Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 224

Saturday 11th August 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.15. I played on the Videopac for a while then I started to map Citadel of Chaos. At 12.00 I had dinner, and then I mapped a bit more. At 1.00 we went to Stockton and I got some white shorts and black socks for Conyers, and a Doctor Who monthly.

Came back at 3.30 and mapped some more of Citadel of Chaos, then I went out and played football till 5.00, when I had tea. After tea I went to Doug’s and fed his rabbits, then at 7.00 I came back and watched Game for a laugh. At 8.00 I watched Ultra Quiz, and at 8.30 I went out and played football.

Went to bed at 9.15.

Can you tell I was at a bit of a loose end now that Doug was on holiday? Staying in bed till after 10am and – yikes! – accompanying my Mum on a shopping trip to Stockton to furnish me with a few odds and ends for my impending terrifying ascension to Conyers comprehensive school.

I was fussy to the point of mental illness when it came to socks. Seriously. Up to the age of about ten, I would ONLY allow my feet to be dressed in a particular brand of grey sock seemingly stocked exclusively by British Homes Stores in Middlesbrough. One day in 1983, my Mum returned from her usual shopping expedition on the Number 13 bus with the dreaded phrase ‘They’ve stopped making your usual socks, so I got you these instead. They’re just the same…’

greysocksExcept they weren’t. They were grey boys’ socks alright, but they most definitely weren’t MY grey boys’ socks. I refused to wear them; my Mum refused to buy any alternatives; and the whole excruciating sock stand-off entered a Cuban Missile Crisis level of tension that lasted for months… by which stage, my old grey socks were barely hanging together by threads. When they finally became unusable, I stubbornly insisted that I STILL didn’t want any replacements buying, and I would wear my football socks all the time instead. So I did, for the best part of a year. 

Except they were a bit tricky to pull on, especially first thing on a warm, sticky morning, so every day I went through a bizarre ritual of ‘cooling my feet’ by dipping them into cold water and waffing them backwards and forwards so that my football socks would slip on easier.

‘I can’t understand how you can program a computer, but you’re incapable of putting on a simple pair of socks like everybody else in the bloody world,’ my Dad muttered, walking through the dining room on his way to work one morning. He had a point.

If anybody fancies putting all of the above into an online autism spectrum test, then feel free. I’ve suspected for many years now that I’m probably on there somewhere. Although I should point out that, by the end of 1983, I’d completely forgotten about the whole strange business and was happy to wear any old pair of socks that my mother threw in my direction. Especially if they were luminous. And odd (well, 1984 was just around the corner)

The white shorts were fine, though. I never had any problems with shorts. What do you think I am, mental or something? 

Good to see another Doctor Who Magazine going on the neatly-ordered pile in the corner of the bedroom… acquired no doubt from WH Smiths in Stockton, in its old location at the bottom end of the High Street, in the days before every single recogniseable shop in the main part of town was chased to a new, millenium retail park by pound shops, charity shops and Greggs. (No doubt brandishing Friends videos, Peter Benchley paperbacks and Steak Bakes as deadly weapons)

This was the issue I bought 25 years ago today…

dwm92Doctor Who Monthly No. 92, the very sight of which struck fear into my tiny, cowardly heart. Was it the mention of the dreaded Cybermen? Nope. The icy stare of Tom Baker’s piercing eyes? Pfffft. No, the thing that set my nerves a-jangle on the 294 bus back to Yarm was the date on the front cover. SEPTEMBER. It hadn’t struck me until now, but my summer holidays were passing in a sickening blur, and (with the aid of a few fingers and toes) I calculated to my horror that I was EXACTLY HALF WAY THROUGH my six-week break. Breaking up on the last day of term seemed a mere heartbeat ago, yet in the same amount of time again I’d be slipping into my new black socks and stumbling, petrified, along the main road to Conyers school.

I vowed there and then that I would make every last second of my summer holidays count. So I, erm, messed about with my Fighting Fantasy books and flopped in front of the telly to watch Game For A Laugh.

