Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for February, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 49

Saturday 18th February 1984


Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 7.50. Got the 8.20 bus to Middlesbrough, and first I bought a book called ‘The Weirdstone of  Brisingamen’ from Smiths. At 11.00 I went to Grandma’s and read my comics then started to read my book.

At 12.00 I had a bacon sandwich then I read some more of my book and wrote some of the jewel. At 2.30 We came home and I went outside and played with Poggy Doggy then at 5.00 I had tea. After tea I started a new flowchart for the jewel then at 6.30 I watched Child’s play.

At 7.00 I watched 321 then at 8.15 I watched Les Dawson. After that I did some more of my flowchart, and had it all wrong so I had to change it all. At 9.30 I went to bed and read my book until 10.30.

Thankyou, Mr Millward. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou.

I hope someone, somewhere shows him this, because it was Mr Millward – brilliant, gentle Mr Millward with his droopy moustache and specs and sandals – who taught me so much about the joys of reading. Because beneath Mr Millward’s calm, dryly-witty exterior beat the heart of a born storyteller. And, twice weekly throughout Autumn 1983, he would sit down in the library with a small gaggle of grubby disciples and read us Alan Garner’s ‘The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen’.

Except he didn’t JUST read it. He acted it, breathed it, poured his heart and soul into it. Made the scary bits super-scary and the funny bits super-funny, moreso than anybody had ever done on dreary old Jackanory. He did the voices and the sound effects, and chucked in a few witticisms of his own… so now, whenever I think of The Weirdstone’s evil, goblin-like Svart creatures, I picture Mr Millward hiding a wry smile and chuckling ‘think of Christopher Herbert… if you can bear to, of course…’

This was Mr Millward’s version of the book…


He had a bit of previous form. A year earlier he’d read us the brilliant tale of the inner-city kids who become reluctant thieves in order to trap their Granny’s sinister handbag-grabbing lodger. It took me 20 years after leaving Levendale Primary School to work out that the book was Nina Bawden’s children’s classic ‘A Handful Of Thieves’, because all I could remember was Mr Millward’s breathless, lisping interpretation of the annoyingly cloying Cleo. She didn’t have a lisp in the book… he just put that in for our amusement and delight. Dick Emery, eat your heart out.  (But I like you)

But The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen was his finest moment. It’s an amazing book anyway… written in the early 1960s, it’s the fabulously rich and layered tale of Colin and Susan, two city kids despatched to rural Cheshire to stay with Gowther and Bess Mossock: old-fashioned farming folk and friends of the childrens’ mother. While exploring the dark, twisted forests around Alderley Edge, they become drawn into a surreal, ancient world of magic – helmed by the wizard Cadellin, whose labyrinthine cavern Fundindelve lies beyond secret gates hidden in a secluded nook of the tangled Cheshire countryside.

This is my copy of the book, pictured on the occasion of our 25th anniversary of being together. Happy anniversary, book!


I was starting to be drawn to a bit of fantasy anyway – hence my Warlock Of Firetop Mountain obsession – but The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen was like nothing I’d ever read before. Far more complex and intelligent than any other childrens’ book I’d seen, it captured my imagination by bringing the magic to my own doorstep… this wasn’t set in some mystical realm, but in an all-too-real environment of cars and shops and woodland filled with ramblers. And the mythology fascinated me, too… it weaves rich, timeless English and Celtic folklore into a ripping story of good versus evil.

I still read my battered, 25-year-old paperback at least once a year, and I still think it’s one of the finest and most inspirational books ever written. And I presume Mr Millward thought likewise, and I hope we weren’t the only generation of kids that benefitted from his unique brand of genius. If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have bought that paperback on this very morning, and if it hadn’t been for that then I don’t think I’d be trying to write for a living right now.

Eternal power to your moustache, Mr Millward. Everybody needs a teacher like you.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 48

Friday 17th February 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.15. First at school I went into Topic group then me and Frankie did a Topic sheet, then I wrote some of the jewel. At 12.00 I had dinner and played cricket.

After dinner we had to watch this stupid film called Dragonslayer which nobody could understand but we watched it anyway. At 3.15 I came home and at 3.50 Doug rang to see if he could come down and he could so I walked Poggy Doggy down to meet him and we ran back and went upstairs and mucked about.

Then we came downstairs and looked at some photographs and then we played on the Tarzie. 5.5 Watched Grange hill and at 5.40 Doug went home 5.45 Had tea and at 7.00 I watched The A Team. At 8.00 I watched That’s my boy and at 8.30 I watched a Fine Romance.

Dragonslayer! An almost-completely-forgotten Disney swords-and-sorcery film from 1981, it thrust future Ghostbusters 2 star Peter MacNichol into the action as the magnificently-named Galen Bradwarden, seeking to release the kingdom of Urland from the tyranny of Vermithrax Pejorative (that’s the dragon, by the way) with the help of Ralph Richardson’s mercurial sorcerer Ulrich of Craggenmoor.

There’s something about a magical amulet as well, and a ‘virgin sacrifice’ (which naturally made us giggle) but that’s about as much as I can remember. What do you think I am, some sort of saddo?


So why were we watching rollocking old Disney films when there was serious educational work to be done? Why, because it was the last day of school before the half-term holidays, and our teachers clearly weren’t in the mood for vulgar fractions (five f***ing eighths, etc) and another telling of the Parable of the Talents.


So, instead, they wheeled our ancient, Grundig TV (in a cabinet with wooden doors that locked!) and a top-loading video recorder the size of a paving slab into the end room and left us to it. I remember sitting on the floor at the back of the room, the wall-length red and black curtains drawn behind me, wondering when – oh when – would I be allowed to get up and restore the blood circulation to my arse cheeks.

Not sure where the early 1984 cricket obsession came from,  were the England team doing something exciting at the time? It’s hard to imagine. What I do hope is that the phrase ‘we played cricket’ doesn’t conjure up images of flattened greens, linseed oil, cucumber sandwiches in the pavillion and the crack of leather on willow.


