive doing the rounds in our Sixth Form common room during that particular year, brought in by louche rockabilly obsessive Simon Lee, who once told me that his three favourite TV programmes of all time were (in order) The Sweeney, The Dukes of Hazzard and Juliet Bravo.

I have a bit of a soft spot for traditional theatre farces, and once met Windsor Davies and Robin Askwith in the car park of Billingham Forum after a performance of Doctor In The House, but sadly I didn’t make the pilgrimage to the Tyne Theatre & Opera House to see Hands Off My Crumpet, which is a shame as I’d have liked to have seen the late, great Bob Grant in action. If nothing else, it would have been nice to see if the trousers on the flyer were an accurate representation of the ones he actually wore onstage, and really DID have the colour washed out of them from the calves downward.

Anyway, let’s all have fun debating whether the item of food incorporated logo IS actually a crumpet, because in my house during the 1970s and 80s, that would definitely have been called a pikelet.


Our Tape-Loading Era…

Back in 2009, when I was blogging my 1984 Diary every day, I wrote very affectionately about a winter shopping trip to Stockton-on-Tees, and the pilgrimages that my scrawny, parka-clad 12-year-old self would make to Topsoft… a fabulous 1980s computer shop packed to the rafters with bleeping, flashing ZX Spectrums and Commodore 64s. Impossibly exciting visits to this tiny, backstreet mecca became a weekly ritual throughout my teenage years, and I’d spend hours crammed into a corner of the shop,  jostling through the inevitable (and equally parka-clad) crowd to catch my first glimpse of Underwurlde or Dun Darach or (ahem) Jack The Nipper 2 – Coconut Capers.

It was an incredibly exciting time to be a teenage boy, and we felt like pioneers of this new gaming technology… despite my Dad’s constant protestations that ‘it’s just little bloody men jumping about – turn it off, we’re watching Just Good Friends’. There was something thrillingly DIY about the computing industry in those days… games were written by teenage boys in their bedrooms, and sold from tiny stores in narrow back alleys to OTHER teenage boys who just might be inspired to give this ‘programming’ lark a go themselves.  And so places like Topsoft became more than just shops… they were social gathering spots, hubs of the nascent gaming community, and places where 12-year-olds like me – with a slightly unhealthy interest in Z80 Machine Code programming and the sensual qualities of the Kempston Joystick – could take refuge from the bleakness of 1980s reality and lose ourselves in a world where our major concern in life was crossing the Banyan Tree in Jet Set Willy.

Brilliantly, months after I’d written that entry, it was discovered by Steve Williams – the manager of Topsoft throughout those halcyon years! You can read the whole article, along with Steve’s message, here

I was thrilled, and Steve and I e-mailed each other for a few months, swapping memories of those giddy years when he would attempt to run a viable business, and I would hinder him as much as possible by playing Glider Rider 128K in the corner all afternoon without putting a single penny across the counter. He was even foolish enough to send me an official Evening Gazette picture of himself and his Topsoft team, back in the day! Steve – admirably refusing to pull the traditional, deadpan ‘Gazette Face’ – is second from the left…

(Note for hardcore Topsoft fans – this is the second, bigger version of Topsoft, not the one down my beloved alleyway!)

Steve told me that the original, tiny Topsoft had recently been converted into a rather nice-looking tearoom. And so, when we met for the first time last week, guess where we went for a cuppa…? (Anyone who said ‘Starbucks’ can sit in the corner of the room facing the wall, and isn’t allowed to play Sabre Wulf until they’re TRULY sorry)

And then, for the first time in well over 20 years, we strode purposefully through the door…

Huge thanks to the ladies from Angela’s Tearoom, who couldn’t have been more helpful and who – I can testify – make a very fine cup of tea as well. They were even happy for us to wander upstairs so Steve could enjoy a giddy rush of nostalgia looking around his old stock room…

And yes, one of those days I WILL make a blog video that doesn’t start with the words ‘Right, here we are…’ In the meantime, I hope this ignites a few misty-eyed memories for anyone who ever cracked a smile while frantically waggling a Kempston Joystick in front of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon (and I’ll never forget my Mum’s expression when she caught myself and Andrew Harding enjoying a spot of mutual waggling in the Summer of 1986). I’m nearly forty now, but – for one chilly December morning last week – I was thirteen again, watching the title screen of Fairlight through a steamed-up shop window and hoping beyond hope that it would be under our tree on Christmas morning…*

*…it was!

Another Little Chat With… Trevor and Simon…

In August 2007, my radio cohort Shack and I interviewed Trevor Neal – of Trevor and Simon fame – for BBC Tees. We couldn’t find Simon on that occasion, but Shack spent the next six weeks frantically texting Trevor until he finally relented and persuaded Simon to join us for a rematch. This remains one of my favourite-ever interviews…

We’re proud to be joined on the line by Saturday morning TV behemoths Trevor and Simon. Apologies for pestering you again, Trevor. I think Shack sends you a text every ten minutes these days, doesn’t he?

Trevor: Yeah, he does.

