Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 265

Friday 21st September 1984

Woke up at 7.45 and got up at 8.00. At 8.25 Doug came and we went to school. First it was PE and after some races we played Bench-ball. Next it was French, then Geog, and at 12.00 I had dinner then came maths (I got a merit) music and science.

Then at 3.40 I came home and we went to Grandma’s. First I had tea, then I cleaned out the gutter. At 5.15 I watched Blockbusters, then I climbed the tree. At 7.10 we came home and I played football, then did homework.

At 8.30 I watched We Love TV, and at 9.00 I watched Tell the truth. I went to bed at 9.30.

Bench-ball! Like football, but indoors. In The Sports Hall. With the goals replaced by two classic 1970s school benches…. fifteen feet long, with two rubber hooks dangling down from each end so that they could be easily attached to ‘the apparatus’ to make a health and safety-baiting ‘slide’. 

The presence of the hooks meant that each bench also had two exciting rubber knobs on each end, holding them in place. I mention this for two reasons…

1. As an excuse to get the phrase ‘exciting rubber knobs’ into this blog.

2. To point out that, if you were using the bench as an apparatus-based slide, there was a 54.67546565% chance of catching your testicles on the rubber knobs when you reached the bottom.

Anyway, we placed each bench on its side at either end of the hall and spent an hour racing around in impossibly squeaky ‘sandshoes’ (although they’d never seen a grain of sand in their lives), hammering a fuzzy felt-covered football at each other’s pale, scrawny bodies while Mr Anderson leaned against the doorway in a green tracksuit, occasionally blowing a whistle and pointing silently for free kicks. Yay!

And in Double Science, we continued our whistle-stop tour of the laboratory equipment by drawing our old friend, the Lever Arm Balance…

I imagine nowadays school laboratories have apparatus that transmits the exact digital mass of saltpetre via Skype into the Bluetooth headsets worn permanently by all 11-year-old children. But,  back in 1984, we were still proudly using equipment that would have made Sir Isaac Newton narrow his eyes, pucker his lips and say ‘Ooooh, blimey, that’s a bit old-fashioned, isn’t it?’ And rightly so – it made real men of us all (especially Anita Laing, whose hormone replacement treatment was just about to kick in)

I appreciate this doesn’t show me in quite the most dynamic and exciting light, but I always got a bit of a thrill from clearing the guttering at the top of my Gran’s garage. The garage was a seperate building to the rest of the bungalow, in fact you can see it here in the film I made back in February this year… (it’s the obvious, garage-y looking building with the cream-coloured door)

Clearing the gutter required me to balance a stepladder against the side of the building and climb onto the flat roof, which – when you’re 11 – is the most impossibly exciting thing imaginable this side of a Doctor Who regeneration. It allowed me to a) peer shamelessly into the surrounding back gardens and see who hadn’t bothered mowing their lawn since the end of August and b) pretend that I was, erm, Doctor Who – escaping from a flying Dalek patrol (I was way ahead of my time) by pegging it across the Acklam rooftops before a crucial slip led to a terrifying death-plunge and my inevitable regeneration.

Stopping only to use my sonic screwdriver to clear out the piles of assorted muck, gunk and bits of birds’ nest that had accumlated in the guttering since my last daring rooftop escapade. No wonder I had to faff about in the lilac tree to calm down (Which isn’t in the film above, because somebody’s chopped it down. Probably a passing Hittite)

‘We Love TV’ has taken a bit of scraping around, but apparently it was a TV-based panel show hosted by Gloria Hunniford, with celebrities and punters combining in one of ITV’s ubiquitous pastel-shaded studios to answer questions based on endless recycled clips of On The Buses and Man About The House. I can’t remember it at all, probably because the exact same format has been recycled so many times in the ensuing 25 years (and is still on the go! ‘As Seen On TV’ is currently on BBC1 on Saturday evenings, and even the pastel-shaded sets are still present and correct…) 

And amazingly you can also say the same of Channel 4’s ‘Tell The Truth’ which – with a few tweaks – has pretty much been reincarnated as BBC1’s current Monday night fib-fest ‘Would I Lie To You?’. Batten down the hatches and tighten your belts, it’s only a matter of time before ‘Child’s Play’ returns to our screens, with Rufus Hound on hosting duties and David Mitchell as a permanent team captain.

(By the way, I was amazed to discover that pictures of those amazing 1970s school benches with the white rubber knobs seem to have completely evaded the internet. Do schools still have them? And can anyone get me a photo for old time’s sake? Come on, this is social history!)



  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

I regret that I cannot oblige with a picture of a rubber knobby bench but perhaps I can compensate by being able to sing the jingle from the We Love TV theme tune? I remember it very clearly and am rather shocked to discover those memories are a quarter of a century old.

If you ring me at the Institute I promise to rasp the jingle down the line to you.

An interest in the Lever Arm Balance and a love of guttering will always earn merit points in Parcellab by the way.

  bobfischer wrote @

Dr Parcel, have you the facilities in your laboratory to record said theme tune and mail it to me as an MP3? The nation needs to hear this.

Good to find a fellow guttering lover as well. Oddly enough, whenever the ITV sports commentator Reg Gutteridge was namechecked on telly, I was always mentally transported to the top of my Gran’s garage roof.

  Mark Hirst wrote @

I’m on the case. We have wooden PE benches with hooks, but the rubber knobs have either been worn down by young boys testicles, or the health and safety crew have intervened as usual.

That said, I’m sure I can track one down for posterity. If I can, I shall photograph one for you all.

Bench ball still exists in many forms I am pleased to say. The sound of unprotected toes, crunching into solid wood, is music to my ears. Hence, barefoot bench ball is always de rigeur! (well at my place anyway!!)

  bobfischer wrote @

I knew you wouldn’t let us down, Mr H! As we race towards the end of the year, the one thing this blog has been desperately lacking is a few rubbery white knobs.

I’ve got fond memories of you refeering many a bad-tempered Bench Ball tournament in the Levendale school hall, mainly during our extra-curricular ‘Boys Games’ nights, after school every Tuesday. In fact the third toe on my left foot is still slightly askew after a mis-timed tackle on a goalbound Frankie.

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

I am not sure we are cleared by Cheltenham for voice recordings but I shall do my best to oblige.

  bobfischer wrote @

What’s horse racing got to do with any of this?

Let me know if you’re having trouble with jockeys and I’ll give them what for. They’re only little.

  Thing wrote @

I think the I Love TV set was a pale blue colour, with Gloria Hunniford sitting on the right, and the contestants on the left. They used to have celebrity guests coming on to ask questions, and one edition about this time had Jon Pertwee on, in his full Doctor Who costume, asking some questions about the series. It included the question ‘How many Doctors have there been?’, to which Nicholas Parsons guessed “Seven?”

There was also an edition where Leonard Nimoy set some questions, including, I think, ‘Which series did the Vogons appear in?’ or something similar. He wasn’t in the studio though, he was recorded on film from somewhere outdoors, presumably in America.

  Chris Orton wrote @

Weren’t those benches with the rubbery knobs called ‘forms’?

  bobfischer wrote @

Can’t remember that, but I’m now the proud owner of a sensational rubber knob photo-shoot… watch this space for a super-sexy school bench feature very shortly…

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