We actually played in the concrete school playground, using a wire litter bin (usually stuffed with Feast wrappers and Monster Munch packets and surrounded by wasps) as the wicket while ‘bowling’ wildly and entirely inaccurately with a tennis ball. Every shot was lamped towards the Under-5s playgroup hut with an admirable slog, although it’s hard to imagine that even Ian Botham accompanied his strokes with a loud exclamation of ‘Get up, y’bastard’ like Steven Foster did.

Actually, on second thoughts…

All of this occasionally attracted the attention of our fearsome yellow-coated dinner nannies, of which the terrifying Kray Twins-esque double act of Mrs Gallon and Mrs James were the acknowledged enforcers. Smelly Christopher Herbert was once impounded in the middle band cloakroom (Levendale Primary School’s own Guantanemo Bay) for the heinous crime of ‘running with his hands in his coat pockets’. I’d like to say he was forced into a humilating orange costume and made to sit with his head between his legs, but that was pretty much how he liked to spend most dinnertimes anyway.

Meanwhile, I think Steven Foster is still on the run from the time he shouted ‘BUGGER NANNIES!!!’ at Mrs James from behind the football pitch hedge and ran away. Like an exiled Great Rain Robber lying low in South America, he still fears the long arm of justice. In a yellow sleeve.


I like the mysterious ‘went upstairs and mucked about’ as well. It’s almost certain that this means ‘went upstairs and talked about filth’ although I do recall attempting, around this time, to form the nascent seeds of a top pop act by forcing poor Doug to harmonise while I attempted to sing Guys and Dolls’ gloopy 1975 hit ‘There’s a Whole Lot of Loving’ (on my ‘found’ TDK C90 tape, remember… see 13th February for the full gory story!). Sadly neither of us could carry a tune in a bucket, but that didn’t deter me from spending the half-term holiday planning the world domination of our Levendale Primary School supergroup ‘Titchie Ritchie and the Weirdos’.

Stay tuned. And bring a bucket.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 47

Thursday 16th February 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.15. First at school I did my RE then I started a book review and at 10.10 We went swimming. First we could do anything we liked, then we had to swim front crawl. After that we had to swim breast stroke, and at 11.10 we came back, covered in Gazzie’s after shave.

At 12.00 I had dinner, then after dinner I mucked about with a football. Then we came in and I finished my book review and I also did some maths. Came home at 3.15 and went outside, then looked at some photographs that had come. At 4.40 I watched Fonz and the Happy days gang and at 4.45 I had tea.

After tea I played on the videopac, then I finished the flowchart for the jewel and started the story. At 7.30 I watched Carry on laughing, then I played chess with dad. 9.00 Watched The Steam video company and at 9.30 I went to bed.

It’s terrifying to imagine a) how many of us actually smothered ourselves in ‘Gazzie’s after shave’ before returning to school for the afternoon, and b) which delicate brand of Eighties scent we were actually pouring over our tin-ribbed torsos in the desperate pursuit of sophistication. But I’ll break through that pungent terror barrier in the name of thoroughness, and go for a) five (me, Doug, Gaz, Ozzie and probably Paul Frank) and b) Brut 33.

In fact, here’s some documentary footage shot that very morning in the changing room of Egglescliffe Comprehensive junior swimming pool…

Where would we be without Brut 33? Well, for a start, probably not seated deliberately next to an open window in the middle of February by a coughing Mrs Keasey, vainly attempting to stop her eyes watering and her lungs collapsing.

(Actually, I do Brut 33 a great disservice. There’s an ancient bottle of it in the bathroom as we speak,  and before Christmas I grew a 70s-style moustache and wore a cravat to a good friend’s Silver Wedding Anniversary party. ‘Why don’t you go the whole hog and splash this on all over?’ said my other half, brandishing the bottle at me.

So I did. And it smelt bloody gorgeous, and I felt like a proper, macho, butch-as-you-like man all night. Sadly, though, I couldn’t find one, so I just ended up eating cheese flan by myself next to an open window. Ho ho, knackers, and – indeed – arse)

Anyway… I was always really excited when a batch of photographs ‘came back’, and this day was undoubtedly no exception. Just to clarify: we hardly took any photos at all in our family. Our camera was an ancient, virtually clockwork affair that my Dad had bought in (I think) the early 1960s, and it didn’t have a flash, so from birth until 1989 I don’t think a single picture of me or any of my immediate family actually INDOORS was ever taken.

We probably went through one or two films a year, and when they were done, they were ‘sent off’ with an accompanying cheque to the Truprint laboratories in the far-off and exotic-sounding land of ‘Telford’. We’d then wait anything up to a month before our pictures were returned in the post, in envelopes that looked like this…


…and I’d flick through them again and again and again, trying to drink in every last detail and intrigued by a process that – for me – was still incredibly rare and precious. Photography fascinates me still, that ability to capture a fleeting second of entirely ordinary time and preserve it in static immortality forever, and now – with the advent of digital whatnots – I take dozens of pictures every week. It’s magical… and back then, the infrequency with which the process happened lent it an extra, irresistible sheen of sorcery and mystique.

I’ve had a rummage through my collection, and the last set of pictures before February 1984 seem to come from August 1983, and a family trek down to a local beauty spot…


…this is a place called Trout Beck (or ‘Weary Valley’ to some locals, including my Dad).  It’s no more than two miles from our house in Yarm, and consists of a public footpath running through a few square miles of woodland and sheep-strewn meadows, with a narrow stretch of the twinkly River Leven burbling through a dark, tree-lined valley before opening out into a beautiful, head-high waterfall that became a glorious, sun-dappled bathing spot at the height of Eighties summertime.


