Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 275

Monday 1st October 1984


Got up at 9.20 and at 9.30 Doug came. We went to Levendale and met Whitehead and Tweddall, then we went in the school but they wouldn’t let us stay in. We then went to the VG shop and met Placie, Stan and Tinkler, and we hung around the school till 11.30, when Doug and I went to Yarm.

The chippy was shut so we got a sausage roll, some buns and a shandy, and after eating them we left Yarm at 12.30 and saw Mary Jones on the way. Doug went home so I went back and assembled my Cliff Hanger booklet, then I played out.

At 3.00 Dad got the swing down, then we went in the loft to look for things for me to sell. Got some stuff down, then at 5.00 I had tea. After that I priced my gear, then I went in the shower.

At 8.00 I watched Tripper’s Day, at 8.30 I watched Chance in a million and at 9.00 I watched Kelly Monteith.  I went to bed at 9.30.

Four weeks into the school year, and already we had an ‘occasional day’ off – for teaching training, no doubt… with Mrs Macdonald learning new knuckleduster techniques, Miss Stainsby transcribing the Abbey Road medley for solo acoustic guitar, and Mr Flynn having the sheep on his fluffy jumper dipped and sheared. So we horrible oiks were left to our own devices, which – naturally – turned out to be bikes, junk food and making bloody nuisances of ourselves. 

For years at Levendale Primary School, it had been traditional for recently departed pupils to return on their occasional days off from Conyers and pop in to say hello to their younger friends and former teachers. They would wander around finding old chums, and maybe even stop for a coffee and a grown-up chat with Mr Hirst and Mrs Keasey. Our previous headmaster Mr Watson had actively encouraged this, and it was always nice (and slightly startling) to find our old friends striding around the primary school corridors looking – quite frankly – far too big for them. Deep voices, bumfluff moustaches and masculine, rounded shoulders were usually par for the course… but enough about Anita Hargreaves for the time being.

With this in mind, Doug and I – together with fellow would-be teacher-botherers Paul ‘Wacky’ Whitehead and Karl Tweddall – descended on our old school like vultures. Times they were a-changing, though… the new headmaster, the amazingly hairy Mr Chalkley, had quite reasonably decided that the last thing he wanted was a crowd of last year’s grizzled wasters COMING BACK and passing on dangerous tips to his new generation of more fresh-faced innocent wasters.


So, as we strode manfully through our old cloakroom expecting Mrs Mulhern to lay down a red carpet and sound a trumpet voluntary, Mr Chalkley emerged to head us off at the pass. ‘Nothing personal, but you really can’t stay…’ he rumbled. ‘But it’s nice to see you, and thanks for coming back’. I think we managed to stick our heads around the corner of the Upper Band classrooms, and caught a rueful wave from Mr Hirst, who was busy putting his two new school team centre-backs in a friendly headlock.

In all honesty, it felt a bit weird being back at Levendale anyway. It been barely ten weeks since we left the school, but – when you’re 11 – ten weeks can seem like an eternity. Let’s face it, a half-hour RE lesson can seem like several lifetimes stuck together. The colourful finger paintings in the Reception area windows and the faded netball lines on the gravel playground seemed to belong to a different era altogether, and – as we slinked back to the school bus lay-by, grumbling and fidgeting all the way – I don’t remember feeling TOO disappointed. 

Anyway, we got our revenge by spending the next two hours leaning defiantly against the school gates on our bikes, joined by our old muckers Andrew ‘Stan’ Henry, James ‘Placie’ Place and lanky, white-haired nutcase Carl Tinkler (whose Mum, while working in the school kitchens, was once told by an innocent five-year-old poppet that ‘your son’s a naughty boy I think he’s going to go to hell when he dies’). I think our plan was to stay there until dinnertime, at which point we’d mingle into a bit of playground-based devilment with our younger mates. Needless to say, by 11.30am we’d decided that we really couldn’t be arsed.

As we cycled away, an old man walking his dog stopped us and asked, in a thick Yorkshire accent, ‘Nah then lads, what yez up te? Playing the wag?’

‘Eh?’ we replied, not unreasonably.

‘Playing the wag!’ he twinkled. ‘Sagging off. Playing hooky. Truant!’ 

‘Oh no,’ I explained, ever the well-mannered diplomat. ‘Our school’s got an occasional day for teacher training, so we’ve all been given the day off today’.

