Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 330

Sunday 25th November 1984

I got up at 10.00 and mapped some more of House of Hell, then Nora and Ed came so I just sat around. At 12.00 I had dinner, then I finished mapping. After that I went out and met dad on the field, and we walked Poggy Doggy and Ponsonby back home.

When I got home I was bored till tea at 5.00, then I listened to the charts. At 6.00 we took Grandma home, and at 7.00 I got home. At 7.15 I watched The Royal Variety performance Part I and at 8.30 I went in the shower.

At 9.00 I watched Part II, and at 10.15 I went to bed.

A day on which I clearly spent quite a bit of time completely bored out of my mind, which was unusual for me. Even if I wasn’t terrorising the streets of Yarm with Doug, then there was almost always a book to read, a telly programme to watch, a computer game to play or a picture to draw. And I threw myself into all of these activities with aggressive, youthful vigour. However, on the rare occasions that I was bored, this also got my fullest efforts… so I can guarantee that I’ll have spent most of this day very conspicuously yawning, rolling my eyes, looking at my watch and filling the front room with the most sarcastic-sounding sighs in my ever-increasing armoury of pre-teen discontent.

So apologies, 25 years on, to poor Nora and Ed! OK, the story here… (grab yourself a cuppa, it’s a long one). In 1923, at the age of 14, my now-famous Gran had moved from her home in the East End of London to Teesside, for reasons no-one in the family seems entirely certain of to this day. When she arrived up here, she was unofficially adopted by the sprawling Wilson family of Middlesbrough. Shortly after she arrived, the family’s latest son George Wilson was born, and – throughout his life – George referred to my Gran as his cousin, despite the fact that they weren’t actually blood relatives.  

In the 1940s, George married Peg – who everyone still insists is a dead ringer for the Queen, despite her constant denials – and by 1984 they were living in Eaglescliffe, just a mile up the road from our house in Yarm. Nora is Peg’s sister, and Ed is her husband – a handsome Canadian airman who piloted straight to her heart during the latter stages of World War II.

They lived in Lincoln, and only made rare forays up to Teesside once or twice a year, but this was clearly one of those occasions. They’ll have been (I think) in their early sixties by 1984, and my Mum will have had the house spick and span, with a nice pot of tea and some almond slices on the coffee table, ready for their arrival.

My Gran, of course, was still at our house after staying over the previous evening, and so – for two hours – the front room will have been filled with lively chatter, laughter and wistful memories about friends, family and times gone by. My Mum might even have dragged down the battered leather suitcase of old black and white family photos from the loft. The sort of thing that now – aged 37 – I’d find utterly fascinating, but as a gloomy 12-year-old, I was just counting the seconds until I could get my bloody Fighting Fantasy maps out again.

Or – as I put it euphemistically in my diary – ‘I just sat around’. 

‘So how’s school?’ Nora will have asked cheerily, dunking a pink wafer biscuit into her tea. ‘S’alright,’ I’ll have shrugged, like the miserable, self-centred oik I was. Sorry.

(I’m still capable of being just as ill-mannered and self-centered these days, by the way, but as least now I’m entirely aware of my deficiencies as a human being. When I was 12, it was everybody else’s fault…)

I’m pleased to say that Nora and Ed have now sailed past their eightieth birthdays and are still alive and well and living in Lincoln, although – sadly – the last time I saw them both was at George’s funeral in July 2007. Peg is still in fine fettle though, and I’m popping round on Friday to thank her for my birthday wine. I’ll do a little curtsy and call her ‘your majesty’ under my breath. 

(By the way, I’m thrilled to discover that Jeanette Charles – pictured above – is still around and still ‘being’ The Queen at the grand old age of 82! She was EVERYWHERE on TV when I was a kid, and – every time she appeared – my Mum would sniff dismissively and say ‘Peg loks more like the Queen than she does’)

And I’d forgotten about the ‘half-walks’ I used to do! I’m appallingly indecisive (no I’m not… yes I am…) and frequently, as my Dad shrugged into his coat to take our two dogs onto the field that backed onto our garden, I’d mutter indifferently and claim to be ‘not bothered’ about accompanying him. And then, fifteen minutes later, I’d change my mind, and hare out across the field to meet the distant Dad and dog-shaped silhouettes on the horizon. Usually lamping a half-inflated football across the wet grass ahead of me. And then my Dad would take a few penalties at me while the dogs skulked and peed around the school goalposts, and I’d walk home with my jeans and T-shirt covered in a thick layer of sticky brown mud.

