Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 221

Wednesday 8th August 1984

Woke up at 8.30 and at 9.25 I watched Charlie Brown. At 10.00 I got up, then I rang Doug but he was on his own and so was I. I played on the videopac till 10.30, when Doug came over and we b0th played on the videopac. At 11.30 we watched The Grumbleweeds and at 12.00 we had dinner.

At 12.30 we went to the pictures to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. After what seemed like endless adverts, the film actually came on and it was geedy! We came home at 3.30 and went to Yarm and had a muck on.

Then at 5.00 we came back, Doug went home, and I had tea. After tea I played out till 7.30, when I watched Coronation Street. Then I played on the videopac till 9.00, when I went to bed.

I’ve been racking my brains to decipher the signifance of the line ‘I rang Doug but he was on his own and so was I’… and, after two hours of Bletchley Park-style tapping on my own Enigma Machine (looking suspiciously like a battered Philips G7000 Videopac) I think I’ve cracked it. Neither Doug nor I had a key to our own houses, and both of us had been left home alone while our parents popped out, so we couldn’t desert our posts without leaving our respective doors unlocked! Oh, the responsibility…

Anyway, this was one of those lovely days when Doug really felt part of the family. My parents were still out of the house, no doubt on the trail of some new luminous blue bathroom paint at the ‘Dickens Home Improvement Hypermarket’… the Teesside DIY store whose Tyne Tees TV advert was presented – bizarrely – by jazz legend George Melly. In recent years, my friend Andy and I were determined to gatecrash one of Melly’s gigs and shout ‘DO THE DICKENS HOME IMPROVEMENT SONG!!!!’ from the back row, but sadly it was never to be…

So when Doug popped over at 10.30am, I was prowling around the house by myself and felt deliriously like an adult homeowner proudly welcoming his best friend round to his own gaff. Only the vase of pink carnations on the kitchen windowsill were a giveaway (I’m more of a fuchsia man,  as any of my friends will tell you). I think I made us both a manly cheese sandwich and a big, butch glass of pop and we sprawled across the sofa to watch a late morning repeat of The Grumbleweeds TV show.

And we plotted… oh, yes we did…

My parents returned from their paint-hunting expedition just before noon, and I mustered all of my strength and drew myself up to my full height (5’1″) before asking my Mum, in my best, least desperate sounding-voice…

‘Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam, canyoutakemeandDougtoseeIndianaJonessafternoon?’

The new Indiana Jones film had been out since the middle of June, but was still going strong on one of the the three screens at the tiny Classic cinema on the corner of Dovecot Street in Stockton-on-Tees. ‘Oh, not today…’ winced my poor, downtrodden mother, still bearing the mental scars from the five times I’d forced her to take me to see Star Wars (and Empire, and Return…) at the same velvet-curtained fleapit.  ‘We’ve got to get that bathroom painted, so we really don’t have time to go to the pictures with you…’

‘Let ’em go themselves…’ grunted my Dad, walking past with a rickety stepladder slung over his shoulder. ‘They’re nearly bloody twelve years old, I was in full-time bloody employment at their age…’

‘Yes, up a chimney, and toiling at the workhouse for gruel,’ muttered my mother, before reluctantly agreeing. The sheer thrill-packed excitement of this was enough to have Doug and I scrabbling for our bullwhips and battered fedoras. My Dad (acting as our own personal Marcus Brody) kindly drove us into Stockton so we could catch the 1pm screening, and I remember standing outside the cinema with Doug, watching the Reliant Scimitar vanish away into the distance as it dawned on me that I was ALONE! WITH MY BEST MATE! IN THE BIG CITY!!!!!


New Yoooork, New Yooooork… it’s a WONDERFUL TOWNN!!!!

Going to the cinema in 1984 was a hilariously different adventure to the modern, pampered Multiplex experience. The Classic was a tiny, gloomy building on the corner of a Stockton backstreet. It had three screens, and – as with all cinemas – only opened its doors ten minutes or so before the film was due to begin. So, for example, if you were going to watch a popular, newly-released blockbuster like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, then you would arrive with a good hour to spare and join the queue OUTSIDE the building. In any weather. I remember, in January 1978, my Mum and I waiting outside the same cinema to see Star Wars, in conditions that made the Ice Planet of Hoth look like a brisk, frosty morning in Redcar. I was five years old, and spent an hour snuggled inside her sheepskin coat as a stinging, ice-tinged blizzard of hailstones swept across Prince Regent Street.  