I loved coming here, firstly because it gave me time with my Dad… away from the hassles of work, he’d revert to his own distant childhood and drag me giggling along the riverbank to watch trout flicking lazily between the stepping stones, or to push me laughing hysterically onto the cracking array of tarzies that lined the waters edge.

But also because it fired my imagination, and took ME away from school and Yarm to far-off, magical lands. Sometimes the river was the swampy world of Dagobah, and Luke Skywalker and his X-Wing Fighter were just a short skip away, beneath the buzzing traffic of the A19 flyover.  Other times the sandy banks were the arid planet Skaro, with an army of Daleks set to trundle over the grassy top, exterminating innocent sheep before falling into our ambush…


I’m not sure where the pile of bricks came from, but there’s every chance they’re the remains of a pillbox or some other strange relic, left intact after the end of World War II. Almost all of these constuctions are gone now, but in the 1970s and 1980s they were still standing in their thousands… concrete and brick mini-fortresses, built in the early 1940s to withstand the anticipated German land invasion.

I can remember the locations of at least three of these things in Yarm alone, and I should really have a little investigate to see what (if anything) remains of them. It’s odd how, as a kid, the events of World War II really didn’t seem that distant. I remember playing ‘Spitfires’ in the playground, and my friend Jo Spayne showing me the correct way to draw a Vulcan Bomber… it sounds odd that all this was going on in the late 1970s, although – terrifyingly – it’s no different to current kids drawing pictures of my own childhood surroundings… although in my case they were flared trousers, disco music and Tom Baker rather than the machinery of European occupation.  

 In the meantime, a bit of Googling just now has brought up this fascinating site…


Anyway, just to diffuse the air of poignancy that’s in danger of building up here, I’ll point out that when all of the above pictures were taken, I was suffering from chronic diarrhoea and was ripped to the gills on Kaolin and Morphine solution.

MORPHINE! Yegods, did they really sell that to kids in bottles over the counter of Boots?

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 46

Wednesday 15th February 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.15. First at school we went in for Topic groups then me and Ozzie did a sheet on buildings and handed it in. Then we showed everybody the Guardian and at 12.00 I had dinner.

After dinner we went in for RE and then me and Stan finished off a maths sheet while everybody went in for Joseph. At 3.15 I came home (boys games was cancelled) and played on the videopac. Then I did a flowchart for the jewel of pebble village and then I went outside and played football.

At 4.45 I had tea and I also watched Rentghost. Then I went outside again and at 6.45 I watched the last part of the Dalek Dr Who adventure. After that at 7.35 I played on the videopac and at 9.00 I watched Minder. 10.00 Went to bed.

Topic groups? Sheets on buildings? Pffffft. Give over, nobody was talking about those on Wednesday 15th February 1984. From banks to building sites, from fishing boats to factory floors, there was only topic of conversation on the ENTIRE COUNTRY’s lips this morning.

And, depressingly for my 11-year-old self, it wasn’t tonight’s concluding episode of ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’. It was this…

Yes, Torvill and Dean’s unprecedent ‘six sixes’ at the bloody Winter Olympics from Sarajevo. It had happened live on TV the previous evening, watched by over 24 million viewers in a lovely Valentine’s Day treat for the nation. I wasn’t amongst them, though. Naturally, I thought ice skating was ‘dead boring’ and spent the night chasing Munchkins around the portable TV screen with my Philips Videopac G7000 while my Mum poured herself a glass of cloudy home-made white wine and got all of a quiver over Christopher Dean’s forward salchows.

I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed of the fact that undoubtedly the greatest sporting event of the year (notwithstanding Boro’s 2-1 home win over Barnsley the previous week) didn’t register so much as a fleeting mention in my diary.

I’m pretty sure I at least caught the Nine O’Clock News report, with Moira Stewart beginning her bulletin with the immortal introduction only ever reserved for the aftermath of Royal Weddings and Great British Sporting Occasions (Usually Failures): ‘As you may have just seen during live coverage on BBC1 tonight…’ But, y’know, I only had a page to work with, and if I was going to write about  sporting affairs then mine and Doug’s game of ‘cricket in the fog’ was surely worthy of more comprehensive coverage. 


Actually, I’m probably playing this down a bit  – I do remember feeling a bit emotional and oddly proud when I finally caught up with events, and beneath the grubby bluster I was a strangely sensitive 11-year-old who could occasionally appreciate the finer things in life. And there was undoubtedly a nice, rumbling, Torvill and Dean-related buzz around school on this chilly morning, although regrettably this included Christopher Herbert’s entirely unfounded speculation that ‘he’s a tranny and she’s a lezzer’.  

You’ll also notice – of course – that this day marked another milestone occasion… the first time that I missed a rehearsal for our school production of Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I’d been to a handful of previous get-togethers, and mumbled ‘One More Angel In Heaven’ into my BHS denim jacket, actions that – so far as Mr Millward and Mrs Mulhern were concerned – made me an irrevocable part of the cast and choir.

Today though, I’d clearly decided that musical theatre was not my calling, and instead decided to mess around with Stan. Stan was a really good laugh, a sporty lad with a mop of sandy hair. His real name was Andrew Henry, but for reasons I’m still entirely uncertain about, he’d been known to all (including the teachers) as ‘Stan’ for at least three years by this stage. 

Here he is in April 1984 at Carlton Outdoor Education Centre (and I can’t wait to get stuck into that particular week of our lives…)


I have a vague feeling his nickname was the result of an inspired routine one school dinnertime, when – over Spam Fritters and Milk Club Biscuits – he fussed up his hair and made a comedy crying noise like Stan Laurel. And had us all chortling snot into our semolina (not that you’d notice). I’d LOVE to think that this tiny, two-second piece of nonsense was the inspiration, because – almost thirty years later – he’s STILL known to everyone as Stan. 


Even the smiling lady who approached me in a pub in Saltburn last year and said ‘You don’t remember me, do you? I’m Stan’s Mum’. Funny how the strangest, shortest, most fleeting transient moments can change the flavour of our lives forever.

