Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 53

Wednesday 22nd February 1984

Woke up at 9.15 and got up at 9.45. Then I rang Doug to see if he could come down and go to Stockton and he could so I walked Poggy Doggy down and met him. We got the 11.00 bus to Stockton, and first we went in Smiths and saw an A Team book.

On the way down to Uptons we saw the knight rider car in the shopping centre and in Uptons we looked at the videopac games. Then we got some grey paint from Woolworths and some stickers from Dressers. Then we got some red paint from Leslie Browns.  Came home at 1.30, Had a bacon sandwich then went to Dougs and touched up K9 with wood putty.

Then we started a cricket program on the ZX. After that we went on Conyers field and played football, Then we had tea. At 7.20 Doug’s mam came for him and I played on the videopac. Then I read my MAD and played on the ZX. After that at 8.40 I tidied some Dr Who mags up and at 9.00 I watched Minder. 10.00 Went to bed.

What a daring leap into a very alien world of retail! We visited four high street shops on this ambitious expedition to Stockton, and… wait for it… none of them are there any more. Yikes.

Well, alright… there’s still a WH Smiths in Stockton, but it’s not in the same place. In 1984, Smiths was a cornerstone of the town’s thriving High Street, but it recently moved to smaller premises in an almost-but-not-quite-out-of-town retail park away behind the opposite side of the street. It now looks like it’s hiding from the rough, tough bullies of Pound Shops and discount bars that seem to have taken over the main part of the High Street.  


Of the rest… well, I’m sure anyone but the most dedicated troglodyte (who, as we all know, do all their weekly shopping online) knows about the demise of Woolies.

I walked past the old Stockton branch last week, and it was a sad sight… the classic Woolworths sign still hangs forlornly over a completely empty and desolate shop unit. It looked cold, and old, and lonely… and several times smaller than the bustling, busy shop that I remember as a kid – filled with colours and toys and sweets and exciting Star Wars goodies. And, of course, grey paint… for our model K9’s wooden body, in case you were wondering.   

Uptons was a North-Eastern department store pretty much next to Woolies in the Castlegate Shopping Centre. It had a thriving electrical department where my parents’ friend Alex worked… a funny, dapper little man with Kenny Everett’s beard and, on his desk, a pile of home-made TDK D90 compilation tapes labelled ‘Now That’s What Alex Calls Terrible Music’ with a Berol Handwriter pen. I thought this was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. I’d like to say I didn’t get out much, but my 1984 diary pretty much proves otherwise.


Dressers was another small North-Eastern business, a stationary shop (as in it sold stationary… although let’s face it, it didn’t move about much either) crammed full of oil paints and coloured pencils and exciting piles of sticky-on Letraset. The stickers that we bought were just plain, coloured labels to put on top of K9’s control box to give the impression of brightly flashing knobs and buttons. Anyone who laughed there at the phrase ‘brightly flashing knobs’… go and sit at the back of the class. And face the wall, we don’t want to see your horrible face.


bobafettAnd Leslie Browns!!!!! Oh, bestill my beating heart. Leslie Browns was a family-run toyshop right at the heart of Stockton High Street, and I LOVED IT WITH ALL MY HEART. Half of my 1970s and 80s Star Wars collection came from here (the other half from Middlesbrough’s similarly brilliant Romer Parrish shop) and – in 1980 – I got my Empire Strikes Back book signed here by Boba Fett. Yes, the REAL Boba Fett. He tramped down the stairs (from the model train department) and was mobbed by a throng of horrible kids waving Star Wars Imperial Blasters at him. I’ve no idea what he was doing in Stockton, but I like to think he went for a wander around the market afterwards, and maybe bought a side of beef, a fresh cauliflower and some sports socks (three pairs for a pound) for Darth Vader.


The red paint we bought was modelling paint for K9’s ‘eyes’. I love the above picture, by the way… although what it doesn’t show is that the ‘ball’ being thrown by the little boy to the little girl on the shop’s front actually ‘moved’… the lights lit up to show it going backwards and fowards. Hooray, it’s like a Pink Floyd live show!


