Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for April, 2009

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 121

Monday 30th April 1984


Woke up at 7.50 and got up at 8.10. At 8.30 I got the bus to school, and first it was assembly. Then I did my news about last Wednesday, when Ozzie came. After that I had a read, and at 12.00 I had dinner. After dinner we were allowed on the field so everybody had a geedy muck on.

When we came in (all good things come to an end) we had to get droned on about some sports day. Then we had a supposedly choice between playing rounders or cricket. Poo! All 4th year boys had to play cricket. Thankfully the game ended and I came home at 3.15.

Then Doug came and we started to make a box for the disco lights. He left at 5.30 and I had tea. Then I did a rough copy of the school safety sign and at 8.00 I watched the kit Curran radio show. Poo! Had to go to bed at 9.30. Ho-Hum…

Did everyone else have to write their ‘news’ at school on a regular basis? This strange practice was a constant for us throughout our seven years at Levendale Primary School, especially on the first day back after a holiday.

‘…and then Ian Oswald came round and then Doug said we should go for a ride and then we went for a ride and then we came back and then Ian Oswald went home and then I had my tea…’

It must have driven our teachers half mad. I do remember, while I was writing this particular day’s news, Doug complimenting me on the previous night’s haircut and saying (his exact words) ‘It’s good, you’re getting it cut shorter every time’. This was of note because, a year earlier, I’d had not only the longest lads’ hair in Levendale Primary School, but probably the longest lads’ hair in… well, the country. I just refused to get it cut, and as a result earned the nickname ‘Hippy’, a word we’d only EVER heard in connection to Neil from The Young Ones.


By 1984 it was pretty much gone though, and I was sporting a scruffy, post-punk look ideally suited to having my Mum chop away at it with the kitchen scissors in front of Last Of The Summer Wine.

And a ‘geedy’ muck on! I’d completely forgotten about this word. It just meant ‘good’. I’ve absolutely no idea where it came from or where it went, but it was in widespread use for about six months in 1984, then vanished forever. Did we invent it ourselves, or did kids from other schools use it? I don’t know. It’s wonderful proof that the English language remains as thrilling and elusive a mistress as ever.


YAY!!! SCHOOL FIELD!!! It must have been a hot and sunny day if we were allowed on here at dinnertime. It was out of bounds during the winter (presumably to prevent 100 grotty oiks traipsing through the school looking like miniature Creatures From The Black Lagoon and leaving trails of mud, snot and dogshit all over the Third Years Ancient Egyptian Display in the school library) but the first day that we allowed back on it was a time for great celebration, and a sure-fire sign that summer was on its way.

And if the grass had recently been cut as well, then that was an added bonus – we could roll around in the piles of musty, sunbaked cuttings, and shove it down Christopher Herbert’s shorts in an attempt to flare up his allergies and send him running to the school secretary for his inhaler and anti-histamines.


It’s odd that I was desperate to play rounders on this day, as rounders was a game that blighted my life throughout most of my primary school career. For two main reasons… a) I was crap at it, and b) I didn’t understand the rules. At all. I had a complete mental blank when it came to this (let’s face it) INCREDIBLY SIMPLE GAME and was constantly being caught out dithering between bases (bases? Or were they called posts?) while my clued-up classmates (and Mrs Keasey) fell around laughing.

I think by 1984 I’d just about cottoned onto the rules, and also had developed the winning technique of ABSOLUTELY LEATHERING the ball thirty yards over the top of big shiny kitchen chimney so I could get all the way round in one go without worrying about anything more fiddly.


And aaaaaah… the school safety sign. Our local schools authorities were, amazingly, keen to avoid us being constantly run over by Cleveland Transit buses and Ford Cortinas, and had decided to launch a road safety campaign. The simple and easy way to go about this would have been to pin posters proclaiming ‘STOP BUGGERING AROUND ON THE ROADS YOU NUTCASES’ all over our respective classrooms, but the powers-that-be had opted for a more subtle approach, and as such the ‘school safety sign’ competition was duly launched. 

Basically, we all had to design an advert to promote road safety, and the winning entry from our school would be judged by the PTA (who I always saw in a similar light to The Empire from Star Wars, especially the scene in Episode IV when Darth Vader throttles Admiral Motti in the Death Star conference suite) and forwarded to a regional inter-school competition.


I know exactly what I drew because I have a photo of it from a few weeks after these events, but I’ll hold it back for the time being to create a tantalising air of tension…


‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ out in paperback on Thursday – spread the word!


Just a quick interruption of normal service to let you know that my book ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ is being released this week in a lovely, shiny, mass-market paperback edition. Hooray! It’s available to buy from Amazon here…


(They’re being slow getting the cover up, but I’ve got it… yay!)


Lots of you have said how much you enjoyed it (thanks!) and lots of you have asked me when I’m writing another book (thanks again!). To be honest, if I’m ever going to get the sequel published, then I really need to shift some copies of this edition.

Sooo… cheeky request! If you’ve enjoyed Wiffle Lever then can you spread the word about a little bit? I’d be really grateful if you could (without spamming!) mention it online to anyone you think might enjoy it. Or bung it on any blogs or forums or message boards where you’re allowed to bung stuff like this on there? Anything that might help get the word around a little. I’d be sooo grateful!

I also know a few of you who visit here work in the media… just to let you know, if anyone has airtime or pages to fill, then I’m an utter gobshite and absolutely available for any interviews or anything like that… just drop me a line through Facebook or whatever and I’d be thrilled and delighted…


Right, normal 1984 service resumed tomorrow!