I don’t!

Trevor: He texts me every week and says (pathetically) ‘Do you want to come out for a drink…?’

Simon: I’d like to complain as well, did you call us moths?

I think we said ‘behemoths’.

Simon: Well, what kind of moths are they?

Hemoths are the opposite to female moths. They’re really butch moths. That’s how we think of you.

Trevor: Oh no, I’ve got it all wrong. I’ve spent all my life thinking I’m a mod, and I’m actually a moth…

So we spoke to Trevor a few weeks ago, but we couldn’t find you, Simon…

Simon: I know, I’m sorry. I went AWOL and messed you up. I was round at my mate Mark’s, which is where I am again tonight, but he lives in a cave and there’s barely any signal. Oh hang on… (embarrassed) sorry, Mark’s just come in and wants me to point out that he doesn’t actually live in a cave.

When we spoke to Trevor, he told us about Paul Simon’s appearance on Going Live after he’d been up all night with diarrhoea, and we talked about some of his other favourite guests. Can we continue that conversation with both of you? Who else did you like working with?

Trevor: (quick as a flash) Whigfield. She shocked me. We’re not allowed to swear are we?

Simon: Oh come on, we’ve got to tell this story. But there’s a rude word in it that we can’t say on air.

Trevor: It’s not THAT rude.

Simon: Well, let’s substitute another word in there, like… ‘poo’.

Trevor: Alright, so it was a bright, cheery Saturday morning, and Whigfield came in. And we said ‘Are you going to do the Don’t-Do-Duvets sketch with us?’ ‘Yeah, I’ll do that’. ‘How are you anyway, Whigfield?’ ‘Yeah, not bad’. ‘What’s it like to be Number 1 in the charts?’ ‘Oh… it feels like poo’.

Simon: No, no… you’ve misremembered that, we were just witnesses to it. The person that actually asked the question was Emma Forbes.

Trevor: Was it? Oh, I’m pleased about that, because I’d been wondering if I’d really asked Whigfield such a terrible question… (laughs)

We talked to Trevor last time around about DJ Mick McMax and Moon Monkey…

Simon: And Britain’s No 1 Instant Fish Snack in a Pot? I’ve still got the outfit.

So we hear!

Simon: In fact, I’ve got it on now.


Trevor: Simon’s got more of the clothes than me. He’s kept them all.

(Simon tries to respond, but his phone signal starts to fade) We’re starting to lose you, Simon. Are you really in a cave?

Trevor: Simon is actually a troglodyte.

Simon: Mark’s just come back in, he’s really getting angry about this cave business. Can we just say, live on the radio right now, that Mark does NOT live in a cave?

I’m sure it’s a lovely cave. I bet he’s got diamante stalactites.

Trevor: That sounds a bit like Paul Simon’s problem.

(All of us descend into hysterical laughter. Simon’s friend Mark probably has a chuckle as well, despite himself)

So are you writing together at the moment? Didn’t you write an episode of My Parents Are Aliens recently?

Trevor: We did, and we’ve just written an episode of a thing called My Spy Family, which is produced by the same people. It’s like My Parents Are Aliens, but the family are spies. Not aliens. It’s good actually, it’s very funny.

Simon: I’m going to have a genuine moan now. I was rejected today by the BBC.


Simon: Rejected. Trevor’s far more sensible than me, and wouldn’t dream of doing this, but I put myself up for the BBC Children In Need Celebrity Scissorhands challenge. I was going to spend three weeks learning how to cut Terry Wogan’s hair. But today I was phoned up by BBC3 and rejected, and guess why…?


Simon: I’m too old.


Simon: They won’t have anyone over the age of 35.

Can’t Trevor do it instead, then?

Trevor (laughs) Oh yes. I’m only 34.

There’s hardly anyone over the age of 25 doing kids’ TV any more, is there?

Simon: I think it’s a policy. Years ago, the film Logan’s Run seemed like a joke…

You’re not suggesting that, when you turned thirty, Emma Forbes tried to kill you both?

Simon: I love the thought of Emma Forbes being the BBC’s hired assassin. She could stride around in a black latex outfit…

Trevor: Now you’re talking!

Stop it, or we’ll need to go and have a cold shower. Not together.

Trevor: Yeah, yeah, if you say so. Shack will be texting me next week saying ‘I’m having a shower now…’

What do you make of the current state of Saturday morning TV? It’s all cookery programmes these days, isn’t it…?

Simon: Apparently kids today just LOVE cooking. They can’t get enough of it. You ask any 8 to 10-year-old, and that’s the big deal for them now.

There should be something like Going Live again though, surely? You need a laugh on a Saturday morning.

Simon: I would hope so. I’m never awake, though. Why get up early on a Saturday?

Do you get up early on a Saturday, Trevor?

Trevor: I have to. I have a big, busy, noisy family. We don’t really watch Saturday morning TV any more, though. We used to… I think the last show we watched on Saturday mornings was Dick and Dom. The kids used to like it, and we actually went on it… they put us in a cage. But yeah, I’ve stopped watching because there just isn’t that kind of show any more.

