Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 315

Saturday 10th November 1984

I got up at 10.30 and at 11.00 dad and I went to Yarm. On the way back, dad dropped me off at Doug’s but he wasn’t in. I ran back home just in time for dinner at 12.00ish.

After dinner I did my map for Art homework, and at 2.00 Doug came with hundreds of kids but I was too tired to play so I stayed in. At 4.00 we went to Gran’s and I read my DWM, then I had tea.

At 5.20 I watched The Tripods, then we came home, and at 6.30 I watched Bob’s full house. At 7.00 I watched Cannon and Ball, at 8.00 I watched Hi-de-hi, at 11.00 I watched Pushing up daisys and at 12.00 I went to bed.

What motivating factor could have dragged me out of bed on a freezing Saturday morning, and into the clammy passenger seat of my Dad’s Reliant Scimitar? Why, DWM, of course. Doctor Who Magazine. We’ll have slung the car into an empty space on Yarm High Street (no parking discs required in those days – it was a brutal free-for-all) and my Dad will have wandered down to whatever Manly Retail Outlet he required (Butch Stuff ‘R’ Us, specialising in iron filings and drill attachments. GRRRR!) while I slunk into Robinson’s Newsagents to peruse the racks.

Looking for DWM was always a nerve-racking task. In those heady, pre-internet days, I was never sure of the release dates, and they often seemed to waver a couple of days either side in any case. So I’ll have wandered into the musty, overwhelmingly brown gloom of Robinson’s (I can still picture the tiled floor now, covered in the muddy imprints of pint-sized wellington boots) and scanned the racks for just a tiny, colourful glimpse of Peter Davison’s head sticking out from behind a Woman’s Weekly or the TV Times.

And yay! On this occasion, at least, my quest bore fruit!

I should point out with depressingly predictability that Yarm, a town with a population of around 10,000  and several surrounding villages outside that, no longer has a dedicated newsagent. When I was a kid there were, as far as I can remember, three shops in the High Street alone…

1) Robinson’s (bang in the middle of the High Street on the left hand side as you walk down from Conyers school) 2) Another whose name escapes me ALLLLL the way down the end of the same side of the street, and 3) another on the opposite side of the road, a smaller affair that nevertheless did a nifty line in Cola Bottles and aniseed balls.

All independently run, naturally, and all with the kind of musty, dark, but incredibly homespun and non-corporate atmosphere that those places inevitably generated. The odd bit of peeling wallpaper, and newspapers resting on bare wooden shelves with the occasional builder’s pencil mark visible, but I loved them all to bits. Shop No 2 moved further into the middle of the High Street sometime in the mid-1980s before closing altogether before the end of the decade. Shop 3 lasted until about 1997, and then vanished without warning. I just turned up to buy some Diet Fanta one day and found myself confronted by a mystifyingly empty and desolate-looking unit.

There were still a pair of smoking boots behind the counter.  

Robinson’s – my favourite, if I’m honest – underwent a traumatic regeneration (halo of light, copies of the Reader’s Digest circling around it) sometime in the early 1990s and rebranded itself as ‘Country News’ – a bit brighter and slicker, but still independently-run with a nice, homely ambience. I went in there virtually every day during my teens and twenties to buy a paper, or an NME, or any number of assorted chunky magazines… Select, Empire, Q or the Fortean Times. It became part of the lifeblood of Yarm, a hub for all of us to keep in touch with the outside world. It also gave me one of my best mates in Chris ‘Smudge’ Smith, as featured in the Star Wars chapter of ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ He was a long-haired student working behind the counter, and – in the mid-1990s – we used to chat about music and football when I wandered in to peruse the racks. Yep, still looking for a tiny, colourful glimpse of Peter Davison’s head sticking out from behind Woman’s Weekly or the TV Times…

And then, in (I think) 2002, it closed for good. All we have now are the usual racks in Spar and Sainsburys. Booooooooo.

(If any passing Yarm-ites can fill in a bit of information about any of these newsagents, I’d be really grateful – it’s terrifying how much my memory has blanked out… can you remember the layouts of any of these shops? Was Newsagent 2 the one where the counter faced you as you walked in?)

Anyway, mission accomplished. Back home to work on my map of Conyers school and its surrounding fields for art homework, and then… hmmmph…. zzzzzzz…. yep, I was dozing off at my station. So, Doug… I’m really sorry. I was half-asleep on my yellow bedspread when you arrived at the back gate, all cheery and ready for mischief and surrounded by at least half-a-dozen bawling younger kids that you seemed to have acquired on the half-mile walk from your house. I sleepily and grumpily sent you away for the first time ever, and then lay back on my bed for 30 seconds before a huge pang of guilt set in.

