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Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for September, 2009

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!)

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 264

Thursday 20th September 1984

Woke up at 7.45 and got up at 8.20. At 8.35 Doug came and we went to school. First we had double science and watched A safety film, then it was music. Next was Geography, and at 12.00 I had dinner.

Then we had DT and RE. Lastly it was history and at 3.40 I came home and played out till 5.30 when I watched Grange Hill. Then I went out till Tommorrow’s world at 7.00.

At 7.30 I watched Top of the Pops, at 8.00 I watched The Magnificent Evans, and at 8.30 I watched Duty Free. At 9.00 I watched A Kick up the eighties, and at 9.25 I went to bed.

What’s this?!?? A safety film? In Double Science???!? We’d been at Conyers school for over a fortnight, surely if anything was going to go wrong in the laboratory, it would have happened by now. My memories of this are fuzzy, which suggests either…

a) It was really gory and gruesome, with endless shots of Bunsen Burners exploding in innocent faces and magnesium ribbon blazing out of control on school jumpers, in which case I’d have spent the lesson watching it fleetingly through my fingers, or…

b) It was really boring and dreary, in which case I’d have spent the lesson watching Debbie Jarvis through my fingers. 

Whichever was the case, it will undoubtedly have looked a little like this…

Still, there was really no need to worry about health and safety in the laboratory, because we had – thanks to Mrs Mainwaring-Taylor in the RE department – a little bit of luck on our side…

I should point out that the drawings I did in my exercise book exactly 25 years ago today are not, repeat NOT to scale. We don’t have giant, radioactive clover and ladybirds the size of horsehoes roaming wild around the fields of Yarm. Although I did once see a rat the size of a Yorkshire Terrier disappearing into the bushes on the outskirts of Teesside Park retail estate.

Good to see the word ‘fetish’ being introduced to our religious education as well, albeit slightly removed from its more familiar context in the News of the World, where it was almost always prefixed with the words ‘kinky’ and ‘Tory MP’s’. 

And another cheeky jolly down the River Nile in Mrs Ansbro’s charmingly light-hearted history lesson…

Good to see the Aswan Dam given a prominent place on the map, and I seem to remember spending the rest of this lesson silently pondering on whether ‘Aswan’ was the name of the titular big cat in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (and, if so, how had the Ancient Egyptians managed to read it?)

Still, good to see my interest in science continuing into Tomorrow’s World…

The first few seconds of this theme tune never fail to make me think that Holly Johnson is about to start hollering ‘Ow Ow Owwwww’ over the top. And I was never keen on the computerised ‘brain’ footage during the title sequence, which would always put me off the packet of Monster Munch I invariably had in my hand by 7pm. I’ve always been appallingly squeamish when it comes to watching stuff while I’m eating. I was once put off pork pies for years because I was eating one when a documentary on Tollund Man popped up on TV.

Anyway, I’ll do my BBC duty and point out that eleven full episodes of Tomorrow’s World are now available to watch for free in the BBC Archive Online! Check out Kieran Prendiville playing snooker against a robot in the 1981 edition, it’s a bloody sensation.

And quite a nice little mixed bag on Top of the Pops, with Steve Wright and Andy Peebles doing the dubious honours…

• Adam Ant – Apollo 9 [Performance]
• Bronski Beat – Why [Performance]
• David Bowie – Blue Jean [Promo Video]
• Level 42 – Hot Water [Performance]
• Nik Kershaw – Human Racing [Performance]
• Queen – Hammer To Fall [Promo Video]
• Sister Sledge – Lost In Music [Performance]
• Stevie Wonder – I Just Called To Say I Love You [Promo Video]

The most famous thumb of the 1980s! (Along with Ford Prefect’s…) Incidentally, I’d always assumed that Level 42 took their name from a sign on the drivers’ cabin on Cleveland Transit buses that stated ‘BUS CAPACITY: LOWER LEVEL 34, UPPER LEVEL 42’. But apparently it IS indeed an homage to the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Which seems a bit disappointing, as I liked the idea of Mark King receiving his flash of inspiration on the 13A bus from All Saints Church to Acklam shops.

And I think this was the final series of ‘A Kick Up The Eighties’, with a post-Young Ones Rik Mayall still just about clinging on as hapless investigative reporter Kevin Turvey…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 263

Wednesday 19th September 1984

Woke up at 7.40 and got up at 8.10. At 8.35 Doug came and we went to school. First it was double Art, then History. Then it was Maths and at 12.00 I had dinner.