Anyway, ‘Rentghost’! Or – as the rest of the civilised Western world kew it – ‘Rentaghost’. Classic children’s TV, and utterly inspired bollocks that us made laugh (and smell) like drains. Now in it’s ninth and final series, when it looked like this…

I’m proud recently to have presented a radio show in which the thorny topic: ‘How do horses read books, do they have to hold them to one side of their head rather than directly front of them?’ was settled when one listener e-mailed in to report that this approach was exactly the one favoured by the pantomime horse in Rentaghost. I laughed so hard that my co-presenter had to remove a bowl of semolina from the studio for its own safety.

I am 36 years old.

And yes! Sorry Jayne and Chris, but let’s talk about Resurrection of the Daleks. The final episode tonight, of course, and the one in which the Doctor’s companion Tegan Jovanka made a tearful and sudden departure from the show.

A gobby Australian air hostess played by… erm, gobby Australian actress Janet Fielding, Tegan remains one of my favourite ever Doctor Who companions, largely because she regularly reacted to her adventures in the same way that any of us would. Namely: ‘Fight Daleks? You’ve got to be f***ing kidding! Let’s just leave them to their exterminating, get back in the TARDIS and we’ll have a fortnight in f***ing Alicante instead’. (Say that in a broad Brisbane accent for full effect).  


She’s sometimes unfairly maligned by the kind of Doctor Who fans who think all of the show’s female companions should be leggy, well-spoken Cambridge graduate nuclear physicists called Primula, but I think she’s great, and her final scene – tearfully tottering away from a shocked Doctor in a splendid Eighties print top and high heels – is a belter.

Brave heart, Tegan.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 45

Tuesday 14th February 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.15. First at school I finished some Topic research, and started my story about a house in the future. Then me and Ozzie took the Guardian of Goblin Grotto to Mr Chalkley, but he wasn’t in, so we waited ten minutes then showed it to him. He gave us a binder for it and at 12.00 I had dinner.

After dinner I finished my story and did some fractions off the blackboard. After that we put the Guardian in the binder and read it. 3.15 Came home and started to colour the cover for the Guardian. Then I went down and met Doug, and we came to my house and played on the ZX81. Then we went outside and played cricket in the fog.

At 5.5 We watched Grange hill and at 5.40 Doug went home. 5.45 Had tea and after tea. At 6.40 I watched Tucker’s luck and at 7.15 I played the Guardian. Then I played on the videopac and at 9.15 I watched Alas Smith and Jones. 9.45 Went to bed.

Ah, St Valentine’s Day! The most romantic day of the year. And how did we 11-year-olds choose to celebrate this centuries-old festival of all things mushy? Why, by going ‘Eeeeeurggghhhhh! Yyyyyyyyyuch! Yer JOKIN’!!! Yuuuurchhh!’, of course.

We didn’t do romance. Aside from the mystery billet-doux that Paul Frank recieved outside the papier mache Egyptian sarcophagus in Middle Band in 1981, I don’t recall seeing a single Valentine’s card in all my years at Levendale Primary School. And this wasn’t solely down to the fact that I was an ugly, grubby little sod with a penchant for Doctor Who continuity and Fighting Fantasy books.


I suspect that no modern 11-year-olds are ever this coy, but there was an unspoken rule around the place that it was deeply inappropriate to mention fancying ANYONE, even a celebrity. After all, we all remembered the wave of scandal that had swept across the school when Steven Foster had declared his undying love for Kim Wilde, and attempted to stencil her face on his pencil case.

Although it looked more like Howard Jones, to be honest. We can only hope that the associated stigma didn’t lead to poor Steven throwing off his mental chains. Ooooh-hoo-hooo.

Anyway, good to see Ozzie and me finally gaining recognition for The Guardian Of Goblin Grotto. Entering into the headmaster’s office was always a terrifying ordeal, especially as my only previous experiences in there consisted of staring intently at my shoes and almost inaudibly mumbling ‘no’ to a series of questions to which the truthful answer was almost always, actually, ‘yes’.

(‘Would you do that at home?’ being the textbook example, applied to everything from putting muddy feet up on Mr Millward’s special chair to drawing nudey pictures in blocky pixels on the school ZX81).

Thankfully, the amazingly hairy Mr Chalkley was utterly lovely, and wrote on the inside page of The Guardian Of Goblin Grotto a little tribute that I still recall in its entirety… ‘Well done, can’t wait to see the next step!’.

I was always tempted to write ‘To see the next step, turn to 327’ underneath, but I didn’t dare.

The binder he gave us, by the way, was just a standard slidey plastic thing, one of these…


…but it’s a sign of my incredibly sheltered existance that I’d honestly never seen one before. I was fascinated by it, and spent the rest of the afternoon dreaming wistfully about the opportunities for stationary storage revolution that this development had brought into my life. No wonder I wasn’t yet quite ready to admit my love for Sarah Greene to the world.

Good to see a bit of Fog Cricket going on… we were wild, we were reckless and we knew how to slug an impressive pull shot to the coal bunker in the middle of a Teesside pea-souper. And a strange memory of Alas Smith and Jones has just come to me, which I know was from the first series, so it could well be this episode. It was a sketch about a spoof wartime poet, who wrote the following charming stanza… (from memory this, so it might be vaguely wrong. You’ll need to do it in a rubbish German accent as well…)

There was a young girl from Berlin,
Who liked to have sexual intercourse,
And when she’d finished,
She’d get out of bed,
And break wind like a German anti-tank gun.

I only remember this because, as I lay sprawled in front of the fire with my head rest on Poggy Doggy’s shaggy trunk, it gave me a horrendous fit of the giggles that even my parents seemed to find charmingly amusing. Before they sent me to bed with the words ‘Would you do that at school?’ ringing around my head.

