Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 326

Wednesday 21st November 1984

I got up at 8.00, and at 8.45 Doug and Burton came and we went to school. First was Art, and I got a merit for clearing up, them came History and maths. At 12.00 I got Doctor Who – The making of a TV series from the book shop, then I had dinner.

After that me, Placie and Ozzie played footy, and at 1.00 it was French. Next was English, and last was Science. At 3.40 I came home, then went to school and got my coat, then came home and had tea.

At 5.00 I  watched The Box of delights, at 5.30 I watched The good life, and at 6.00 I did homework. At 7.00 I watched I’ve got a secret, at 7.30 I watched Sharon and Elsie, at 8.00 I watched Dallas, at 8.45 I watched Points of View and at 9 I went to bed.

A merit for ‘clearing up’? Since when did I ‘clear up’ anything?At home, my room-tidying routine generally meant shoving everything on the floor under the bed and letting the gradual build-up of books, comics, Star Wars figures and Doctor Who drawings on the bedroom carpet start all over again. Before repeating the process six weeks later. By the end of 1984, I was sleeping about six inches below the bedroom ceiling.

I can only assume I was a) in the relentless pursuit of merit marks, in which case my mother missed a trick by not coming to some arrangement with the school to be able to dish them out at home, or b) looking to impress our pouting, wavy-haired Kate Bush lookalike art teacher Mrs Cashmore.  If someone had offered me a merit not to fall in love with my art teacher, I’d have been tossing and turning all night (stop it)

Thankfully the problem went away in my second year, when Mr English took over art duties. I’ve never been one for red shirts and green trousers. He was lovely, but he looked like a traffic light.

And yes, I finally succumbed and shelled out a chunk of my birthday money on another piece of Doctor Who merchandise to file on the bedroom floor…

I’d been eyeing this up for weeks in our lunchtime school bookshop… basically just a broom cupboard stacked with a few kiddie-friendly titles and staffed by a little rota of public-spirited Mums and specky, bookish fifth-formers. The book cost £1.95, and I remember wrestling with my conscience in the tennis courts (I won by two falls, a submission and a backhand volley) before heading indoors to hand over my cash. Two strange memories of this transaction…

1. The woman behind the counter was an incredibly attractive school helper (undoubtedly someone’s Mum) with Elisabeth Sladen’s hairdo and bright red lipstick, and she asked me in cheerily husky tones if I’d been ‘saving up for this?’ as I handed over my two pound coins. My knees went a bit wobbly, and I spent the rest of our dinnertime explaining to Doug that I was possibly developing a thing for sexy, middle-aged women. Looking back, she was probably 29.

2. As I pulled the book from the shelf, two third-year girls chewing Hubba Bubba wandered in from the corridor. ‘Doctor Who – The Making Of A Television Series…’ pondered one of them, in a staggeringly plummy middle-class drawl. ‘Oh God, how BORING….’

Get used to it, Fischer. From now on, this is your LIFE.

Another memorable science lesson, too… I hadn’t realised until I wrote this diary quite how much effort Mr Warren put into making our time with him so varied and fun! Having progressed from studying protozoa through the School Microscope, we were now going…. OUTSIDE!

Yep, if it’s Wednesday, it must be Invertebrates… so time to head onto the hockey pitch to look for worm casts. I had no idea what worm casts actually WERE until this particular lesson, but I knew them when I saw them…

It’s basically worm poo. Or, as I wrote in my exercise book 25 years ago today, ‘the excreted soil and waste material that have passed through a worm’s body’. On a freezing November afternoon, Chris Byers, Jo Spayne, Vince Potter and I measured out 1m square areas of grass with a meter ruler (just for once not being used as a Star Wars lightsaber) and counted the worm casts within them.

We did this three times, and found 33, 45 and 58 worm casts respectively. An average of 45 worm casts per square metre. Mr Warren handily revealed that the field was 500m square, which meant a grand total of…

(wait for it)

22,500 worm casts on the hockey pitch! And at least six more splattered on Vince Potter’s shirt after a brief contre-temps with Stephen Mason.

I was so excited I ran all the way home without my grey ski jacket, and only realised when my Mum (busy extracting confessions from fishcakes at the kitchen sink) asked why I’d taken my coat off on the way home. I hadn’t… I’d left it hanging up in a hook round the back of our form room at 1.05pm, and forgotten about it. Probably still thinking of Mrs Cashmore (or – at a push – the woman from the book shop)

And The Box of Delights!!!

One of my favourite TV shows of all time. Even now, 25 years on, I still make a point of pulling the DVD from the shelf every Christmas and Sorcha and I watch the whole lot in darkness with the Christmas Tree lights on, with a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream on the coffee table and a tray of Mr Kipling Mince Pies on the go. It’s scientifically impossible to feel any more Christmassy than that…

It’s magical, and that opening sequence has – as ever – made the back of my neck go freezing cold and tingly. I absolutely AM twelve years old whenever I hear that theme music, rapt in front of the TV with my 40-year-old parents pouring tea from the porcelain pot in its ragged cosy, and digging into almond slices and Soreen. Poggy Doggy panting in front of the coal fire and a pile of homework on the dining room table.