Then we had French, English (I got a merit) and double science. Came home at 3.40 and played football till 6.30, when I did Homework.

At 7.10 I watched Hotline, and at 8.00 I watched Benny Hill. Then I watched Fresh Fields, and at 9.00 I watched Minder. Went to bed at 10.00.

I’m pretty sure it was around this time that our lovely Kate Bush-a-like art teacher Mrs Coleman decided to make full use of Yarm’s autumnal woodland environment and let us loose on the first proper drawing of our secondary school careers. Yes – brace yourself – we had to draw a pine cone!

Naturally, they were provided. They were in a big cardboard box in the corner of the art room, together with those other staples of the modern art world –  uncooked pasta and silver spray paint. Come to think of it, WHO EVER DECIDED that pasta was a perfectly valid medium for artistic expression? It’s food, for crying out loud! I’m guessing that any leftovers from the morning art classes were scooped up into a Hinton’s carrier bag* and thrown into a bubbling vat in the school kitchens by three cackling dinner ladies in pointy black hats…

*Not by the lovely Mrs Cashmore, she was above such debasement of art.

I made a case for drawing my pine cone using the vibrant and exciting new medium of baked beans and Monster Munch, but was sadly overruled…

Anyway, my abiding memory of this lesson was how downright bloody good Stephen Mason’s effort was. Yep, the loveable veteran Levendale grumbler was a fabulously talented artist, and – while the rest of us fiddled about doing wobbly, HB pencil-shaded Still Lives, Mr Mason drew an astonishing Maurice Escher-style landscape with individual pine cone leaves standing upright, dotted around an impossibly complex fractal landscape like tall, wooden monoliths. Mrs Cashmore instantly gave him a merit and he never stopped whistling ‘Wuthering Heights’ for the rest of the morning.   

My history exercise book, on the page dated 19th September, contains a little handwritten paragraph about – yes! – those hardy school perennials The Ancient Egyptians, whose legacy to the world was the provide endless material for 1980s teachers to enthusiastically recycle at least three times in every school year. Did Tutankhuman die in vain? NO! He died so that – 3,307 years later – I could write ‘The Nile Valley was well protected from attack, with deserts to the East and West and steep cataracts to the South’ in a dusty classroom near Middlesbrough.

And then spent the rest of day wandering around with a frown on my face, because my Gran had suffered from cataracts a couple of years earlier, and it was hard to imagine them providing much of a defence against marauding Hittite tribes. Although she lived in Acklam, where marauding Hittite tribes were pretty thin on the ground (especially on a weekend, when they spent all day in the Golden Eagle watching World Of Sport)

I’ve been rummaging around the internet trying to find a bit more information about the Chris Tarrant vehicle ‘Hotline’ (basically a proto-Watchdog, with the post-OTT Tarrant solving viewers problems over a no-doubt RED HOT PHONE). Information seems thin on the ground, but thanks to the immortal TV Cream website for pointing out that all of Tarrant’s helpers for the show were curvaceous young ladies who ferried information around the studio on Starlight Express-inspired roller skates! Sensational stuff. If only Nicky Campbell and Julia Bradbury had thought of this.

(PS Sorry for the lack of genuine schoolbook scans today – my 10-year-old scanner has packed up this morning! I feel like I’ve lost an old friend. I do have an all-in-one printer/scanner thing here already, but I can’t get the bloody thing to work… hopefully I’ll sort it for tomorrow. Could be a long night…)

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.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 261

Monday 17th September 1984

Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 8.00. At 8.35 Doug came and we went to school. First it was maths, which I went to after being begged to play an instrument. We started a decimals sheet.

Then it was History, and next we had double rugby. At 12.00 I had dinner, then it was French, and English. After that we had Geography, then Maths again.

I came home at 3.40 and at 5.00 I had tea. Then I did homework till 7.00 when I went out, and at 8.30 I watched Chance in a million. At 9.00 I watched Kelly Monteith, and at 9.30 I went to bed.

My musical career started here!!! Or, rather, it didn’t. At the end of our form period with Miss Wilson (during which we were going through a phase of comedy responses to our names during register call-out… ‘Oui’, ‘Aye’ and an exaggerated, ‘Yeeees, Missss Wilsssson’) I was summoned, rather ominously, to the music department.