Anyone know if I’ve remembered this right?

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 44

Monday 13th February 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.00. First at school we went into assembly and when we came out I went into Maths group. Then I finished a maths sheet, and went in for PE and played indoor football. As 12.00 I had dinner and after dinner it was reading time.

After that I went out for football and it was one big match. We lost 5-4. When we came in me and Ozzie showed Mrs Keasey the Guardian of Goblin Grotto and she said show Mr Chalkley, so we went over but he wasn’t around. 3.15 Came home and at 3.40 I went down to Doug’s but he wasn’t in so I hung around his garage till 4.00 and he came back.

We took the top off K9 then went to my house and mucked on. At 5.00 Doug went home and I had tea, then after tea I played on the videopac. Played on that till 8.45, Then played chess with dad and at 9.30 I went to bed.

I don’t do a lot at school, do I? Indoor football in the morning, outdoor football in the afternoon, and inbetween the delightfully vague  ‘reading time’ which would more accurately be described as ‘sitting with an open book on my lap while yabbering endlessly to Doug and Ozzie about Daleks time’. No wonder I’m an adult underachiever.

Although, to be fair, Ozzie and I had now finished our Fighting Fantasy adventure ‘The Guardian Of Goblin Grotto’ and were throwing ourselves into the promotional rounds, clearly angling for my second assembly performance of 1984. I’ve no idea where our amazingly hairy headmaster Mr Chalkley had got to, especially as – so far as I can tell – there was no full moon on Monday 13th February 1984. He must have been away combing his hands somewhere.


I love the fact that I ‘hung around’ Doug’s garage awaiting his return. I wonder how long I’d have been prepared to wait if he hadn’t come back? I’d probably still have been there at midnight, pining and whimpering like Greyfriars Bobby. Doug’s dad’s garage was, of course, the subject of some fascination for us, because pinned on the back wall, underneath a dirty overall hanging on a rusty nail, was…  


…’A Nuddy Calendar’.

It’s mentioned in the very first chapter of ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ and yes… we’d discovered it during one of our nighttime K9-building sessions, and almost fainted with fright. It had clearly been there for a few years, and had faded somewhat, which was probably a blessing. But I think this was the first time I’d ever seen a full-frontal picture of a completely naked woman.

Well… I say ‘completely naked’, all of the delightful young ladies involved were clad in the regulation 1980s stockings and suspender belt combination that ‘Allo Allo’ and Benny Hill led us to believe that ALL women wore ALL the time. I remember being fascinated by the enormous, back-combed, bouffanted hairstyles as well.     

Insert your own joke here. I’m not doing it for you.

(I’m sorry)


These days, our moral guardians fret about the easy access to pornography that the internet affords to modern-day children, but it was largely the same in 1984 as well. You just had to know which hedgerows to look under. Once Doug pointed it out to me, it became apparent that the litter-strewn hedges and copses of Yarm and its neighbouring village Kirklevington frequently gave a home to, well… the torn-up remnants of discarded Razzle and Penthouse magazines.

I’ve still no idea who went around Yarm buying up top-shelf magazines, tearing them into bits and throwing them into ditches and hedges, but I’d like to find out. It was probably the same person that used to unwind TDK D90 audio cassettes and string the resulting yards of shimmering, light brown tape around tree branches. I always thought this was quite a beautiful sight, although once – in early 1983 – I succumbed to curiosity and persuaded my Uncle Trevor to help me rescue a tree-based tape spillage near my Gran’s bungalow in Acklam. We collected all the salvageable tape, bought a replacement cassette body from the Boots audio section in Middlesbrough, and put it back together. The results weren’t half bad, and contained the following songs…

‘Oh Boy’ by Mud
‘There’s A Whole Lot Of Loving’ by Guys & Dolls
‘Love Me Love My Dog’ by Pete Shelley
‘The Way We Were’ by Barbara Streisand
‘Giving It All Away’ by Roger Daltrey
‘Mr Soft’ by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel
‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ by John Holt
‘Get Dancing’ by Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes

I loved ‘Mr Soft’ with an almost indecent passion, and it remained my own private, secret treasure until the following advert popped up on Tyne Tees about a year later…

The tape also contained a brilliant reggae song called (possibly) ‘Hurts So Fine’, but I can never remember the singer’s name. Anyone?

I was still playing this tape in 1984, through the tinny portable tape recorder occasionally pressed into service to load ‘3D Monster Maze’ into the ZX81, and I loved it to bits. Although all of these songs date from around ten years earlier, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how long they’d been buffeted around the branches of a lilac tree in Acklam.

It’s a shame it’s virtually impossible to discover strange, lost songs in this way these days, but I don’t suppose it’s easy to drape an MP3 around an old lady’s laburnum bush.


Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 43

Sunday 12th February 1984

Woke up at 8.30 and read my book. Got up at 9.30 and played on the videopac. Then I copied a picture of Doctor Who and a Tractator, then I read Eagle (It was no 100). After that I went outside and played football on the front garden, then at 12.00 I had dinner.

After dinner at about 1.00 me and mam took Poggy Doggy for a walk around the Mcleans estate and I had a go on a climbing frame in a field. The we came home and I went outside with the football. When I got sick I came back in and played on the videopac, then at 5.00 We had tea.

After tea I played on the videopac, then I played chess with Dad. After that I drew two pictures for a new fighting fantasy book called the Jewel of pebble village. At 8.35 I watched Ever decreasing circles, at 9.05  I had a bath, and at 9.20 I watched crufts. 10.05 Went to bed.

Right then, there’s one word in this dairy entry that still sends shivers down my spine and makes my head freeze with the memory of probably the very last childhood thing capable of giving me genuine, damaging, sleep-troubling terrors. And amazingly, it’s not Crufts.

No, it’s the Eagle.