It has Patrick Troughton as a travelling minstrel, 1930s steam trains ploughing through snow-covered countryside, sinister vicars and vicious wolves, genial coppers talking of ‘possetts’, time travel, wild woods, ‘scrobbling’ and Herne The Hunter. It was unfeasible that my twelve-year-old self WOULDN’T fall head-over-heels in love with the whole thing, and it’s a love affair that rages unabated to this day.

Time and tide and buttered eggs wait for no man…


  Chris Orton wrote @

I too love The Box of Delights and watched the series on its first transmission. It is the sort of show that the BBC just got right back in the 1980s and I love it to this day. Once you are immersed in the story you can forgive the primitive (by the standards of today, but cutting-edge at the time) nature of the effects and animal costumes. The music from Paddy Kingsland is a pure distillation of 80s Radiophonic Workshop magic – I just love the RW sound. Where has this kind of programming gone?? Its a shame that none of Masefield’s other work was adapted for telly…

I’ve heard that Mike Newell is to direct a big-screen version of the story but I doubt that it’ll succeed in capturing that christmassy feeling that the telly version has.

  Jonathan Adam wrote @

It is music by Roger Limb and not Paddy Kingsland!! Shock horror! Call yourself a fan 😉 !!!

Box of Delights is indeed a classic and remember it well in 1984 and the repeat during Christmas 1986. Timeless gem, that moment by the fireplace is purely memorable…..

  bobfischer wrote @

Yes, the music is lovely! I find all of Paddy Kingsland’s music from that era amazingly evocative… Box of Delights, Doctor Who and all the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stuff as well. His style is instantly recogniseable.

The effects on Box of Delights look sumptuous at the time… I remember the scene where Pat Troughton’s character walks into a Alpine painting on the wall, and becomes part of the snow-covered mountain path as it bursts into animated life. It looked great back in 1984, and still holds up OK, I think. Was BoD the most expensive kids’ TV show ever at the time, or have I imagined that?

I also only found out recently that BoD is a sequel! There’s ‘The Midnight Folk’ as well, isn’t there – featuring most of the same characters, but set during the previous summer. I’m surprised that the BBC didn’t have a go at that as well.

I had no idea about that Mike Newell film… I always try to treat stuff like this with an open mind, so I’ll look forward to it. I desperately hope they keep the 1930s period setting, though – that was a big part of the appeal to me as a 12-year-old.

  bobfischer wrote @

I’d like to point out that it was Chris who first mentioned Paddy Kingsland as the Box of Delights composer. I just went along with him to make myself look cool. 🙂

  Dr Giles Parcel wrote @

I’m disappointed to read about the progress of your science lessons. Science should be fascinating but never, ever fun. It is a serious business. Still at least you were stimulated by it and made logical notes about invertebrate excrement. That’s as good as life can be without actually involving the vulgarity of ‘fun’.

Is the Doctor Who book you bought the one with a rehearsal room photograph encompassing the entire purple end of the spectrum? From what I recall it ranges from the palest lilac to the deepest, most intense potassium permanganate inkiness – and that’s just Janet Fielding.

  bobfischer wrote @

Would that be this sensational, sexy double spread?


It’s a brave man that puts a 12-bore shotgun into Janet Fielding’s hands… and it looks like that man is Michael ‘On The Buses’ Robbins. Looking at this picture, I can still feel the resurgence of that terrible adolescent crush. On Janet Fielding that is, not Michael Robbins. Although I dunno… he had a certain something.

Is that Michael ‘Eddie Royle’ Melia on the floor as well? And John Nathan Turner lurking in the background…

  Dr Giles Parcel wrote @

That’s the picture yes but it looks as though it’s been colour-corrected for the paperback edition. I see some worryingly natural skin tones there. The hardback edition has everybody looking a lot more like the Great Grape Ape. Yes that is Michael Melia rehearsing Eddie Royle’s death scene some six or seven years early. He is nothing if not meticulous.
Michael Robbins once declined to buy a pair of avocado dishes of a market stall I was working. He quite liked the dishes but didn’t like the fact that their name was ‘Desmond’ so he ambled away in a cloud of nicotine and distressed leather.

  bobfischer wrote @

Do all items of kitchen crockery have individual names in London? I’m with Michael Robbins on this, that’s just weird. I can picture him pulling his dejected ‘On The Buses’ face as he walked away from your stall. Oh, Arthur!

  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

I really couldn’t say.
I was only working on a market stall to make ends meet pending the award of my MSc. At the time I hadn’t got a Jeremy to piss in.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

I know I watched and loved BOD-but can’t remember anything about it as an adult. Might have to purchase it!

  bobfischer wrote @

Oh do it, honestly… it’s glorious and magical. You won’t regret it all… watch one episode a week, and you’ll be just in time to reach the final instalment on Christmas Eve, which is when it’s set. It’s perfect. 🙂

  Thing wrote @

There was an adaptation of The Midnight Folk on the radio at Christmas about two or three years ago. Abner Brown was in that one too, and it explained something of his origins, as I remember.

  bobfischer wrote @

Ah bugger – had no idea about that! I’ll see if I can track it down somewhere. Thanks, Thing.

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