(Ponsonby, in case you were wondering, was my Gran’s dog, by this time a permanent member of our family… the insane, snappy sister of Poggy Doggy, she was one of the most schizophrenic dogs I’ve ever encountered, and could turn from irresistable cuddliness to psychopathic violence within nanoseconds. Probably not helped by the fact that I spent at least 75.3% of my time at home trying to wind her up with a constant frenzy of prods, pokes and tugs of the tail. Although she was christened ‘Tina’, my Dad nicknamed her ‘Ponsonby’ as an homage – I discovered much later – to the cat in Reggie Perrin. He didn’t get where he is today without naming his dog after the cat in Reggie Perrin)

A quick sojourn back to Acklam to take my Gran home, and then back in time for the Royal Variety Performance. Like Children in Need two days earlier, it’s an event that it’s easy to become cynical about in later life, but to me – as a TV-obsessed 12-year-old – it was simply a cracking night in. Loads of my favourite bands, comedians, TV stars and novelty acts crammed into one sprawling live show that kept me away from my Geography homework for a full two hours on a freezing Sunday night. 

And rest of the country seemed to agree, as I’ve just discovered that this was the most-watched TV show of 1984, racking up a staggering 20.55 million viewers! Although, oddly, I’m struggling to find out who actually appeared onstage that night… the only one I can find for certain is Keith Harris and Orville! Can anyone help? I can’t believe there’s so seemingly so little information out there.

Let’s have a sweep… I’m putting my money on Bruce Forsyth, Paul Daniels, Bucks Fizz and Roy ‘Slither’ Jay. Any bets? Oh, and I’m also now overwhelmed with an insatiable desire to eat a pink wafer biscuit for the first time in twenty years. Anyone know if they’re still available?


  Thing wrote @

I did actually watch the 1984 Royal Variety Performance, unusually for me, as I don’t normally bother.

It was introduced by Paul Nicholas singing “Something peculiar…something for EVERYONE on comedy TO-NIGHT!” surrounded by female dancers. There was also a bit at the start where David Frost was doing a spoken introduction only for the bit of stage he was standing on to gradually sink below, taking him out of sight.

Rowan Atkinson was on, wearing a large mac and doing a stand up routine as an aggressive irritated man (grumbling about Dentists – “Now this won’t hurt…” and miming and screaming the resultant agony).

There was also a running gaga where Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes played a couple of workmen who were carrying a huge Yucca planet around as a gift for the Royals, and they’d keep periodically running on and off the stage between acts, implying they were lost and couldn’t find their way to them.

  Justin wrote @

Not sure if thing is muddling up two performances (and Bob, I think you scored 1 out of 4). The list I’ve found is:

Leslie Crowther
Billy Dainty
Paul Nicholas
Bernie Winters
Jimmy Cricket
The Dancers
Mr. Magoo
Brian Andro
Stuart Fell
The Acrobats
Master Anthony Gatto
Keith Harris
Dennis Norden
The Bell Ringers
Les Dennis & Dustin Gee
Angharad Rees
Matthew Kelly
Charlie Drake
Russell Grant
Frank Finlay
Simon Callow
Eileen Atkins
Jean Marsh
Harvey and the Wallbangers
Paul Eddington
The Tillers
Ronnie Corbett
On Your Toes
Roy Hudd
Terry Wogan
James Galway
Henry Mancini
Bill Owen
Peter Sallis
Brian Wilde
David Jacobs
Howard Keel
Paul Daniels
Members of the “Me And My Girl” Company

  Thing wrote @

Np, I’m positive it’s the 1984 one I’m thinking of, it’s the only one from that era I really watched much of. I remember Atkinson and Princes Diana chatting cordially when she met all the artists in a line-up. As seen on this photo, dated that year too:


Those Bell Ringers ring a bell, too, as it were, think I remember them now, vaguely. Owen, Sallis and Wilde, presumably doing a bit of LOTSW, sounds oddly familiar too.

  Thing wrote @

I think you can still get pink wafer biscuits in biscuit selection boxes, by the way.

I wouldn’t about being unhelpful when being asked about school. There probably aren’t all that many people who like being reminded of their school or their jobs when they’re relaxing at home. That’s a time to be putting stuff like that out of mind, which is why a lot of us don’t encourage conversation on that subject, whatever our ages. It’s just that when we’re older, we’re a bit better at making the right diplomatic noises to indicate that without saying so directly.

  Chris Orton wrote @

You can certainly still get pink wafer biscuits – and not just in selection boxes. Who made them? Was it Peak Freans? Or Crawfords?

  bobfischer wrote @

Blimey! Just catching up with all this. I’ll definitely hunt down some pink water biscuits this week and report back about the manufacturer.

Thanks for all the Variety Show stuff as well… I definitely remember a Last of the Summer Wine sketch taking place onstage, but I’m not getting caught up in the dating controversy. This is worse than UNIT!

I wonder if Simon Callow was onstage in character as Tom from Chance In A Million? Great to hear it’s finally getting a DVD release in 2010!

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Pink wafer biscuits??…..bleurgh!

  bobfischer wrote @

I keep forgetting to get some… leave it with me… 🙂

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