When I arrived there, the Beige Princess Mrs Usher was strapping on a pair of knuckledusters and garrotting a passing third former with a viola string.

‘I’ve been looking at the results of your listening test,’ she beamed. ‘They’re very impressive. We’d love you to take up an instrument if you’re interested?’

A wave of cold, limb-numbing terror washed over me. ‘No, it’s OK, thanks…’ I mumbled, staring at intently at my mud-splattered plastic shoes.

‘Are you sure? You’ve clearly got a very good ear…’

I shook my head silently and shuffled back to maths. As far as I was concerned, musical instruments were the preserve of the posh kids who spent their weekends shampooing ponies and reading Charlotte Bronte, and I wanted no part of it. I could also imagine the look on my Dad’s face when I raced home to proudly tell him that I’d taken up the Helical Tuba, and he’d need to shell out £350 on the latest model. Plus a further £75 for the case. 

I suspect the phrase ‘Can’t you take up the bloody paper and comb? We’ve got both of those in the middle drawer of the sideboard’ would have been employed with some justification.

‘What did Mrs Usher, Drug Pusher want?’ asked Ian Farrage, as I slinked into the maths class.

‘She said I had a very good ear,’ I replied.

‘Not for much longer you don’t’, said Jo Spayne, and attempted to remove it with a sawn-off protractor. I clawed back a little bit of credibility by blowing a succession of thunderous raspberries into the ether as our class settled down into their chairs amidst a cacophany of screeching and clattering.    

‘Who on EARTH is making that dreadful noise?’ boomed Mr Rolfe, the ambulance-driving maths teacher with the beard now CONFIRMED (by Ian Griffiths’ next-door-neighbour’s brother’s girlfriend’s auntie) to have been grown to hide a chin-spanning spiders’ web tattoo.

I stopped in mid-raspberry and looked guiltily out of the window. Mr Rolfe frogmarched me out of the classroom and told me in no uncertain terms that I’d be receiving an ‘order mark’ (the anti-merit) if I made such a noise in his class again. I slinked back in with a smug, chop-spanning smirk as he blew his own raspberry at my back, much to the amusement of the rest of the class. His was rubbish, though. I was the raspberrytollah.

Here are a few of my post-rasberry decimals, spread over two lessons at either end of the day, 25 years ago today…

I can’t make head nor tail of any of this, but I can tell you that – during our second period of maths at the demob happy time of 3.05pm – I was completely unable to get the Adam Ant song ‘Apollo 9’ out of my head. I’d been singing it all day, and the madness had reached a crescendo. A yabba yabba ding-ding…

I never got on with maths, and those late afternoon single periods became very much a time for melancholy reflection while staring across the school courtyard from my table next to the window. Watching a pale Autumnal sun skulking behind the tennis courts and counting the encrusted bogies on the utilitarian steel grey window frame. Eking away my childhood and dreaming of better things.

The only other piece of written work I can find from this day comes from our Geography class (above), where the fluffy-sheep-jumper-wearing Mr Flynn had now taken to occasionally calling me ‘Groucho’, presumably in reference to the strange, loping, head-bowed walk that blighted my pre-adolescent years.

‘Have you ever seen any Marx  Brothers films?’ he asked genially, as I scribbled my drawing of medieval Durham. I shook my head in puzzled silence. ‘Ask your Dad about them,’ he smiled. ‘They’re marvellous’. So I did. And they are. Thankyou Mr Flynn (and Dad)

And ‘Chance In A Million’! One of the great lost sitcoms. No DVD release, barely a repeat, but it was bloody great… thespian heavyweights Simon Callow and Brenda Blethyn romping gleefully through a witty, hilarious and downright surreal sitcom about the titular Tom Chance, the forthright, staccato-speaking nutcase whose life is dogged by outrageous coincidence.

I loved it, and so my Dad, whose voracious appetite for new comedy remains unquenched to this day. Who do we both write to for a DVD release?

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 260

Sunday 16th September 1984

Woke up at 9.00 and got up at 10.30. I had some cheese on toast, then I took the stones out of the plumbs for the plumb pie. At 12.00 I had dinner, then I did four model animals for DT homework.

Then there was a newsflash announcing that the royal baby was to be called… PRINCE HARRY!!!

At 4.30 I had tea, then I went upstairs and recorded some songs from the charts (Agadoo, Ghostbusters etc) Then I went down at 7.15 and watched the film of Are you being served?

