Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 274

Sunday 30th September 1984

Got up at 10.00 and at 10.30 I rang Doug. Then I had some toast and at 11.00 Doug came. We got on our bikes and went down to the copse at Private Lane to get some conkers for Atkinson. We came back at 1.00 and counted the conkers, then had dinner.

After dinner we went to the big BMX track and met Hutch, then we came home and saw Mrs Haworth and Squeak on the way back. At 3.00 Doug went home and at 5.00 I had tea, then I listened to the charts till 7.00, when I played patientce.

At 7.15 I watched Child’s play, then I watched An hour of Live and let die, before switching over at 8.45 and watching the film of the Last of the Summer Wine. At 10.15 I went to bed.

I’d forgotten about our Conkers Commission! As we walked home across the swamp-like school field on Friday afternoon, I’d mentioned to Doug in passing that I fancied doing a bit of serious, Olympic-standard conker gathering over the weekend, and he swiftly agreed to join me in this noble quest.

‘You can get some for me as well if you like,’ a deep, ominous voice had rumbled from behind us. We spun around to find a grinning Ian Atkinson, two years older and twice the height of Doug and I stuck together, striding purposefully across the quicksand. Ian was a strapping, towering, blond-haired figure who’d been a mate of mine at Levendale Primary School, as well as (I think) one of Mr Hirst’s crack early 1980s football XI. There are probably a couple of forty-year-old former Egglescliffe Comprehensive School strikers still having the occasional nightmare about him.

‘I’ll pay you commission,’ he explained. ‘£1 for every 100 conkers collected, and a special bonus if you get 500. Come and find me on Monday morning and we’ll sort out the payment’.

That was enough for Doug and me. Pounds signs appeared in our eyes, our jaws dropped open with an audible ‘Ker-CHINGGGG!’ and – two days later – we were cheerily trespassing in private woodland half a mile from my house, furiously chucking sticks into tree branches and stuffing the resulting rain of conkers into the bulging Presto carrier bags that we’d brought in our Parka pockets.


‘Break them out of the shells, and we’ll be able to carry more!’ I shouted, cannily. But, really, we couldn’t be arsed. Within minutes, our bags had ferocious spikes sticking out at all angles, and we looked as though we were transporting instruments of medieval torture around the outskirts of Yarm.

(I would have gone back and made a short film, but the last time I went to collect conkers at this veritable horse chestnut hotspot, an old man came angrily out of his house and warned me that ‘This is a Private Road, you know, it’s not for any Tom, Dick or Harry to wander around with his dog’. I’d like to say that I offered the innocence of youth as my excuse, but this actually happened in 2006, when I was 33 years old)

I had an odd attitude to conkers as a kid. Really, if I’m honest, it was all about the thrill of the chase. I hardly ever bothered stringing them up, and only played the game itself a handful of times, having my pale knuckles rapped by Timothy Scott’s clearly vinegar-soaked 47-er once too often on a freezing, drizzly October dinnertime. But I loved collecting them. No copse, wood or parkland was safe from the prospect of a furtive, 11-year-old Fischer snaffling anything remotely brown and spherical from the forest floor. And, if I was lucky, it might even turn out to be a conker. 

Thursday Sug
I’ll also never forget the day, in Autumn 1980, that comedy genius Andrew ‘Sug’ Sugden (above)claimed to have found ‘the biggest conker in the world… a conker that’ll beat any other conker you can think of, hands down’. When questioned about its actual size by a baying prosecution counsel comprising me, Andrew ‘Stan’ Henry and Paul ‘Frankie’ Frank, he made a gesture with his hands that suggested something larger than the average watermelon was on the cards.

‘Bring it in tomorrow…’ we challenged, through narrowed slits of eyes.

‘Alright then,’ he snorted, defiantly.

The following morning, the tension at the school gates was palapable. Until Sug, bless him, wandered in across the grassy knoll, merrily swinging what was clearly a large Golden Delicious apple, daubed liberally with brown poster paint from Leslie Brown’s Toy Shop and with a three-foot length of string tied through the core. He gave us a cheery wink and smashed a passing Christopher Herbert over the head with it. We didn’t stop laughing till February.

I loved Autumn as a kid. Once the culture shock of the return to school had faded, you had September with its bramble-picking expeditions and steaming crumbles, and October with its conkers and Halloween – together with the travelling ‘Yarm Fair’ that took over the High Street in a riot of noise, colour and simmering violence on the third weekend of the month. November had Bonfire Night and my birthday, and – after that – we were firmly into the countdown to Christmas, and a sense of mounting excitement that would swell inside me for fully six weeks before exploding all over a pristine new Star Wars Annual and a king-sized Toblerone at 7.30am on a frost-speckled Christmas morning.

When I was a boy, Autumn came second only to Summer in my ‘Favourite Seasons’ league, but now that I’m 36 and my summers are just full of work and hassle and disappointing Bank Holidays, Autumn has firmly claimed the top spot. I still find everything mentioned in the previous paragraph impossibly exciting, and now combine those with a higher appreciation for swirling mists, mysterious dark nights and an infinitely better class of drizzle. Yay!

