Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for January, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 21

Saturday 21st January 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 9.30. We got the 10.00 bus to Middlesbrough, and I went into Smiths and bought the book ‘Mawdryn Undead’. Then we went to Tesco, Boots, The pet shop, Hintons and I got the lion the witch and the wardrobe. Then we went back to Smiths and got some sellotape.

At grandma’s I read Mawdryn Undead and had a bacon sandwich, then I started to read the lion the witch and the wardrobe. Then me, mam and grandma took Tina down devil’s bridge. There was a bit of snow around, and I said it would snow heavily tonight.

When we came back I had tea. After tea I played on the videopac and at 5.55 Mam and dad went home and I watched Little and large. 6.30 Watched Child’s play 7.10 Trevor came and I put the videopac on. 8.5 Watched Les Dawson and read my book at 8.45. Went to bed at 10.30 and read till 11.00. Finished the book.

Ahhhhh…. right. This was a lovely day, and one that has remained firmly lodged in my memory over the years. It’s also a day that’s described in detail in ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’, in the Robin Of Sherwood chapter. Because this weekend was the precise moment that my youthful affections changed from sci-fi to (ahem) fantasy. But more of that tomorrow…

It’s all to do with ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’, though. I think I’d seen the late 1970s animated version on TV one chilly morning during Christmas week, and been utterly entranced by it. So naturally I wanted to seek out the paperback version, and was delighted to find THIS copy…


…on the shelves on Hinton’s, a uniquely North-Eastern supermarket that seemed to smell permanently of cats and baked beans. It cost me 95p of hard-earned pocket money, then it was back to the lovely, cosy enclave of my Gran’s bungalow, and despite a brief foray into Mawdryn Undead (a Doctor Who novelisation that looks like this…


…and yes, it’s STILL my favourite Doctor Who story of all time, but we’ll talk about it more another time) it was the lure of Narnia that dominated the day.

I can’t even begin to describe how happy and warm and loved I felt on days like this. My gran’s front room, Grandstand on the TV, a bacon sandwich and a good book – what more to life was there?

And, to me, the magic and the exquisite beauty of Narnia came from the landscapes and the imagery – the hills, the trees, the dancing, twirling snowflakes caught in the orange glare of an incongruous street light. So when I looked out through the front room windows and caught sight of the lengthening shadows, and the beginnings of a snowfall in the orange glare of an Acklam streetlight, it seemed like all that magic and exquisite beauty had flooded into my own, real life.

And all I remember about tramping around Devil’s Bridge – with my Mum and my Gran and the dog in tow – is  making that prediction of an overnight heavy snowfall. Devil’s Bridge was just a little stone bridge over a trickling stream on the edge of the housing estate, but that day it seemed infused with the spirit of Narnia itself. And I wanted it to snow SO badly, just to make the fantasy complete.

And… well… here you go. I went back there a couple of days ago, for the first time in almost 25 years. And I wasn’t alone…

A very, very strange but entirely welcome feeling to be back. And as we walked up to the bridge, I was instantly transported to being even younger than my 1984 self… of being four years old, and barely able to see over the stone ridges of that tiny hump-backed bridge. And playing Pooh Sticks again and again and again with my endlessly patient Mum and Gran. So, hey… for old time’s sake…

You can tell I had a fun day back in 1984, because I stayed over at my Gran’s bungalow that night… probably one of the very last times I did so. But it was lovely as ever to see my Uncle Trevor, and I remember so clearly lying in the spare room bed that night, avidly ploughing through the Pevensey childrens’ adventures, and gazing intently into the wardrobe just hoping for a glimpse of fir tree and the unearthly shine of a crunchy fresh snowfall…

Tuck me in if I fall asleep before I finish writing this. 🙂

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 20

Friday 20th January 1984

7.40 Woke up 8.00 Got up and wrote some of the book and then at 9.30 I went to school. The first thing I did at school was do yesterday’s maths and then me and Ozzie went into the library and started to do the flow chart for a new book that we were writing called ice world adventure.

12.00 had dinner and then after dinner me and Ozzie did some research on fog. After that I rigged up a motor with Doug, and me and Ozzie wrote some more of the book. At 3.15 I came home and wrote some of the guardian of goblin grotto.

When I had done that I had tea and then after tea I played on the videopac until 6.40, When I watched the last part of the Doctor Who adventure ‘The awakening’, after that at 7.00 I watched The A-Team and then at 8.00 I played on the Videopac. 10.00 Went to bed.

Typical bloody writers – we did three days work on one book, then got bored and started planning another one instead! You have to admire our ambition. If not quite our attention spans. I’m thrilled to say that, unlike The Guardian Of Goblin Grotto, the mysterious ‘Ice World Adventure’ actually exists in some small way.

Well, alright, it’s a very small way… I still have the folder we kept it in! This is it…


If you squint and look closely, you can just about make out ‘ICEWORLD ADVENTURE’ across the top, and the little bit underneath says ‘A Fighting Fantasy’ with a picture of a cartoon dagger next to it. Needless to say, nothing whatsoever remains of the actual book. Not a sausage. But – and I’m sticking my neck out here – I’m guessing it was a bit of an adventure. Set – wait for it – on a world. A world – you’ll never guess – that’s not altogether noted for its tropical temperatures.