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 120

Sunday 29th April 1984

Woke up at 10.00 and got up at half past. Played with the tape recorder till I got sick, and was just about to go out when Doug came. We did a lot of stuff for the disco (we practised break dancing) till dinner, and after dinner we dug an old yellow light out of the garage , and while Doug fixed that I did a picture for a flashing box.

Then we went on Levendale and told Clarkie about a hedgehog near the road that had just given birth. Then we met Jono on his skateboard and played with him on the green. After a bike race with Griffiths we came back and at 5.30 Doug went home and I had tea.

After that I recorded the Top 20, then I washed my hair and while I had it cut I watched Last of the summer wine. Then I went out and at 9.30 I went to bed.

Break dancing!!!! Ahahahahahahahah!!! Yes, for one morning only, Bob’s bedroom in Yarm was transformed into the South Bronx as Doug and I put the bathroom rug on the floor, cranked up Billy Joel on the Thomson portable cassette recorder and prepared to bust a few shapes. I think we’d been inspired by a report on John Craven’s Newsround about ‘the new dance craze that’s sweeping America’ and decided to give it a go.

I also remember, around this time, the utterly utterly magnificent Derek Griffiths being asked by a caller on Saturday Superstore if he could ‘do body popping’ and bursting into hysterical laughter (I bet he could though, and he’d be bloody brilliant at it). At the same time, there was a troupe of ‘robotic’ dancers appearing on everything from Tomorrow’s World to Les and Dustin’s Laughter Show. I can’t be the only one who remembers these… I’m sure they had white robot heads and tuxedos.

I gave the old robotics a go myself once, in the advert breaks during Minder, and my Dad asked if I was ‘having a bloody fit’.

(NB, I once e-mailed Derek Griffiths’ website politely requesting a radio interview, and was told that ‘Derek would love to do it, but he’s currently in Namibia making a film with Wesley Snipes’. Anyone know what the film was?)

And yes! The ‘old yellow light’ finally emerged from the garage. As I think I’ve mentioned before, this was a creaky, dusty old flashing light clearly liberated from a set of roadworks somewhere, and Doug and I intended it to be the centrepiece for our bedroom disco (groove on, Debbie Jarvis). Nice to see our stereotypical roles – with Doug as the practical manly figure and me as the arty idle twat – being reinforced by the fact that he did the electrics while I DREW A BLOODY PICTURE.


And aaaaaaaaaw, baby hedgehogs! I remember this well. Hedgehogs were always quite an exciting thing for me as a kid, the intrusion of wild and untamed nature into my domestic, mundane little world. We found Mother Hedgehog on the edge of the beck near Crossroads Garage, surrounded by half a dozen tiny pink baby hedgehogs. Paul ‘Clarkie’ Clarke seemed a natural person to tell, as he was Levendale Primary School’s noted animal rights campaigner, a softly-spoken vegetarian who wanted to be a vet. He was (and is) lovely, and here he is in Whitby in 1983…


Jono was Jonathan Copeland, a cheeky dark-haired lad who – along with his skateboard – seemed to be inextricably drawn to ‘the green’… a little patch of grass surrounded by high wooden fencing, with a couple of rusty swings plonked unceremoniously in the middle. And ‘Griffiths’ was Craig Griffiths, another brilliant 11-year-old nutter, who still stops for a cheery chat whenever I pass him around Yarm.

Good to see me amassing more material for our Bedroom Disco by taping the evening’s Top 20. Which was, on this day in 1984 (read this in Simon Bates’ voice for full effect)…

1. DURAN DURAN The Reflex *
2. PHIL COLLINS Against All Odds *
3. QUEEN I Want To Break Free *
5. POINTER SISTERS Automatic *
6. OMD Locomotion *
7. THE FLYING PICKETS When You’re Young And In Love *
8. BLANCMANGE Don’t Tell Me
9. BOB MARLEY One Love
11. THE BLUEBELLS I’m Falling
12. KOOL AND THE GANG When You Say You Love Somebody
14. NIK KERSHAW Dancing Girls *
15. SHAKIN’ STEVENS A Love Worth Waiting For
16. GLAD IT’S ALL OVER Captain Sensible
17. SOS BAND Just Be Good To Me
18. NEW ORDER Thieves Like Us
19. HUMAN LEAGUE The Lebanon
20. DEPECHE MODE People Are People

(I honestly didn’t plan this at all, but that video features the white-faced robotic man that I was waffling about earlier! Yay!!!!)

When I say I ‘recorded the Top 20’ what I actually mean, of course, is that I recorded SOME of the Top 20. Back in 1984, I didn’t have the modern capability of storing squillions of songs on a computer the size of a sticklebrick. I had about six TDK D90s, which weren’t cheap and ‘don’t grow on bloody trees’, so I had to choose my music carefully. I’d sit with my finger poised over the RECORD and PLAY buttons, ready to strike with lightening reflexes on the off-chance that ‘Batesy’ announced a song I liked. 

As such, the songs with an asterisk next to them in the above list are the ones I definitely remember recording and keeping. Although I must have tuned in a little bit earlier than I cared to admit, because I also recall recording the song at No. 24 in the charts that week, purely for the smooching opportunities it provided.

Terrifyingly, it was Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias performing ‘To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before’.

