Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 147

Saturday 26th May 1984


Woke up at 8.30 and got up at 9.00. Got the 9.20 bus to Middlesbrough and  got two books – Robin of Sherwood and Fighting Fantasy. Then we went to Grandma’s and I had 8 bacon sandwiches and a climb on the tree.

We came back at 3.30 and I saw Lisa on the bus, then I went to Huggy’s, and me, Doug, Huggy and Merrington played on our bikes. Came home at 5.00 and had tea, then after that I read Robin of Sherwood.

At 6.00 I watched the Grumbleweeds, then at 6.30 I watched the last Robin of Sherwood. After that I went out on the bike, then I came in and just generally mucked on. Went to bed at 11.00 and then read till 11.20.

Blimey, two books bought on a single morning! For me in 1984, that was a shopping spree of Paris Hilton proportions. Well, alright, maybe not quite Paris Hilton. Leicester Hilton, possibly. Or the Dragonara Hotel in Middlesbrough. Still quite impressive though, given their combined total of (counts on fingers, sticks out tongue) £3. I shelled out £1.75 for Fighting Fantasy (on the instructions of Ian ‘Ozzie’ Oswald, remember – see yesterday’s entry) and £1.25 for Richard Carpenter’s novelisation of the first Robin of Sherwood series.


Fighting Fantasy wasn’t quite what I expected… I’d THOUGHT it was going to be a step-by-step guide to writing my own Fighting Fantasy stories, but it’s actually an introductory guide to (gasp!) playing Dungeons and Dragons. The opening section covers simple concepts like the Gamesmaster and his duties, whereas the closing chapter tells you in detail about which Iron Maiden LPs to listen to, and the best places to buy cheap super-strength cider and Quinoderm Acne Cream. It took me another four years to throw myself fully into the world of Role Playing madness, but when I did there wasn’t an Orc safe within ten miles of Yarm (I think it was mainly the smell of Quinoderm that put them off).

Great cover, by the way – who doesn’t want to see a half-man half-tiger fighting his way out of a square eggshell on the moon?


The Robin of Sherwood book, meanwhile, presented me with a mind-boggling conundrum… containing, as it did, beautifully-written adaptations of the entire first series, the final episode of which (gasp!) HADN’T BEEN BROADCAST YET!!! It was on TV later that very evening. I wrestled with my conscience for fully thirty seconds before giving in completely and, predictably, turning straight to that chapter before reading any of the previous ones. Yes, I was an 11-year-old spoiler whore!

(By the way, I love the fact that on the cover, just below Michael Praed’s fingers, you can clearly see a bloke in a brown leather jacket and jeans faffing about on the beach with his family. My 11-year self would undoubtedly have tried to ‘retcon’ this into the programme itself, probably inventing a time-vortex-portal-thing through which day trippers from the Spring half-term holiday in 1984 were travelling to medieval times and causing all sorts of bother for Robin and his chums.) 

And ‘8 bacon sandwiches’! I should point out in the name of modesty that they were actually pretty small. My eight sandwiches consisted of four slices of bread sliced into quarters, rather than sixteen slices of bread eaten whole. All served with a dollop of ‘red sauce’ as Saturday Superstore ticked towards its final moments and Grandstand prepared to take over the afternoon schedules…

(Although I’m still quite jealous of my 11-year-old self for being able to relentlessly shovel this stuff down his neck without putting on a scrap of weight. Until the age of 17, my body looked as though it had been constructed from five white drainpipes stuck loosely together with Bostik. It’s hard to imagine what I started doing in my sixth form years that made my weight balloon so dramatically *coughcidercough*)   

‘The tree’ was a small, jagged lilac tree that had been in my Gran’s front garden for as long as I could remember. The lowest branches were only a couple of feet off the ground, so from an early age I was able to haul myself up into its trembling canopy and watch the world go by. In the summer of 1981, a passing policeman (On foot! On a housing estate! It’s a different world…) once smiled and told me gently to ‘get down from there,’ so I did, and went inside. It took me at least five years to realise that he clearly thought I was trespassing in someone else’s front garden…

And ‘Lisa on the bus’ was Lisa Wheeldon, a girl my age whose parents’ garden backed onto my Gran’s. We’d been friends since we were toddlers, and used to speak to each other through a tiny hole in the fence between the two gardens. Lisa was great fun, liked tap-dancing and Blondie, and had a black cat called Tabitha. For about the first ten years of our lives, we saw each other every weekend and never stopped racing around the estate on our bikes, or looking for Mr Men underneath my Grandma’s laburnum trees. It was a kind of strange alternative childhood, parallel to the one I had in Yarm, and it was quite, quite brilliant.