At 8.45 I had a shower, then I came down and did two more model animals. Went to bed at 9.30.

Cheese on toast for breakfast? That’s the kind of wanton hedonism that Led Zeppelin would be proud of. Although it’s possible I did it just to offer temporary respite from the otherwise permanent taste of plum(b)s that had taken up residence in my gaping maw for the last eight days.

Yes, the plum tree belonging to Mr and Mrs Cogan next door had borne a sumptuous Autumnal harvest, and my mate Doug and I had filled our boots. Along with our bags, buckets, pockets and anything else we could find. Plums were EVERYWHERE in our house – tumbling out of every cupboard, and making my Mum’s fridge look like it had the worst case of hemorrhoids you’d ever seen in your life.

We’d eaten plum pies, plum crumbles, plum lollies and my own special ‘Plum Surprise’ (wait for it… wait for it… wait for it… yes, there’s nothing else in it but plums). And I think today’s further instalment was one last attempt to clear the backlog before chucking the lot on the compost pile at the bottom of the garden.

My Mum was (and is) sensational at making pies. We picked a lot of our own fruit in those days, and the drifting mists of September were always livened up by a succession of glorious bramble pies, steaming gently on the coffee table and ready to be deluged in a flood of Carnation evaporated milk.

carnation milk
(Incidentally, a little diversion here… my other half, the divine Sorcha, constantly admonishes me for referring to the humble blackberry as a ‘bramble’. As in the fruit ITSELF – I’ll happily talk about eating brambles on my way around the dog-walking fields. The ‘bramble’, she insists, is merely the spiky stem on which the blackberry grows, and the fruit itself should never be called anything else but a ‘blackberry’. I appreciate that I’m from Middlesbrough and she’s from Cornwall, so there are strange multi-cultural forces at work here, but can we have a fair, democratic and open-minded readers’ poll to convince her one and for all that she’s F***ING WRONG??!?!??)  

Anyway, I love the fact that I spent much of the day making model animals for Mr Hendry’s CDT class (after all, ‘the subject’s not called DT… there’s no design or technology without craft, lad…’) and only slightly amazed that I have no recollection of this whatsoever. I do remember moulding gruesome little alien figures out of mushed-up toilet paper at one point in my childhood (and letting them dry by the open fire before painting their skins green… not sure why I didn’t just use green toilet paper to begin with, maybe I thought that was unsporting) but I’m sure that was a couple of years earlier.

Oddly enough I do remember the ‘Prince Harry’ newsflash as, once I’d got over the usual 10-second dread that a nuclear war had started and stopped painting myself white to deflect the blast, I rolled around the floor laughing hysterically. ‘PRINCE HARRY?!?!? Were they MAD?!?!? Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! What’s the next one going to be called, Prince Glenn? Princess Tracey?’ As far as I was concerned, ‘Harry’ was a name that belonged to elderly members of my Dad’s building trade, blokes who wore flat caps at jaunty angles and spoke out of their sides of their mouths with a fizzling woodbine jutting out from the other side.

I can’t remember if we’ve done this before, but the art of the side-mouth talker has virtually died out, hasn’t it? In the 1970s, these stoic old men were everywhere, and if you stood on the wrong side of them then their inevitable pearls of wisdom became virtually inaudible. Genuine question – did the side-mouth talker arise from widespread pipe-smoking in the 1930s and 40s? Speaking from one side of the mouth with a bowl full of rough shag (stop it) balanced in the other? Or is there a more evolutionary explanation?


Anyway, the announcement of Prince Harry’s name was quickly followed by a procession of ruddy-faced ‘Royal Correspondants’ marching onto the TV screens to genially explain to us peasants that ‘Harry is, of course, merely the shortened form of Henry, a name with a longstanding royal tradition…’ which kind of took the fun out of things a little bit. The laughter was only restored to our humdrum lives twenty years later when he started fighting outside nightclubs and dressing up in Nazi uniforms.

And what an evening of splendid high culture! Ghostbusters, Agadoo and Are You Being Served – The Movie. Brian Sewell, eat your heart out. I can’t offer much of a defence for Agadoo, but Ghostbusters remains a cracking tune, and Are You Being Served contains a scene involving John Inman, a pair of red swimming trunks and a set of novelty chattering teeth that still has the power to reduce me to tears.  

‘It’s the first time one’s bit me!’