Pucker up, Debbie Jarvis… this could be your dream night…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 119

Saturday 28th April 1984

Woke up at 7.30 and was going to get the 8.20 bus to Middlesbrough but changed my mind and stayed at home. played outside on my bike, then I played on the tarzie. Had dinner at 12.00ish, and after dinner I played Tell her about it on the loudspeaker upstairs.

After a race around outside I went down to Doug’s, and he wasn’t in, however I met him later and we went for a ride around Levendale. We called on Stan but he wasn’t in so we had a muck around on the green for a while, then had a ride around. We came back to Stan’s later but he was still out so we went on Conyers and had a lark.

Then we went to my house, mucked on, and at 5.30 I had tea and Doug went home. At 6.00 I watched Some mothers do ave em, at 6.40 I watched The laughter show, At 7.00 I watched Robin of Sherwood and at 9.30 I went to bed.

Ah, nothing like a bit of Billy Joel to liven up the early afternoon! None of this involved money changing hands, of course. I’d recorded ‘Tell Her About It’ from the Sunday evening Top 40 by pushing my portable cassette recorder up against the speaker of the ancient, carved wooden stereo system in our front room. And now I was playing it back on the same recorder, rigged up to a single, even more ancient speaker that I’d found in the loft and that Doug had helped me wire up. It sounded crisper and clearer than anything I’d ever heard in my life, although undoubtedly if I heard it now it would sound like someone was playing it in the bathroom. Three houses away. With the speaker suspended in a vat of mushy peas.

It was a favourite song of mine, though… weirdly, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a strange leaning towards late 1950s-sounding music, especially (and this is the oddest thing) if it’s FAKE 1950s music, recorded in the modern day but intended to sound exactly like the old stuff. As a five-year-old, I was obsessed with the songs from Grease (especially Summer Nights, with its ‘Shooop Bop Bop’ backing vocals) and bands like Darts and Showaddywaddy…

‘He looks like a bloody orangutan in collars’ said my Dad of singer Dave Bartram. And… well… you have to admit, he does a bit. And Darts’ towering, wild-eyed bassman Den ‘BONGGGGG’ Hegarty became a childhood hero of mine… (check out the second half of the below clip!)

Den was EVERYWHERE for a while… he presented Tiswas in its final throes (which is all we got in Tyne Tees land – we didn’t have the show at all until Autumn 1981, and it finished for good the following Spring) and also starred in a strange advert for a chewy sweet called ‘Yogos’, which I remember us all singing along to when it appeared on the crackly portable TV on our school bus home one night. 

By 1984, none of that had changed, and I thought the best songs in the charts by far were Billy Joel’s attempts to recreate the doo-wop and R&B of his own late 1950s childhood. Although it took me another 20 years to realise that ‘Uptown Girl’ was the bestest, most brilliant tribute to Frankie Valli ever recorded (although thankfully Frankie Valli never tried to return the favour by making an album that sounded exactly like Billy Joel).

And where on Earth did I get the phrase ‘had a lark’ from?!?! I clearly had pretentions at this stage to being one of the Famous Five, dragging Poggy Doggy down to the smugglers caves on the seafront at, erm, Redcar to find the lost pirate treasure of One-Eyed Blue Jack. Or something. Failing that, there was always Donkey Kong in the arcades.

Anyway, stop what you’re doing – genuine TV history here!!!!

No, not Les Dennis and Dustin Gee’s Laughter Show. I mean, of course, the very first episode of ‘Robin Of Sherwood’ – and, I’m pretty sure, the second one as well. ‘Robin Hood and The Sorcerer’ was a two-parter, and I definitely recall watching them both back to back in a huge, feature-length special on this very night.

I’d never been much into Robin Hood previously (not enough spaceships or time-travel), but the pre-publicity for the show had very much centered on the mystical aspecs of it – stone circles, wizards, nature spirits and black magic*. It had all appealed greatly to the 11-year-old me that was already obsessed by Fighting Fantasy books and their brand of medieval necromancy, so I decided to give it a chance.

(*not the chocolate)

And what can I say? I loved it to bits. EVERYTHING about it was so RIGHT… from the lush, gritty greenery of the forests, to the startlingly charismatic performances (Ray Winstone became my instant hero, usurping even Den Hegarty) and – particularly – Clannad’s haunting, ethereal soundtrack, which still sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard.

(Apart from lots of other Clannad tracks and a little bit of Enya)

No, really, it’s great… it still looks, sounds and feels like a heady, perfect mix of 1180 and 1984, and occasionally – on dark nights of the soul – I’m filled with a strange, insatiable desire to throw in my humdrum life and spend the rest of my days in the forest, worshipping Herne the Hunter and living on trout and berries.

And Yogos.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 118

Friday 27th April 1984

Woke up at 8.30 and at 9.30 Doug rang so I got up. At 9.40 Doug came down with some electric stuff and we mucked around with that till 10.50, When we watched Raiders of the lost ark – the making of. When that finished at 11.45 we went outside and played on the tarzie, then we came in and had dinner.

After dinner we went upstairs again and played with a disco light, then we went for a ride around Levendale. We saw Thompson, then we saw Ramsey. After we’d been to the cut, we got 2 lollies from the VG, then followed ‘the burner gang’ with big Whitehead and Austen Lewis.

After a muck on with Stan we came home and at 5.30 Doug went home and I had tea. At 7.00 I watched The pyramid game, then I watched Fame. At 8.20 I watched Time of your life, and at 9.00 I went to bed.