Yep, the classic 1950s comic ‘for boys’, revived in 1982 as a colourful, contemporary take on traditional ripping yarns. We kids of the 80s still had Dan Dare and the Mekon, of course – and the latter provided a ready-made nickname for any of our school contemporaries proudly sporting the larger forehead. At least until the Tefal adverts came along, anyway…

…and we also had shambling private detective Joe Soap, shameless Grange Hill (ahem) ‘homage’ Crowe Street Comp, and crack footballing schoolboys Thunderbolt and Smokey. But it wasn’t any of these that gave me the screaming abdabs, oh no. It was…


…brace yourself…




Just looking at him now, I still feel slightly uncomfortable. As you can tell from the picture, Doomlord was the villain of a comic strip, but not one of the nice, cosy, ink-and-pencils comic strips that I found in Doctor Who Monthly. This was  – yikes! – a PHOTO STORY comic strip, so as far as I was concerned, Doomlord actually existed. And he killed people. Ruthlessly and mercilessly. 

In the original 13-part strip in 1982, Doomloard was a giant, robed alien whose spaceship landed in suburban English woodland, witnessed only by the intrepid, raincoated local journalist Howard Harvey. Harvey alone knew of Doomlord’s terrifying ability to suck the lifeforce from his victims (with a hand on the forehead that made their eyes turn deathly white), disintegrate their bodies and then assume their forms and memories to move undetected through the country, constantly shape-shifting and leaving a string of missing people in his wake…


In 1982, I was genuinely scared of Doomlord. Which seems bizarre now, because in many ways I was a reasonably grounded and worldly-wise nine-year-old. But I was cursed with a hugely overactive imagination, and as far as I was concerned, Doomlord was REAL. He was DEATH ITSELF, and my Dad or Mr Millward or the weird bloke in Yarm Library were more than likely to be… yes, HIM, seeking me out to place that deadly hand on my forehead.

How would it feel? Would it hurt as my memories left me and the life drained from my tiny body, and would I scream unheard for help? These were thoughts that genuinely raced around my mind as I lay in bed at nights, unable to sleep with the sheer horror of it all. Little nutcase that I was.

By 1984 I was over it, and Doomlord – in a cost-cutting exercise, no doubt – was in traditional, non-scary hand-drawn form, rather than those grainy, black-and-white photos. But even now, in the darkness of the night, I still sometimes feel those piercing eyes boring into my very soul…

Anyway…! (blushes) the ‘picture of Doctor Who and a Tractator’ that I copied will undoubtedly have been taken straight from the cover of the new Doctor Who Monthly (see yesterday’s diary) and ‘The Mcleans estate’ was a then-quite-new housing development on the outskirts of Yarm. I went back to that very spot today… (yay, another special Wiffle Lever film!)

And Crufts?!?!? CRUFTS?!??! Since when did I watch Crufts on the telly? I suppose it’s more exciting than the Winter Olympics from Sarajevo. Here’s 1984’s Best In Show, the Lhasa Apso Ch Saxonsprings Hackensack…


I like to think that, given half a chance, he’d have given Doomlord a nasty bite on his scrawny alien arse.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 42

Saturday 11th February 1984

Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 8.00. Got the 8.20 bus to Middlesbrough and in Smiths I got my Dr Who comic. Then I went to Fine Fare and bought a Tucker’s luck book and at Top man I got a white tie. I couldn’t get a hamburger because Breadwinner were shut, but I got a half price Dr Who annual from a shop in the bus centre.

At Grandma’s I read my book and had a bacon sandwich, then at 2.30 We came home and I played football on the front garden. Then I came in and played on the videopac. When I got sick I went out again, and at 5.00 I had tea.

Then I went out again until it was dark and at 7.00 I watched 321. At 8.00 I watched Les Dawson and at 9.00 I played chess with dad. He beat me three times but I won the last game and had five weetabix. 10.00 Went to bed.

Completely recovered from my illness by now – phew!

Another nice, fresh, cold Saturday, and I’m amazed at how early I managed to get out of bed on these weekend mornings – 8pm! On a Saturday! Ten minutes for a quick wash and then straight outside to wait for the 294 bus to Middlesbrough. The bus stop was right outside our garden, on the other side of the enormous wall of conifer trees that my Dad had planted as saplings back in 1977. By 1984 they were twice my height, and now – yes, they’re still there – they must be thirty feet tall. I’ll get some pictures sooner or later.

OK, another ‘Dr who comic’ for the collection… Issue 86 of Doctor Who Monthly, this time with a fabulous picture of a Tractator from ‘Frontios’ on the cover:


I remember clutching my WH Smiths carrier bag for dear life in my sweaty right mitt as we queued outside All Saints’ Church on Linthorpe Road for the No 12 bus to my Gran’s house (a green Cleveland Transit affair rather than the red United buses that ran through Yarm). It was usually a double decker, which meant I could clump up the rickety stairs and read DWM at the top deck while sneaking the occasional cheeky glimpse down the periscope at the driver. 

The WH Smiths bag, of course, had the old-fashioned ‘cube of letters’ logo, which I still miss…


Fine Fare, meanwhile, was an old-school, local low-rent supermarket in the days before Tescosainsburyasda took over the world. They had a small selection of books, and the Tucker’s Luck paperback that I bought was this one…


…I mistakenly thought it was a novelisation of the TV series, which I loved, but it isn’t – it’s an entirely new story in which Tucker’s Dad gives him – yep – forty days to find a proper job in ‘Fatcher’s Britain, or else he’ll make him go back to school and attempt to bag a small hatful of O Levels. It’s brilliantly gritty for a kids book… full of DHSS queues, knackered motorbikes in lock-ups and punch-ups in dodgy 80s pubs, and it also contains the phrase ‘wank blank’ which – even in 1984 – I had a vague idea was slightly rude, but didn’t quite know why.  I kept the book away from my Mum though, in case she thought I was reading a ‘mucky book’.