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.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 258

Friday 14th September 1984

Woke up at 7.40 and got up at 8.15. At 8.30 Doug came and we went to school. First we had double PE, and played Basketball, then we had French. After that we had Geog, and I got a merit, then at 12.00 I had dinner.

Then we had maths and music. After that we had science, and I got a merit. At 3.40 I came home and did homework till tea at 5.00. Then we went to the library and when we came back I did some more homework.

At 7.00 I watched Blankety Blank, then I did homework till Babble at 9.00. Went to bed at 9.30.

CLOSURE AT LAST!!! For the last two decades, I’ve been regularly waking up in a cold sweat at 4.30am, tortured by the knowledge that I’d completely forgotten the date upon which I first learnt the word ‘Meniscus’. But now, at last, my torment is at an end!

I like my sinister cartoon all-seeing eye.

I’d forgotten that we spent much of this first term playing basketball as part of our PE lessons, our nasty outdoor activities being broken up by some, erm, equally nasty indoor activites. We sulkily changed into our gym whites and white sandshoes (NO OUTDOOR SHOES OR BLACK SOLES BEYOND THIS POINT) before trooping into Conyers’ cavernous ‘Sports Hall’… a windowless brick arena with a fifty-foot ceiling that increased every discreet squeaky fart and muffled obscenity by forty decibels, as well as dowsing them with a wash of early Elvis-style reverb. 

No basketball lesson was complete without some hapless sap breaking a big toe attempting to crack a four-tonne orange basketball with a spectacular right-footed volley, or without the same melon-sized ball being spun hopelessly around on half-a-dozen index fingers while a meandering version of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ was tunelessly whistled…

Needless to say, I was crap at basketball. My attempts at doing the essential ‘crouch and dribble’ movement never failed to resemble a rheumatic Groucho Marx, and my attempts at shooting for the net drove poor Mr Anderson to the brink of a nervous breakdown. ‘Don’t aim for the net, aim for the corner of the square… hit that, and the ball should drop in… just about finding the correct angle… that’s it… get your eye in… and shoot… and…. oh, bloody hell’.

Cows take note: Bob Fischer owns a banjo, but at no point are your arses about to be placed in serious danger.

I’ve had a good rummage through my schoolbooks, and can’t find any evidence of homework being done on this date, so I’m not entirely sure what I’m claiming to have worked on for nearly three hours during this particular evening. Whatever it was, it clearly still had to stop in time for Blankety Blank…

I’d love to see a modern TV game show that contains the line ‘This is for a Jesuit’s widow in Northampton who stands in hot Horlick’s every Christmas morning’. It would liven up Eggheads no end.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 257

Thursday 13th September 1984

Doug came at 8.40 and we went to school. First it was double science, then music. After that we had Geography, and at 12.00 I had dinner. Then we had DT and after that, RE. Lastly it was history and, after answering a quiz on the school, I came home at 3.40.

I read a library book till 5.30, when I watched Grange Hill, and at 6.00 I had tea. Then I played out till Top of the Pops at 7.00. At 7.30 I watched Kenny Everett, and at 8.00 I watched The Magnificent Evans.

At 8.30 I watched Duty Free, then at 9.00 I went to bed to read my Doctor Who Magazine.

Time for a proper word about DT, I think. Or, as we were duty-bound to refer to it in official circles, CDT – ‘Craft, Design and Technology’. Our teacher was the twinkly-eyed Mr Hendry, a gigantic, bearded Pennine of a man with a passion for Gilbert and Sullivan that led him to perform a sensational version of ‘A Policeman’s Lot Is Not A Happy One’ at our school’s 1989 musical revue.

(I took a starring role in a very Morecambe and Wise-esque intepretation of ‘There Is Nothin’ Like A Dame’, and got to do the ‘There is absolutely nothing like the fraaaaaaame…. oooof aaaa daaaaame….’ bit at the end, in my best wobbly teenage basso profundo. With legendary drama teacher Eric Harrison – complete with knotted hanky on the head – also in the cast, together with Scott Doran, now the lead singer of respected London electro-pop trio Eskimo Disco)

Anyway, amazingly, 25 years ago today, we seem to have been given the rudiments of some early 1980s Health and Safety precautions….! 