Anyway, it was clearly so riveting that we quickly gave it up to do ‘some research on fog’. They really knew how to fire our keen, young imaginations at school, didn’t they? ‘See that thick, grey stuff out there? Go and do some research on it. But don’t bring any back in with you, you’ll set the school fog alarms off…’


I vaguely remember Doug and I rigging up that motor. Rest assured, we weren’t being let loose on Mrs Keasey’s 2CV here, just tinkering with a few little electrical circuits in the end room… our teachers were very keen that we had a rudimentary grasp of how to lash up a couple of HP11 batteries to a tiny motor or a 10w bulb using a pair of crocodile clips. And we were usually so successful at this that we had plenty of time afterwards to chase Wendy Brunskill around the library with the crocodile clips making ‘Wanghwanghwangh’ noises and attempting to chew her hair bobbles with them.


I’ve also just remembered about the little diagrams we had to draw to show how our circuits worked, full of squiggly symbols and stuff. After some serious brain-racking and a teensy bit of internet searching, I’m pretty sure they looked like this…


I appreciate this is undoubtedly the most boring set of illustrations I’ve presented since the day this blog began, but hey – life isn’t all Monster Munch and verrucas.

Look out for the first 1984 blog films coming tomorrow! Tell your friends… and if you don’t have any friends then tip off a few of your enemies instead.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 19

Thursday 19th January 1984

7.40 Woke up  8.00 Got up and at school me and Ozzie coloured in some of the pictures for the guardian of goblin grotto. 10.10 Went to the baths and first everyone had a muck about, then they did everybody individually to see if they could swim a lenghth Freestyle, and Backstroke. Then they had a race over 4 widths.

12.00 Had dinner and in the afternoon I started to do maths but we had to go out for football. We won 4-2. I scored 3 (one was disallowed), pitfield scored one and Twinner scored one. 3.15 Came home and wrote some of the book.

At 4.45 I had tea and after that I wrote some more of the book. When I got sick of that I played on the videopac. 6.40 Watched Dr Who 7.00 played on videopac, 7.30 Watched Carry on laughing 8.00 Played on videopac and then at 9.30 I went to go in the bath and to go to bed.

Yes! Mine and Ozzie’s Fighting Fantasy book finally has a title! It’s powerful, enigmatic and attention-grabbing and it’s… erm…

The Guardian Of Goblin Grotto.

It’s such a shame that my normally scarily retentive memory completely lets me down though, and I can’t remember a single thing about the book. Really, I can’t… nothing whatsoever other than the title. Good to see, however, that two days into the writing process we’d given up on actual writing and just starting colouring in the pictures instead. I think Marcel Proust took a similar approach to his work.


And a school swimming trip, hooray! Yes, every Thursday morning a couple of dozen of us would pile into a minibus, stink out the upholstery with farts and Cheese & Onion Monster Munch, rattle our way through Yarm High Street and pile into the bijou swimming pool at Eaglescliffe Comprehensive, a mile or so down the road.

Things I especially remember about school swimming expeditions…

1. Singing the theme from ‘Minder’ while getting undressed and trying desperately not to look at each others willies.  

2. Christopher Herbert having to wear a special plastic sock to cover up his verrucas and athlete’s foot. I’d like to think he had one one his willy as well, just in case, but obviously I didn’t look.

3. Being forced to wade through a little square of freezing cold ‘disinfectant’ before diving into the pool itself. This foul-smelling pool of rancid liquid was apparently designed to prevent us from catching verrucas and athlete’s foot, and seemed to consist of two parts Domestos to one part Ready Brek to one part flaky scales of childrens’ skin. Most of which had been, until recently, attached to Christopher Herbert’s feet. Can’t really blame it for wanting to start a new life in a freezing cold puddle of Domestos and Ready Brek.

4.  The sombre return journey on the minibus, with its all-pervading aroma of farts, Cheese & Onion Monster Munch and chlorinated water caked onto unwashed hair.

Quite a sporty day this, clearly… barely time for dinner before an afternoon of football! Another couple of typically opportunistic Fischer strikes, you’ll note… at this stage of the season, I was like a house on fire. Smouldering gently and looking likely to collapse at any second.

‘Twinner’ will have been one of the delightful ginger twins Tom and Jonty Walton, although obviously since – as far as we were concerned –  they were pretty much the same person they both got called ‘Twinner’ and that saved us making any effort to actually bother telling them apart. The last time I saw Twinner was about six months ago, when he popped up as a contestant on ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’. Not sure which Twinner it was, though. (I should insert a little friendly winky thing here in case either of them get to read this, in which case – come and say hello!)


