Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 296

Monday 22nd October 1984

I got up at 9.45 and I played cards till dinner at 11.00. Then I started a Dr Who picture, and after that we went to Middlesbrough. First I went into Smiths and got a Doctor Who Monthly, then I ran up all five floors of Binns and beat the lift.

After that I got Warlock 3 from the newsagent in the bus centre, and when we got home I finished my picture and read my mags. At 4.35 I watched Dungeons and Dragons then I had tea. After that I did the crossword in Warlock 3, then I went upstairs and made out a Christmas list.

I came down at 8.00 and watched To the manor born, and at 8.30 I watched Lame ducks. I went to bed at 9.00.

I’ve just spent a couple of minutes pondering on why I wasn’t at school on this particular day, before slapping my forehead dramatically and hissing ‘HALF TERM!!!!’ at the computer screen. Yep, Yarm Fair boasted an extra frisson of excitement that I’d completely forgotten about… even above and beyond The Wall of Death and its accompanying piles of half-digested candy floss vomit. It was the gateway to a week’s holiday! A full seven days of, erm, moping around in the pissing rain and howling gales before we went back to the grind.

Starting with a mid-day shopping trip to Middlesbrough! Yep, my Mum and I will have huddled beneath the lop-sided bus stop in the shelter of the conifer trees that bordered our garden, and waited for the murky red 294 double decker bus to appear over the horizon from Kirklevington. This bus stop here, in fact… (I’m still determined to get my money’s worth out of these films)

I’ve had a bloody haircut since then, mind you.

dwm95The Doctor Who Monthly that I bought was Issue 95, looking like this (left) and containing Part 5 of the amazing graphic adventure ‘Voyager’, which I still think is one of the greatest bit of comic strippery ever created – a bizarre, rambling, brilliant script by Steve Parkhouse and amazing artwork by the great John Ridgeway. And, oddly, I’ve a feeling that the ‘Doctor Who picture’ that I started drawing on the dining room table* before we left was pretty much exactly the same as the image on the cover… my new hero Colin Baker, resplendent in spotty cravat and question mark collars.

(*On a piece of paper, I hasten to add. I didn’t just etch it directly onto the table. I might be a fan, but I’m not MENTAL)

I only remember this because my Mum went a bit overboard in her praise for it, giving it the full ‘Eeeeee, that’s amazing – it’s the absolute spitting image of him…’ And, well… it really wasn’t. If anything it looked a bit like Marti Caine (the comedian, that is. Not the fruit-seller on Stockton market. And no, I’m not making this up. By the way, I’ve just realised that – back in 1984 – Marti Caine would undoubtedly have been called a ‘comedienne’, presumably just to tip-off any bluff Northern stand-up fans that ‘this one’s a bird, so don’t get yer hopes up’)  

And the five flights of stairs in Binns!!! Still present and correct, and currently being used to train the British triathlon team in preperation for the 2012 Olympics. Binns was, and is, a gigantic Grace Brothers-style department store in central Middlesbrough… slightly upmarket, but no so much that it would scare off my Mum and Gran from buying shoes, skirts and other assorted knick-knacks, usually on the ‘account’ that had to paid off every month at a little tinted window on the fifth floor.

Binns had a complex system of lifts that, well into the 1980s, were still being operated by a prim, middle-aged woman wearing a tight brown uniform and Sybil Fawlty’s hair. She spent her entire working day sitting on a small wooden stool in the corner of the lift pressing the buttons, smiling politely, and saying ‘Geeewing errrrp’. Naturally, being an annoying little twat, I’d scoff heartily at my shopping-laden Mum and arthritis-ridden Gran for indulging in such laziness, and race them to the top floor using the gigantic, spiral staircase with its marble-effect steps and terse ‘KEEP TO THE LEFT’ warning signs.