Leslie Brown’s itself stayed open until 1991, and on its last day of trading I nicked off from sixth form and had one last look around for old times sake. I was eighteen, and on the way out a little tear ran down my face. I’m so bloody soft.    

There is, of course, a huge elephant in the room here. Or, rather, a huge talking car in the Castlegate Shopping Centre. Hem, hem…

‘we saw the knight rider car in the shopping centre’

What?!?!??! How on Earth did this happen, and how on Earth do I have NO RECOLLECTION OF THIS WHATSOEVER? The Castlegate Shopping Centre is pretty modestly-sized, and it smells permanently of butchers shops and floor polish, so it’s hard to imagine that The Hoff himself made the journey (unless he fancied a swift half of floor polish). Presumably, then, the car was doing a solo tour in its capacity as the Art Garfunkel of the partnership. It’s gone from my mind completely, though. Can any Stockton-ites remember this at all?



I never watched Knight Rider mind you, I thought it was rubbish and too far-fetched. Much more realistic to have, say, an 800-year-old Time Lord pottering around the galaxy in a battered police box…

I tried to get onto Conyers field today to make a little film (it’s Yarm’s comprehensive school, and has huge expanses of football and rugby pitches) but it’s all fenced off and shuttered up these days. Until very recently you used to be able to wander around the fields and school grounds at will at all times of day and night, but now it’s like Stalag Luft. I’m not sure whether the intention is to keep the grotty bloggers out or the grotty schoolkids in.

And ‘went to Dougs and touched up K9’. Ha! Ha! Ha! Alright, I’m joining you at the back of the class. Facing the wall.


  Andrew T. Smith wrote @

If you are anything like me then it possibly wasn’t the Knight Rider car. When I was a kid every black van belonged to the A-team and every camper van contained Sooty and Co.

Saying that, I was walking to work a few weeks ago and a little smart car drove past PAINTED ENTIRELY LIKE SCOOBY DOO’S MYSTERY MACHINE!

  Chris Orton wrote @

Ah, I remember shopping in Stockton well. In fact, I made a pilgrimage to the town of my birth the other month on the final day of Woolies trading. It was all rather depressing really. Still, I consoled myself by stocking up on tasty meaty treats at Meynells (for Meynells is by far the finest of the umpteen butchers shops in the Castlegate Centre).

There was a Dressers in Darlo too – for some reason it always reminded me of Grace Brothers. It’s a flaming Pound Land now.

  PJEUK wrote @

Don’t remember Knight Rider in Stockton but do recall seeing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang putting in an appearance in the Green Dragon Yard during the summer hols around 1985.

Don’t know if this was some fanboy kit car or the genuine article but exciting all the same and probably more famous than the usual visitors to Stockton in the mid 80s.

  bobfischer wrote @

I’m pretty sure it will have been the actual Knight Rider car (or a proper copy of it) – as I said, I didn’t watch the show, so I wouldn’t go around pointing at any passing black car going ‘Oook! Oook! Knight Rider car!’. Not like some of us. 😉 Although bizarrely I do have really vivid memories of pointing to a terraced house in Stockton and telling my puzzled parents that ‘that’s where the Mr Men live’. I wasn’t 11 at the time, though (I was 23)

I had no idea about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! That’s great. So presumably cars going on tour around shopping centres was a big thing in the 1980s? I’m surprised Del Boy’s van didn’t turn up in the Cleveland Centre at some point.