And obligatory Doctor Who footnote – tonight’s episode was Part One of ‘The Awakening’, a spooky little tale set in the village of Little Hodcombe, in which a demon-like creature called The Malus creates a time link between 1984 and the English Civil War of 1643. I loved Doctor Who most of all when it was set in present-day England, because it made it all the more likely that, one day, I’d see the TARDIS appear in my own back garden. And that the Doctor would whisk me away forever from farts, Cheese & Onion Monster Munch and Christopher Herbert’s feet…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 18

Wednesday 18th January 1984

8.00 Woke up and got up at 8.15. The first thing I did at school was go in for topic and we had to do a mad bit of work on ‘to and too’. When I had done that I did some more of the flow chart for mine and Ozzie’s book. Then I read some of the Dark crystal.

At 12.00 I had dinner and in the afternoon everybody had to go into the hall to see who wanted to be in the school production. Me and Doug and a few others went out but then the teachers started taking people back in so me and Doug hid in the end room. At 2.30 we did maths and then at 3.15 we went home.

Straight after school I went down to Dougs and at 4.30 Doug came here and went home at 5.00. 5.00 Had tea and after tea I wrote the book. Later I played on the videopac and at 9.00 I watched Minder and at 10.00 I went to bed.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaagh! Two words that still strike fear into my heart 25 years on.


In 1984, the plan was to dress the majority of the snotty-nosed fourth years in tea towels and bedsheets for Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. The fact that Doug and I expertly ‘hid in the end room’ to avoid being selected for this ritual humiliation might lead you to suspect that I had a bit of ‘previous’ in the theatrical avoidance department. And you’d be right.

Two years earlier, we’d done ‘Oliver!’ (with Philip Laverick putting in a sensational performance as Fagin) and I’d been herded with a cattle prod into the motley school choir, to sing along with ‘Gorra pick a pocket or two’ (warbled, of course, in a squeaky Teesside accent). With a fortnight to go, I was having so many nightmares about the show that my Mum, bless her, discreetly asked Mr Millward if I might be excused from the performance. Which, to my utter utter relief, I was.

For almost two years, I then successfully ‘hid in the end room’ every time a similar production came around. Until, encouraged by my new best mate Doug, I made a glorious return to the stage for our Christmas 1983 production. Dressed, splendidly, like this…

…yes, I’m Good King Wenceslas. I don’t think I had any dialogue, my performance required nothing more than a bit of sensational ‘looking out’ acting. An action that Darren Gray described as looking ‘like a gay sailor’s hornpipe’. 

Doug, meanwhile, got to wear a frilly ruff and a hat made out of crepe (snigger) paper in his role as Black Peter, the Dutch little helper to the original St Nicholas. A laudable stab at spreading a bit of cross-cultural awareness you might think… until you discover that in order to play the part, poor Doug was required to black up using shoe polish and burnt cork.

It was 1984, they did things differently back then.

Incidentally my Gran, on seeing the picture above, remarked cryptically that ‘only you could get away with it’. I’m still not sure if that was meant as a compliment or not.

And ‘The Dark Crystal’! Yep, the book I’d borrowed from Stockton Library the night before. It was the novelisation of the brilliant Jim Henson film from 1982 – basically Lord Of The Rings acted out with Muppets, set on a planet with three suns ruled by the evil Skeksis (nasty, crocodile-like grotties) and centred around the quest of the intrepid Gelfling Jen to find, erm, a bit of the crystal that would bring niceness back to everything. I think.


Wikipedia says that ‘the movie makes an attempt to study the nature of good and evil in terms of conscience, vital drive, and the triune nature of harmony’ but all I can remember is a really cool dog-like thing called Fizzgig that inevitably resulted in our Ricky being briefly called the same before he metamorphosed into Poggy Doggy.

Speaking of which, I’ve found some pictures of Ricky. Here’s Poggy Doggy himself, striking a nonchalant pose on our drive…


Not sure if this is the ‘vital drive’ from The Dark Crystal, although that’s definitely the case for my Dad’s camera that he’s watching over. I’d like to find that camera again actually – mainly because it was really nice, but also because I think if I smelt that leather case again it would instantly transport me back to 1984. And that’s a nice place to be, so long as you turn a blind eye to the blacking up and concentrate more on the triune nature of harmony.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 17

Tuesday 17th January 1984

Woke up at 7.40 and got up at 8.00. Got to school at 8.45 and got inside at 9.00. First we all went into hymn practice and when we came out me and Gareth, and Ozzie and Doug did a maths sheet. We finished about 11.30 and then me and Ozzie decided to write a fighting fantasy book. We started to write a flowchart.

At 12.00 We had dinner and then after dinner I wrote a newspaper report about ‘the hurricane in Jamaica’. When I had done that me and Ozzie did some more of the flowchart in the library. At 3.00 Mam came for me because she was going to an interview in Stockton. While she was there me and Dad went to Halfords and Smiths.

We went back for mam and waited Yonkers and when she came I got the Dark Crystal from the library. 5.45 Had tea 6.00 Drew pictures for book then played on G7000. 7.40 Watched no place like home. 9.00 Watched a kick up the eighties 9.30 Went to bed.