A few random memories of weekend stuff with Lisa…

1. Making a ‘fruit machine’ from cardboard boxes and stuffing endless quantities of chocolate money into the top, where it ran down a long cardboard toilet roll tube before plopping out at the bottom and rolling off the end of the coffee table (where it would often be snaffled by a passing Collie dog)

2. Wearing cowboy hats and taking my new cap gun around the block, where we fully intended to commit a Bonnie and Clyde-style hold-up of Mr Murray’s newsagents. Give us the Sherbert Dib-Dabs, or it’s CURTAINS!!!

3. Holding a Halloween Party in my Gran’s kitchen in (I think) 1980, when October 31st fell on a Friday. I was round there nice and early and ‘helped’ my Dad carve out a turnip in front of Crackerjack (CRACKERJACK!) before we stuck a candle in there, traipsed around the estate on a glorious, chilly, windswept night doing ‘The sky is blue, the grass is green’ and came back to bob for apples in the kitchen sink.

(I don’t think I’ve seen these opening credits for 25 years, and they’re amazingly evocative – I can almost smell those distant Friday nights in long-ago Autumns… crispy frost on grass verges, orange street lights cutting through the fog and the slow, impossibly exciting march towards Christmas… mmmmm….)

4. Carol-singing, every Christmas from about 1978 to 1981. We widened our eyes, sang ‘Away in a Manger’ over and over and over again, and absolutely RAKED IT IN. Utterly cynical, but great fun.

Anyway, by 1984 my weekends at my Gran’s house were becoming less and less frequent, so I didn’t really see Lisa as much as I used to, but I do remember chatting to her on the bus on this particular day. Hello if you’re reading this!

Good to see more mucking about on bikes, no doubt with all manner of dangerous plank-and-brick constructions set up in the road down the end of Paul ‘Huggy’ Huggins’ cul-de-sac. ‘Merrington’ was Paul Merrington, a dark-haired, bike-obsessed lad from the year above us at school… I think he was just passing, and decided to show us ‘how it’s done’ before making our jaws drop with a fine selection of BMX bunny hops, wheelies and, erm, twisty turny things. Or something.

And Robin of Sherwood… I knew what was coming, of course, but it didn’t stop me being glued avidly to the final episode of an absolutely brilliant series that still holds up perfectly well 25 years later. I think I even had the book on my lap in front of the TV, to see how closely the two versions matched. And the following day I tried to persuade Doug to re-enact the brutal wrestling scene between Clive Mantle and John Rhys-Davies, but he wasn’t having any of it.

Probably scared of breaking one of my five white drainpipes in half.


  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

What a relief to hear that each of the eight bacon sandwiches was not a full ‘two slices and three rashers’ effort! Even in 1984 such consumption by a boy of eleven might well have warranted a special grim-faced edition of “Where There’s Life…” , in which Doctor Rob Buckman rounded up greedy children and showed them (scientifically of course) the lifetime of misery, discomfort and trousers with elasticated waists that awaited them.
The studio audience would have gasped, jeered and tutted between puffs on their Regal Smalls and Peter Stuyvesants.
There’d have been a pre-filmed insert involving a visit to an unfeeling pig-farmer who was clearly disinterested in what happened to his bacon after he’d sold it or who suffered as a result, before Dr. Miriam Stoppard herself would have demonstrated, with vacuum-formed anatomical models, just what happens to organs when fat moves into the neighbourhood. With bags of kapok wadding to represent the fat.

