Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 262

Tuesday 18th September 1984

Woke up at 7.40 and got up at 8.00. At 8.30 Doug came and we went to school. First we had English, then RE, then English and I got ‘The Owl Service’ from the library. Then we had drama, and at 12.00 we did some of our play in the classroom.

At 12.55 Doug and I had dinner, then we had French, maths and double HE. At 3.40 I came home and had tea, then at 5.10 I watched Star Trek. At 6.30 Doug and Huggy came and we went to Youth club.

When Debbie Stothard and Wendy Brunskill came and the disco started we like, danced, you know, then at 8.30 I came home and watched Butterflies. Went to bed at 9.00.

I’d forgotten how weird our Tuesday morning timetable was. We had 35 minutes of English with the formidable Mrs MacDonald and 35 minutes of RE with the even more formidable Mrs Mainwaring-Taylor, before returning to a pining Mrs MacDonald for a further 35 minutes of English. I can only assume that the Conyers School scheduling computer was a slightly wonky ZX Spectrum 48K that had gone a bit haywire when Mr Dixon tried to play Lunar Jetman on it during the summer ‘O’-Level Geography exams.

At least our second English lesson of the morning was in the library… the musty, shadowy enclave that was rapidly becoming one of my favourite places. Especially when it allowed me to indulge my year-long Alan Garner obsession. Regular readers of this blog (both of you) will remember that I’d fallen in love with the legendary Mr Garner’s work when bespectacled Levendale Primary School genius Mr Millward read ‘The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen’ to our assembled group of grubby oiks, and threw himself into Gowther Mossock with a passion that went almost beyond the human.

(And, just in case you missed it, here’s Mr Millward himself – 25 years on – re-enacting the scene for us….)

Since then, I’d read and re-read Brisingamen, The Moon Of Gomrath and the ultra-creepy Elidor in my own time, but been unable to find The Owl Service in the downstairs racks of Middlesbrough’s usually-reliable WH Smiths.  So I was delighted to uncover it in a gloomy corner of Conyers libary, brushing past two shady-looking members of the Fifth Form Cosa Nostra comparing flick-knives by the ‘Maths and Statistics’ section.

Mrs Macdonald had a ruthless pet theory for testing the water with library books… turn instantly to Chapter 4, read the opening lines, and if it doesn’t immediately grab you, then the chances are won’t enjoy the rest of the book. The opening lines of Chapter 4 of The Owl Service are…

‘And the room was so cold,’ said Roger. ‘It was like being in a deep freeze. But it was the noise that was worst. I thought the ceiling was coming in’. 

…which seemed intriguing enough to me, if slightly reminscent of my Dad’s aborted attempts at a loft conversion in the Winter of 1981. I huddled into a secret corner at the back of the school library and spent 35 minutes lost in the remote Welsh countryside, drawn into the strange, otherworldly lives of Alison, Roger and Gwyn as they themselves are drawn into a complex web of terrifying Mabinogion legends. If anyone hasn’t indulged themselves yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough… and, once you’ve read the book,  buy the DVD of the 1970 TV series, which is as rich and atmospheric and downright unsettling an experience as it’s possible to find on a little shiny discful of data.

And then to the great, gurning Mr Harrison for another brilliant slice of drama. Our ‘play’ wasn’t a play as such, it was an ongoing improvisation… the entire class had transformed into the crew of an interstellar spaceship, speeding away from the charred remains of our planet (caused by a faulty ZX Spectrum 48K, with Lunar Jetman still smoking suspiciously in the cassette deck) and heading for a new life amongst the stars.

We’d been asked to pick our own personas for this ongoing story, and I (with predictable sledgehammer wit) had chosen to become ‘Mr A Weirdo’, a designer of computer parts and essential bits of spaceship. I guess, in modern parlance, you’d call it a ‘team-building exercise’, but for us it was merely a bloody good laugh. I remember a huge plot twist occuring when I jokingly mimed ripping out the wiring of Jonathan ‘Nobby’ Haworth’s computer, only to be promptly reported to ‘Captain Harrison’ and placed in solitary confinement in the ‘brig’.

I actually got slightly worried about this, as Mr Harrison’s acting performance was SO convincing… I remember walking to our drama lesson, probably on this very morning, trying to convince myself that ‘Look, it’s just a play… you’re not really in trouble… it’s all part of the drama lesson…’. I’d just about cracked it when the towering figure of Captain Harrison appeared in the drama workshop doorway and announced that he was formulating plans for my trial.  I picked up an imaginary interstellar telephone and starting babbling insanely to my trans-galactic lawyer. Before miming being trapped in a glass box and pushing an immovable invisible balloon in mid-air.

And Youth Club! And dancing! With – blimey – girls! What on Earth happened there? If can only assume the ping-pong tables were out of order and the aerial on the portable TV was broken, thus depriving me of my usual hiding place in the corner of the upstairs recreation room, cowering from passing females and watching The Lenny Henry Show.

Hello to Debbie and Wendy if you’re reading this, and – 25 years on – I apologise for ruining your night with what will have undoubtedly been a truly rotten display of pre-pubescent dancing. I’d pretty much learnt all of my moves from Shakin’ Stevens, which entirely appropriate when you’re attempting to play ‘The Master and The Servant’ with Depecheeee Mode.

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2 Comments»

  Doctor Giles Parcel wrote @

I like to think that you all danced on top of the ping pong tables, with nets still in place.

Am I right in thinking that The Owl Service was the first drama serial that ITV made in full colour? It’s remarkable that they chose to begin with something so unusual and challenging to its audience but I’m very glad they did, as colour is so important to the story. I expect making it on film and on location helped a lot, given how resistant many studio staff proved to be when colour was introduced.

  bobfischer wrote @

Not sure, but I’m willing to believe you! 🙂

It is a remarkable piece of TV… SO evocative of its time, and yet still incredibly unsettling and moving.

Am I right in thinking it was broadcast on Sunday dinnertimes, with a youthful audience in mind? Astonishing if so.


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