Anyway, great to see me settling down to enjoy Last of the Summer Wine, as well. The ‘film’ is undoubtedly ‘Getting Sam Home’, the 1983 feature-length Christmas special, in which Foggy, Clegg and Compo take their terminally-ill chum Sam for one final night with Lynda Baron’s delightfully accomodating Lily Bless ‘Er… only for him to pass away ‘on the job’, as it were. It’s one of my favourite-ever pieces of TV, and I recommend anyone who considers Last of the Summer Wine to have been nothing more than three decades of old blokes whizzing downhill in tin baths to hunt it down and have their preconceptions smashed into smithereens.

It’s dark, melancholy, hilarious and beautifully played, and Roy Clarke’s script is up there with the best work of Alan Bennett and Alan Plater when it comes to capturing surreal Northern whimsy, obsessed with the minutae of day-to-day mundanity and always ready to subvert it with a dash of blackly comic observation.

I’m delighted to say that this weekend myself and Sorcha and our equally misguided friends Drew and Emma made a respectful pilgramage to Holmfirth, where Last of the Summer Wine has been filmed for the last 35 years. And here we are!!! In Sid’s Cafe itself!!!! (It’s amazing, and does a lovely cup of tea… and even has its own website, www.sidscafe.com)

And naturally, Ivy wasn’t too pleased when Drew started fingering her buns…

Anyone know if anything’s left of the holiday camp from Hi-De-Hi? We’re already looking at our next exciting excursion…


  David Brunt wrote @

The Warner holiday camp at Dovercourt Bay in Harwich was demolished only a couple of years after Hi-De-Hi finished.

I think it had already closed, or was due to close, at the time the final episodes were made.

“Getting Sam Home” is one of the best pieces of TV comedy drama made by ye BBC. Surprising that it took Roy Clarke nine years to adapt his 1974 novel to the screen.

It was written at the same time as Season One, featuring Blamire and the same small cast of characters (hence why Sid has a major role to play) before it became a circus of 300 unfunny one-joke characters.

  bobfischer wrote @

Ah, what a shame. Might have to look into Walmington-on-Sea instead.

Good to find a fellow appreciator of Getting Sam Home. I had hugely fond memories of watching at on first broadcast as an 11-year-old, but I didn’t see it again until it came out on DVD last year. I was bracing myself for a letdown, but was delighted to find it’s even better than I remembered. One of the best British comedy films ever, and hardly anyone remembers it.

As my Holmfirth compadre Drew Smith wisely commented, ‘It’s 90 minutes of three 60-year-old blokes talking about death’. That’s a good thing, by the way.

  Thing wrote @

There was a Hi-De-Hi convention a few years ago held in whatever buildings had made been made since on the holiday camp site, which several of the cast attending. Saw some photos from it on the net somewhere.

  bobfischer wrote @

Ah, that is a shame. Although I’d have loved to have gone to a Hi-De-Hi convention! I wonder if everyone dresses up in yellowcoats and coloured jockey costumes?

*shameless namedrop* I was talking to Jeffrey Holland earlier this year, and they were planning a big cast reunion to mark the 30th anniversary of filming beginning, but I’m not sure if it would have happened yet. Sad to have lost Diane Holland and Felix Bowness before it came round, though.

  David Brunt wrote @

Looks like the event is on 17 October.


Last few places left…

  bobfischer wrote @

Oh, bloody hell… I’m SO tempted. Get thee behind me, Bovis…

  Fiona Tims wrote @

You can’t leave us on a cliff hanger like that! Did you get paid for your conkers? ;p

  bobfischer wrote @

Ooooh, I forgot about that!!!

In a nutshell… did we hell. We couldn’t find Ian at school on the Tuesday morning, and by the time Wednesday came around we’d all forgotten about it.

My Mum was making conker jam until 1987.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Did you actually lug the bags of Conkers to school?

  bobfischer wrote @

I don’t think so, no. I think it was a case of ‘Let’s tell Ian we’ve got the conkers, and when he’s paid up we can bring them in for him!’

I’ve always been a terrible businessman. As was proved beyond doubt during the five years I spent running my own business. 🙂

  James Place wrote @

You’re quite right about Ian Atkinson. He was in the year above us at Levendale Primary School, a towering central defender, captain of the school and the cub scout football XI and a fine cricketer too.

Throughout the Summer of 1984 and 1985 Andrew Henry, Ian and myself played cricket for Middlesbrough at Under 13 level. One of our Dad’s would take it in turns to drive us through to midweek practice and again on a weekend for match day. God, the sacrifices parents made!

  bobfischer wrote @

I occasionally see a big, balding bloke walking around Yarm with a young family, and I’m 99% sure it’s Ian, but I could be wrong. I’d never have the nerve to ask, he looks absolutely nails.

I have met Andrew Henry’s Dad within the last couple of years, though! A top bloke.

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