This took a second to sink in. ‘Eeeeee,’ he mused. ‘We never ‘ad owt like that when I were a nipper. What a load o’ bollocks. Have a good day, lads. Sithee later…’

We did have a good day. Doug and I cycled into Yarm High Street, bought some sausage rolls and some buns (gleefully looking forward to that traditional Teesside dish the, erm, sausage roll sandwich), and went to our usual lunchtime hideaway, the dingy alley that ran through the middle of the Strickland and Holts gift store (Established 1854) 

In fact, this back alley here…

It was a bright, cold, breezy day, and we propped our bikes up against the whitewashed wall, snuggled into our parkas, and idled away another hour of our precious childhoods talking shite and picking our noses. Heaven.

(By the way, I’ve no idea who Mary Jones is, or was. The way I’ve written it, it sounds like one of my Mum’s friends, but I’ve just asked her, and she has no idea either. We’re not sure if Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones’ mother is called Mary, but even then I wouldn’t have written her full name in my diary, I would have just put ‘Gazzie’s mam’. I’ll keep you posted of any updates in this riveting saga, but for the time being I’m quite enjoying the mystery…)

Similarly, I haven’t got a clue what on Earth we dragged down from the loft for me to sell (presumably a load of stuff from my very early childhood – Lego, pre-school books, board games, that kind of thing. Needless to say, ALL of this stuff remained unsold and – 25 years later – is still boxed up in the loft in my own house. Sorcha is convinced that we’ll be killed in our bed one Sunday morning when a hundredweight of Nutty comics and Wombles LPs come crashing through the bedroom ceiling)

And no doubt my Dad was entirely chuffed with the prospect of lugging my old, rusty garden swing down from the attic…


I don’t think I wanted this to sell. I think I just wanted it to make his life a misery. And yes, that’s me in the above photo, in a picture with ‘Summer 1977’ scrawled on the back – so I’m four years old, and look like butter wouldn’t melt (don’t be fooled, though… butter would INDEED have melted, and – not only that – it would have been smeared all over the kitchen cupboards as I laughed manically and insisted it made them ‘easier to open’)

And ‘Tripper’s Day’! Bloody hell.  A brand new ITV sitcom, launched in a blaze of publicity, with Leonard Rossiter taking on his first major comedy role since the glory days of Reggie Perrin and Rising Damp. He played a Northern manager assigned to a London supermarket, trying to apply old-fashioned Yorkshire values to typically cheeky Cock-er-nee staff…

It doesn’t seem anywhere near as good as his previous work, but neither is it as bad as many other sitcoms of the period, and Rossiter himself is typically superb. However it was given a bit of a critical mauling after the first episode, and has since taken on an air of inescapable poignancy as – tragically – Leonard Rossiter died suddenly four days after the broadcast of this episode.  After consulting with his family, ITV continued to broadcast the rest of the series, but even as an 11-year-old I found it almost impossible to watch. I wonder if it will ever see a DVD release?



  PJE_UK wrote @

ITV did proceed to piss on Rossiter’s grave further by bringing the whole she-bang back with Bruce Forsyth as the lead in the re-titled Slinger’s Day. Any improvements in the show’s quality remain undocumented.

Rossiter was one of the many stars who I stalked along the corridors of the Billingham Forum as a kid. Got a nice autograph from him. See also Frankie Howerd, John Nettles, Peter Davison and (gasp) Norman Collier.

  Chris Orton wrote @

How is it that even photos were brown and orange in the 70s?

  bobfischer wrote @

Slinger’s Day was bizarre, and I’d definitely like to see that again, out of sheer morbid curiosity. Am I right in thinking Brucie performed his lead sitcom role in pretty much his usual game show mode, complete with ad libs to the studio audience and despairing looks into the camera? All of which made it into the final edit? It was all REALLY odd.

  bobfischer wrote @

Chris – the photos thing is very strange. All of my families photos from the 1970s have faded to that weird orangey brown colour… and yet, from early 1980 onwards, they’re fine. Perfect colours that still look fresh as a daisy.

I actually mentioned this on the radio ages ago, and I’m sure someone mailed in with a plausible theory… allegedly, until the end of the 1970s, all photos developed throughout the country went to a central processing unit – no matter where you handed them in or sent them off to, they all ended up in the same place.

Seemingly some of the inks used weren’t always the most expensive, and so lots of1970s family photos have now faded to that washed-out colour. However, at the end of the decade, independent processing labs started springing up all over the place, and invested in a lot of new inks and technology, and so the quality (and longevity) of the nation’s snapshots improved immeasurably from 1980-ish onwards.

