Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 206

Tuesday 24th July 1984

Woke up at 8.00 and got up at 8.45. We went to Yarm, and when we came back I started to map Island of the Lizard king. Then I went out and played football. At 12.00 I had dinner, then I mapped some more.

At 1.45 I watched The Animal Olympians, then at 2.45 I mapped some more. Soon after, I went out till tea at 4.50. At 5.00 I watched The Red hand gang, then at 5.40 I went out and played football.

At 6.40 I watched Star Trek, and at 7.30 I watched Little and large. At 8.00 I went out, at 9.00 I watched Film buff of the year and at 9.30 I went to bed.

I was really making the most of these holidays, wasn’t I? Giddy with the heady whiff of freedom and with adrenaline coursing through my veins, by the end of the week I’d started stamp collecting and enrolled on a chartered accountancy night class. What a boring little oik I’d suddenly become! Don’t worry though, salvation was just around the corner… (little teasing hint for future instalments, there…)


In the meantime, time to dig out No 7 of Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. Island Of The Lizard King saw me attempting to free the ‘young men of Oyster Bay’ from a ‘grim future of slavery, starvation and a lingering death’ at the hands of ‘a vicious race of Lizard Men from Fire Island’. With the benefit of experience, all of this sounds vaguely kinky in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on, but I imagine such thoughts were far from my mind as I assembled another pile of graph paper on the coffee table and threw myself into a bit of dice-based ‘black magic and voodoo’…

Fantastically, there was a mild tabloid moral panic about Fighting Fantasy books in 1984, when a couple of worried clergymen expressed concerns over their ‘satanic content’ and – brilliantly – one entirely rational Christian mother claimed that her son had become posessed by demons while playing House Of Hell (Book No 10) and had actually levitated. Sadly this power had evaded me so far, although I suspect if I had managed to master the art of flying at any point during the summer of 1984, my Dad would have calmly pressed a garden trowel into my hand and told me to clear out the guttering while I was up there.

Good to see that the summer daytime TV schedules had firmly kicked in, though. Tyne Tees would have been cleaning up in the mornings with the latest Roland Rat adventures (Rat On The Road II, as I recall… what HAVE I done with my life?!?) and then it was over to BBC1 for Why Don’t You, usually paired up with one of the BBC’s interminable 473-part Eastern  European children’s epics. If it was Tuesday, it must have been Heidi…

(PSSSST! Heidi! Stay away from Goat Peter, he’s boss-eyed and he smells…) 

There was usually a half-arsed attempt to show something vaguely educational in the afternoons… Tyne Tees would normally go for ‘The World Around Us’ (which always seemed to be showing the effects of drought/rainfall on the wildlife of the Nile Delta) and the BBC would plump for things like ‘The Animal Olympians’. I think was an American production, with lots of slightly-too-enthusiastic commentary placed over slow-motion footage of critturs and beasties jumping and scurrying mildly impressive distances. ‘The 110m hurdling champion of the animal kingdom is undoubtedly our friend The Gazelle…’ etc.

The Red Hand Gang was fab, though. I bought the whole series on DVD recently, and it was like having Distilled Essence of School Summer Holiday injected into my brain with a giant, Wham Bar-coloured syringe. Made in 1977, it followed the adventures of a team of raggle-taggle street kids from New York (led by future Whiz Kids star Matthew Laborteaux) and their gutsy, crime-busting antics. If you’re between 35 and 45 and the opening sequence doesn’t make you feel physically faint with nostalgia, then you… erm… clearly made more of your summer holidays than I did, and actually went outside occasionally.

The Red Gang seemed to run endlessly for years and years, but – like Bagpuss and Mr Benn – it’s one of those series with an entirely false sense of longevity. There were 12 twenty-minute episodes made. Ever. We children of the 1980s must have had the attention spans of goldfish not to notice that we were simply watching the same episodes again and again and again every summer holiday. I blame Wham Bars and the ZX81. And Mrs ‘Fatcher. Probably.