I’m not 100% sure exactly what ‘electric stuff’ Doug brought down to my house on this morning, but given that we were in the midst of our home-made disco project, I’m guessing just a load of wires and batteries and stuff to attempt to rig up the Stringfellows-style lighting rig in my bedroom.

And I imagine Peter Stringfellow was similarly distracted from his nightclub activities when Raiders Of The Lost Ark – The Making Of popped up on ITV.


I think the ‘disco light’ was an old red light from the back of Doug’s Chopper (stop giggling, Fischer) that had since fallen into misuse, but that didn’t stop us rigging it up to a giant HP-11 battery from my old train set. Doug, impressively, tested the battery with his tongue first and gave a sage nod to indicate it was still working. The second step was to connect it to a dynamo powered by the insane dance steps of the gorgeous Debbie Jarvis, whirling around my bedroom to the strains of OMD.

Who, come to think of it, always sounded as though they HAD actually strained something…

And then we got bored. And went for a ride. Graeme Ramsey has been mentioned before – a nice, funny lad who’d been a friend of mine since play school days. And ‘Thompson’ was Simon Thompson… two years younger than us, and with a cheeky smile that had quickly earned him the nickname ‘Cabbage Patch Kid’. If you were female, under ten, or incredibly gullible, then these freaky American inventions had been the must-have toy for Christmas 1983.

(Not for me, though… I got the ultra-butch Fighting Fantasy Books, Doctor Who Annual and Philips Videopac G7000. Grrrrrrrowl!)


The Burner Gang!!! Fantastic. I now remember this day really well. It was incredibly warm and sunny (hence the lollies, I suppose… mine was probably a tri-coloured ‘FAB’ lolly with hundreds and thousands scattered across the top segment. Doug was more a straight-down-the-line Orange Fruitie man) and an afternoon filled with stuff, nonsense and delirious adventure that seemed to go on forever. 

The Burner Gang were a bunch of younger kids on (wait for it) Raleigh Burner bikes, the slightly unconvincing British attempt to tap into the exploding BMX market…


They were loitering outside the VG Shop as Doug and I came out, and mop-haired rogue Austen Lewis and ‘Big’ Whitehead (so-called because he was the elder brother of our mate Paul Whitehead) were cycling across the street towards us. These two were undoubtedly proper, grown-up ADULTS, as they’d graduated Levendale Primary and moved onto the scary local comprehensive Conyers. As such they were clearly a mere whisker away from having mortgages and families of their own (I think they were probably 13 at the time).

‘Who are you lot?’ asked Doug, of the Burner Gang.

‘We’re the Burner Gang,’ they replied, and sped off. Well, as close as you can get to speeding off on a cheap British BMX replica.

At this, Austen Lewis and Big Whitehead fell about laughing, and joined forces with Doug and I to chase them. I don’t know why, or what we intended to do with them when we caught them, but chasing them seemed entirely appropriate, so that’s what we did. With our Fab Lolly and Orange Fruitie still in our hands, and Big Whitehead barking out instructions in a voice so deep that Jo Spayne’s mam was already taking the precaution of taping up the rattling windows of the VG Shop.

I don’t think the pursuit ever reached any conclusion, to be honest… we probably got distracted by the arrival of Andrew ‘Stan’ Henry and wandered off while Austen Lewis and Big Whitehead went away to grow beards and smoke pipes for the rest of the afternoon.


And ‘The Pyramid Game!’ Ah, bestill my beating heart. Top 1980s ITV game show, hosted by Steve Jones (sadly, the zany Radio 1 man rather than the grumpy Sex Pistols guitarist. He had red-framed specs, as I recall). Two punters, two celebrities (of the Lorraine Chase/Willie Rushton variety) and six portable TVs stacked up in a pyramid shape. That’s pretty much all I can remember, which is probably for the best. 

NB Was there ever a 1960s car called an Austen Lewis? If there wasn’t, there should have been.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 117

Thursday 26th April 1984

Woke up about 8.00 and got up at 9.00. Played on the computer till 9.30, then I went downstairs and typed some of the Fighting Fantasy. After that I went out and played on the tarzie and when I came in I had dinner.

After dinner I played on the videopac and then I went outside and attacked Poggy Doggy. At 3.00 I went for a ride through the estate and up the mud track to Yarm, then I went on Levendale. Went down the cut and to Moxham’s old house, then back up the cut and saw Huggy and Magee.

Came home at 4.00 and had tea a bit later, then I went outside on the tarzie till 7.15, when I watched Top of the pops. At 7.55 I watched the best of Kenny Everett, then at 8.35 I watched We got it made. Switched over at 9.00 to watch Mike Harding, and at 9.30 I went to bed.

Poor Poggy Doggy! What had he done to deserve being ‘attacked’ in the garden? He gave us good as he got, mind. Years later, when I was in sixth form, my friend Tim Oxnard tried to ride him like a pony, and spent the next three weeks picking bits of Bonio out of his finger wounds.  

And a new friend! ‘Magee’ was Colin Magee, a nice, mild-mannered Northern Irish lad who arrived at Levendale Primary School out of nowhere, made it to the summer holidays, and then was never sighted again. He was tall and wore a stripey blue/fawn jumper, and I once bailed him out of a tricky situation by helping him write the words ‘BLUE STREAK’ in blocky, cartoon type on the side of his drawing of the vintage 1955 British ballistic missile.

We were very progressive at Levendale Primary School. I’m only surprised we weren’t still celebrating Empire Day in 1984.

