Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 259

Saturday 15th September 1984

Woke up at 8.00 and got up at 10.30. I listened to the radio till dinner at 12.00, then I went upstairs and tidied my bedroom. When I came down I did a cover for my latest Fighting Fantasy, then I had tea at 5.00.

At 5.15 I watched THE TRIPODS and after the newsflash saying that the royal baby was a boy, I watched The late, late breakfast show. At 6.00 I watched The A-Team, and at 7.00 I watched Punchlines.

At 7.30 I watched Bottle Boys, and at 8.00 I watched Paul Daniels. Then I did the rubik cube, and at 9.15 I went to bed.

Oh, for those lazy Saturday (and Sunday) mornings sprawled on my parents’ settee with the radio on. We had two radios in the house in 1984… the first was part of a giant, late 1960s ‘stereo’, the size of a Ford Fiesta and carved from solid oak. It occupied a full corner of our front room, and had a VHF/MW/LW dial only slightly shorter than the coastline of Argentina. Resting on top (in some state of disuse) was the creaky turntable that – in previous years – had played host to my passionate dates with Shakin’ Stevens, Bucks Fizz and Adam And The Ants.

The other radio was a battered black transistor, constantly referred to by my Gran as the ‘wireless’ (a word I love, and still defiantly use), bequeathed to the household by Gugleimo Marconi and with a battery cover chewed into strange, twisted shapes by some excited family dog or other. Throughout my childhood it lived on the kitchen worktop, enabling my Mum to cook our fishfingers and chips to the super-Seventies sounds of Donna Summer and Dr Hook…

Here you go, here’s three ages of listening to that black transistor…

1. Getting ready for school on an utterly freezing morning very early in 1978, aged five. The front room windows were coated in ice, and I was pulling on my shirt and trousers in front of a three-bar electric fire on the hearth, listening to possibly the only reggae song in the world dedicated to a Middlesbrough FC central defender. ‘Willie’s Reggae’ was written and recorded by legendary local musician Ray Dales, and was a tribute to the late, great Boro defender Willie Maddren – then in his testimonial year.  We must have been listening to BBC Radio Cleveland, and I only wish I could find a snippet of the song online to link here. In the meantime, here’s a bit about Ray… (who, a couple of years ago, I met – and he gave me an original 7″ of Willie’s Reggae, which I treasure!)


2. My Mum introducing me to the Radio 1 Top 40 rundown on a glorious Summers evening in 1981. I was eight, and I’d just started to take a real interest in pop music for the first time – I actually wanted to know about the artists and listen to the songs properly, as opposed to just singing along to stuff on the telly. I remember sitting on our garden wall, holding the radio to my ear and gleefully drinking this stuff in… the charts that evening contained Michael Jackson’s ‘One Day In Your Life’, George Harrison’s ‘All Those Years Ago’ and Shaky’s ‘You Drive Me Crazy’, which dates it to June 1981. This was the day I truly fell in love with pop music. Yay!

3. The whole of the Summer of 1987, when I became obsessed by Metro FM’s late night phone-in Night Owls, hosted by genial Geordie ‘Flashing Blade’ Alan Robson. I was 14, and became utterly entranced by the legion of callers seemingly obsessed by the supernatural (‘Eeeee, Alan, I swear ah saw a trans-loo-sant fig-ah standin’ at thah foot of mah bed…’) The show ran from 11pm until 2am, and I listened relentlessly every night, lying in bed with the wireless turned down to the bare minimum volume, filling endless notepads with cartoons, song lyrics and other scribblings as the wee hours flew by.


Anyway, 25 years ago this morning our radio show of choice will undoubtedly have been Dave Lee Travis on Radio 1 – yep, the Hairy Cornflake himself, complete with snooker on the radio and ‘Quack Quack Ooops’, all sandwiched between the latest hits by Nik Kershaw and Icicle Works.