That’s the theory anyway – I’ve no idea how true it is!

Personally, I rather like the browny orangey 1970s look, and oddly enough my memories of whole decade are exactly the same. Strange.

  Mark Hirst wrote @

It is bizarre how ex pupils feel the need to return to their old stamping grounds. It still goes on.

Whether I let them back into school depends on who they are to be honest. Mr C probably subscribed to this as well, even back then.

Fisher, Simpson, Whitehead and Tweddle would be viewed as a potent mix in anyone’s books. The addition of Tinkler would make it explosive! If I’d have seen him at the gates, I might have tried taking him out with a well aimed conker. (prepared by young Tim Scott of course)

  Stuart Downing wrote @

PJE_UK – how did Norman Collier sign his autograph? Did it have any gaps in it?
As far as I’m concerned, browny-orange was the colour of the 70s. My mam’s wallpaper was this colour, as were most of my jumpers. Colours changed in the early 80s with the invention of electric blue and shocking pink.

  Chris Byers wrote @

I had completely forgotten about going back to Levendale. I know that me and Tim Scott went around at some point during this day and met a few Levendale veterans there and like you we were barred from entry.

It’s always strange going back to places that you know well. I can remember being in sixth form and we had the choice on Wednesday afternoon’s of either doing PE or some voluntary work at a local primary school. So with myself having a spent my entire school career avoiding physical exercise there was only one option, I went back to Levendale with our old friend from Conyers Simon Lee.
It really was a strange experience though, the place looked the same and smelt the same, but it just wasn’t the same. The thing that makes a place special of course is the people and all of the people we had known had long since gone and it all just seemed a little bit sad really.

  bobfischer wrote @

I don’t doubt your conker skills for a second, Mr H. Although I’m intrigued to find that Mr Chalkley’s admission policy was on a ‘don’t like of this lot’ basis. I’m now covinced that some of our more savoury 11-year-old contemporaries (Ian Oswald, Tim Scott etc) spent this day lounging luxuriously in the staff room swopping bon mots while Mr C passed around the port and cigars. And me, Doug and the gang shivered by the school gates in fingerless mittens.

Norman Collier played at Middlesbrough Theatre earlier this year! He’s 83 now, and was – apparently – brilliant. I really wish I’d gone.

And Chris, I had no idea about your forays back to Levendale… especially as I invariably spent my sixth form Wednesday afternoons at home, by myself, watching daytime TV! I had no idea we were meant to be actually DOING things.

That’s a poignant tale though… I feel rather sad having read that! I had no idea you’d been back there. And yes, you’re absolutely right -the people are everything. If it’s any consolation, I bumped into Simon Lee on Tuesday night outside the Riverside Stadium and he was in good form!

  PJE_UK wrote @

Sadly Collier just signed his name and went on his way to the exotic sounding Forum Sauna. Which for Billingham probably marked you a “suspect” even for knowing what a Sauna was !

Neither did the TV funnyman regale us with either of his other comedic stocks in trade

a) a chicken impersonation
b) pretending to descend stairs or escalator from behind a sofa

  Mark Hirst wrote @

Chris is right, sadly. I have only returned to Levendale once in the last 25 years and it could have been just any other school to be honest. It was only through reading this blog and meeting Bob again that the children and characters came back to life. Though I can remember many of the children, I probably couldn’t take you to my old classroom!

The class photo is a classic of it’s time. Bob and Chris, butter wouldn’t melt! Mr Mason still looks a bag of trouble, no matter how you dress him up.

I actually taught with Jonathan Haworths mum Pam, for a good few years at Lingfield. I saw her just last year at someone’s retirement do and she mentioned her `grown up` sons. We worked together under the astute leadership of Mr Millward. Now there’s a HT who would have welcomed you back into his school with open arms!! The sentimental old fool!

  Chris Byers wrote @

It’s funny you should mention Stephen Mason and trouble Mr H. As I think it was about at this time that there had been a argument/fight involving Stephen Mason and our new class mate Vincent Potter. Both had been sent to the deputy head Mr Dixon, and a little while later I was summoned as a witness which I thought a bit odd because I hadn’t actually seen anything. I was just wondering what I was going to say when I met Stephen Mason on the stairs who told me exactly what to say. I wouldn’t say that Stephen Mason gave me a rather one sided view of events but I cant help but think that I owe Vincent Potter a long overdue apology

  bobfischer wrote @

PJE, I’d forgotten about Norman Collier’s descending staircase routine! I’m sure Marcel Marceau nicked it from him after forsaking the Paris social whirl for a night at Batley Working Mens club sometime in 1966.