I was on a good run of Top Of The Pops watching, wasn’t I? Presented this week by the unlikely Radio 1 tag-team of Janice Long and Simon Bates, here’s the line-up…

• Belle & The Devotions – Love Games [Performance]
• Bob Marley & The Wailers – One Love (People Get Ready) [Promo Video]
• Duran Duran – The Re-Flex [Performance]
• Echo & The Bunnymen – Silver [Performance]
• Flying Pickets – When Youre Young & In Love [Performance]
• Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson – To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before [Promo Video]
• Lionel Richie – Hello [Promo Video]
• Phil Collins – Against All Odds [Promo Video]
• Sandie Shaw – Hand In Glove [Performance]

A bit of actual ‘Pops’ history here, with this classic Sandie Shaw-backed-by-the-Smiths performance…

True to form, this sensational stuff made no impression on me whatsoever, and the one that stuck in my mind was this…

I think it was our forthcoming Eurovision entry…?

Great to see a little mention of Kenny Everett as well. I was chatting about Kenny with a friend last week, and we were saying how much we miss him. I can’t help but think that if he’d still been alive, he’d have firmly entered National Treasure status by now… he’d be on Q.I. every week, he’d have a weeknight show on Radio 2, and he’d be hosting BBC4 documentaries about psychedelia and pirate radio. And we’d love him to bits because he WAS a genius.

It’s easy to forget now just HOW massive Kenny Everett was in the mid-1980s. BBC1’s ‘Kenny Everett Television Show’ (along with The Young Ones) was THE show to watch and quote relentlessly in the playground afterwards, and rightly so… I’ve watched some of the episodes recently, and they absolutely stand up. They’re surreal, anarchic, and – above all else – utterly hilariously funny.

Come on… what’s not to love?

Have a root around Youtube, and they’re all there… Brother Lee Love with his massive hands, Sid Snot trying to chuck ciggies into his mouth, Gizzard Puke, Maurice in his velvet dressing gown and cravat, the mime artist, the staggeringly-named Cupid Stunt… oh, go on then, I can’t resist…

Dear BBC, When Oh When Oh When Will We Have Them All On DVD?
A. Viewer (Mrs)

I was convinced ‘We Got It Made’ was going to be a clunky 1980s DIY show, but a bit of research reveals it’s apparently one of the least well-regarded US sitcoms ever produced… in the words of Wikipedia…

“The show focused on Mickey Mackenzie (Teri Copley), a stunningly beautiful woman in her early 20s who applies for a housekeeping job in Manhattan. Her employers are two bachelors who share the two-bedroom apartment – attorney David Tucker (Matt McCoy) and salesman Jay Bostwick (Tom Villard). Mickey is the first – and only – applicant for the job; in fact, both David and Jay are so taken by her beauty they immediately hire her”.

I have no recollection whatsoever of any of this, and the opening credits (about 6 mins and 10 seconds into the below clip) ring no bells with me either.

Did anybody else in the country actually bother watching this, or was it just me?

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 116

Wednesday 25th April 1984

Woke up at 8.20 and got up at 8.35. We got the 9.05 bus to Yarm for a Mad magazine but the **** people didn’t have one. When we came back I rang Doug but he wasn’t in, so I rode down to Yarm through the estate and saw Doug’s car. When I got back I had dinner, then Doug rang and came down.

We played with the videopac until 2.00, When Ozzie came. After a go on the G7000 we all went for a ride. We went through the estate to Yarm, showed Ozzie Yarm castle, then went up the tree at the cricket club. When we came back we played on the Tarzie, then Ozzie went home and me and Doug organized a disco.

Doug went home while I had tea, then he came back and we played on the ZX81. After a play on Conyers field we watched Benny Hill at 8.30, and at 9.00 Doug went home. Went to bed at 9.30.

Ah, yes… time for the third member of our imaginary hit chart band Titchie Richie and the Weirdos to join Doug and I on our World Tour of Yarm. We should have the T-shirts printed up for the merchandise stall on our side garden… 


2pm Bob’s Front Room
3pm Yarm Castle
4pm The Tree at the Cricket Club


Ozzie (pictured here) lived a few miles away in the pretty village of Maltby, and will have been dropped off at my house by his Dad. I distinctly remember digging my old Raleigh Strika out of the garage so he could accompany Doug and me on our exploratory bike ride, and we wobbled off into the sunshine like some strange, pre-pubescant version of The Three Stooges.

And Yarm Castle! Wow! This incredible monument to man’s ingenuity that really should be better known. And yet there are doubtless thousands of long-term Yarm residents who don’t even know it exists. In which case, let me take you to it now…

I  remember my Dad taking me to see this for the first time sometime in 1981. He marched me right up to the garage wall (bear in mind I was a short-arsed eight-year-old) and wound me up for at least five minutes saying ‘Look at the castle! It’s amazing! What a beautiful piece of architecture…’ while steam flew out of my ears. For the last 28 years, I’ve made a point of putting all new visitors to the Fischer household through the same tawdry routine. 



I’ve also got fond memories, on this balmy night in 1984, of Doug staying quite a lot later than he usually did. 9pm! And yet the nights were getting longer and warmer, and it seemed nice to welcome him as part of the family. We sprawled on the sofa together, drinking ginger pop and laughing at the risky bits in Benny Hill. On IMDB, this episode is described thus…

“Benny begins the program by leading the ‘League of Helping Hands’ into song; a look into the life of a vagabond; Hill’s Angels do a choreographed aerobics exercise at a gym, and later do battle with street punks; a spoof of The Hot Shoe Show; and for the close, the opening day at St. John Thomas Hospital”

I think St John Thomas Hospital might have gone over our heads at the time, but I’m slightly ashamed to report that it raised a smile from me just now.   