GAME FOR A LAUGH! Yegods. A staple of ITV’s Saturday night schedule for most of the early 1980s, the show was still boasting its original four presenters at this stage… the amazing light entertainment ‘Fab Four’ of Matthew Kelly, Jeremy Beadle, Henry Kelly and Sarah Kennedy. A series of pranks, stunts and ‘hits’ on the general public, sometimes with hidden cameras but just as often before the studio audience… and as an 11-year-old I found it utterly compulsive.

21st century clever dicks may sneer and spout forth ridicule, but for its first few series at least, Game For A Laugh earned sensational ratings and was genuine ‘event’ TV. We took TV seriously back in those days, and – with only four TV channels to split between us – high-rated programmes became huge, cultural common ground for everyone.

It was launched in the Autumn of 1981, and I have hugely fond memories of spending Saturday evenings in my Gran’s front room with my parents, my Gran and my Uncle Trevor and his pregnant wife Rose, all of us whooping with laughter* and riveted to a crucial part of the evening’s TV schedule.

*apart from my Dad, he thought it was shite.

(Out of interest, what else would have been on TV on a Saturday evening in late 1981? There was no Doctor Who, but would The Generation Game have been in full swing? Cannon and Ball? Juliet Bravo, I think? And then Match of the Day, which – if I was allowed to stay up for – I’d still be watching at 11pm when my parents and/or Uncle Trevor returned from the pub, smelling exotically of Tetley’s Best Bitter and John Player Special)

Anyway, a few stange, disparate memories of Game For A Laugh…

1. For the studio scenes of the very first series, Matthew Kelly had a broken leg, complete with full, thigh-length plaster cast. Despite this, he still performed a traditional Scottish sword dance in full kilt and sporran, as a hysterical Sarah Kennedy howled and hammered on the studio floor.

2. Jeremy Beadle pulling a terrified-looking woman from the audience and asking her to place her hand, unsighted, into several boxes, the contents of which were visible to the audience but not to her. One of them contained the head of bald-as-a-coot Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew, who giggled and grimaced through the whole strange affair. And Beadle, all the while, fired off his strangely sinister catchphrase ‘Trust me… trust me…’

3. A strange, pre-recorded skit in which Matthew Kelly threw himself into a some busy street vox pops, in a That’s Life styleee. Strapped to his front was a bizarre contraption that he told passers-by was a ‘brand new CB’.

‘The radio?’ they asked him, bemused. ‘No,’ he told them. ‘A cardboard box’. Welcome to the 1980s.

Oh, and my expedition to feed Doug’s rabbits at 6pm… (holds breath) went fine. I unlocked the garage, removed their water bottles, unlocked the kitchen, filled them up with fresh water, attached them back to the hutches, filled up their food bowls with the correct amounts, then buggered off. It felt strangely thrilling and daring to be in Doug’s house by myself, but I resisted the temptation to put my feet up in front of the telly and crack open one of his Dad’s beers from the fridge. Then I locked everything up and went home without a care in a world.

The rest of my rabbit-feeding week wouldn’t be QUITE so straightforward, though… (STAB OF DRAMATIC MUSIC) Watching us, watching you, watching us, watching you…



  PJE_UK wrote @

I can remember our family laughing like a drain at GFAL although we normally strictly a BBC house.

However, the only clear memory I have of the show is the brilliant Not The 9 O’Clock News parody

  David Brunt wrote @

The BBC schedule the night Laugh at a Cretin started was:

5:10 Kung Fu (Repeat)
6:15 Generation Game
7:10 Juliet Bravo (this week with Jeff Rawle and Jean Boht)
8:00 Paul Daniels Magic Show
8:40 Flamingo Road (crappy glossy US soap)
9:40 Match of the Day/International Athletics

5:25 The Sky at Night
5:45 International Darts
7:10 The Royal Opera presents Peter Grimes
9:45 Repeat of Tinker, Tailor, Smiley, Why

  Chris Orton wrote @

The thing that I remembered most about Game for a Laugh was that Kelly seemed to have a broken leg *every time that I watched it*. Obviously this wasn’t the case, but it seemed that way at the time. Oh, his horrible jumpers were quite something to behold weren’t they?