How are your musical exploits going, Trevor?

Trevor: Very well! We played the Red Lion last week with our local punk covers band. And I’m doing the Bull and Gate in London on November 10th, with my other band, Sucker.

Do you go to any of his gigs, Simon?

Simon: Yes, I go to all of them.

When you say ‘all of them’, do you actually mean ‘none of them’?

Trevor: No, he does!

Simon: I do, I’m a loyal supporter! When these gigs go on, you usually get to see three or four bands, and often at least two of them will actually be alright .

(Laughs) Didn’t you come onstage at Glastonbury with Sucker?

Simon: I did! I shook my maracas and twisted my melons. All that kind of stuff. Technically, I was their manager.

Trevor: That’s how we got him the pass. He came on dancing in trainers stuffed into carrier bags, absolutely covered in mud.

Simon: I don’t have any Wellingtons or anything like that. It was a baptism of fire for me, in a flooded tent.

No musical ambitions of your own, Simon?

Simon: No… I like music, but I’m aware of my limitations. I really wish I could sing, but I can’t.

Trevor: Tell them about last weekend, though!

Simon: Oh yeah, I’ve just come back from Great Yarmouth, where we had the England International Pool Festival.


Simon: Yeah, pool. Like snooker, but smaller.

Are you pretty good, then?

Simon: (proudly) I’m excellent.

Trevor: He is very good. I don’t even bother playing him any more, it’s too depressing.

When was the last time you played each other?

Trevor: Oh, I can’t remember. I’ll have lost, though.

Simon: It’ll have been after a gig, when we’ve come back to the hotel at three in the morning. Too drunk to pot.

That’s a great potential album title! Thanks for joining us… we’ll leave you alone for a while now.

Trevor: No problem. I’ll wait for the next text in ten minutes time.

Thanks to Trevor and Simon! Their official website is HERE, and they do podcasts and everything.

A Little Chat With… Trevor Neal

Another little nugget transcribed from my radio archives, this time from August 2007. Trevor Neal is the Trevor-shaped half of Saturday morning TV gods Trevor and Simon, veteran pant-swingers of Going Live fame. Simon was meant to be joining us live on the phone as well, but proved elusive on the night. We managed to track him down in a cave a couple of weeks later, but in the meantime here’s our chat with the lovely Trevor…

It’s possible you get asked this quite a lot, but where’s Simon tonight?

I don’t know what he’s up to. Up to no good, I suppose. It just goes to prove, despite what people might think, that we’re not a married couple and we don’t spend every minute with each other! We’re very independent people and we even live in separate parts of the country…

Come off it, you’ve had a row and Simon’s gone off to sulk in the spare room.

You’ve seen through it! Hang on… Simon! Go back to your room. Go back now!

How did you two first start working together, did the double act exist before Going Live came along?

We met at university – that’s the true and rather boring answer. We were both doing a drama course in Manchester, and we found all the drama stuff a bit too heavy, so we thought we’d start up a comedy act. We went round the Student Union bars having a go at stand-up spots, and then we hung around Manchester trying to find venues to perform in. But this was before the comedy scene really exploded… now there’s at least one comedy club in every town, but back then there just weren’t any. So we went to London and did the circuit there, and Going Live came along after a couple of years.

Did you have to change your act at all for Saturday morning TV? Did it need cleaning up, or were you fairly wholesome to begin with?

The kind of comedy we did was pretty daft anyway, it was all very silly. I suppose there might have been the odd swear word, and a few slightly adult or political references… although having said that, I think we took a tape along to the executive producer of Going Live, and he said that – out of the half an hour of stuff that we showed him – there was only one joke that was suitable for the programme! (Laughs) And that was something about an egg and spoon race… we put an egg and a spoon on the floor and shouted ‘Come on! Come on!’ (pauses and sighs) I suppose it’s more of a visual gag, really…

So you never got into trouble for overstepping the mark on Going Live?

We did, we did… usually it was stuff that I’m not particularly proud of now. I’ve got my own children now, and I wouldn’t say the kind of things on TV now that I did then…

Like what? Spill the beans!

Well, we just got carried away with innuendo and ‘nudge nudge’ jokes, which I think is a bit silly now, looking back on it, but it did make people laugh. The one I really got told off for was… I was being Jimmy Hill, and the prop maker made me a very long chin. And it wasn’t a very good prop, and it didn’t look much like a chin. It was very… long and pink, and it was just…

(At this point your BBC Tees presenters start to titter uncontrollably)

…and I said that having a chin like this gets you into a very special club, it’s ‘Members Only’.


And it’s a terrible, cheap pun, and it was ten past nine in the morning. And, quite rightly, I got told off and told that if I ever did that kind of thing again we’d be pre-recorded and we wouldn’t be allowed to be live on television any more.

Who were the best celebrity guests to work with? We’re not sure if this actually happened, or if we’ve just dreamt it. Jason Donovan dressed as a dog…?