Chris – every other shop in Stockton High Street seems to be a pound shop these days. 😦

  andy h wrote @

i saw knight rider in stockton (i was from hartlepool). me and my sister went to see it with my dad. i have even got a knight rider cap somewhere to prove it! :0

i was a little young, so my memory is not perfect.. the hoff was not there thats for sure. the car was parked up with its doors open, and it had the full knight rider dash inside. they were dishing out merchandise left right and centre.. i think i might have got a t-shirt and some stickers as well.

i was in heaven… my favourite toy ever was a knight rider remote control car that i got for christmas around the same time… maybe chrimbo 83.

i had no idea when i had seen the knight rider car… and this pin points it perfectly. awesome!!! thank you! 🙂

i love that diary entry lol!!!! great stuff!! the amount of stuff we would fit into a day as kids eh?! brings back a lot of my youth!!

  bobfischer wrote @

Andy, that’s great stuff – thanks so much! Glad you’ve found this nonsense, and appreciate you confirming my hazy memories.

  Steve wrote @

I’m sure it was a random typo and in any case I’m doing myself no favours by pointing this out, but I love the mnemonic so much (OK, a bit): ‘stationery’ not ‘stationary’. Because (drum roll please) it’s *e* for envelope (as in stationery, geddit?)

Sorry, sorry, sorry…

  bobfischer wrote @

Steve, you’re being far too generous. I simply can’t spell, but I’ll try and remember that one.

The only mnemonic that’s ever stuck in my mind is my Mum’s handy hint for spelling ‘beautiful’… ‘boxed eggs are useful to ill folk’. She’d been taught that when she was tiny, and passed it onto me.

Why is ‘mnemonic’ so difficult to spell, anyway? Someone’s taking the piss here.

  Richard wrote @

Late to this party by about six years… I’m enjoying reading through your blog (for the second time I think – sure I remember something about DER in here somewhere). loved this particular post though. I’m living in Sydney now and this really smacked me back to my childhood in Stockton in the 70s and 80s. To the extent that I’m actually feeling a bit wobbly now . What I actually wanted to share was another handy mnemonic, probably the only one that regularly pops to my mind: “Never Eat Chocolate, Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Young”. I often find it’s necessary.

  bobfischer wrote @

Aw, cheers Richard – proud to have made you gone wobbly!

  PaulPrice wrote @

Thank-you for your diary extract. I remember seeing Boba Fett walk down the stairs in Leslie Brown’s one Saturday afternoon. I thought I must have dreamt it. I remember the place being packed with other kids. He walked down the stairs and turned left at the bottom of the stairs. I think it was to promote the Boba Fett figure – you couldn’t buy one, you had to send off tokens from the toys or something.

  bobfischer wrote @

Yes, that was it! I was there. I’d definitely seen Empire by that point, and had the storybook to get signed, so I reckon it must have been sometime in the latter half of 1980.

And yes, the first Boba Fett figure involved you collecting tokens from the cards of other figures, and sending them off for a limited edition Fett. I definitely did that, and got one. But it was released to buy in the shops a few months afterwards, and I reckon the Leslie Browns appearance was to promote that.

  Liane wrote @

I’ve just been thinking about leslie browns as I loved this shop so much…I remember that when you entered the shop they had a few pay & ride toys inc further back was a coin operated treasure cave where a elephant would go into the cave then deliver a gift via a treasure chest (I loved the excitment) & I could tell you plenty of stories back in the days of conyers as I use to go there. ….ahh memories from all over today 🙂

  bobfischer wrote @

Hi Liane, thanks for reading this, glad it’s brought back a few nice memories. And the treasure cave with the elephant!!! I’d forgotten all about that. Unlike the elephant, probably. They’ve got long memories.

Can you remember what the rides were at the entrance to the shop? Been racking my brain, but I can’t think.

  Damian Perry wrote @

I seem to recall there being a World War 1 airplane ride where you could shoot the Red Baron. I also remember a visit by Darth Vader – he stood on the stairs and threw packets of panini stickers into the crowd of kids.

  Richard wrote @

There was that, and there was also a horse ride where you could shoot Indians using a pistol attached to the saddle’s pommel.

  bobfischer wrote @

Blimey, really? I’ve no recollection of that at all, so I assume that must have passed me by! Must have been trying to protect the location of my rebel base (in the spare bedroom)

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