And – look! FASHION ALERT!!!!

‘At Top man I got a white tie’… yes, because Paul Frank had one (see Dairy Entry #35, dated 4th February) and if he jumped off a cliff, then…

No doubt I’d soon be combining it with my black shirt, black trousers, red trainers and denim jacket to complete my membership of the Junior Shakin’ Stevens Lookalike Alliance (Affiliated Yarm Branch). I’d love to know what other sartorial horrors were available in Top Man in Middlesbrough in 1984. Probably snoods, piano-keyboard ties, flecked suit jackets with easy-roll sleeves,  stonewashed drainpipes and clip-on Paul Rutherford moustaches.

Actually, pretty much the same stuff that the same shop now sells to fashion-conscious teenagers in 2009…


OK, I’ll state this now because I feel a re-appreciation of his genius is coming along this year and I want to get in early… I loved and love Les Dawson and his brand of brilliant, surreal, morose Northern comedy.

Ohhhhh, you can bang on all you like about rubbish mother-in-law jokes, but if you do then you might as well dismiss the entire recorded output of the Beatles because you don’t like their shoes. Les Dawson was a surrealist and a wordsmith unparralled in 1970s and 80s comedy, and when somebody told me to my face last year that ‘there’s bathos in Wiffle Lever that’s worthy of Les Dawson’ I wanted to give them a big, sloppy kiss and hug them forever. Luckily for you, Dave, I managed to control myself.

This was the fourth series of his BBC masterwork, ‘The Les Dawson Show’ – no doubt featuring The Roly Polys and Cissie and Ada with Roy Barraclough in fine gurning, bosom-nudging form. If anything as  good as this popped up on workaday BBC1 on a Saturday night these days, the Radio Times would explode…

And you’ll notice I wolfed down five Weetabix as a kind of lap of honour after a glorious 3-1 home defeat on the chessboard. I’m a Middlesbrough fan, I’ve learnt to celebrate my victories no matter how modest they may be…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 41

Friday 10th February 1984

Woke up at 7.50 but had cold so I didn’t go to school. At 8.15 I got up and was sick Then I came downstairs and copied a picture of Doctor Who and K9. Then I played on the videopac for a bit and when I came off Mam went to work and I read The Guardian of Goblin Grotto.

Then I started to write another flowchart for a book called World of many lands. At 12.15 I had dinner and after dinner I finished the flowchart and mam came back. Then I went out and played football, and at 4.20 Doug rang to see if I wanted to go down to Yarm with him.

So I did, and we bought a Mad from Newsfare. Came back at 5.20 and watched Grange Hill. At 7.00 I watched the A-Team, and at 8.00 I watched That’s my boy, at 8.30 I watched A Fine Romance and at 9.00 I watched the last Auf Wiedersehen pet. 10.00 Went to bed.

PAYDIRT!!!! A day off school!


I’d been building up to this all week, of course. As soon as Mrs Haworth revealed to me on Monday that there was ‘a bug going round’ school, I was determined to fall foul of it, preferably during the early hours of Friday morning so I could make a long weekend of my malady. I’d spent all week throwing ‘woe is me, I feel so weak and feeble’ shapes around the house, ‘falling asleep’ on the sofa because ‘I just feel so tired all the time’, nibbling at my food because ‘I’m just not very hungry’ and coughing and snivelling into my hand whenever my Mum was within earshot.  

FACT ONE: I did NOT have a cold on this day.

FACT TWO: I was NOT ‘sick’ at 8.15am. I locked myself into the bathroom and made a few conspicuously noisy sick-type noises until I’d convinced even myself that it had actually happened, then wandered downstairs looking as pale and pathetic as possible, and demanded a bottle of Lucozade (‘REPLACES LOST ENERGY’) still, in 1984, in its traditional glass-bottle-and-orange-cellophane incarnation.

My Mum bought my story until about 10.30am, when I finally cracked under cross-examination while playing ‘Munchkin’ on the Videopac G7000. I started giggling when she asked me in a little bit TOO much detail about my actual symptoms.

‘What are you laughing at?’ she asked.

‘Because I’m going to beat my high score, look – it’s brilliant,’ I lied.

‘No you’re not, you’re laughing because you’ve pulled a fast one, you
little bugger,’ she retorted.


I immediately started sniffling and feeling faint again until she went to work (in the Levendale Primary School kitchens, remember) then I lit a huge cigar and sprawled across the sofa watching Pebble Mill At One and laughing manically like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear.


‘Off sick’ television was great. These were the days before full daytime schedules, remember, so 67.3% of the day’s TV broadcasts were made up of Test Cards and easy listening music. Although we’d had a year of Breakfast TV by this point, and that tended to soundtrack my mornings.  BBC1 had the slightly worthy ‘Breakfast Time’ with Frank Bough and Selina Scott, ITV had the much livelier ‘Good Morning Britain’ with Anne Diamond (who I fancied), Nick Owen (who I didn’t) and Roland Rat (who I loved with a passion almost beyond the human – I could recite ‘Rat Rapping’ word-for-word…)

For the full effect of watching TV during the day in 1984, set this off and leave it rolling while you read the rest of this entry… (this is from 1984, just a couple of weeks earlier – it’s from Wednesday 25th January, in the middle of the country’s snow chaos and my school attempts to play American Football…!)

Pebble Mill at One, meanwhile, was a TV institution, bringing the TV stars of the day before an audience of pensioners in the middle of Birmingham’s legendary breezy studio. Presented by Marian Foster (who I interviewed for the radio last year and she was lovely!), Bob Langley (who EVERYBODY’S Mum fancied, especially when he wore an Arran Sweater and stood atop a Pennine) and the genial Donny MacLeod. Here’s a classic ‘Mill’ opening, with Bob forsaking the usual sweater for an amazing white suit…

Inbetween these shows, for most of the mornings and afternoons, what you got when you turned on your TV was this…

…which I miss enormously. I appreciate that I’m biting the hand that feeds me here, but I think there’s just too much ‘stuff’ out there these days – TV, radio, cinema, online… and it’s just TOO overwhelming. What we need are designated media downtimes like the clip above, when we can meditate in our front rooms and attempt astral projection fuelled by Butterscotch Angel Delight.