Yeah! Well, actually… not FULLY dressed as a dog, because he didn’t want to spoil his hair. So he put on most of the dog costume, but not the head. He just kind of flapped his arms. And he was accompanied singing ‘Hound Dog’ by Nigel Kennedy on the violin… it was kind of strange. But basically we’d be told who the guests were halfway through the week, and we’d try to write a sketch that included as many of them as we could.

Did anyone surprise you by being more into it than you’d expected?

Cyndi Lauper. She was excellent, she was very good. But anyone who joined in was good fun, really. Jonathan Ross was always a great laugh, he’d literally do anything and always seemed to enjoy it. Paul Simon… (laughs)… who we didn’t actually do a sketch with, but kind of wished we had… he just got hit on the head with a balloon by a small kid. And everyone sang Happy Birthday to him, because it was his birthday. But he looked really, really miserable, and we whispered to his manager that he didn’t look very happy. And he said ‘No, he’s not… he’s been up all night with diarrhoea…’

Oh dear! Talk about a Bridge Over Troubled Water…

(Laughs) I don’t think I’ve been impressed by celebrity status ever since.

So which were your favourite characters to perform? We’ve got ours, but you tell us yours first…

I used to like doing World Of The Strange, I don’t know if you remember them? Two guys that investigated the paranormal…

And saw the paranormal in EVERYTHING

Yes, in wrongly-priced plum tomatoes and things like that. I also liked doing the barbers – ‘we don’t do perms’ – in fact, we did a sketch once where Roger Daltrey came in, and he already had a perm! So we made him ask if we could do a perm in reverse. It was all very silly. And there were a couple of characters that I think we only did once, they looked like the twins from Village of the Damned, with blond hair and gabardine macs… and they sat in a disused submarine, and when the camera came close to them they just said ‘…want a nut?’

(lots of laughs)

…and there was no explaining that one really, but we liked it.

We loved MC Mick McMax and Moon Monkey, with Simon in a giant lycra outfit…

Yes! The Hotpot Pot Fish Hot Rave Club… or something. Sponsored by Pot Fish, Britain’s No 1 Instant Fish Snack in a Pot! It was great, that. We still get asked to appear in nightclubs and Student Unions, so Simon’s one-piece lycra outfit is being remade. He still occasionally dares to go into a nightclub wearing it. And I’ve updated DJ Mick McMax a bit…

He used to look a bit like Pat Sharp

Well, I couldn’t get hold of that wig, so I’ve reinvented him now. He’s all in white, with a white parka and tracksuit bottoms, and then… a kind of Jimmy Savile meets Paul Weller wig.

There’s a bit of follicular common ground between Weller and Savile these days, isn’t there?

I’m a lifelong Weller fan, so I won’t have a word said against him.

As he gets older, he also reminds us a little bit of Geoffrey Hayes from Rainbow.

(Laughs) Actually no, sorry, I can’t laugh at that. (Laughs) You can’t knock the Modfather, alright?

It must have been a crazy time for you, did you have kids following you down the street shouting ‘Swing your pants’?

Yes, and I still get it now! In fact, where was I… hang on… (sounds confused) sorry, I’ve had a day today, I’ve been preparing floorboards for staining and varnishing.

Living the dream, eh?

Yes, this is my life! I actually went to buy the woodstain this morning from a paint shop in Margate, and the people in there said ‘We don’t do duvets…’ Which was good, because I didn’t want any duvets, I wanted a big can of varnish. But yes, I still get ‘swing your pants’ shouted occasionally at me.

Do you still keep in touch with Phillip Schofield and Sarah Greene?

Well, we exchange Christmas cards and things, but the last time we all met up was for the Swap Shop Revisited programme at Christmas. And that was great fun, and it was nice to see them. But we don’t all live together in a big Saturday morning house or anything.

You keep saying this, Trevor…

Get back in the cupboard, Simon!

Are you in a band at the moment as well? Didn’t you play Glastonbury a couple of years ago?

That’s true! I’m in a punk band called Sucker. It’s all original stuff that we write using the three chords that we can play, in the true spirit of 1977. And it was a bit of luck really, but we did get to play the John Peel stage at the last Glastonbury. Admittedly it was half past ten on a Sunday morning, so there weren’t that many people about, but it was great. Fantastic to do.

Are you the frontman?

No, no… a bit of lead and rhythm guitar. I do one solo! But I’ve just started a second band, actually… I live in Broadstairs in Kent, and some mates down here have formed a punk covers band. And we’ve got our debut gig on Sunday at the Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate!

And who do you like on the current comedy circuit?

I really like The Mighty Boosh, they’re very funny. And I think Russell Brand’s very good as well. But I don’t get out to comedy gigs much any more.

That’s because you’re pure punk rock.

That’s it! I’m too busy going through my mid-life crisis!

Should we play a bit of Donovan to finish off?

Which one have you got, is it Sunshine Superman?

Jennifer Juniper!

Swing your pants…

Thanks to Trevor! The official Trevor and Simon website is HERE, and they do podcasts and everything. 