I also remember when all but Beadle of the main cast left and they replaced them with sub-standard personnel. Rustie Lee? Martin Daniels? Good grief, no wonder it died out not long after.

And something that I never realised at the time was that the feller in many of Beadle’s skits was none other than John “K9’s voice” Leeson.

  bobfischer wrote @

I’d forgotten all about that NTNOCN sketch! Great stuff… another show that’s long overdue a proper DVD release. For about six months of 1981, the Levendale playgrounds rang constantly to cries of ‘Nelson’s coluuuumn? Pah. Eeet eees not Nelson’s coluuuumn…’

Cheers for the schedules, Mr B. No wonder we watched Game for a Laugh! Alough my Gran liked Kung Fu, so we would have watched that while we had our tea. Good to see John Boht in Juliet Bravo – she seemed to pop up in Hartley approximately every six weeks, always playing a different character! I think she was probably a Time Lady, living undercover and using a variety of psedonymns to outwit the Doctor (himself disguised as Sgt George Parrish, with his TARDIS hidden in the old abandoned mill)… and then… and then… and then…

I think it was the 1985 series that saw Martin P Daniels (don’t forget his P!) and Rustie Lee drafted in. Not sure if it moved to a Sunday night as well. But yes, Kelly (M) was a big one for a bright, multi-coloured jumper in the 80s. See also: Russell Grant, Gyles Brandreth, even the mighty John Craven.

In fact, there’s probably a full entry to be written about TV knitwear of the 1980s. I remember A Question of Sport at one point being absolutely overwhelmed by the pastel-shaded Pringle sweater brigade – Emyln Hughes, Bill Beaumont, David Coleman et al frequently wore jumpers of such a similar washed-out shade to the studio background that they looked like floating, disembodied heads and hands.

  Thing wrote @

I think 3-2-1 might have been on ITV on Saturday nights about that time? It’s the right sort of era, I;d have thought.

  Inspector Hector Vector wrote @

Now then young man I’ll thank you not to cast aspersions upon the species of old Georgie Parrish! That man were as human as you or I, he were as human as they come. Two hearts? George Parrish were ALL heart and a blinking fine copper too. Weren’t none of his fault that the kiddie went off the rails a bit. Folk nowadays they like to point the finger and lay blame but young Parrish were the salt of the earth. And not your apple-ponging New Earth neither!

Now I’m not breaking the official secrets act or owt when I say that there were a reason for all them garish knits on the telly back then. I’ll not stray into Zircon territory or quote actual memos/stroke/directives from Alasdair Milne but costs were on the up and one of the right big expenses come about when “Leichner” (no comment!) upped their prices on your bog-standard pancake foundation. Now everyone had to wear it on the tellybox back then, not just the ladies so there were no shame. In fact the ladies helped out by just wearing their own and saved the Corporation a pretty penny into the bargain. But the chaps’ faces still had to not be shiny under them whacking great lights and one way to do this on the cheap was to fool the old cameras by pointing them at some ruddy sweater or pully that were a right dog’s breakfast. It’s summat to do with the contrast, d’you see? Helped to take the shine off Frank Bough’s mug many a morning, did that little wrinkle.
Of course this was only One and ITV who did it throughout. Mucky Channel 4 were wont to chop and change its approach from programme to programme (they kept the curtains drawn in Brookside for years) while BBC2 made its own arrangements, being mostly arts and the like. I daresay no bugger would’ve noticed one way or t’other!
Other than taking the mick out of a valued colleague this is a mighty fine read, I must say. Keep at it, youth!

  bobfischer wrote @

Thankyou for the kinds words, Inspector. However I’m firmly of the opinion that nobody, but nobody, could ever haven taken the shine off Frank Bough’s beaming mug. Whenever Selina Scott crossed her legs in front of him, he positively radiated.

Point taken with Sgt George Parrish. Although I maintain that DCI Perrin had the look of a man who’d give the Time Lords a run for their money.

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