And if you want me to make this story sound even more pathetic, we didn’t actually see the film at the end of it! The ‘SOLD OUT’ signs went up as we were ten feet away from the main entrance. It took another two attempts for me to see Star Wars on the big screen, by which time George Lucas was already working on the 20th anniversary Special Editions. And I had advanced frostbite.

So the cinema owners would only allow the public to defile their lobbies with minutes to spare, with a sour-faced woman in a brown uniform unlocking the glass doors from the inside and allowing a hundred shivering, whiskery Teessiders to shuffle into the foyer. We then had the choice of buying either a ‘King Cone’ ice cream (essentially, the poor man’s Cornetto) or a Westler’s Hot Dog, the only foodstuff in the world even more hilariously phallic than a saveloy.


We’d enjoy these culinary delights in our tiny, fuzzy felt seats before watching the film on a screen barely bigger than the average modern-day plasma TV through a haze of cigarette smoke. Yes, amazing though it seems, smokers were entirely welcome to light up at the pictures long into the 1980s, providing (and this is an important health and safety consideration) that they did so down the RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THE CINEMA ONLY. As as result, if the only seats left after the ensuing scramble were on that side, then you’d have to watch the film through a haze of thick, noxious fug, occasionally wafting the smoke away for long enough to work out whether it was Indiana Jones or (cough, splutter) Short Round in the middle of the action.

(The threadbare felt seats even had little metal grilles built into the retractable arms, specifically for stubbing out cigarette butts. How decadently anti-establishment is THAT?)

I like the ‘endless adverts’ as well. Nowadays, cinema adverts are slick, pounding, charismatic affairs that star Hollywood A-listers and have budgets comparable to the main features themselves. In 1984, they were flickery, zero-budget affairs shot by local beardy types on ancient 16mm cameras, advertising ‘Jamal’s Indian Restaurant, only 100 yards from this Cinema Foyer’. I miss them.

(To celebrate this rubbish, you MUST watch the below film – it’s just reduced me to tears of both hilarity and nostalgia for the best part of 20 minutes…)

I miss the whole experience. Low-rent and small-scale it may have been, but I always enjoyed it. Whereas I’ve stopped attending modern-day multiplexes because I can’t stand the racket in there. Back in 1984, the slightest whisper was enough to have Mrs Sour Face frogmarching you outside into the blizzard and depositing you onto the pavement with King Cone smeared all over your weeping face. The last time I went to a packed-out Multiplex screening, the audience made more noise than the average North Stand crowd at the Riverside Stadium.

Anyway, needless to say, we loved Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Doug and I gasped and giggled and got excited in all the right places, and I experienced that tremendous but rare sensation of ‘this isn’t just great, it’s SO AMAZING IT MAKES ME WANT TO JUMP UP AND PUNCH THE AIR’. A feeling I hardly ever get when watching anything, but when I do, I recognise it immediately. I got it from Star Wars in 1978 (once the frostbite had died down), I got it from Indiana Jones in 1984, and nowadays I get it from Stephen Moffat’s Doctor Who episodes.

And I also got it from sharing a scorching July day wandering around Teesside with my best mate, so everyone was a winner really. And – on the way down to Yarm at 4pm – we saw a labrador and a border collie having vigorous sex on a bit of wasteland next to the railway bridge, and didn’t stop laughing for at least an hour afterwards. Who needs The Grumbleweeds when you can get entertainment like that for nothing?

(The Classic cinema, by the way, lasted until the early 1990s, when the multiplex boom finally finished it off for good. The building was demolished and the site now plays host to Arc, the multi-million pound arts venue, which boasts its own lovely, thriving, intimate little one-screen cinema. So that’s quite a nice ending, really…)

And I can’t resist… here’s a few more…



  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

My favourite cinema adverts were always the ones that advertised something quite commonplace, something found all over Britain (if not the world!) but which, right at the end, would have a caption card for a local business where they might be bought edited onto them. The editing had always been done so poorly that the swaying caption leapt onto the screen with a jarring crackle and an alarming shudder. Sometimes there would be an accompanying voice-over saying “Available now from…” and this would always be at a completely different speed and in a completely different tone from the voice-over used on the main advert.