Having skulked over to the other side of the microphone in recent years, I swear I’ll NEVER be cynical about that old school of 1970s and 80s Radio 1 presenters, who knew how to make stupidly fun radio that became a huge cultural phenomenon. Tony Blackburn’s Breakfast Show had 20 million listeners, for crying out loud. Almost half the population of the country – kids, parents and grandparents alike. You can sneer all you like about old jokes and Arnold The Dog, but that is a bloody sensation. It almost makes me want to weep for simpler times, when people enjoyed the same things at the same time in a lovely, cuddly communal cultural experience. Putting on their school clothes in front of a three-bar fire and getting all a-quiver about the new Shakin’ Stevens single.

Or indeed – pottering about the house, tidying up and cleaning… all the while chuckling at the same corny DLT gags and twitching gently to the music. Which is what the 11-year-old me and my 42-year-old mother were doing 25 years ago today.

Good to see I spent the afternoon drawing the cover for my latest book (before I’d written the book, naturally)… no doubt commandeering the front room coffee table with Grandstand burbling away in the background. And, amazingly, I’ve still got it! Here it is…

As you can tell, I was still in a bit of a ‘Robin Of Sherwood’ phase, obsessed with English mysticism and the dark, musty oddness of the woodland surrounding my home. And I think I went through at least four brown felt-tip pens trying to get the tree branches finished.

And The Tripods! Fantastic. Episode one of the first series, and the pre-show hype and build-up had been extraordinary. Running rather cheekily in Doctor Who’s abandoned Saturday tea-time slot, this was a hugely expensive and sumptuous adaptation of John Christopher’s classics novel, with a post-alien invasion human race regressed to medieval levels of technology, enslaved and effectively lobotomised by their sinister overlords, who traverse the ravaged countryside in giant three-legged metal ‘Tripod’ machines…

I found the show both engrossing and rather unsettling as an 11-year-old, and it still holds up nicely today… well worth rediscovering on DVD. Although sadly the current release doesn’t include, as an extra, the BBC1 newsflash about the birth of Prince Harry (I actually have very vague memories of the breaking news being put up as a brief, on-screen caption in the middle of The Tripods, before cutting to a proper, on-camera news report as soon as the final credits had rolled. Can this be right…?)

Incidentally, the first signs of a mid-1980s newsflash ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS filled me with dread, a little part of my pre-pubescent self always assumed it was a report about the first strike in a nuclear war. I blame Frankie’s ‘Two Tribes’. And Spandau Ballet’s ‘I’ll Fly For You’, which had nothing to do with the subject at all, but I feel it’s only right to blame it for SOMETHING.

A little word about The Late Late Breakfast Show as well, which it’s now impossible to think of (and write about) without considering the tragic way in which the show ended – with the death of a member of the public in rehearsals for a staggeringly dangerous stunt, intended to be performed live on the following week’s programme.

Writing about any other aspects of the Late Late Breakfast Show seems almost disrespectful, but I do have enormously fond memories of the show, and – like so much TV and radio from this era – it became a massive part of our daily family life. Absolutely perfect post-teatime TV… my Mum and I would chuckle at The Hit Squad and The Golden Egg Awards, while my Dad dropped in the occasional pithy comment from behind the Evening Gazette. All the while slurping over-stewed tea from the pot and picking at the saucer of Tunnock’s teacakes and almond slices left over on the coffee table. And Noel Edmonds was a genuinely warm and engaging presenter, someone I’d followed over from my blissful childhood Saturday mornings watching Swap Shop in my Gran’s front room.

Looking back, my nicest home memories of that mid-1980s period all focus around Saturday evenings… in the front room with both of my parents, surrounded by the dogs and a warm, familiar TV schedule that guided us from the teatime football results all the through to Match of the Day and the late BBC2 film. From fishfingers and fizzy pop to home-made wine and sausage rolls heated up on the roaring coal fire. Lovely.



  Doctor Giles Parcel wrote @

That’s a rather striking book cover. Was the book ever written to go inside it? I often lack something good to read while I am waiting for a chemical reaction.

