Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 255

Tuesday 11th September 1984

Doug came at 8.40 and we went to school. First we had English, then RE, then English in the library. Then we went in the drama hall and played a game called Lawyer.

At 12.00 I had dinner, then we had French, maths and double HE. At 3.40 I came home and at 4.00 Doug came. We went to the library and saw Slackie, then we saw Wendy Brunskill.

We went to the mud track on the way home and at 5.30 I got home and had tea. At 6.00 I did RE homework, then Doug came and we went to Youth club. We played table tennis till 7.30, when we watched Lenny Henry, and at 8.30 I came home. Went to bed at 9.00.

Ah, Conyers school library! In the wise words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, ‘You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy’. I think more shady deals, duffings-up and erotic fumblings took place between those racks of Encyclopaedia Brittanicas than in the whole of 1960s East London and the final days of Sodom and Gomorrah put together. In the equally wise words of Norman Stanley Fletcher, ‘When someone just comes in here, sits down and gets on with it, it’s like a breath of fresh air…’

I think Mrs MacDonald took us in there 25 years ago this morning to give us a quick rundown of the workings of the Dewey System, and – as we shuffled in – three gangsters, two ladies of easy virtue and a milkman frantically adjusting his trousers all hurriedly skulked out of the Teenage Fiction aisle.

Here’s an exclusive picture of this seedy den of iniquity, taken five years later in December 1989 during my Lower Sixth year…


The man in shot is deadpan comedy genius Simon Lee, still a good friend of mine now, and a man who frequently turned up for PE lessons sporting the most sensational pair of Union Jack underpants. You can also see, in the right-hand bottom corner, the handles of my legendary Puma sports bag!  

And, from the same glamorous photo shoot…

Yes, get behind the barriers, ladies… it’s a 17-year-old me. During free afternoon periods, a few of us like-minded individuals would decamp to the library and watch daytime television as the rain battered horizontally against the upper-floor windows. The more eagle-eyed of you will be able to discern that this is the opening credits to ‘Give Us A Clue’, with Lionel Blair (ahem) preparing to knock off Twelve Angry Men in less than a minute. Etc.


(*This is a crap joke, but I’ve been wanting to use it for years)

NB The sign on the gigantic vent heater behind the TV says ‘REPLACE BOOKS ON THE CORRECT SHELVES’ in formidable red handwriting. I’m slightly ashamed to say that, almost 20 years on, the copy of ‘COLERIDGE’S POETICAL WORKS’ that I smuggled out of our school libary on the day these pictures were taken is still in the cupboard in my spare room. The fine for overdue books was 10p a day, so I’ll take it back once I have it in writing that I won’t have to pay a £730 fine to Mrs Macdonald. If I do, she’s getting it in 10p pieces.

Yay! Another Teaching Legend alert! Our drama teacher was Eric Harrison (you can tell drama teachers by their first names, it’s alright), a strapping thirtysomething Teessider who could pull a devastating Les Dawson gurn, and spent his weekend on maneuvers with the Territorial Army. I absolutely loved him to bits, and can state without any doubt whatsoever that it wasn’t for the two years he spent teaching me GCSE English, I wouldn’t be earning a living as a writer today. Or – most likely – working on the radio, because he cast me constantly in school plays and productions, and completely brought me out of my strange, insular little teenage shell.

We got on like a house on fire, and there’s a little cameo for him at the beginning of the Star Trek chapter of ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’. I’d LOVE to find him again… when I left Conyers in 1991, he and his family moved lock, stock and barrel to Australia, and he seems to have vanished completely off the radar since then. One of his old colleagues gave me an Australian address for him, and I sent him a copy of the book, but – six months later – it arrived back unopened with ‘NOT AT THIS ADDRESS’ stamped all over it. Bah.

Anyway, ‘Lawyer’ was one of those great, mind-addling games now used in corporate workplaces everywhere as a team-building exercise. Eric stood in the middle of our circle of chairs and asked us questions about ourselves, but the questions had to be answered on our behalf by the classmate sitting on our left – our ‘lawyer’. If you replied directly (or forgot to answer for the eejit on your right), you were out. Naturally it also provided the opportunity for much schoolboy-based hilarity…

MR HARRISON (to Ian Farrage): What did you do last night? 
ALISTAIR BURTON: (On Ian’s left): My client dressed up in his mother’s underwear and paraded around the house listening to  Barbara Dickson LPs.