  Chris Orton wrote @

I’m going to sound like a proper old fart here, but at our local three-screen flea pit (Bishop Auckland) I can remember seeing cartoons before the main film, and remember the woman coming around with ice creams in the interval. I saw Return of the Jedi there in 1983 with my Dad, years before I even got to see The Empire Strikes Back!

I remember those ads too Giles: “Sharma’s Tandoori Restaurant, only fifty yards from this cinema”.

And of course *that* Kia Ora advert.

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

I apologise if I’m repeating anything in the links (I still can’t open them) but does anyone else remember an animated advertisement for popcorn that featured cheerleaders shouting:
“Butterkist! Butterkist! Ra! Ra! Ra!”
and a lot of Dangermouse-style explosions?
I used to loathe that!

  bobfischer wrote @

Dr Parcel, if you hover your cursor over the ‘YouTube’ logo in the bottom right hand corner of the filmy bits, do you get an option to ‘Watch on Youtube’? If so, that might work for you…?

And yes, I remember the badly-edited local bits at the end of national adverts! Usually with a suspiciously curly hair trapped somewhere on the background. And yep Mr O… when I finally got to see Star Wars in early 1978, we had an interval halfway through, somewhere around all the ‘rescuing the Princess’ business. A lady with a tray did indeed bring a selection of ice creams around the auditorium, and I got an R2D2 ice cream covered in hundreds and thousands! I kept the mouldy wrapper for years afterwards.

And I can indeed confirm the existance of ‘Butterkist! Butterkist! Ra! Ra! Ra!’ Ironically, I’m not sure Butterkisk was ever actually available at the Classic cinema. Popcorn was a dangerously exotic concept for Stockton-on-Tees in the early 1980s.

  bobfischer wrote @

I used to love ‘local’ adverts on TV as well. Ultra-cheap commercials for tiny local businesses, usually without any moving footage… just a series of still pictures accompanied by a voiceover and some jaunty stock background music.

Tyne Tees used to be packed with them, but I think they died out sometime in the early 1990s.

Actually, is it me, or were the early 1990s something of a watershed in British society? Lots of the stuff I write about in my 1984 diary seems to have ‘lasted until the early 1990s’. Lots the homely, low-rent, ‘old’ stuff seems to have been replaced by more corporate, commercial things around that time.

Little cinemas being replaced by multiplexes, High Street shops struggling against out-of-town retail parks, four TV channels exploding into hundreds, dinky home computers for kids being replaced by powerful, internet-ready models, football clubs leaving their old terraces for new, all-seater stadia, old school pubs turning into pounding, pseudo-city centre ‘bars’… it all seems to have happened in a short space of time from around 1990-1995.

Or is it just me?

  Thing wrote @

Queuing for hours in the cold, sour-faced women… would it be fair to say that in 1984 attitudes to customer service in Britain were still somewhat less than enthusiastic?

It’s a bit of a cliche, one which Bill Bryson, for example, has had fun with before. American earnestness with all of the “Have a nice day”s, and attention to the customer’s comfort and convenience, while over in Britain there was a seemingly unspoken “You’ll make do with what you’re given and do as you’re told” spirit. Perhaps a leftover from the days of austerity? A sort of latent moral disapproval of possible self-indulgence on the customer’s part? Or sheer stubbornness? Or I could just be talking nonsense.

There does seem to have been attempts to import more of a The Customer Is Always Right ethos since though.

  Chris Byers wrote @

I used to love going to that old cinema, it may have been a flee pit but there was certainly a character and charm to the old place. And yes I can remember all the old ads for the local takeaways and the irritating Butterkist add that Dr Parcel mentions. I can also remember one of the usherettes, a little old battle-axe of a women who was armed with a torch and was not afraid to use it .

I have a great love of cinema and still go on a regular basis. Part of that love is down to my early visits to the Classic, and part down to the summer of 1989 when myself and my old friend Andrew Bruce spent half of our summer holidays at the slightly posher Odeon Middlesbrough wasting away many a summer afternoon.

  bobfischer wrote @

Thing… no, I think you’re right! I wonder if, when we were kids, there was no such thing as staff training – so a lot more of the shopkeepers’ natural personality came through. Grumpy shopowners remained grumpy behind the counter, and happy ones always had a smile for you. Nowadays, all of that has been coaxed out and they’ve almost learnt their lines by rote…

Chris, I loved the Odeon in Middlesbrough as well… that was definitely our cinema of choice if I was at my Gran’s house in Acklam, although we paid the occasional visit to the ABC on Linthorpe Road as well.