Mr H, I’m intrigued – what took you back to Levendale? And I’m genuinely thrilled that these ramblings have brought it all back for you.

Last I heard of ‘Nobby’ Haworth he was teaching windsurfing and other exciting water-based acitivites on a Greek island somewhere, but that was a few years ago!

And Chris – bloody hell, I remember that! I think it was in one of Mr Warren’s Science lessons wasn’t it? One of those amazing fights that came completely out of nowhere… one minute all was calm, then within a split second they were going at each other hammer and tongs in a brilliant Bash Street Kids-style scrap. A huge cloud of dust with fists and boots and Puma bags all flying out of it.

I can well believe you didn’t see anything of it, as I think you sat over in one corner of the science room with me and Jo Spayne, and Messrs Potter and Mason were in the other corner, about as far away as it was possibly to get!

  Mark Hirst wrote @

Bob. It was a cup football match involving one of my best Lingfield teams ever and a transient Levendale team. Needless to say we won comfortably and I felt not a pang of remorse as I headed back down Mount Leven Rd. Not one for sentiment me.

Mr M was similarly chuffed when I returned to Marton and told him the score! Hard to believe, but true. Not too dissimilar from footballers moving clubs and kissing their new teams badge. Looking back, I should have sprinted around the front of the school, Adebayor style, and knelt down in front of Chalkley’s office! Provoking a near riot at the school gates!

  Justin wrote @

I’ve never been back to my old secodary school 9though keep wondering about it1) but it did indeed feel odd going back to my primary when I’d ‘moved on’ but since my Mum had started work their as a kindergarten teacher I often did!

My wife also finds it strange going back to her primary school, but does so every Monday night as that’s where they hold her aerobics class… well it’s only 3 doors down from our house so going futrther afield seems a bit OTT just becuase “the hall seems smaller than I remember it!”

  bobfischer wrote @

Mr H – I should have realised it was a football match! I hope a few former colleagues came out to chant ‘Levendale reject – wo-oah, wo-oah’ at you, and you responded by blowing kisses and shadow-boxing the corner flag after each goal.

I’m not one for sentiment either. Unless you’re counting the 320-page love letter to my childhood published by Hodder & Stoughton earlier this year. Or the 270,000 word blog that’s dominated my 2009. Apart from that, I’m as hard-hearted as they come.

I think I’ve been back to Levendale once since 1984, and that was in May 1992, when it turned into a Polling Station for the day and I went to vote in my first-ever General Election. I was 19. I made it as far as the hall, and it hadn’t changed a bit, but I don’t remember being overwhelmed with nostalgia. I was probably still a bit young for all that.

I nearly went back in June this year for their annual summer fete, but ended up going on an all-day booze-up along the Newcastle-Hexham railway line instead, with a load of Doctor Who fans. Maybe next year.

In 2004 I went back to Conyers for the first time in ten years or so… I was running a cinema night at Arc, and invited myself over there to shamelessly plug it to a load of sixth form media studies students. As everyone has said, it felt like a different building to the one I remembered… smaller, and belonging to a completely different generation.

We did it in the same classroom where, 20 years earlier, Mrs Ansbro had taught me about The Phoenicians and the Ancient Egyptians in her quirky, late-afternoon History lessons. It felt very odd to be standing in front of her old desk speaking to a batch of 17-year olds who hadn’t even been born back then.

I did get to enter the hallowed, sacred territory of the Staff Room though, and shared a cup of black coffee with my old head of sixth form, Mr Fyfe! Is it a legal requirement for all teachers to drink black coffee all day?

  Fiona Tims wrote @

I too did the school visits. Visited Infant school when at junior school (and even then, couldn’t believe how tiny the chairs, table and loo’s were) and junior school when at secondary school. I still vote at the polling station in my old junior school and I do get pangs, I must admit. I have mostly great memories from Infant and Junior School.

  bobfischer wrote @

Ah, that’s good. I used to have a choice of polling stations in Yarm, and so went back to Levendale Primary in 1992, but in more recent elections I’m sure I’ve been forced to vote at one specific station. I’ll see what happens in 2010 and if I can get some footage of Levendale school hall, I will!

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