You’ll notice that Doug and I decided to cleanse ourselves of this filth by walking – on a very gloomy night – to Yarm Library, still (I think) in our school uniforms. Nice to see our old Levendale comrades Phil ‘Slackie’ Slack and Wendy Brunskill down there… I think, like us, they’d just gone down to do a bit of homework research, but we ended up cackling like hyenas and divvying up Sherbert Dib-Dabs in the Quiet Reading Room. After a week at Conyers firmly locked into our new form classes, we’d barely seen many of our old Levendale schoolfriends, so it was great to catch up. I felt like we were young soldiers returning from World War I, swopping tales of bravery and heartbreak and writing poignant, bitter-sweet poetry about the eternal futility of Home Economics homework.

And Youth Club!!! Blimey. Do schools still have Youth Clubs? I bet they don’t. Ours took place in the ‘drama hall’ (where, earlier in the day, we’d played Lawyer), a two-story recreational area bolted onto the side of the school. The ground floor was, essentially, a medium-sized hall that doubled as a dancefloor, with a gigantic glass front that looked out over (brrrrr) the rugby pitches. Upstairs was a pool table and a ping-pong table, and (I’m pretty sure) the traditional school TV-in-a-cabinet that you can see in the picture above. 

This regular Tuesday evening soiree was run by the softly-spoken Terry Lake, who – I think – had a role at the school in one of those brilliant 1980s Life Skills/Social Development/Youth Worker type roles, but I can’t remember his actual title. Can any former Conyer-ites do better? Regardless, he was a friendly, cool thirty-ish man with a passing resemblance to Terry McDermott. The sort of bloke who’d turn a blind eye to the occasional John Player Special being partaken outside the back door, and might just cut a few moves to a bit of Depeche Mode towards the end of the evening (8.30pm)

Youth Club was always absolutely packed, and the pounding mid-80s soundtrack was provided from a set of vintage ‘decks’ in a broom cupboard by a terrifying-looking fifth former called Spike. I remember, bizarrely, that pinned to the cupboard door to advertise his uber-cool DJing skills were the 7″ single sleeves to ‘Snot Rap’ by Kenny Everett and ‘Stranger On The Shore’ by Acker Bilk. 


(NB I also remember watching The Lenny Henry show really well… Doug and I watched it while perched on ledge next to the Table Tennis table, and I’m SURE this was the episode that featured his brilliant spoof of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. We absolutely ROARED with laughter. Did the show also star Nicholas Lyndhurst, sporting a very curious folk singer’s beard-with-no-moustache, or have I imagined that?)



  David Brunt wrote @

The Thriller sketch was in episode one of the series, the previous week’s show…

Nicholas Lyndhurst was in the cast for ep 2 though.

  Thing wrote @

I seem to remember that Nicholas Lyndhurst did have a beard in the sketch he did, where Lenny Henry was playing a bouncer or doorman of some kind who kept chucking people out of some club or other. It was in the 2nd series, in 1985, the same series which did the Doctor Who sketch.

  Chris Byers wrote @

I quite agree Bob, Mr Harrison dose deserve his place on the growing list of legend teachers. Sadly I don’t think he ever taught me after 3rd year so I missed out a bit there. But he was great fun and his lessons were always a joy.

Oh and remember Bob. It’s a study period, NOT a free period. I seem to remember the teachers getting quite upset when we called them free periods.

  bobfischer wrote @

Cheers David and Thing… good to have my erratic TV memories given the occasional poke with an electric cattle prod and kept in order.

Chris – you’re right, of course! Because, naturally, they weren’t ‘free’ at all, they were to be used for study, revision and reading around your subject. And not – under any circumstances – watching daytime TV in the library before buggering off home to kip on the sofa all afternoon.

  Claire Otterson wrote @

Oh my god, how I am enjoying reading this! It’s bringing back great memories and I’m dying to dig out a few old school books as I remember writing the exact same stuff! Seem to remember Eric Harrison had a son 2 years younger than us called Lee who also went to Conyers- Maybe he’s on Friends Reunited or something.
Keep up the good work- am waiting in anticipation to se if you’ve got the diary entry from our ‘Just Say No’ Grange Hill inspired drugs assembly, ow was that a later year?

  bobfischer wrote @

Hi Claire, lovely to see you around these parts! And thanks for the kind words.

And yeah, Eric’s son was called Lee – I got to know him quite well during our sixth form years because I did a bit of acting with him, but he went to Australia the family in 1991 and I can’t find any trace of him online, sadly. I’ll keep trying though!

I think ‘Just Say No’ was a bit later, but I’m sure I can squeeze it into 1984 somewhere… 🙂

  David Brunt wrote @

“Just Say No” was Spring 1986, if that helps pin it down.

  bobfischer wrote @

Cheers Mr B – much later than I thought, actually! I definitely can’t keep this up for another year and a half… (mainly because I’d given up diary-writing by 1986!)

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