A historic day that marks the beginning of my first-ever completed book! 🙂

Written jointly with the lovely Ozzie, of course. Ozzie was (and still is) Ian Oswald, a curly-haired child genius from the nearby village of Maltby. He’d arrived at our school a matter of months earlier, seemingly surgically attached to a BBC Micro Computer, and his offbeat sense of humour and slavish devotion to Fighting Fantasy books had seen him quickly fall in with mine, Doug and Gareth’s odd little mob. Here he is, pictured a little later in 1984…


So yes, one fateful January morning with snow on the ground and the strains of ‘Water Of Life’ still ringing in our ears, we decided to write our own Fighting Fantasy book. The title we gave it wasn’t decided for another two days so it’s worth sticking around until the 19th January, as it still makes me giggle like an annoying, hairy drain to this very day.

No idea which job my Mum was being interviewed for, but I’ve a vague idea it was at Stockton Council offices, which put us within easy striking distance of Halford’s and WH Smiths. My Mum didn’t drive at this point, so my Dad will have taken us all to Stockton in his vintage Reliant Scimitar, a goliath of a 1970s fibre glass classic that looked… well, like this…


…I’m wearing rubber gloves because I’d just found a huge mushroom growing at the foot of one of our trees, and convinced myself that it was DEADLY POISONOUS and could only be handled by an expert fungus-wrangler wearing SPECIAL PROTECTIVE CLOTHING (ie Marigolds. From under the kitchen sink)

So, the job interview… I remember sitting at the bottom of a VERY Seventies-looking flight of stairs in the council offices with my Dad, and telling him about mine and Ozzie’s Fighting Fantasy project, and him seeming really rather proud and intrigued. I’d always wanted to write for a living from a very early age, and it felt really exciting to have a collaborator. Especially one who had both a BBC Micro and a ZX Spectrum 48K round his house.  

Probably worth a mention at this point about my parents’ job situations in the early-mid 1980s. Although we lived in a biggish house, it was one that my parents had bought for a pittance in 1976 and renovated from a virtually derelict state. My Dad, see, was a builder by trade, which meant two things…

1. There was no guarantee that, when I came home from school, our house would contain exactly the same number of rooms that it had when I’d left that morning.

2. In recession-hit ‘Fatcher’s Britain, he was frequently without any income whatsoever.

My family had next to no money at all when I was growing up. My Mum gave up full-time work when I was born, and – although at this stage she’d been working as a part-time dinner lady at Levendale Primary School for a year or two – she couldn’t get back into full-time employment until 1987.  

My Dad, meanwhile, supplemented the collapsing building trade (that is the trade was collapsing, the buildings themselves were actually pretty sturdy) with jobs doing anything from grass-verge-cutting around our local estates to training surly Yoofs to lay bricks on the bleak YOP (Youth Opportunities) scheme. Every morning, he would assemble a gang of grimy teenage skinheads and housebreakers on a building site in Thornaby and attempt to teach them the rudiments of construction work when they’d really rather be working on their gobbing techniques and plotting minor outbreaks of football hooliganism. I’ve never seen him so depressed.

In fact here he is on returning home from work one day in early 1984…


Anyroad… ‘No Place Like Home’… Very much the ‘My Family’ of its day. Utterly inoffensive but completely charming sitcom starring the mighty William Gaunt as the exasperated middle-aged Dad unable to shift his twentysomething sons (including a fresh-faced Martin Clunes) from the family home. Amazingly I can’t find a Youtube clip at all, but this was the final episode of Series One, and you can watch the intro here…


Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 16

Monday 16th January 1984

7.40 Woke up and got up at 8.00 and put some posters up. Got to school at 8.45 and there was snow on the ground so me, Gareth and Doug made a giant snowball, then pelted Sug and Mason because they were mangling it. When we went in we had Topic and I painted a picture of an iceberg.

When I had done that I did some writing on ice. 12.00 had dinner and it was indoor so me, Doug and Gareth played Tip-it. After dinner we went into Maths class and we had to draw angles. When we had done that I went in the library.

3.15 Came home, and watched Bugs Bunny. 3.45 Went to Doug’s ad we made the antenna for K9. at 5.00  my mam came for me and at 5.20 we had tea. when I had finished I played on the videopac and the bathroom window smashed with all the wind. at 8.00 I watched Benny Hill and at 9.30 I went to bed.

Snowy mornings! Fantastic. Apparently most adults go through a watershed moment in their lives when their reaction to seeing snow when they open the bedroom curtains changes from ‘YEAAAAHHH!!!!!!’ to ‘For f***’s sake, I’ve got to scrape the car off and the traffic will be backed up for miles in this’. I haven’t got to the latter stage yet. I still love it. 


I also love that fact that Doug, Gareth and I didn’t attempt to make anything creative like a snowman or a snowhouse or even a snowpoggydoggy, we just – in brilliantly boyish fashion – rolled it around and made a bloody big ball of the stuff. Cobblers to art, we wanted sheer scale. Our would-be manglers were Steven Mason – a big-boned lad and a brilliant artist whose Dad worked on oil rigs – and Andrew ‘Sug’ Sugden, one of the funniest men I’ve ever met, even at the age of 11. He used to draw comic strips about a flying tramp called ‘Superpeasant’ that cracked me up.