And the disco! Oh yes, ‘me and Doug organized a disco’. We’d concocted this in our new retreat, halfway up the tree at the side of the cricket pitch. We wanted to hold a disco and invite all of our schoolfriends. Now, of course, previous discos that we’d been invited to tended to involve the hiring of both a village hall and a mobile DJ who would bring his own decks, records and lighting system.

Not us. Hell no, we were on a budget. Our disco was to be held in my bedroom, and would consist of…

a) a rogue flashing yellow light that we’d found in the back of my garage. It had clearly been (cough) liberated from a set of roadworks at some point, and had been covered in cobwebs and grime for decades.

b) My portable cassette recorder from Dixon’s lashed up to a pair of old speakers that we’d found on top of the wardrobe in the spare room.

c) A load of TDK D90 tapes of Top of the Pops, recorded by pushing item b) up against the telly speakers, with crackly performances by Nik Kershaw and Hazell Dean interspersed with the jolly burblings of Peter Powell and ‘Oooh’ Gary Davies.

It was ambitious, but we were determined. And bloody stupid. Especially if it meant that the gorgeous Debbie Jarvis would come and dance in my bedroom, but more of her later…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 115

Tuesday 24th April 1984

Woke up at 8.00 and got up at 8.30. Had some Cornflakes, then got the 9.20 bus to Eaglescliffe station, and got the train to Redcar. First at Redcar I went in Smiths and had a look in the book section, then we went to the sea front and I played on a variety of video games.

There was a laser game called Firefox. When I came out I won 40p on Highlo, then had some Fish and chips on the beach. After another round of video games we went to Norma’s for a boring talk and a look at photographs. Eventually we got the train back, and I rang Doug then went to his house.

We went for a ride to the Cricket club and had a muck on. Came home at 6.10 and at 7.00 me and mam took Pog down Private road. When we got back I watched a question of sport then fell asleep watching Dallas. Went to bed at 9.30

Ooooh, a day trip! 

OK, a 1980s trip to Redcar meant entirely different things to me and my Mum… to her, it was a bracing day by the seaside and the chance to catch up with her older sister Norma, who had lived in this cheeky Teesside resort since time immemorial. For me, it was an opportunity to LOAD UP WITH SUGAR AND CHIPS AND ICE CREAM AND PLAY ON ALL THE LATEST VIDEO GAMES IN THE ARCADES!!!

I distinctly remember the first time I ever played on a proper arcade game. It was in the summer of 1980, when me and my Mum and my Gran went on a daytrip to Scarborough (via the rattly Middlesbrough-based ‘Beeline’ bus service… tartan seats, baking heat and a whip-round for the driver on the way back). Predictably enough, it tanked it down, so we hid in an arcade and I had a crack at this amazing new ‘Space Invaders’ thing to pass the time.

I was instantly hooked, and knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. There was something amazingly decadent and alluring about the seaside arcades… the constant, cheesy jingles of the machines, the clatter of coins and laughter, the surly glares of the ‘change cabin’ operator, piercing through the overpowering whiff of candy floss and ozone and chips.    


So, once in a while, I’d persuade my Mum that it was ‘time to see Auntie Norma’ again, and we’d catch a dark, wobbly train from Eaglescliffe station to Redcar. And when I got back in the evening, I’d lie in bed with the sounds of the arcade machines still ringing around my head. I can reel off those amazing, romantic old names without batting an eyelid… Space Invaders, Galaxians, Pacman, Donkey Kong, Defender, Mr Do, Frogger… legends to a man. And, erm, a frog. And a gorilla. And a weird yellow bitey thing.

(Incidentally, my Dad remained utterly perplexed by the whole phenomenon and, on our return, would grumble that ‘They’re an utter waste of money, those bloody things. They’re not like fruit machines, you can’t win anything back! What’s the bloody point?!?’)  

Were Pacman and Mr Do still out there in Redcar? I had no idea. Worth a visit to find out, though…

So we set off along Redcar’s seafront, which – brilliantly – had not changed AT ALL in the last 25 years. The first arcade we went in boasted nothing but boring old fruit machines and pool tables. But in the second one, tucked into a back room…


It cost me £2 for about 90 seconds worth of play. Useless bugger that I am. Back in 1984, I probably spent about the same amount on Firefox, a state-of-the-art Eighties video game that looked like this…

Highlo, however, was a bit less visually impressive… basically a computerised version of Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Cards Right, although sadly lacking the legendary Dolly Dealers. No doubt I instantly blammed my 40p winnings on an extra couple of rounds on Galaxian.

And how rude was I? ‘We went to Norma’s for a boring talk’. With the benefit of adult hindsight I can appreciate how nice it must have been for my Mum to catch up with her sister over a cup of tea and a few Viscount biscuits, but naturally I had no interest whatsoever in family gossip, and spent my time there sighing heavily, rolling my eyes and looking at my watch. All the while with the start-up music to Pacman going round and round in my head.

25 years on… sorry, Norma.

Back to Yarm in time to hook up with Doug though, who I hadn’t seen for a few days. And I think this was our first visit to a little refuge in Yarm that would become a regular port of call over the Summer months. Yarm Cricket Club is still there, and still gorgeous, and Doug and I discovered, along the side of the green, a tree that rose up to a wide, woody platform… easily capable of accomodating two eleven-year-old boys who would hide up there to talk about filth while the unsuspecting cricket team cracked leather on willow and knocked gentle boundaries into the baking sunshine.