On the way down, on the fourth floor, we’d invariably stop at the little ‘restaurant’ in a secluded corner next to the lingerie section, and treat ourselves to a pot of tea and the NICEST CREAM AND JAM SCONES IN THE WORLD. I can still taste them now on long, dark evenings of the soul, and picture my Gran dabbing her lips with a paper serviette. The last time I visited this little enclave was a few days before Christmas in 2000, when – for the first time in 15 years – me and my Mum went on a shopping expedition together for a few last-minute presents. At my insistance, we had cream and jam scones at our old table and crossed items off our shopping list as ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ blared out of the tannoy.

It was lovely, and yes – I raced the lift to the top floor up the stairs. I was 28 years old. (Still beat it though – GET IN!!!!)

As far as I can see whenever I walk past, Binns is exactly the same as it ever was, although it’s now been rebranded to the corporate and homogenised ‘House of Fraser’, presumably to fit in with the rest of the department store chain. Boooooo. I can state with some confidence, though, that the people of Middlesbrough will continue to call it ‘Binns’ until the oceans boil, the skies fall down and the dead rise up from their graves. Bloody hell, there are people in the town who still refer to the Chicago Rock Cafe as ‘the old Hippodrome’, and that closed down in 1956.

warlock3Warlock 3, meanwhile, was the third issue of the official Fighting Fantasy magazine, the bi-monthly publication dedicated to the burgeoning adolescent arts of goblin-slaying and spell-casting. And I LOVE the fact that it had a crossword. Here’s hoping Issue 4 has a Necromancer’s Wordsearch.

Not that my life was entirely devoted to the introspective geekiness, mind you. Oh no, I watched a lot of telly as well. Particularly, erm… Dungeons and Dragons…

Fair to say this wasn’t QUITE as dark, scary and brooding as I’d been hoping for.

Still, no need to get downhearted when there’s a Christmas list to write! I’m amazed I reached the final week in October before making a start on this, it was usually sometime around Week 3 of the school summer holidays before the jingle of sleigh bells (and cash registers) in my head became too loud to resist. I’ll have typed this out neatly on my Mum’s Hermes typewriter, and top of the list will have been – no surprises – the coveted ZX Spectrum computer that I now desired more than life itself. Along with a selection of amazing-looking games… Jet Set Willy, Atic Atac, Manic Miner and the amazing-looking Jetpac were all very much on the list. As well as a Toblerone and a Chocolate Orange, naturally. I did have SOME natural, healthy appetites remaining after all.

And ‘Lame Ducks’!!! I’d forgotten all about this. Surely one of the strangest sitcoms of all time, it starred John Duttine (in a bit of a crunching gear-change from Day of the Triffids) as Brian Drake (yay!), a wannabe hermit who rejects society and moves to a remote, tumbledown country cottage… only to find himself the hub of a strange community of similar misfits. Including loveable drifter Lorraine Chase and Tony ‘Tucker from Citizen Smith’ Millan as a postman intending to travel around the world on a giant, inflatable ball. And I think Brian ‘George And Mildred’ Murphy played a private detective hired to track them all down.

I’ve got hugely fond memories of this, and I think it ran for two series, but it seems to have been almost wiped from TV history… I can find nothing on Youtube, and not a single screengrab anywhere online. I seem to be saying this more and more, but I’d snap up a DVD release in a heartbeat.



  David Brunt wrote @

Lame Ducks was written by that P.J. Hammond.

He doesn’t like to talk about it. Probably with good reason.

  bobfischer wrote @

A man who’s written two episodes of Torchwood is ashamed of Lame Ducks?!?!

This country’s going to hell in a handcart… 😉

  Geoff wrote @

One of the was a pyromaniac with red hair and sideburns. He had a woolly hat ,and slept in the airing cupboard. It’s funny I read this today because only a couple of days ago I was tiding our own air cupboard up and for the first time since 1984/5 I thought about that show and how sleeping in a warm airing cupboard actually could be quite nice. Especially when the other option is my own bed which is without fail invaded by two young children and a dog EVERY night!

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