Total Eclipse of the Muffled Fart

Earlier today, someone arrived at this blog after googling for the phrase ‘muffled fart’. This made me laugh so hard that I had to stare at a stern-looking picture of Mr Baxter from Grange Hill for ten minutes just to compose myself, and even then I found my mind wandering to similarly juvenile pursuits. And so, for your delectation and delight, please find below…


1. Fanny By Gaslight
Michael Sadleir’s original 1940 novel is a searing depiction of the exploitation of women in Victorian London, and the BBC’s four-part adaptation was a highlight of the 1981 Autumn TV schedules.  A highlight, that is, providing you were a nine-year-old boy reduced to hysterical laughter, rolling around the front room floor with a cushion clutched to your stomach every time a trailer popped up after the closing credits to Hi-De-Hi. ‘Fanny!!! Ha – ha – ha! By… Gaslight…! Titter! Guffaw! Oh god, stop it…!’ (I’d still be silently chortling and accidentally breaking wind during Points of View)

2. Le Coq Sportif

When Spurs completed a brace of FA Cup Final victories in 1981 and 1982, was it the silky skills of Richard Villa and Osvaldo Ardiles that captured the imagination of a generation of schoolboys? No. It was the side-splitting nature of their French shirt manufacturer, providing endless ammunition with which to goad the weak-willed school saps that had sided with these cheeky Cockernee knees-up merchants, despite never having travelled further south than Northallerton in their short, pitiful little lives. ‘You know that Ricky Villa? Eh? He IS le coq sportif. Geddit? He’s a cock who does sport…’

3. ‘In Case Of Fire, Strike Knob Hard’

The standard instruction on the side of EVERY publicly-housed fire extinguisher during the 1970s and 80s, including those at the front of buses… leading to much hilarity during school excursions, as Phil ‘Slackie’ Slack would inevitably shout ‘FIRE! FIRE! Quick, follow the instructions…’ and Stephen Mason would dutifully respond with a swift punch to Christopher Herbert’s knackers. Before, naturally, sniffing his fingers and attempting to insert the resultant whiffy digits into Herbert’s own permanently dilated nostrils.

4. ‘DICK’.
With a theme tune that still sounds like one of those cheery Ringo Starr songs from a latter-day Beatles album, ITV’s late 1970s adaptation of The Famous Five provided a generation of well-reared kiddies with a regular dose of wholesome pre-war rural adventure… smugglers coves, mysterious moors, fearsome pirates and lashings and lashings and lashings of ginger beer. But it was those opening titles that provided a classic pre-pubescant chortle as one of our heroes slipped and fell into a sparkling lagoon, only to be freeze-framed in mid-plunge and have his name super-imposed over his startled face… ‘DICK’. NB For added schoolboy snigger value, the show also played host to Aunt Fanny and Billycock Farm.

5. ‘I Was Cold, I Was Naked, Were You There?’
Poor Mrs Mulhern must have had the patience of a saint. Given that she was charged with educating a hundred or so eight-year-old idiots who would collapse into lung-bursting hysterics at the merest mention of ‘Fanny By Gaslight’ or ‘Le Coq Sportif’, selecting hymns to enrich our spiritual lives during morning assembly must have been a lyrical minefield. Suffice to say, the inspirational ‘When I Needed A Neighbour’ slipped through the barbed wire fences, and – at EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE of the line transcribed above being sung – a wave of hilarity would spread like an atomic shockwave through the male contingent of Levendale Primary School. If – as frequently happened – the massed, stifled giggles were accompanied by a well-timed Stephen Mason fart, then the resulting fall-out could be explosive enough to require Christopher Herbert’s knob being struck hard yet again. And again. And again.

6. ‘Round Yon Virgin’
See above, but with added Christmassy chortles. I have a sneaky feeling this particular line was eventually dropped from Levendale Primary School’s official rendition of ‘Silent Night’, after Mrs Mulhern’s eyesight was seriously threatened by the repeated, despairing rolling of the eyes she went through every single sodding December.

7.  Einar Aas
Experienced Norwegian international Einar Aas was doubtless treated with solemn respect by football fans in his native Scandinavia, but a 1981 transfer to Nottingham Forest cemented his legendary status amongst a legion of giggling, eight-year-old pillocks who would crease up with tear-stained cheeks every time his immortal Panini Sticker rose to the top of the playground pile. ‘Got… got… got… need… need… oh… ah-ha ha… ha ha ha… yak yak yak yak ha ha ha yak snigger snigger snigger snigger chortle… HA HA HA HA HA…’  Thanks, Cloughie. NB If I was eight years old in 2011, the prospect of Andrei Arshavin playing for Arsenal might actually make me physically explode.

8. Chilly Willy
On TV, he was a cartoon penguin in a woolly hat and mittens. In our filthy, fevered imaginations, he… wasn’t.

