Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 220

Tuesday 7th August 1984

Woke up at 9.15 when Doug rang, then at 9.30 I went down his house and we went to Yarm. First we went to Yarm cycles, then we went to Yarm records. At about 11.30 we went back to my house and played on the videopac for a while, then we had dinner.

After another go on the videopac, we went down the BMX track and had a ride around. On the way back we saw Squeak, then when we got home Doug fixed the speakers.

At 5.00 Doug went home and at 5.15 I watched The Red Hand gang. Then I went out till 7.30, when we went to pick Mam up, then at 8.30 we came back and watched The Lonelyhearts kid. At 9.00 I watched Film buff of the year (FINAL) and at 9.30 I went to bed.

This was more like it! The sun was out, the birds were singing and Doug and I went down to Yarm Records to finger some attractive 12 inches. So to speak.

Yarm Records was our home town’s tiny, bespoke music store… located in a little shop unit at the very end of Danby Wynd, a narrow alleyway that jutted out of the main High Street, along the beer-stinking side wall of the traditional Cross Keys pub. We would lean our bikes against the peeling window frames and pull open the gigantic wooden door to find ourselves in a musty, stuffy wilderness of music, the overpowering (and glorious) smell of wilting black vinyl acting as a heady, mind-spinning narcotic.

The middle-aged man
reading the Daily Mirror behind the counter would look up and grunt a greeting as we vanished behind the gigantic wooden rack in the centre of the shop, and left mucky thumbprints all over his best stock, scouring the back of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood singles and desperately attempting to memorise the printed lyrics. (‘I modelled shirts by… Van Heusen… black gas… born-again poor man’s son… have you got that?’)

Of course we never, EVER bought anything, but something about the place must have made the 11-year-old me fall in love with the notion of The Little Independent Record Shop. I found the idea of owning such a place impossibly romantic and exciting, and the notion grew and blossomed at the back of my mind for a full decade before exploding forth in a cataclysmic display of madness…

…because exactly 10 years later, I bought the business!

Yes, almost EXACTLY a decade after this, on Monday 1st August 1994, I opened the doors of Yarm Records as the new proprietor. I’d graduated from University a couple of months earlier, and come home to find that the shop’s owner was selling up for a modest, just-about-manageable fee. We saw it in the classified adverts of the Evening Gazette Late Final. My Dad, coincidentally, was returning home from a stint working in the Middle East and looking for a doomed business venture to plough some money into, surely suspecting all along that his idiot 21-year-old son would fritter it away spectacularly.

And he was right!

So here I am, in July 1994, outside that gigantic wooden door, about to start decorating. That’s my old school chum Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones on the left, my mate Simon ‘Wez’ Westwood (now immortalized as a nylon-clad monk in the Monty Python chapter of ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!) in the middle, and me on the right.


When refurbishing a brand new business, it is – of course – important to first dress up as characters from a bad 1970s sitcom about a hapless painting and decorating firm…

And here’s me as the proud shopkeeper, September 1994…

It felt utterly surreal and mind-boggling to be the owner of a shop where I’d once made a persistant nuisance of myself as a child, even moreso when – on the first day – I was greeted by a flurry of noisy schoolkids rummaging through the new stock, and realised that I was now the grumpy grown-up reading the Daily Mirror and grunting a greeting from behind the counter (in fact, I think you can see a copy of the Daily Mirror in the picture above!) 

I stayed in the job for just over four years. The first two were fantastic… all of my mates were back home from University, most were unemployed, and we had an amazing time ordering in new and exciting stock, listening to stupid 60s psychedelic tunes and mad 1970s funk and dancing around the shop like the stupid, early twentysomethings we were. And business improved steadily every day. On Christmas Eve 1994, my mate Stuart (also in ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’, and immortalised on my radio show as ‘Miniature G’) set up his own ‘Santa’s Grotty’ in the corner, wearing a Santa hat and a Groucho Marx nose, and dispensed hearty ‘HO HO HO’s for nine hours solid as me, my Mum, Wez and my friend Kirstine danced around a swelling mass of customers. We took £2,500 in takings in a single day, and then we all decamped to the Cross Keys and got absolutely leathered.

It was BRILLIANT, and I was convinced we’d all be millionaires within the year.

And then the friends that had been hanging around and helping out started to drift away from Teesside, and – despite doing well enough to move the shop onto a presitigious High Street location – I started to get bored. Nobody’s fault but mine, and I apologise to my parents again and again and again for not becoming the budding Richard Branson they clearly hoped I could be. I would sulk behind the counter for days on end, reading endless dreary music trade magazines and drawing up my plans to DESTROY THE WORLD. I tried for a year to sell the place as a going concern, but no-one was interested. By this stage (1997) the Safeway supermarket over the road was selling chart CDs for cheaper than I could buy them in, and I was starting to see the internet shopping revolution coming a mile off. I cleared the last of the stock into my parents’ attic in 1998, and sold the lease on the property to a mobile phone company.