So there you go… half an hour writing down a few simple guidelines in our exercise books, and it was now perfectly safe to allow thirty 11-year-olds loose on a selection of industrial lathes and soldering irons. No, really. I seem to recall our project in this first term was to make a plastic keyring using a selection of growling, steaming, white-hot machines, each with the capability to reduce the averate pre-pubescant boy to a small mound of diced, blood-stained flesh…

(…which, naturally, would be swiftly delivered to the school kitchen with a brief apologetic note despached to grieving parents)

Good to see Mrs Ansbro back for our late-afternoon history lesson, as well. Single-period lessons at the end of the day ALWAYS had something of a ‘demob happy’ feel to them… they began at 3.05pm, and we knew full well that the final bell for the end of school would ring at 3.40pm (‘SIT DOWN!!! THAT’S A SIGNAL FOR ME, NOT FOR YOU!!!!’)

As such, I think there was a tacit agreement between teachers and pupils that not a lot of serious, head-down study was ever going to be achieved during this period. We were dreaming of post-school kickabouts and Top of the Pops, they were dreaming of a John Player Special in the car on the way home and a nice cup of Maxwell House in front of Gardener’s World.

As such, we did a quiz! On the history of Conyers School!

1. In which year was Conyers School founded? (Clue: Look on the badge on your blazer)
2. At this time, what were the two main areas of industry in Yarm? (Clue: Look on the badge on your blazer)
3. What is the school’s official Latin motto? (Clue: Look on the badge on your blazer)


A late tea tonight as well (my Dad must have found gainful employment for a while – he was still attempting to run his own building business in 1984, but seemed to have long spells of unemployment… just like 75.3% of the rest of the country, YEAH KIDS???), which gave me time to drink in a bit of Grange Hill.

(Presumably a repeat of the series from earlier in the year, as there were no new Grange Hill episodes until February 1985. Which deprives me of the chance to write about my undying, adolescent love for Calley Donnington, but it’s probably for the best…)

And Top Of The Pops… with Dave Lee Travis and Bruno Brookes doing the dubious honours between top turns from this horrible lot…

• Aztec Camera – All I Need Is Everything [Performance]
• Depeche Mode – Master & Servant [Performance]
• OMD – Tesla Girls [Performance]
• Ray Parker Jnr – Ghostbusters [Promo Video]
• Shakin Stevens – A Letter To You [Performance]
• Stevie Wonder – I Just Called To Say I Love You [Promo Video]
• U2 – Pride (In The Name Of Love) [Promo Video]

The above clip brings to mind a weird aspect of Top Of The Pops that I’d completely forgotten. Am I right in thinking that the Top 40 countdown (‘And STEAMING into the charts at NUMBER SEVEN, it’s OMD, on their lovely LOCOMOTION… toot toot!’) always stopped at No 11, at which point we’d have a performance (or video) of that song, whatever it was? A bit of a risky tactic that, what happened if there was something irredeemably and offensively shite at No 11 that week? St Winifred’s School Choir, or – even worse – U2?

Anyway, I’ve also just remembered hearing ‘Master and Servant’ for the first time at Youth Club two nights earlier, while queuing at the tuck counter to buy a Wham Bar. It struck me as one of the strangest songs I’d ever heard. ‘Let’s play Master and Servant? Who’d want to play THAT? You’d never find anyone who wanted to be the servant. That’s MENTAL!’

I dread to think how Dave Lee Travis and Bruno Brookes introduced it.

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 256

Wednesday 12th September 1984

Woke up at 7.30 and got up at 8.15. Doug came at 8.45 and we went to school. First we had double art, then there was no history teacher so we did more art. Next came maths, then at 12.00 I had dinner.

After that we had French, English and double science (I got a merit). Came home at 3.40 and played out till tea at 5.00. At 5.30 I watched The Good Life, then I played out till 7.10, when I watched Hot Line.

At 8.00 I watched Benny Hill, and at 8.30 I watched Fresh fields. At 9.00 I watched Minder, and at 10.00 I went to  bed.

Oooh, I wonder what happened to poor Mrs Ansbro on this fateful morning? She probably got herself all a-fluster reading about Vasco Da Gama and had to lie down in the staff room for a while. With a stiff gin and tonic and a Zantac. I do have vague memories of some sniffing, arse-scratching sixth form emmisary being sent into our art class with five minutes to go and mumblin’ sumfink incomprehensible to the divine, Kate Bush-a-like Mrs Cashmore.