The story of Fischer the Elder gouging a turnip reminds me that this was as close a vegetable as could generally be found to ape a pumpkin during an English October in 1980. I’m not sure when the bona fide pumpkin began to appear: it probably coincided with the supermarkets’ vanquishing of the local greengrocer.

  Justin wrote @

Re your carol singing antics with Lisa… you couldn’t, say, take it upon yourself to actually teach kids today WHAT A FLIPPIN’ CAROL IS!
I would be more than happy to let a couple of wide eyed little angels rake in a few quid for singing Away in a Manger at Christmas but am fed up with a couple of out of tune teenagers turning up to sing (and I use that word erroneously) the first two lines of We Wish you a Merry Christmas and expecting a fortune .
Particularly annoying is when my wife asks politely if they know any proper carols (“Err” … so she suggests some standard classics and gets dumb looks of course) and then when she doesn’t pay up into their grabby little mitts gets comemnts like “That was a waste of our time then wasn’t it” as said surly girls wonder off to some other innocent victim’s door… OK rant over now!

I think more of a change from then to now than a policeman being on foot in a housing estate is that said officer asked you to get down and you just did so… oh, how times change 😦

  Fiona Tims wrote @

I have that ROS book! I remember being at secondary school and it was in the English class, as one of the books you could choose to take home and read. No-one ever asked for it back so I kept it (Clepto!)

I never noticed the guy on the beach, how funny. Was probably too busy swooning over Michael Praed!

  bobfischer wrote @

Sensational stuff, Dr P. I did eat like a horse as a kid, in fact I suspect given half a chance I would have eaten an ACTUAL horse. And you’re absolutely right about Halloween turnips, in fact it’s a matter about which I occasionally like to jump on my soapbox.

For me, Halloween is ALL about turnips. Pumpkins are rubbish, they’re all smooth and shiny and neat and tidy and brightly-coloured. Whereas turnips are gnarled, dark, smelly, hairy evil-looking objects, FAR more suited to being candle-lit deaths heads. If ever you wanted to sum up the different between British and American cultures, then this strange horror-related vegetable Transatlantic gap tells you all you need to know.

Justin, I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone singing carols! They never come round here any more. But as I kid I knew them all, they were drummed into us at school and I can still Come All Ye Faithful Joyful And Triumphant with the best of them. Makes the (substantial) hairs on the back of my neck stand up, it does.

I only noticed the bloke on the beach recently, Fiona! I think the location is Bamburgh Castle up in my neck of the woods, isn’t it? They definitely filmed part of Robin Hood and the Sorcerer there. I reckon they managed to keep out the great unwashed for the actual filming, but then decided to do a few publicity snaps afterwards, by which point the holiday-makers were drifting back in their droves.

There’s somebody else in a blue cagoul in the background. 🙂

  Fiona Tims wrote @

I have just looked at my copy and giggled at the people you can see. I have to say though, the cover of my actual book is not as clear as the image you have found (or have you scanned your copy?). The background is very definitely blurred.

And yes, I’m certain it is Bamburgh. That’s one of my favourite Castles because the scenery and the beaches were stunning. Lovely and Windswept and freezing and British :O)

  bobfischer wrote @

I’ll have to confess I couldn’t be bothered to scan my copy so I just found an image online! I do have two copies of that book, though… the one I bought in 1984, and the one I bought at the Barnby Moor RoS convention covered in ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ because I wanted a few signatures on it, but had forgotten to bring my 1984 version along with me. I’ve never quite recovered from the manly grip that Nickolas Grace held me in as we posed for a picture in the hotel grounds!

I’ll have to also confess that I’ve never been to Bamburgh Castle despite it being (probably) less than an hour’s drive from me. Oh, the shame!

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Nick is the best guest. At one of the earlier Con’s, we were queing for autographs and he was munching on a plate of food. He was speaking to a girl and said “excuse me masticating in front of you,” she didn’t get it but I burst out laughing!

How can you not have been to Bamburgh???!! You’re right-very shameful. I’d be there loads if it wasn’t hours and miles away from me!

  bobfischer wrote @


Watch and learn, Keith Allen. 😉

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