The Odeon lasted quite a long time, didn’t it? A proper, old-fashioned cinema with three screens and dusty velvet curtains.. when the 20-screen Showcase was built at (booo!) Teesside Park, the Odeon stuck up two fingers and dropped all its ticket prices to £1.50, advertising relentlessly in the Evening Gazette and really pulling in the punters for a few years.

I was going to suggest it lasted until the late 1990s, but I definitely saw O Brother Where Art Thou at the Odeon, and that wasn’t released in the UK until May 2000. The cinema was full, and still looked exactly as it had done in the 1970s. It was amazing going back there.

I don’t think it lasted much longer, though. It became a horrible bar/club called Jumping Jacks shortly after, and – staggeringly – the whole building was demolished a couple of years ago to make way for a £4-all-day car park.

In the same week, as I recall, that the 19th Century scientific institute building suffered the same fate. Now also a £4-all-day car park. Unbelievable vandalism.

  Chris Byers wrote @

The Odeon had a fourth screen added in the late 80s and was completely refurbished. It closed in 2001 a couple of days before the new Cineworld opened across the road.

  bobfischer wrote @

Another terrible false memory on my part, then – I was sure when I went back in 2000, it looked exactly the same as it had in the 70s! Unless it was a very subtle refurbishment, of course… 😉

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

The beautiful old Palace Cinema in Stalybridge (as seen in The League Of Gentlemen a couple of times) stayed open until 26th August 2003. Incredibly, smoking was permitted on the right hand side right until the end and only recently did I discover that The Blair Witch Project didn’t take place in heavy fog.

  bobfischer wrote @

Sensational! Has it turned into something else now, or is it just lying empty?

I’ve always been rather fascinated by Stalybridge, as my train home from University used to pass through it, and it looked… well, odd. I always had a strange compulsion to step off the train, but feared I’d suddenly enter an episode of The Twilight Zone and find myself in 1956. I’d be confronted by Teddy Boys smoking woodbines on a street corner, and find the Palace Cinema showing The Searchers to an audience of trilby-hatted men sucking menthol sweets.

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

I think it’s a poxy nightclub nowadays although it could have been flattened for all I know.
The Stalybridge timewarp has moved on and it’s reached the early 1980s now so it’s ideal for your blog. Besides the League Of Gentlemen it’s been used as a location for Yanks, Jossy’s Giants, Common As Muck and… We Are Klang’s TV series I believe. It’s the Cheshire pan-handle’s version of LA.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

OOoh I loved Temple of doom. It’s still my fave Indiana film

I want to know why all the ads are for Indian restaurants-weren’t there any other kinds back then? (I only had my first curry in 2000!).

I loved our old cinema too. I loathe cinema experiences these days. The last film I saw I had a grown up guy in front of me texting constantly for over 10 minutes (during a big action scene I might add). The light from his phone was so distracting that I had steam coming out of my ears. I finally prodded him and asked him to stop (it was either that or I was going to slap it out of his hand).There were only 12 people in the damn cinema as well and he sits right in front of me *grumbles*

  bobfischer wrote @

That’s pretty much why I stopped going to the cinema as well… everybody else in there treated the place as though it was their front room, and they’d invited a few friends round to watch a DVD. Blatant, out-loud conversations, endless chomping and scrunching up of crisp packets, laughter, texting, mobile phone calls being made and taken without any hint of embarrassment (‘Yeh… yeh… I’m watching a film… no, it’s crap… dead boring… yeh… yeh… are you out later? Yeh… nah… nah… alright…’) and everyone up and down every ten seconds like a frog in a bloody pump to go to the toilets/food kiosk/bar/all three.

Although I did go to a midnight screening of ‘Telstar’ at my local Showcase a couple of months ago, and was the only person in there! It was bloody marvellous… I felt like a millionaire playboy.

Curry houses were pretty much as exotic as it got for eating out on Teesside in the early 1980s… I don’t even recall much in the way of Italian or Chinese cuisine. Not that any of it mattered to me, I just ate fishfingers in front of the telly every night.

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