‘Try not to get too overexcited, but you’re staying with me for an extra lesson…’ she smiled, saucily. I retrieved my propelling pencil from my blazer pocket with a flamboyant flourish and got straight down to drawing a fresh series of straight lines with my Shatterproof ruler (no idea why… we just seemed to draw a lot of straight lines in those early weeks)

Was it just me that took a little bit of solace from Wednesday dinnertimes? Long, long, long before my Conyers days had started, I’d worked out that Wednesday dinnertime was the exact mid-way point of the school week, so the second I took my gravy and semolina-splattered tray over to the slop bucket, I was already winding down towards the weekend. This particular Wednesday dinnertime was livened up by a gangly fourth-former with a blumfluff moustache, who slammed a mountain of Close Encounters-style mashed potato onto our table and told us the following joke…

(NB Disclaimer… it’s a rude joke. Pensioners, small children and disciples of Mary Whitehouse, turn off your computers NOW)

There were three lads at the park, and a bloke with a knife came up to them and said ‘If your willies don’t measure eight inches between them, I’m going to cut them all off’. 

So the first lad got his willy out, and it measured four inches. The bloke made a note of this. Then the second lad got his willy out, and his measured three inches. The bloke made a note of this.

Then the third lad got his willy out, and it was absolutely tiny. The bloke measured it with his ruler, and it was exactly one inch long. ‘That’s eight inches in total,’ said the bloke. ‘You’re safe, lads. I won’t cut your willies off’.

The lads all breathed sigh of relief. ‘Good job I had a four-inch willy,’ said the first one.

‘Good job I had a three-inch willy’, said the second one. 

The lad with the tiny willy looked a bit embarrassed and said ‘Good job I had a hard-on’. 

Come on, we were 11. We laughed solidly for about forty minutes, and Robert Graham snorted Kia-Ora down his nose.

Our English lesson seems to have been an exercise in poetry analysis, and – given our already volatile state – I can only imagine the carnage that the first extract caused amongst the boys in the classroom…

Out of the night, two cocks together crow
Cleaving the darkness like a silver blow
(‘Cock-crow’, Edward Thomas)

I think, 25 years on, Stephen Mason is still sitting at the back of the classroom, banging the desk with his open palm while hysterical tears stream down his face. To be fair to the well-meaning Mrs Macdonald (who rolled her eyes and said ‘For goodness’ sake’ quite a lot during this lesson), we also studied The Jumblies by the brilliant Edward Lear, specifically this gorgeous couplet…

They whistled and warbled a moony song
To the echoing sound of a coppery gong…

‘I think this poem is good because it gives a sort of dreamy effect and that, I think, somehow emphasises the sound of the coppery gong’ I scribbled, entirely proud of myself. And then was completely usurped by a dark-haired girl called Alexandra, who wrote the most glorious, evocative half-page of surrealism based on the above two lines – all about ‘pot-bellied hobbits sitting on clouds’. Mrs Macdonald read it out to the rest of us, and it was glorious. I can’t remember her surname at all, though – anyone?

Meanwhile, in Mr Warren’s science lesson, we were still faffing around with Bunsen Burners…


I’ve got this lodged at the back of my head for some reason, but is it true that modern-day teachers are forbidden to use red Biro on kids’ work these days? Or is that an urban myth? It’d be a shame to lose this fine tradition, as I always imagined that all of my teachers wrote EVERYTHING in red Biro, from cheques to job applications to notes for the milkman. I’ve had to add a software attachment to this very website to convert Mr Hirst’s blog comments to black text whenever he posts.

And what a fine selection of 1980s TV! I have very dim and distant memories of watching The Good Life on weekday teatime… was this part of a full run? It was a programme that I thought I’d never seen before, until I heard the theme music – at which point my 11-year-old self went giddy with nostalgia, and I was transported back to some incredibly vague and fuzzy memories from my very early childhood.   

And go on, I admit defeat. What’s ‘Hot Line’ at 7.10pm? It sounds like it might be a That’s Life/Watchdog style consumer thing, but Google has failed me. Heeeeeeeelp! 

PS I’ve celebrated the release of the new Beatles remasters by hiding the title of one of my favourite Beatles songs in the above blog entry. There’s a cyber-hug for the first person to spot it. (NB I’ll narrow the field by stating unequivocably that it ISN’T ‘Good Job I Had A Four-Inch Willy’. That’s on one of Ringo’s early solo albums)