  Chris Orton wrote @

“Alan, I’m a first time caller, so be gentle with us!”

I too had a few months of Night Owl addiction, a few years later than you Bob in about 1991. Around the same time Alan Robson started making in-roads into local telly, with his own chat show and some adverts that he did. His show has been running for *years* on Metro, and is still on today I believe. Most of the callers had basically nothing to say but I kept on listening for a good while for some reason. I remember that it had a *very* catchy and excellent theme tune called ‘Little Plum’ – see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FX75Z8h4iuw

Love the book cover too Bob – very atmospheric and a great use of colour I have to say.

  Big Tom wrote @

Aye…also fond memories of Mr Robson and Night Owls, even later than Chris – when I was in Newcastle for university purposes 92-95ish.

I’d completely forgotten about the Late, Late Breakfast show, until it featured on that Clive Anderson recycled clip show which is currently running on BBC2. They managed a good five minutes on the LLBS, without one mention of the accident, so I wouldn’t worry too much.

  bobfischer wrote @

Dr Parcel, sadly not a word of ‘The Glade Of The Willowmen’ was ever written – I spent all day doing the cover, then got bored and watched The Tripods. I’m all surface and no content.

Chris, you’re a genius! I tried for ages to find that exact piece of music, trawling Youtube for Little Plum by Darryl Way. It didn’t even occur to me just to put ‘Nightowls music’ in there! Durrrr! It was a scarily compulsive show, I remember one programme in 1988 featuring the following three calls in quick succession…

1. A bloke who interfered with himself six times a day and was concerned it might be affecting his health

2. A girl who was suicidal, in tears, and had ‘taken some tablets’, with Alan Robson gently keeping her talking while his backroom team ‘got some help to her’ (and they did – it had a happy ending)

3. A woman who claimed she was woken at 4.30am every morning by dwarf-like aliens standing in line along the edge of her bed.

And yep, the show’s still going – it must have been on-air for nearly 30 years now. I haven’t listened to it for years, but I should give it a try sometime. I used to listen to Metro FM quite a lot back in those days… Night Owls, Brian Clough’s Country Show, Robson’s own ‘Hot and Heavy’ metal programme and a late-night Friday show called (I think) ‘Love Lines’, in which presenter John Olley would read out letters from listeners in which they described themselved having sex with celebrities in a scary amount of detail.

‘Here’s a letter from Jean in Cramlington, who says she’d like to meet Burt Reynolds on the late-night 137 bus journey from Gateshead to Ashington. They’d be the only two passengers on the top of the bus, and – as they pull away from the central station – Burt would gently ease himself into the seat next to Jean…’

Amazing, hysterical stuff.

Tom – thanks for the reassurance! 🙂

  Chris Orton wrote @

Please forgive me for this, but:

“and he gave me an original 7″ of Willie”.

  Doctor Giles Parcel wrote @

It sounds rather like a letter to John Olley doesn’t it?
I wonder if there was ever a letter about a Blue Peter presenter? I expect there was.

  bobfischer wrote @

7″ of Willie, yes. What’s funny about that? It’s black and I keep it in a protective sheath.

And Dr Parcel, you’re right again. ‘I have a letter from Jackie in Sedgefield who says she’d like to go on a hot air balloon journey with Peter Duncan…’

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Your book cover looks like a crafted quilt!

  bobfischer wrote @

Don’t be so disrespectful to Herne.

Erm, cough, sorry, I mean the King of the Willowmen.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Haha I wasn’t dissing it. I think it’s very good. I can imagine it as a quilt cover is all ;p

And I’m saying nothing about the shameful copying of Herne ;p

  bobfischer wrote @

I’ll see if I can get a few limited edition Willowmen quilt covers printed up. Available to buy soon at http://www.youarealeafdrivenbythewind.com 😉

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Just take out the title and call them Herne quilts and the ROS fans will prob buy them ;p

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