Tip it! Tip it? Anyone any ideas? All I can find is this…


…in which the object is to stack up various discs on the knobs to keep the ‘athlete’ balanced at the top of his pole. No idea why an athlete would be balanced at the top of a pole anyway, it certainly doesn’t sound like the kind of thing Daley Thompson would get up to. Anyway, it wasn’t that. Never heard of it.  I have a vague memory of something involving little plastic hands that you needed to flick tiddlywinks with, but that might just have been a strange, Spam Fritter-influenced dream…?

Good to see a first mention for K9’s antenna. As I’ve mentioned before, they were made of cardboard with little bits of chicken wire inserted into the middle. I probably cut out the cardboard. Doug would have handled the chicken wire, because he was practical and manly and I was a milksop twerp.

And I’d forgotten all about the bathroom window until I read this! While my parents watched Look North in the front room, I had my Philips G7000 Videopac lashed up to a tiny black and white portable TV on the dining room table. I was halfway to my high score record on Munchkin when I heard the crash. My Dad had left the window slightly ajar following his traditional after-tea bath, and ‘the wind had caught it’ as my Mum sagely claimed. Probably on the insurance form. I always suspected that the Swedish sauna quantity of steam that built up during my Dad’s bathtime had just pushed the window open through sheer force of pressure.

He ran baths so hot that you could run a medium-sized locomotive from Edinburgh to Carlisle with the ensuing clouds, and I’d estimate he was responsible for about 33.4% of the world’s water cycle.


(As an aside, the aforementioned Sug was once asked by Mr Millward to draw an illustration of ‘The Water Cycle’ and carefully crafted an amazing James Bond-style aquatic motorbike capable of travelling across the world’s oceans at great speed. Mr Millward seemed to find it vaguely amusing. Eventually)

And, blimey, Benny Hill. An episode with the splendid title of ‘Scuttlevision’ as far as I can tell. Here’s a clip from that very show – for real verisimilitude, open the bathroom window before you watch it…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 15

Sunday 15th January 1984

Woke up at 8.45 and got up at 9.30. At 10.15 I rung Doug to see if he wanted to come swimming to Stokesley baths with us. He said he could come, and at 10.30 We went to pick him up. Doug showed me ROB-E and on Friday somebody had gone into the staff room and beat him up.

About 15 minutes later we got to the baths and first me and Doug swam down the deep end and started to leap in shouting ‘GERONIMO!!!’ Then we went in the little pool and I bust my back jumping in. We went back to the big pool, swam 2 lenghts, then mucked around in the little pool till 12.00 When they started to chuck people out.

After dinner I went back to Doug’s and we started making a K-9 robot. I came back home with Doug at 4.30 and we played on the videopac. Doug went home at 5.00 and we had tea. I played on the videopac until 7.15 when I watched Hi-de-hi. 9.45 Watched That’s life 10.30 Went to bed.

Obviously (and I might just have mentioned this already) it’s been exactly 25 years since the events in these diary entries were taking place, and sometimes when I read them back it really REALLY feels like it. Memories lost in the misty decades, and thoughts and turns of phrase that make me feel like a very different person indeed these days.

This isn’t one of them, though. The memory of this day feels starkly fresh and vivid and ‘now’. Especially the hour we spent at Stokesley baths. My Dad came with us, but Doug and I sidled away to the ‘little’ (ie kiddies) pool by ourselves and conducted experiments shouting at each other underwater to see how effectively our voices travelled through three feet of murky chlorinated water with a stray piece of elastoplast floating on the top.


(This is Stokesley, by the way… lovely market town somewhere between Yarm and Middlesbrough…)

And my back, my bloody back. I still have occasional back problems, and I trace it all back to this fateful day. I completely misjudged how shallow the pool was, and jumped in feet-first with a full-blooded howl. My feet shuddered instantly onto the dimpled tiles at the bottom, and the shockwave sent a spasm of pain and breathlessness all the way up my spine.

Doug, of course, laughed himself stupid, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

It’s all feels so clear and recent that it could have happened six months ago. Which makes it all the more disturbing that in the same timespan again, if I’m still alive at all, I’ll be 61 years old. When you’re 11, the days seem infinite and endless and – as a terrifying result – almost meaningless. When you’re 36… they don’t. And I’m still not sure whether I like that or not.

Still, look – SCANDAL!!! ‘Doug showed me ROB-E and on Friday somebody had gone into the staff room and beat him up’. Oh, it’s true… when Doug collected our beloved robot from the mysterious, out-of-bounds realms of Levendale Primay School staff room on Friday afternoon, his front panel was hanging off by its flimsy metal hinges.

Of course, what had REALLY happened was that Mr Hirst or Mr Millward or Mrs Keasey had staggered across the room lugging a pile of Fourth Year Topic books, desperate for a mug of Maxwell House and a Silk Cut. They’d knocked poor ROB-E over on the way, sworn softly and stood him back upright, and never thought about it again for the rest of their living days.