Brilliant fun while it lasted though, especially as my stint coincided pretty much exactly with the rise of Britpop – I still remember the thrill of throwing Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Sleeper and Echobelly CDs around the shop to eager throngs of Beatle-haired teenagers as ‘Common People’ and ‘Inbetweener’ blasted out of our cranky stereo system. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Anyway, back to 1984… ‘Squeak’ was – I think – David Mulhern, the youngest son of… well, Mrs Mulhern, our utterly lovely teacher and guardian of the school piano. His elder brother James was nicknamed ‘Mouse’ and their elder sister Catherine* was called ‘Mighty Mouse’. I’ve no idea who came up with any of this nonsense, but I’d like to shake them by the hand and give them a free Menswear CD. I’ve got dozens of the bloody things in the loft.

(*I think she was called Catherine anyway, but I’m not 100% sure. Any ex-Levendalers want to correct me?)

And I have no recollection whatsoever of ‘The Lonelyhearts Kid’ but it seems it was an ITV sitcom starring Robert ‘Caves of Androzani’ Glenister as a hapless romantic at a loose end after being chucked by his ‘live-in lover’ (as the Daily Mirror would no doubt have put it). Only six episodes were ever made, and it’s possibly this was the only one I watched. Can any British sitcomophiles fill me in with a few more details?



  Chris Orton wrote @

A quick search reveals that The Lonelyheart Kid was written by Alex Shearer, who later went on to write The Two of Us. But that’s about it!

  Thing wrote @

I remember watching what may have been the first episode, in which Robert Glenister’s character sat on the edge of a bridge while contemplating committing suicide only for a scruffy old bloke, possibly a tramp, passing by to get into an unwanted conversation with him. Having established that Glenister is planning to jump off, the man asks if he can have his trousers before he jumps, only for Glenister to reply indignantly something to the effect of “No! That’s hardly gonna look dignified when they fish my body out, is it?” The conversation proceeds, and I think Glenister possibly decides he’s not going to end his life after all, perhaps even thanks the chap with him, only for him to fall in the sea by accident. The last scene is of one of his friends visiting him in hospital.

I also remember an episode beginning with him and perhaps the same friend playing darts in his flat, or house. That might have been the same one though. Couldn’t really say for certain.

  Chris Byers wrote @

No need to correct you Bob your quite right it was Catherine Mulhern.

It was a bit of a shame though you couldn’t sell Yarm Records as it was one of those great little shops that give places like yarm there character, but as you said times were changing. I do remember popping in a couple of times in the mid 90s and having a chat with it’s grumpy owner though.

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

A curious thing: Alex Shearer’s “Sink Or Swim” was seen by the BBC as something of a vehicle for up & coming hot property Peter Davison (and was, I think, partially responsible for the unusually long break between Tom Baker finishing Dr. Who and the next series starting) but Robert Glenister as Davison’s younger brother ended up rather stealing the show in the comedy stakes. His bouts of gloom and self-pity were often very funny and I’m sure this was the starting point for “The Lonelyhearts Kid”
Whether it was ever offered to the BBC before Thames took it up may never be known. I daresay you’d have been gloomy and self-pitying if Debbie Farrington had left you in your first episode and it was 1984. What I remember most about it now is that the Glenister character’s new friend turned out to have been the lad who’d bullied him at school. Or maybe it was the other way round.

Ah well, you wouldn’t have long to wait for “Tripper’s Day” to start…

  bobfischer wrote @

Thanks all! Interesting stuff, there. I remember Sink or Swim and The Two of Us really well, but seem to have a strange mental block on The Lonelyhearts Kid. Sounds like a nicely downbeat sitcom, though! Speaking of which, I’m currently watching ‘The Other One’ on DVD… it’s like Samuel Beckett with castanets.

Chris – I tried desperately to sell Yarm Records as a going concern, as I completely agreed with you. It was a lovely old shop and I (and the previous owners) put a lot of love and effort into it. But it just seemed as though no-one was interested, and I really just had to get out in the end – it was making me hugely depressed and I’d just started to work on the radio at that point as well.

I really miss it sometimes, and I would never rule out opening a shop of some description at some point again. I still have frequent vivid dreams that I’ve re-opened Yarm Records in the same location, and all my old regulars come flooding back through the door on the first day. 🙂

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

Thank you for alerting me to the fact that “The Other One” is now available on DVD. I hope that’s true of both series!

  bobfischer wrote @

Sadly not… Series 1 came out in September 2008, but there’s no sign of Series 2. I live in hope, though.

I’ve got to admit, I’d never heard of it until I saw the DVD release mentioned on a certain respected internet forum. I bought it when it came out, but have just got round to watching it!

From what I’ve read it wasn’t well-loved at the BBC, but it’s gloriously downbeat and underplayed by both Richard Briers and Michael Gambon. A really intriguing little show.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Wow, your record shop sounded lovely. I hate that internet shopping is killing off these shops, but I’m as guilty as the next person of using the net to get things cheaper (and free!).

Hmmmm Menswear-I know of that band. I think they were about when I was trawling the country folloeing the Manics. Were they crap?……I must go and check youtube…..

  bobfischer wrote @

I’ll save you the effort. Yes, they were crap. 😉

(Actually, Daydreamer is a cracking single…)

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