And now it’s back! How can I still feel so bad about something of no consequence that happened 25 years ago, when I was 11? Shape up, Fischer. Be a man. Buy some drill attachments.

And Saturday tea-time at my Gran’s, as per usual. This was a strange transitionary period for visits to my Gran, really. Throughout the first eleven years of my life, I’d spent pretty much every weekend over at her bungalow in Acklam. We’d head there straight after tea on a Friday, and my parents would stick around for a cuppa before driving back to Yarm for a Friday night pint in the spit-and-sawdust Cross Keys or George & Dragon. I’d spend the rest of the night messing about with Panini Sticker Books and watching Are You Being Served in the company of Lisa Wheeldon, the girl who lived in the house round the corner. We’d been born barely weeks apart, and had been weekend friends for as long as we could remember.

I’d be up in time for Swap Shop on a Saturday morning (watching Dollar videos in Star Wars pyjamas and crunching toast in front of Noel Edmonds), and then my Mum would arrive on the No 13 bus and me, my Mum and Gran would head to Middlesbrough for a shopping expedition. Until 1981 or so, this inevitably meant – yikes! – buying a Star Wars figure from the dream-like wonderland of Romer Parrish toy shop. After that, it was a Doctor Who paperpack from WH Smiths, or a ZX81 computer game from Boots or Uptons, with its Dallas-style winding staircase.

And then, more often than not, I’d stay over at my Gran’s house AGAIN on the Saturday night… watching Basil Brush and Doctor Who, then 3-2-1 and Game For A Laugh, often accompanied by my thirtysomething Uncle Trevor and Auntie Rose, on their way for a Harp Lager in the Endeavour pub round the corner. It was only on the Sunday morning that I’d be ferried back to Yarm to resume my normal, everyday life.

By 1981-ish, though, it was generally just Friday nights that I spent round there, and – by early 1984 – those had gone as well. I spent my weekends at home with Doug and the ZX81, and just accompanied my parents on their visits to my Gran’s for tea. I think she was becoming a bit forgetful by this point, so we were moving towards having her over to our place for the weekend rather than me being dumped over there. By 1985, our spare room had pretty much become my Gran’s weekend residence.

So anyway… teatime in Acklam, and – no doubt – cream cakes from a cardboard box sitting rapt in front of The Tripods. And then home in time for Bob’s Full House, which became a minor obsession of mine…

I still think it’s one of the greatest TV quiz shows ever produced, and it always felt like a vital chunk of a childhood Saturday at home in front of the telly. Anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is wallied.



  Chris Orton wrote @

“In Bingo lingo clickety-clicks, it’s time to take your pick of the six”

How’s that for a catchphrase?

I used to love Bob’s Full House. My Dad applied to go on it (following his dismal showing on Winner Takes All) and went to go to an audition thing, but he never ended up appearing in the end. I think that the dates clashed with his work or something. Monkhouse was a master at this sort of show and his patter at the start was just as entertaining as the quiz itself. I used to love how he used to cheat by helping the contestants and how he got the audience involved too.

Is it just me or do you just not get game and quiz shows like that any more? These days they all seem to be based on the dark studio / / blue lighting / menacing music type lines. Saturday evenings are the perfect time for something like Bob’s Full House, but instead we get Hole in the Wall. Hell, I even used to enjoy the Paul Daniel’s fronted shows like Every Second Counts. I say that we need a return to the traditional telly game show!

  bobfischer wrote @

‘Tony, you neeeeeeeeeeeeeeed…. FOUR!’

Yeah I agree, the traditional family game show seems to be on its last legs, which is ironic as – back in 1984 – I seem to remember constant complaints from the media (and ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’) that TV was far too full of them.

It’s all celebrity panel shows these days. But I prefer the fun of screaming ‘It’s Sir Francis Drake!!! Come on, YOU MUST KNOW THAT!!!!’ to blokes from Aldershot sporting brown moustaches and Pringle sweaters. Things like Hole In The Wall don’t really interest me because I can’t join in!

Eggheads is my cheesy game show pleasure these days. I love it.

  Ian Farrage wrote @

I’m having some time lapse confusement. Newsagents I remember from this time (but let’s face it this could be total crap) – Newsfare – between Yarm Chippy & the Town Hall – opposite side of road to Strickies. This was a big newsagent which had the papers, sweets (including jars for quarter lb sales), towards the back was wrapping paper, cards, toys etc. This one later became Country News and is now possibly some poncy food establishment.
Quite close to this and tending more towards the Town Hall was some other little newsagents (later became the photo processing shop, next to what was the ice-cream shop and probably some flower shop). Was this Maynards ?? Or was that the one in Stockton, off Dovecot Street, towards the High Street, down from Pacittos (Ray & Nancy), close to where Barnacles is now.
No 3 – I can only think of the one that’s near Fairfax Court – but before that place existed. Was there a little newsagnets there also ??