11-year-old minds don’t think of things like that, though. We wanted INTRIGUE. We wanted conspiracy and violence and dastardly crimes committed against us so we could turn private investigators and bring the culprits to justice, like the Scooby Doo kids or the Hardy Boys, or this lot…

…and then we’d be given special commendations by Yarm’s own PC Bedford (Six Foot Two, Eyes of Blue, PC Bedford’s after you…) and be allowed to ride our bikes on the pavement forever.  Hooray!

Still, not to worry – by mid-afternoon we’d forgotten about ROB-E, and had already started work on the almost-built K9 that Doug had dragged down from the loft. Onwards and upwards, providing my back holds out, and the Philips Videopac G7000 doesn’t lure me away for the evening…

(This isn’t me by the way, it’s somebody else’s Youtube video… but I am going to make some special little films for this Blog over the next few weeks, I promise!)

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 14

Saturday 14th January 1984

Woke up at 8.30 and got up at 9.00. At 9.10 We went out for the bus and got the 9.20 bus to Middlesbrough. First we went to Littlewoods and after that we went into Tescos. Then we went to Smiths and I got my Dr Who comic. I also looked downstairs to see if they had the Doctor Who book ‘Mawdryn Undead’ but they didn’t.

I had a hamburger from Breadwinner and we went to my gran’s house later. I had a bacon sandwich and then I drew a castle. Then me and mam took Tina (Poggy doggy’s poggled mutt of a sister) down devil’s bridge and nearly got blown off our feet by the wind. When we came back it started to snow and I drew a picture of a dungeon.

Later I went out and played with that Poggled pooch of  a mutt, Tina. Came in and had tea and then we went home. 5.55 Watched Little and Large. 6.30 Watched Child’s play 7.00 Watched 3.2.1, 8.00 Watched the two ronnies. The best bit was the bogle of  bog fell. 9.45 Went to bed.

Right, let’s get the Doctor Who stuff out of the way first. The ‘Dr Who comic’ I bought was Doctor Who Magazine No 85, which looked like this…


The free poster (shown in the bottom left-hand corner) was a brilliant painting by Doctor Who stalwart Andrew Skilleter. It showed The Master kidnapping the Fifth Doctor’s celery, and backing off with the TCE (Tissue Compression Eliminator) in his other hand. It was blu-tacked to my bedroom wall by the end of the day and stayed there for at least the next two years until I decided, aged 13, that I wanted my Star Wars wallpaper and Doctor Who posters stripping off and replacing with an achingly bright red and white striped number that gave my mother migraines. I never thought I’d see her yearn for the gentle fawns and yellows of the Skywalker family farmstead.

It’s amazing how much the landscape of Britain’s town centres has changed over the last 25 years. Of all the retail outlets that I mention, only WH Smiths still remains. This was my favourite shop in the whole wide world, with enough books in there to fire my imagination to the edges of the known universe  and blot out the humdrum forever. They were kept downstairs, down a winding staircase that brought you straight to the Children’s Fiction section, and – as I descended it virtually every Saturday – the sense of anticipation would mount in my stomach with every downward step.

What if there was a new Doctor Who book out? In these innocent days before home video, Target Books provided the only way I could ever envisage of reliving my favourite TV adventures, and I would scan the glistening, multi-coloured spines on the grey, plastic shelves with a greedy, hungry eye.


Sadly this day I was denied, but there was always next week…

Littlewoods was huge, a slab-like chunk of the 1970s-built Cleveland Centre shopping arcade, filled with clothes for my Mum and Gran and pots and pans and other sundries. Grown-up stuff, with little to interest me. The whole national chain has been gone for a couple of years now, and I can’t even remember what took its place in Middlesbrough town centre. The 1984 Tesco is a complete mystery to me, as I can’t actually recall where that was – amazingly, in an age where even the sun-baked plains of the Serengeti have a 24-Hour Tesco Express, there isn’t a proper branch in the town centre in 2009. Anyone any ideas where the Eighties version was, and what happened to it?

Anyway, here’s the Cleveland Centre in its prime. I might be on the back of this bus somewhere, with my nose stuck in the middle of the Gallifrey Guardian…

And Breadwinner, incredibly, was (I think) the only takeaway burger outlet in town. McDonalds was something we’d seen fleetingly in American blockbusters, but never in the flesh. There might have been a small Wimpy Bar further out into town, where tattooed Teesside men served up hamburgers on china plates with knives and forks, but Breadwinner was a bona fide takeaway, a very British burger bar where the Westler’s Quarter Pounder (a thin, pink frisbee of meat that I’d only ever previously seen in cinema foyers) was served in tough, rain-resistant buns dotted with sesame seeds.

They were gorgeous, but I’d never seen sesame seeds before Breadwinner, and I was deeply suspicious of the prospect. All the bread products in our house in 1984 were blindingly white, and didn’t look like they’d been anywhere near anything as organic as an actual SEED. So these things were like thousands of unblinking bread bun eyes boring into my very soul. I asked myself would The Master would do, and vanquished them into my guts. 