I went back there today, and got a little misty-eyed…

I’m proud of falling asleep during Dallas, as well. I probably dreamt up at least three seasons of it during this little catnap.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 114

Monday 23rd April 1984


Woke up at 9.30 and got up at 10.30. Then I played Terrahawks and got my higest score of 725. When I got sick I went outside and played on the Tarzie, then I built a new ramp for the bike. Then I had dinner, and after dinner I played Terrahawks on the videopac again and got a score of 883.

After a game with mam on Air Sea war I went ouside again and took some photographs of the bike, Poggy Doggy, and Mog. For the rest of the afternoon I generally mucked about in the garden, then I had tea and then I played on the videopac.

Was going to watch Jaws but dad turned it over. At 9.00 I watched Dave Allen and at 9.50 I went to bed.

It’s good to have ambitions in life, isn’t it? Some people wake up in the morning wanting to negotiate the Horn of Africa, others find their challenges in advancing the boundaries of human knowledge. I was determined to beat my ‘higest’ score on Terrahawks for the Philips Videopac G7000.


Yes, it’s a computer console. In the unlikely event that any young peole are reading this, imagine a Playstation 3 but the size (and weight) of  breezeblock, with eight colours and characters made out of question marks. I loved it, though. Terrahawks was a Space Invaders style thing that looked like this…


Sadly, I can’t find any clips of the game in action, but rest assured it bore no resemblance whatsoever to the scenes on the front of the cartridge. I need to dig it out from the loft sometime and see how quickly I can beat my score of 883 as a 36-year-old. If I play my cards right, there’s a two-part UK Living documentary in this.

Thankfully I managed some fresh air as well, or as close as it was possible to get in 1984. We took a grand total of three photographs on this lovely, sunny afternoon, of which this was the first…


Yep, the aforementioned Mog! He was actually called Sooty (after my teeny tiny obsession with Matthew Corbett’s mute yellow Ursine wizard) and we got him as a tiny bundle of fluff from the Cat Concern charity in 1978. He’d been a mewling kitten, abused by his previous owners… I remember, as a six-year-old, cradling him in my arms in the front seat of the car as we took him home for the first time, and noticing that his whiskers had been singed with a naked flame. That still makes me angry. He couldn’t stop looking at the moon through the car window, and I wonder now if it was the first time he’d ever seen it.

Thankfully Sooty matured into a cheeky, typically self-centred cat who lived a cracking life around our rambling garden, and we had him for thirteen years. I was 18 when he died in the summer of 1991, and it was months before I stopped waiting for his circling paws to wake me up in the mornings.

He’s pictured here with Snowy, my rabbit, clearly attempting to bag himself a pound of bunny flesh. I put a lot of thought into my pets names, didn’t I? It’s only amazing that Poggy Doggy wasn’t called Muddy or Hairy or Houndy or something. I’d only had Snowy for a year or so by this point, but had already amassed an impressive collection of feeding-time scars on both index fingers.

Note also our impressive array of garden furniture! The thing on the left hand side of the picture looks like a discarded piece of kitchen lino, and well… who needs expensive decking when you’ve got an empty fabric conditioner cardboard box?  


And here (fnar fnar fnar) is my Chopper, resplendent in the afternoon sunshine! With a nifty new paint job, and the chrome nicely buffed with Duraglist, apart from the coiled spring under the very back of the seat which I could never get free of rust for some reason. I loved that bike. Can you buy Choppers for adults these days? I’ll proudly ride one around Yarm if you can.

And yes, that’s Poggy Doggy, looking suitably proud. I wish I could bring him back, just for a couple of minutes, to have one last big squeeze of that soppy hairy frame. Lots of dogs back away when you try to hug them, but he never did, the big galoot. Awwww.


And now… a bona fide action shot of my ‘new ramp for the bike’! Made from two old planks from the back of the garage, and a pile of bricks from the side of the coal bunker. If the devil’s in the detail, then his Satanic Majesty has excelled himself with the quality of the sunlight in this picture. I love the orangy glow on the garden fence on the right hand side, which just makes me think of endless early evenings in the Springtimes of that garden.

However, for all this misty-eyed nostalgia, I think there’s also a healthy dose of bravado-strewn bullshit going on in this diary entry. There is NO WAY on God’s Great Earth that I ‘was going to watch Jaws’. I’d attempted to watch Jaws precisely once in my life, on its debut TV screening in the Autumn of 1981, and I’d never been so shaken by anything in my life. The scene where Ben Gardner’s ravaged head goes ‘gloop’ and pops up from beneath the chewed remnants of his fishing boat gave me screaming nightmares for weeks.

Dave Allen, though! Fantastic. A masterclass in TV observational comedy, and – again – proof that I was getting a bit older and taking my first steps, with my parents blessing, into watching adult TV. It felt deliriously and excitingly grown-up stepping into this world, and the material still holds up perfectly. This, I think, is a clip from that very show…

I appreciate this makes me some kind of unclean social pariah these days, but I’m a non-smoker who misses the excitingly decadent days when smoking was allowed pretty much anywhere. Certainly in 1984 everyone on buses (including, brilliantly, the uniformly bequiffed drivers, who all looked like members of The Jordanaires) smoked relentlessly, and I distinctly remember watching Return Of The Jedi at Stockton’s Odeon cinema through a haze of billowing clouds that wouldn’t have looked amiss rolling in from Scapa Flow.