Let’s be honest – in the last 18 years I haven’t spent more than 30 days total in Yarm. I think my memory may fade or confusion may hit me from time to time. But I do recall getting the odd quarter of midget gems from Newsfare – before they changed to those soft jelly things. Where did the full power liquorice black ones go ?

  bobfischer wrote @

I think with a mixture of yours and my memories we can sort this! (Although if Chris Byers comes along, he can have the casting vote!)

The newsagent closest to the Town Hall, on the opposite side to Strickies, was 100% definitely the one that became Country News. It was the biggest of the three, and had all the birthday cards etc at the back. But I think it was called Newsfare in the 1980s, you’re right. Definitely in that location, though, and it was open until about 2002, possibly slightly later. It’s now a dedicated card and gift shop, and the photo shop and the ice cream parlour are the next two shops along.

The one down by the chippy was the little one called Robinson’s. This was the small one, and it moved sometime in the mid-80s to a similarly small unit closer to the Town Hall. So it and Newsfare were only a few doors apart. It was a bit darker and pokier though, and the counter faced the door as you walked in.

And yep, No 3 was on the corner of Fairfax Court. The little alleyway with Roy Lewis’ hairdresser. When I ran Yarm Records, I used to go there lots for magazines and chocolate. It closed very suddenly in about 1997/98, and is now an expensive-looking clothes shop (but then most clothes look expensive to me, I dress like Seasick Steve)

And yep, Maynards was in Stockton, exactly where you describe it! 🙂

  bobfischer wrote @

I should also point out that I’m open to correction on any of the above…

  Smudge wrote @

Here’s what I remember about myriad of Yarms’ newsagents.

August 1989 I got a job with Country News delivering the Gazette, at the time the shop was where the photo shop, now the teddy bear shop(?) is. It was originally called Newsfare, but it was Country News in 1989. The only other newsagent on the High Street at the time was Finlays and that was where McQuays restaurant is/was now.

Some time between 1989 and 1992, when I started working behind the counter, Country News moved two doors down to one of the two recent vacated Elizabeth Eggleston shops where it remained until it closed around 2003.

Between 1992 and 2003 Finlays moved up to the top of the High Street (Bridge Street end) into what is now I think the Help The Aged charity shop and it subsequently closed down.

I can’t remember the name of the newsagents that was near the entrance to Fairfax Court other than it closed before I left Country News in 2000. Before it was a newsagents I’m sure there was a Presto there, and when it shut it became Strides.

  bobfischer wrote @

Thanks Smudge!

I’ve completely blanked out the fact that Newsfare/Country News moved two doors down circa 1991. I thought it had just been in the same location since the 1970s… I suppose I might have been away at university at the time and just not noticed when I got back!

And Finlay’s… thanks for that!

  Chris Byers wrote @

It doesn’t look like your going to need a judge on this one Bob, Smudge I think is spot on. Country news did indeed move sometime in the early 90s and a little bit further down towards the fish shop was Finlays.

I Just think it’s sad that there are now no newsagents left in Yarm, a sign of the times I suppose.

  Wez Jr wrote @

Aye, Finlays! They did video rentals too. Our Mam used to get all the crap ones released by Medusa Home Video. “Deathstalker”, anyone?

  bobfischer wrote @

Of course! I fondly remember a quiet summers’ afternoon at Gaz Norman’s house circa 1990, watching the modern masterpiece that is ‘Frankenhooker’.

  Andrew Glazebrook wrote @

Romer Parrish was an awesome toy shop, bought lots of my Star Wars figures from there and Disco’s toy dept on Linthorpe Road !!! Those were the days !!!

  Andrew Glazebrook wrote @

I also remember I usd to buy Timpo soldiers from a little toy shop that was down near Camera Mart, think it wa called Nelson’s, run by an old couple !!!

  bobfischer wrote @

Blimey, I’ve got really, REALLY vague memories of Disco’s from the 1970s. Whereabouts on Linthorpe Road was it? I only remember it existing because when I first heard Jimmy Saville talking about ‘disco music’ on Top Of The Pops, I thought it must have some connection to the shop! That’s a long, long-buried memory you’ve unearthed there, so thanks for that…

  Andrew Glazebrook wrote @

For some reason that didn’t work, try this !!

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