9. Sexagesima Sunday
Almost every child of the 1980s received a WH Smiths Desk Diary for Christmas at least once during the decade, although obviously only the most chronically anally retentive of us actually managed to write in the damn thing for 365 days running (see every blog entry for 2009). A select handful made it to early February though, at which point they’d inevitably be confronted by the prospect of ‘Sexagesima Sunday’, neatly inscribed in italics beneath the date itself. Apparently it’s an important Roman Catholic holiday, and not – as Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones once solemnly informed me – ‘the day on which you have to have sex with a geezer’.

10. Frank Bough
I’m  reliably informed by my London-raised friends (some of whom even defiantly wore Le Coq Sportif football kits as Spurs-loving children) that the verb ‘to boff’ was rigidly defined in their Middle Band Playground Dictionary as an act of sexual congress performed by two consenting adults, either of whom may even be cold, naked or – indeed – ’round yon virgin’ at the time. Such decadent behaviour had yet to reach Teesside by 1982, though. As far as we were concerned, to ‘boff’ was to release a trump, a trouser cough; to pump, to let one drop. In short, any appearance of Nationwide’s genial Frank Bough on TV was the cue for raucous, raspberry-blowing hilarity, usually accompanied by a raised pre-pubescent buttock.

In fact, thinking about it, a ‘Frank Bough’ is pretty much just the opposite end of the flatulence spectrum to the muffled fart, which brings us nicely full circle. Found that funny, did you? Well maybe it’s time you took a long hard look at yourself. Or perhaps you’d like to explain the joke to Mr Baxter…

Suburban Star Wars… Volume 2

Luke: ‘What a piece of junk!’

Han: ‘She may not look much kid, but she’s got it where it counts. On top of Bob Fischer’s sideboard’

Luke: ‘It was the sideboard I was talking about…’

A Little Chat With… Fred Aylward

Another little nugget transcribed from my radio archives, this time from March 2007. I was thrilled to interview Fred Aylward, who spent almost ten years as Les, the bald-headed, lab-coated henchman to Vic Reeves. Les worked his way from pub backroom appearances to TV stardom with Vic Reeves Big Night Out and ultimately Les Lives, his own series on BBC2. He loved the spirit level, but had a strange and inordinate fear of chives. Fred hung up the lab coat in 1996 and now lives in South London.

Am I right in thinking you’re working as an artist these days, Fred?

Yeah, art and design is my background, really. I went to Goldsmith’s College and all that.

So what are you working on at the moment?

At the moment it’s a set of celebrity dinner plates with the likes of Fanny Craddock on there. Do you remember Fanny?

Oh yes…

(Laughs) Well, she’s on there. I suppose there’s a comedy that runs through all my artwork, it’s all little cartoony things.

Presumably you exhibit as well, then?

Yes, I’m working towards a show later this year, in South-East London.

So how did you first get involved with Vic and Bob if you came from an arty background? Did you go to see their live show and get roped in?

No, I was there before Bob. Me and Vic – let’s call him Vic, otherwise it gets confusing, he’s known as Jim and all sorts of other things…

And Rod as well…?

Rod too, and in fact when I met him he was called ‘Chin’ but that’s another story! Anyway Vic and I shared the same day job, doing art and drama workshops with kids and old people. So that’s how we met, and then he started doing Vic Reeves as a twenty minute stand-up in some local cabaret venues. That was when he was possibly going to be called Craig Wildfowl, but he went with Vic Reeves in the end. This was in 1986, about a year before he met Bob.

So were you doing bits onstage with him at that point?

Yes, but not as Les. I was onstage as Pam Ayres, with a sort of cut-out mask. I was a Dalek at one point, and I was also a quick change mime artist – that’s what Vic billed me as. I changed from being a hippy into a skinhead under strobe lighting.

So had you ever performed onstage before all of this came about?

Before I met him I got up at a place called the Africa Centre with a megaphone, and read four really earnest poems about the starving in Africa. That was my stage debut, standing on a chair with a loudhailer.

I take this wasn’t part of a comedy night?

Oh no, we were raising money for charity! This was pre-Live Aid actually, about 1984.

So where did the character of Les come from?

We were doing stuff at Winston’s in Deptford, which is a tiny wine bar, then it moved to the Goldsmith’s Tavern, and I found myself clearing up – putting wigs in boxes and generally helping out backstage. So by the time it got to the Albany Empire, which was a proper theatre as opposed to just a pub backroom, he said ‘Look, we’re going to need a stage manager, do you want to do it as a character?’ And he said bring your white coat along… because I was an art technician at a school.

Right, so the lab coat was actually yours?

Yeah, but I said ‘I don’t wear a lab coat, I wear a navy blue apron’. And he said ‘Just get a white coat from the lab department, and you’ll be called Les’. So there I was… it was just a case of having a character come on and clear up. 

And there must have been a time during that when you couldn’t walk down the street without being recognised?

Well I was working in a school, can you imagine?! For the first TV series for Channel 4 I took every Friday off to do the filming, but I didn’t tell anyone. We just didn’t know whether it would be a success or not. Fortunately the series went out during the summer holidays so I didn’t have to confront the kids, but when I went back in September, I was going around nodding saying ‘Yes, it’s me…’

Did they bring spirit levels and chives in to taunt you?