It’s strange how so many ancient memories can still be evoked by the taste of food. Occasionally now, on chilly winter evenings, I like to curl up in front of a DVD with a huge, steaming bowl of sugar-drenched porridge, thick and solid enough to fill the cracks on the landing ceiling and still have enough left to weatherproof the garden shed roof.

And, every time I do, the taste instantly takes me back to Saturday 14th January 1984. Yep, this very night… because I can tell you without the slightest doubt that I watched this particular episode of The Two Ronnies while draped across the armchair nearest to the TV tucking into a similar bowl of deliriously delicious porridgey glop.

I know that because I almost choked on it while watching The Bogle Of Bog Fell, an utterly brilliant piss-take of an old Robbie Burns-style fable, with Ronnie Corbett deathly white as the mischievous ‘Bogle’ (that’s a ‘ghost’ to us wee Sassenachs) wreakin’ havoc aroond a wee Hee-land toon. Erm, small Highland Town. I managed to record a DVD copy of it from an ITV3 repeat of The Two Ronnies about two years ago, and it still made me giggle like a big soppy girl.

And yes, I watched it with a steaming bowl of porridge in front of me. How could I not? Can’t find a clip or even a picture anywhere, but here’s a bit of Little And Large, just to make up for it…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 13

Friday 13th January 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.00. Got to school at 8.45 and me and Gareth waited outside for Doug as he was bringing ROB-E to school. Went in at 9.00 and Doug still hadn’t come. He came with the robot at 9.15 just as we were going into assembly. We showed ROB-E in assembly and then took him into the classrooms.

Me and Gareth did some maths off the blackboard and then Me, Doug and Gareth took ROB-E to the staff room. 12.00 Had dinner. In the afternoon I did a piece of research on Tornados for Mrs Baldwin. Then I did a language sheet. Came home at 3.15 and played on my videopac. 4.30 Had tea.

5.15 Watched Grange Hill and when I had seen that, again I played on my videopac until 6.40 When I watched Doctor Who. At 7.00 I watched the A-Team and then when that finished at 8.00 I drew a picture of Poggles (mutface) or Poggy Doggy. Then I played on my videopac. 9.40 Went to bed.

Pacing. Pacing up and down. Pacing up and down shaking my head and pulling on a Winton sweet cigarette . That’s what I remember of the frantic, torturous wait for ROB-E to turn up at Levendale Primary School on this bright, frost-ridden morning.

And no, I’m not joking about the sweet cigarette… they were long sticks of dark chocolatey gunk the same shape and length as a Rothmans King Size, coated in rice paper with a brown filter tip and a glowing red end. Us kids bought them in little white packs of twenty from the local VG shop around the corner from the school gates and gave Mr Chalkey a nervous twitch on winter mornings by expertly sucking on them and exhaling huge clouds of icy breath as we marched across the playground.

Our favoured brand was called ‘Winton’ and looked EXACTLY like an authentic box of ‘Winston’ cigarettes – I can’t find a picture of them anywhere, but it was this kind of thing…


Look! LOOK! SWEETS DESIGNED TO GET KIDS SMOKING!!!! It’s amazing. Are they still legal? They might as well have sold us ‘HEROINE CANDY’, fizzy, fluffy sherbert in a tasty toffee syringe injected onto the tongue for the tastiest trip in town.     

Anyway! ROB-E! Yes, the big day had arrived, the day when our headmaster Mr Chalkley had kindly allowed Doug and me to finally trundle our pet robot from Doug’s Dad’s garage and into our school assembly. I was still babbling incoherently to my form teacher at 9.10am ‘Mrskeaseydougsmeantobebringingtherobottoday (pause for tear-flecked breath) andhesnothere’ (to a resulting ‘OK, what am I supposed to do about it?’ shrug) and then three minutes later I heard one excited five-year-old tell another that ‘there’s gunner be a wobot in the woom today’.

I was having my own nervous twitch by 9.15, when I finally saw Doug and his Mum screech to the front of the school in their vintage yellow Lada and trundle ROB-E through to reception. 

Ridiculously we didn’t take a single photo of our magnificent creation, but I’ve had a rummage online and this is a pretty close approximation of what we’d spend the entire winter building…


Ours wasn’t blue though, he was silver. We weren’t nutters, after all.

While the amazingly bearded Mr Chalkley introduced assembly, Doug and I hid behind the school hall curtains in the little cubby hole where the pommel horses were kept. I got a giggling fit again when the rest of the school sang ‘Water Of Life’. Then we were introduced, and we wheeled ROB-E out into the centre of the hall. I still remember the rush of adrenaline I got when the bank of Fourth Year Juniors sitting on the floor in front of us (all in that weird cross-legged yogic position only ever employed by primary school children and Mahatma Gandhi) abandoned all restraint and surged forward in a massed throng to see our creation.