For years, I thought that the Empire’s defence of Endor was actually defeated by heavy fog.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 113

Sunday 22nd April 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at about 10.00. When I went downstairs I wrote some Fighting Fantasy, then I read my Eagle and after that I went outside and played on the Tarzie and on the bike. When I came in a bit later, I played on the videopac, then I had dinner.

After dinner I had a few more games on the videopac, then went outside and jumped off logs onto the Tarzie. After a run on the front garden with Poggy Doggy and a race around on the bike I typed some more of the Fighting Fantasy till I had tea.

After tea I played on the videopac, then me and mam went on a ride round Saltergill school and saw Mr Tunstall. When we came back I typed, then I had a bath and at 9.00 I watched Clive James. Went to bed at 10.00.

I was a comic slut. There, I’ve said it.

Like the proverbial sailor with one in every port, I had different comics reserved for me by different newsagents all over Teesside. Murray’s Newsagents in Acklam provided me with the bulk of them during our visits to my Gran’s house… Whizzer and Chips, Whoopee!, Nutty, The Beano and Star Wars Weekly. However I also had Buster and Cheeky Weekly put aside in Yarm’s musty Newsfare, and – oddly – my weekly dose of Eagle was reserved by the VG, the little corner shop around the corner from Levendale Primary School. I always seemed to collect it on a Saturday after returning from my Gran’s, which explains why I often read it on a Sunday morning. There’s nothing better than a bit of Dan Dare to liven you up after Play It Safe! and Farming Outlook.


(The former, by the way, was one of the scariest programmes in the world, and not only because it was presented by Jimmy Savile. Presumably produced in response to a Government Think Tank report that discovered kids were bloody stupid and always falling off/under/over things, it was a series designed purely to scare the living ab-dabs out of anyone under the age of 15. We were treated to explicit footage of children running through glass doors and putting sizzling irons on their foreheads, and then shown the gruesome consequences in full, gory-tastic detail. It was enough to put anyone off their Coco Pops).

I’m not sure which Fighting Fantasy I was working on at this point, no doubt The Guardian of the Woodland Jewel of Elfin Village with Added Magick or somesuch nonsense. All of my half-hearted, aborted efforts to write a book tended to merge into one after a while. And they still do, ho ho! 

Nice to see a mention for Mr Tunstall, though, who had been a teacher at Levendale for a few months the previous year. Strangely, it was part of an unprecedented teacher exchange, the likes of which I’ve never heard of before or since. In a nutshell, ‘our’ Mrs Keasey went to teach at Kirklevington Primary School for a couple of months, and ‘their’ Mr Tunstall came to us. Kirklevington is a small village barely a mile from Yarm, so it wasn’t done for any geographical reasons, and I’m still a bit bamboozled as to how and why this happened.

We liked Mrs Keasey, so it was a shame to see her go, but Mr Tunstall was a genial, softly-spoken chap who made himself very popular at Levendale. The exchange also gave rise to a priceless bit of schoolboy wit, as I was later told by a former pupil of Kirklevington School that Mrs Keasey became the subject of a wickedly barbed school song.

Her car was pretty distinctive for 1984… she drove a vintage 1960s Humber, and you could see it coming a mile off as you pottered around the streets of Yarm. The boys of Kirklevington School apparently used to sing this little ditty, to the tune of the classic Madness hit ‘Driving In My Car’…

I like Mrs Keasey’s car
It’s a C reg Humber
She looks like a bloody fool
Driving up to Kirklev School…

Cruel, BUT… in retrospect, Mrs Keasey clearly had the last laugh. Because C registration cars were produced in 1965, and a 1965 Humber looks like this…


…which now, to me, is the very epitome of elegant, distinctive retro cool. So, with the benefit of hindsight, Mrs Keasey drove the bestest car in Yarm and we were a bunch of philistine twats. If you ever see this, Mrs Keasey, then I apologise on behalf of all the pupils of Kirklevington School circa 1983!

Saltergill School, meanwhile, was a residential school in the middle of the countryside about a mile from Yarm. It was noteable to us 1984 kids for two things, really…

a) It was at the top of an astonishingly steep country lane that plummeted towards a bridge over a trickling beck, and as such was THE GREATEST VENUE FOR WINTER SLEDGING IN THE WORLD.


b) It was, to coin a very old-fashioned phrase, a ‘special school’, for boys with learning difficulties and other issues that made mainstream schooling tricky for them. As we didn’t know anyone who’d ever been there, the place – to us – was shrouded in dark mystery, and naturally became the subject of all kinds of bizarre rumour. There was a boy there who bit the head off his Dachshund! The Yorkshire Ripper lived there and was one of their form tutors! If you walked past and looked in the windows, they’d run out and kidnap you and turn you into a scarecrow!!!

As far as I can see, the school was closed in 2004 and is now scheduled for demolition, but I still remember the little frisson of nerves (and, if I’m honest, excitement) that I used to get when we cycled past its high fences and dark windows. The 11-year-old mind is a strange and terrifying thing sometimes.

And Clive James! He was legendary to us kids for his ‘Clive James on TV’ shows, bringing cheesy foreign adverts and jaw-dropping Japanese reality TV to a generation who little suspected that, 25 years later, British TV would be nastier and more cynical than the whole sorry bunch put together.

I miss Clive James, and wish he’d magically reappear on TV. In the meantime, here’s a little snippet…