Well I’d actually resigned by that point so I only had three weeks to work! And then we went on our first tour, around the North-East and so on – the college tour. It was all really fast, one minute Bob was a solicitor and I was working in a school, the next we were off on tour…

I did see you on that first tour, and you played at the old Newcastle Polytechnic Student Union. And I swear it’s one of the most tense things I’ve ever seen onstage… you came on as Les, and you cleared up between two sketches, and while you were there the phone rang on Vic’s desk…

Oh, yeah! (Laughs)

…and it just rang and rang, and this went on for about five minutes! And people were shouting ‘Answer it Les!’ and it just never seemed to end. And then it just stopped… I swear I almost fainted with the tension. It was sensational… it must have been like being with a rock band on tour?

It was just all so fast. Can you imagine, one minute you’ve got a full-time job and you’re just doing it as a laugh, and then you’re suddenly hurtled into the limelight. It was just like a car accelerating really fast. And then it crashed!

How did it come to an end? Vic and Bob moved to the BBC didn’t they, and you didn’t go with them…

I got a phone call from The Sun actually, asking how I felt about them going to the BBC. And that was the first I’d heard of it, so I wished them luck and then I got offered ‘Les Lives’ about the same time. We’d tried to get it on Channel 4, but they weren’t really interested once Vic and Bob had fled. So we did it on BBC2 in the end, as part of DEF II. And my career doing Les by myself began then, in 1992. We did the Riverside in Newcastle as part of their birthday celebration, myself and a guy called Peter Brook. We just did this half hour act between us, which was Les outside the Big Night Out.

So when was the last Les gig?

Glastonbury in 1995 was one of the last. I had a show called ‘Les Live’ by that point, which was an hour long…

Which isn’t bad going for a character that doesn’t speak!

(Laughs) Yeah, although it had other characters from Les Lives in it as well, including Peter playing the ukulele. It was a fairly musical comedy act – I suppose it had to be with no dialogue! And just before Glastonbury I did a day’s shooting at Pinewood Studio for the Today newspaper, and that was the highlight of everything for me – being driven to Pinewood for a day’s filming! The paper’s folded now –  nothing to do with me, I hope – but, you know… Pinewood was the home of the Carry On films and all that. It was fantastic.

The Big Night Out DVD came out in 2006, and you did a revival of the show for one night only to launch it…

Yeah, we did it in the old Raymond Revue Bar in Soho. I wasn’t going to do it because I was down in Cornwall, but Vic’s wife Nancy nagged me into it, so I came back and did a guest appearance as Les. It was a thirty-minute Big Night Out I suppose.

And I imagine the cream of British comedy were there to watch…?

They were, yes! Lapping at our feet! (laughs).

Do you miss it? Or are you happy working on your artwork these days?

I get sort of… (pauses) when we did that one-off, I thought maybe there might be some interest in doing more live stuff, but I’ve not heard anything. I don’t know if Bob and Vic are up for it, they might just want to move on. But I never say never. The white coat is here on a coat hanger, I’m actually looking at it as we speak!

You’ve still got it, brilliant!

There are about half a dozen, actually, we went through them so quickly. Can you imagine how dirty they get when you’re rolling around on the floor every night?

Has it still got the biros in the top pocket?

Yeah, and the spirit level… I’ve got all of it!

So what form does most of your artwork take? Are we talking painting, sculptures or something else?

I do ceramics. I had an exhibition called Sex Pots, which was sort of rude teapots and things… that was good. And I do portraits now in watercolour, cartoony things. People like Madonna with a Viking helmet on. And the Queen meeting Marilyn Manson, and they’re both wearing matching corgi print coats.

You need to set up a website so we can see all of this…

I do… and to get some of these bits of film on there, there’s a nice Glastonbury film somewhere.

What? Is this a great lost Les film?

Yes… and there’s actually a lost Big Night Out which I’m trying to track down. It was made by two film-maker friends of ours, and I think Vic and Bob have probably forgotten about it. This was in about 1987, at a place called The Venue in New Cross, and we played upstairs in a little bar. That would be a great long-lost treasure, I think.

It’ll be in a dusty box in someone’s attic somewhere…

Yes, probably mine!

Here Comes Wilf Lunn…

…and I say, it’s alright. For anyone who grew up in front of the TV in the 1970s and 80s (hands up everyone… one, two, three, four… Simon, is your hand up or not? Oh, I see. No you can’t, you’ll have to wait. You should have gone before the start of assembly) will remember Wilf. Yes, the genial Yorkshire inventor with the extraodinary ginger moustache who graced the likes of Vision On, Jigsaw and Eureka with an array of bizarre and frequently dangerous-looking contraptions. After all, how is it possible not to love the creator of the ‘Apocalypse Cow’ which, as Wilf himself says, ‘replaced the earlier, less effective, Cow Clap Frisbees’?