By the way, I’ve just discovered that The Red Hand Gang actually spawned a spin-off, with one of its members taking the starring role. A bit of a kick in the teeth for Matthew Laborteaux, this, as it was actually the gang’s dog! ‘Here’s Boomer’ ran for (yikes) 20 episodes from 1980-82. Even as an 11-year-old, I always felt a bit sorry for Charlie Brown, a boy whose pet dog seemed to be infinitely cooler and more popular than him. Perhaps him and Matthew should have got together and formed some kind of support group (Peppermint Patty and Jolie Newman could have taken the minutes)

(By the way, I can only imagine the string of sarcastic comments that will have poured from my Dad if he was forced to watch The Red Hand Gang while he was eating his tea. ‘Streetwise detectives, this lot? The dog’s more intelligent than the rest of them put together. They should give him his own series…’ etc)

And the Star Trek episode I watched was ‘The Enemy Within’, a belting little story in which the transporter malfunctions and Captain Kirk splits into two seperate entities, one good (who’s a bit feeble and indecisive) and one evil (who gets drunk on Saurian Brandy and tries to grope Yeoman Rand).

Maybe that’s what had happened to me at the start of the summer holidays, and the ‘good’ me was staying at home making maps of Fighting Fantasy books while the ‘bad’ me was haring around Yarm as usual, spraying shandy around in back alleyways and messing about near railway lines. Mind you, ‘City Of Thieves’ wasn’t going to map itself, was it…?



  PJE_UK wrote @

Without reference to Wikipedia or DVDs here’s what I remember about the Red Hand Gang episodes.

One story about a monkey being trained to steal some ancient painting from a museum or big house.

A deaf kid being a temporary member as he’d witnessed a crime and the gang protect him from some inept US Style Children’s Film Foundation “crap” baddies.

Retired footballer (was he disabled ??) O J Oakins being kipnapped to perform some felony or other by another group of “shit” hoods from Central Casting.

All the above from memory of Summer / Easter/ Xmas holiday TV past.

Marks out of 10 Bob ???

And don’t get me started on that monstorous, never ending Huckleberry Finn series …… or Silas …… or Play Chess.

Test cricket never looked so watchable to a 12 year old.

  Chris Orton wrote @

I like the fact that one of the cast is called ‘James Bond III’.

That’d make him Goldfinger.

  bobfischer wrote @

I’d like to be able to confirm or deny any of the above, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve only watched the first episode on the DVDs. This is no reflection on its quality, though… there are TV masterpieces sitting on the front room shelf that have yet to make it out of the cellophane wrapper after years of waiting…

I’m sure you’re right, though! The ‘deaf kid’ one sounds particularly familiar. And you’re right about the baddies… even the very first episode has a rubbish trademark kids’ TV gang (evil genius, hapless fat sidekick, glamorous moll) that lay relentlessly in wait begging to be foiled.

DId Huckleberry Finn actually HAVE lots of episodes, or did they make 12 and repeat them endlessly, and we never noticed?

Chris – I think James Bond III is now a film director/producer… hardcore Red Hand Gang fans certainly need to check this out…


  Fiona Tims wrote @

just back from Ireland, so catching up with your posts.
I loved Heidi and still remember the theme tune (not sure Swiss counts as Eastern European though;p).

I didn’t have a clue what Red Hand Gang was but upon watching the link I remember the tune and the beginning credits. Can’t remember the show though!

  bobfischer wrote @

Ah great, hope you had a nice holiday! Thought it had been nice and quiet round here recently… 😉

You actually WATCHED Heidi, then? I honestly thought that nobody ever did. There seemed to be literally hundreds of episodes of it, all pretty much identical.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

I did watch Heidi. The scenery was gorgeous-and I still love going for mountain holidays in Switzerland/Austria. I’d re-watch them if I could find them!

  bobfischer wrote @

I love the idea of taking holidays in the locations for your favourite TV shows! Unfortunately I like Robin of Sherwood, so have to keep going back to Swindon… 😉

Just had a look, and all of the 1970s Heidi is actually available on DVD – all 26 episodes spread over two releases. Play have them for £7.99 each!



I’m quite tempted to buy these for nostalgia’s sake, although I know full well that they’ll just sit on my shelf unwatched for years on end… 🙂

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Haha I don’t know why it didn’t even occur to me to see if it was available!
I’ll have to order it :O)
Swindon doesn’t quite have the same allure does it? ;p

  bobfischer wrote @

Go for it! And let us know if it lives up to your memories of it… 🙂

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