If they’d believed the hyped-up propaganda that Doug and I had spent the week shamelessly spreading around school, what they were getting was a gleaming, fully-functional cross between C3PO, K9 and Zen from Blake’s 7. Safe to say they were probably slightly disappointed. Still, Doug’s ingenious cassette recorder lash-up worked a treat, and with stalwart Videopac G7000 owner Gareth Jones acting as control box operator, ROB-E greeted the school in a prissy, chirpy pre-pubescent voice (mine) recorded onto a Dynamic TDK C60 over twenty minutes of the Mike Read Breakfast Show on S-S-S-Super Radio One, and gave a quick hello to ‘Franky, Tucker, Ozzie and Knibbsy’.  

Then it was backstage again for spam fritters, champagne and an extra helping of Winton Cigarettes all round.


The rest of the day was a giddy, meaningless, head-spinning blur, which is probably the best way to watch Part Four of ‘Warriors Of The Deep’. I think I started to come down from my exertions just in time to see this…

Anyone fancy doing a bit of Photoshop magic to see if they can turn that blue robot to silver?

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 12

Thursday 12th January 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.00. 8.30 Went out to get the school bus and got to school at 8.45. Went inside at 9.00 and we had to pick a headline and write a story about it. I picked ‘the danger zone’ and all morning I wrote a story about two space robbers boarding a deserted black ship and finding themselves trapped in the danger zone.

12.00 Had dinner. At 1.00 We had to read till 1.45 and after that I did maths. At 2.00 all the boys went out for football. We won 6-2. I scored two goals, Doug scored two goals and Mark Pitfield scored two goals. We came in from football at 3.10 and went home at 3.15.

When I got home I cleaned all the mud off my legs cos I reckon I’m allergic to it. Then I went down to Doug’s and we finished ROB-E. Came back about an hour later and had tea. 6.40 Watched Doctor Who 7.30 Watched Carry On laughing 8.00 Coloured a picture for a competition. 9.00 Went to bed.

I was really becoming quite obsessive about writing at this point in my childhood, and I remember really losing myself in ‘The Danger Zone’ all morning. A year earlier, the stories I wrote would just meander aimlessly – they usually had some sort of rambling Doctor Who theme, so the Doctor would start by landing on the Daleks’ home world Skaro, and then Davros, the Daleks, the Cybermen, The Master, assorted Time Lords and various other obscure figures from the show’s continuity would come and go as the fancy took me. A bit like the average season ending in the current BBC1 series (insert winky thing here… I love it, really)

But now, with the brilliant encouragement of the Levendale teachers, I was actually starting to think about things like plot and characterisation, and I remember deliberately wanting to make ‘The Danger Zone’ very taut and dark. Even if, in retrospect, it was a shameless rip-off of the Doctor Who story ‘Terminus’, broadcast less than a year earlier. Mine didn’t have Liza Goddard in it, though. Or a seven-foot dog with glowing eyes. Or the ‘screaming skull’ (which my Dad, at the time, said reminded him a bit of Adam Faith)


Great to see a bit of football action! Our school football pitch was really impressive, although at this time of the year (especially given the number of indoor dinnertimes we’d had already this week) it must have been positively Somme-like. With regard to the quantity of mud rather than the senseless loss of young life (although you had to be careful once Mark Pitfield got into his stride).

I was never, ever, ever going to be good enough for the school team, but I did like to throw myself around the pitch shouting, falling over, kicking at passing smaller boys, and – just occasionally – lashing in goals so hard that they bounced through the shrubbery and had to be thrown back from his garden by Mr Strike, our splendidly-quiffed school caretaker, lurking around the hedgerow in a beige overall.


Not sure where the ‘allergic to mud’ bit came from, though! A work of fiction that easily rivals ‘The Danger Zone’ and my avowed desire to carve out a living as a deep-sea diver. I will have been absolutely covered in liquid gunk though, and there were no showers at Levendale Primary School so if you wanted to get cleaned up before you came home then your best bet was to sidle into the foul-smelling ‘Boys’ Bogs’ and hoist your legs into the tiny washbasins one by one, smearing black, grass-encrusted mud around your shins with a trickle of cold water before attempting to wipe off the ensuing mess with a blue paper towel.

Alternatively you could not bother, and just leave it all on until your next bath a week on Tuesday. Or ‘July’ if you were smelly Christopher Herbert.

OK, archive TV buffs – the episode of Doctor Who I watched tonight will, of course, have been Part Three of ‘Warriors Of The Deep’, introducing the legendary Myrka – the world’s first pantomime dinosaur. Played, incidentally, by John Asquith and William Perrie, whose previous TV experience did indeed extend to playing the comedy horse in Rentaghost. (As opposed to the rarely-seen deadly serious, gravitas-laden horse in Rentaghost, obviously. That was played by John Hurt and Sir Ian McKellen)


And I’ve no idea about the ‘coloured a picture for a competition’ bit… possibly something in the Evening Gazette, our local paper, but more likely just a handy displacement activity to avoid getting the rest of the mud off my shins before bedtime…