About a year ago, my friend Wez (star of Chapters 2, 5 and 10 of ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’) took, for reasons that have long since been wiped from my brain, a train journey from Huddersfield to Bradford and idled away the journey reading a discarded copy of the Huddersfield Examiner. He was so enamoured with Wilf Lunn’s colum in said periodical that he brought it back home for me to read. This is it, here…


Inspired, I decided – uncharacteristically – to spend the rest of the afternoon in the spare room office, slumped in front of the computer spending money I didn’t have. I know! Who’d have thought it? I immediately ordered a copy of Wilf’s childhood memoir ‘My Best Cellar’ from his website, and then set about finding that adaptation of the old Abbott and Costello sketch mentioned in the Huddersfield Examiner. And sure enough, it’s here…

(I assume this is from Jigsaw, as that’s certainly Adrian Hedley under one of the surgeons’ masks. At least while he was messing about with Abbot and Costello he wasn’t sending the nation’s children into paroxyms of fear from beneath his… brrr… Noseybonk head)

A few days later, Wilf’s book arrived in the post, and I found myself lost in this splendidly surreal evocation of a bygone age, couched throughout in Wilf’s extraordinary gift for language  and an eye for the gruesomely odd that all-but-confirmed my longstanding suspicions that he and Vivan Stanshall were created together in some classified War Office genetic experiment deep beneath the Houses of Parliament before being forcibly exiled to opposite ends of the country, never to meet again. Except they did, but that’s a story for another blog entry… 

Anyway, as I read on, my thoughts began to coalesce into a dark and fevered plan. What we needed, obviously, was a night with Wilf Lunn in a small room on Teesside, so that Wez and I (and anyone else prepared to cough up a few quid) could have the pleasure of his company for a couple of hours. Luckily, I have the ear of a local arts promoter. Yes, I keep it in a jam-jar at the side of the bed. Ho ho! Knackers, and – indeed – arse. No, Luke Harding, proprieter of the splendid Waiting Room vegetarian restaurant and bohemian hangout, was utterly taken with the idea… and, predictably enough, left me to organise all the fiddly bits.

And so it came to pass that, on Sunday 30th January 2011, Wilf Lunn came to The Waiting Room and made a little bit of our collective childhoods bubble to the surface on a chilly Teesside evening. I was so excited I gave a rare outing to the stripy mod blazer I’d bought on Carnaby Street with the final instalment of my ‘Wiffle Lever’ advance in October 2008. And felt surprisingly honoured when Wilf chose to shower it in shaving foam as the climax to his Apocalypse Cow demonstration. Amazingly, I managed to capture some sensational action footage of this, but you’ll have to be quick on the draw…

Wilf was superb company, and a fascinating speaker, and I’ll treasure his recollections of  Rolf Harris’ trouser destruction,  James Mason’s bell collection (pingers or dingers, though? Ah, you had to be there) and the long-term career benefits of putting bicycles into bottles. And we rounded off with a small explosion… the least we’d expect from a man who once burnt off the hair (and moustache) on one side of his head minutes before a live TV appearance, and was hurriedly patched up with spare bits of barnet  from round the back, frantically glued into place by a cussing producer.

This – brace yourself – is the Hen Grenade…

Thanks to Wilf for coming up, and to everyone who popped along on the night! And that foam-covered stripy blazer in full…

Suburban Star Wars… Volume 1

Hello! It’s not too late to say ‘Happy New Year’, is it? I was desperate to get it in before the end of January. And no, that’s not a Richard Keys quote.

Anyway, after a pitiful showing in 2010, I’m determined to put a bit more stuff on this blog during the twelve months of human existance that government scientists are already calling ‘2011’. I’ve made some extraordinary discoveries in the loft recently, so expect a few more ‘Nuggets…’ to come your way very soon, and my Uncle Trevor – recurring star of the now ancient historical document ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ – amazingly managed to repair an ailing hard drive containing thousands of my old radio interviews, so I’ll be transcribing some more Wiffle-friendly chats with a flurry of childhood TV heroes.

(And yes, this is my Uncle Trevor dealing with a similarly uncooperative piece of hardware during the Summer of 1981)

In the meantime, I’ve been slowly adding to my collection of vintage Star Wars figures. Dedicated followers of this rubbish will remember that, in 1986, I flogged my entire collection to a travelling toy collector who advertised her services in the classified section of the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette. She gave me fifteen pounds for the entire, planet-sized collection after my Mum sagely assured me that ‘no-one’s interested in Star Wars any more’.

Amazingly, though, these  are two hardy survivors of my original collection that somehow slipped through the net… Han Solo on his trusty Tauntaun, pictured riding bravely across the fearsome Ice Patio of Yarm during a recent cold snap.

As C-3PO nearly points out in The Empire Strikes Back, ‘Artoo calculates that the chances of surviving an afternoon on Bob Fischer’s patio in the middle of January are approximately 725-1.’

‘Of course,’ he continues, ‘Artoo has been known to be wrong. From time to time’. 

As has my Mum, obviously. I forgive, but I never forget.  

More Suburban Star Wars pictures to follow.