Anyway, you’ll notice that by mid-afternoon I was well enough to play football in the garden, hammering the ball against the side wall of the house and pulling off a string of sensational saves from the rebounds, with the Test Card music still running through my head. And then WHAT A RECOVERY to be able to wander into Yarm High Street with Doug, no doubt popping over after school with green daggers of jealousy shooting from his eyes.


‘Mad’, by the way, was the splendidly subversive ‘Mad Magazine’, an American institution which had enjoyed a cult following at Levendale Primary School ever since Philip Slack and Andrew Sugden had brought in the issues that featured brilliant comic-book piss-takes of The Empire Strikes Back and ‘Rehash Of The Jeti’. It was irreverant, cheeky and frequently downright rude, and at some point I must dig my old issues out of the loft for a butchers.

Not today, though. I feel so weak and feeble. Cough, sniffle… I think there’s a bug going round…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 40

Thursday 9th February 1984

Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.00. The first thing I did at school was write a poem in the shape of a dog. At 10.10 We went swimming and first we could do anything we wanted, then we had to do a few lengths freestyle, then we had to swim a length.

At 11.10 We came back and at 12.00 I had dinner. In the afternoon In the afternoon (another mistake) I did apicture of a face, half white half black. I started my RE as well. At 3.15 I came home and wrote some of the Guardian and at 4.00 I went on the front Garden and played football and at 4.45 I had tea.

After tea I finished the Guardian of Goblin Grotto and at 7.30 I watched Carry on laughing. 8.00 Played Chess with dad and at 9.15 I watched the end of The Steam video company. 9.30 Went to bed.

I can’t help but notice that I was incredibly regular getting out of bed in 1984. You’d be forgiven for thinking I had an AMAZINGLY efficient alarm clock on my bedside table, but I didn’t… what I actually had was…


a) A table lamp made out of a Mateus wine bottle with an ‘ET Phone Home’ lampshade. Embarrassingly, this stayed there until I was 23. You know how embarrassing objects in your house kind of fade away into the background, and you don’t notice them at all until somebody else comes around and points them out? This happened with the ‘ET Phone Home’ lampshade. Unfortunately the ‘somebody else’ was (ahem) a young lady friend who had (ahem) come to keep me company one summery night in 1996 while my parents were away. She was draping herself across the duvet when she noticed it and burst out laughing. Kind of spoiled the moment, really.


b) An Empire Strikes Back ‘Zuckuss’ action figure. This had gone by 1996, so he’s off the hook.

c) A crappy, square plastic clock with the obligatory 1980s cream casing, a black clock face and luminous hands that, when I was small, used to scare me in the night with their nasty green blotches. Its alarm had long since ceased to buzz though, so in 1984 my 7.50am wake-up call came from my Mum, barging open the bedroom door (usually dislodging a pile of Star Wars Weeklies in the process) and shouting…


I’d then wolf down a bowl of Coco Pops (a name my Dad would always pronounce in a hilariously deep voice, like the monkey in the TV advert) and pelt outside to catch the school bus.

Good to see the old ‘freestyle’ swimming stroke getting a mention! This may well have been the day on which we were first told to swim ‘freestyle’, to much confusion amongst our skinny, pigeon-chested number. We knew what backstroke and breaststroke were (especially the latter, because… y’know… breasts… strokes… guffaw…) but ‘freestyle’ was something we weren’t sure about, and there was a lot of muttering amongst our group as we bobbed aimlessly along the edge of the pool.


Suddenly! ‘I know what it means!’ proclaimed Andrew Harding, out of nowhere. ‘It means you can swim in whatever style you like!’ Cue thirty 11-year-old idiots thrashing maniacally along the length of the pool in a chaotic melee of jerking, freakish, improvised swimming styles, no doubt pulling a gurning gallery of entirely offensive ‘Joey Deacon’ faces in the process.

Mr Hirst was NOT impressed. After all, it was this kind of behaviour that had brought about the sad demise of Jeremy Irvine in Grange Hill.

I remember doing the ‘poem in the shape of a dog’ really clearly. I was always drawing cartoon Poggy Doggys, so this was meat and drink to me. Unlike our dinner, which was Spam Fritters and tepid tapwater. I can’t remember the poem or the shape exactly, but I’ve had a go at recreating this from memory…


The ‘face, half white half black’ I don’t really remember, although I’ve got a vague feeling it was an ‘Ebony And Ivory’ style attempt at a bit of cross-cultural awareness, which Mrs Mulhern was – quite rightly – big on in the mid-1980s. For years we sang THIS song in school assembly, and it’s only recently that I’ve discovered it was actually a chart hit in the early 70s…!

We didn’t have the cool, reggae beat to our version though. We just had Steven Cooper whispering ‘doopy doop doo’ after every other line, for reasons I never discovered.

Anyway, get out the bunting, we’ve finished ‘The Guardian Of Goblin Grotto!’ Yes, a complete Fighting Fantasy adventure by Robert Fischer and Ian Oswald. I was SO proud of this, and still can’t believe that – about a year later – I decided that Fighting Fantasies weren’t for me any more, and threw it out. I’d love to see it again.

You’ll notice as well that I only get to see ‘the end of The Steam video company’ doubtless because my Dad wanted to watch some crappy Winter Olympics coverage on BBC1. ‘I’ve finished work, I’ve had my tea, I’ve had my bath, I’ve put my cream shirt and brown slacks on, all I want to do now is drink a cup of coffee and watch live coverage of the Men’s Luge from Sarajevo’.

That was his catchphrase.