Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 350

Saturday 15th December 1984

I got up at 10.00 and watched Saturday Superstore till dinner at 12.15. At 12.30 Doug came and we got the 1.00 bus to Stockton. At 1.30 we got there and had a look at the Ghostbusters que but it was far too long so we had a look in Halfords.

Then we browsed round the HMV shop, and after that we ran down the bridge and back. Then we went in Uptons and Smiths, and at 2.10 we got the bus home.

At 2.30, we arrived at my house, then we went down to Doug’s and watched Frankie goes to Hollywood on his video, then Doug’s mam took us down to Yarm in the car. We went to Yarm cycles and picked up Doug’s new bike, which was Marc Thompson’s old Diamond Back, then Doug’s mam bought us a Mars Bar each, and gave me a lift home.

A 5.00 I had tea, then I saw some of Candid Camera and Blockbusters. At 6.00 I watched the last Late Late Breakfast Show, then I just lounged around till 9.00. At 9.00 I saw Holly Johnson and Frankie goes to Hollywood on Wogan, and I saw the last Pushing up daisies at 11.00.

I went to bed at 11.30.

STRIIIIIKE TWO! Yep, this was mine and Doug’s second unsuccessful attempt to see Ghostbusters at the Classic Cinema in Stockton. No advance tickets, no booking available, just a matter of catching the 294 bus from outside my house as the opening titles to Grandstand rolled, then sticking our heads around the corner of Dovecot Street to see how many assorted kids, headcases and tired-looking parents were waiting on the pavement outside the shuttered-up cinema.

For the second time in a fortnight, the answer was (to coin one of our favourite phrases of the time) ‘shitloads’. So we gave up, yet again. I think we toyed with the idea of cheekily pushing into the middle of the queue somewhere, in the hope that no-one would notice/care, but then spotted the three teenage maniacs in bomber jackets carving their initials into Gene Wilder’s face on the ‘Woman In Red’ poster, and decided to go to Halfords instead.

So we arsed about in Stockton, on another freezing, grey, frost-flecked day. Me and my best mate, unsupervised and unleashed, and no doubt making a bloody awful nuisance of ourselves amidst red-nosed Christmas shoppers and harrassed shop assistants alike. Some strange, disparate memories from this festive little adventure…

1. Fighting through the crowds in Stockton’s tiny HMV shop (which was on the High Street in those days, although it’s now long-since vanished) to paw at the 12″ single version of Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ and ponder why Holly Johnson was credited on the sleeve when he isn’t actually on the record. In fact, come to think of it, I still don’t know. Can anyone help? We did all of this to the pounding soundtrack of – brace yourself – Gary Glitter’s ‘Another Rock And Roll Christmas’, which refused to be dislodged from my head for the rest of the day.

2. Fiddling about with bits of bike and spray paint in Halfords, which I also think was in a High Street location rather than its now, slightly out-of-town equivalent. Halfords was always good for a laugh, as they had bike horns, BMX accessories and an assistant who looked like his face had been permanently sprayed with the coating of a 1984 red Nissan Bluebird.

3. The ‘bridge’ was, I think, a little concrete affair that jutted out from the back of Uptons, the Teesside department store that occupied much of the Castlegate Shopping Centre, then – as now – a haven for old ladies in screw-down hats, addicted to the permanent aroma of floor polish and butchers shops. Uptons was great for two reasons… a) It had Spectrum games and b) The man on the electrical counter was a little beardy bloke called Alex who was a friend of my Mum’s and looked a bit like Kenny Everett. He made his own C90 compilation tapes called ‘Now That’s What Alex Calls Terrible Music’ which I thought – in 1984 – was one of the coolest and funniest things I’d ever heard.

Anyway, the bridge ran down to the grotty roadside pavement that ran alongside the sludgy brown River Tees, and we glugged a mouthful of Dr Pepper each before seeing who could spit a foul, sugary jet of the stuff the furthest over the iron railings. Showering any hapless screw-down-hatted pensioners below with a faceful of sticky, brown glop. DON’T CROSS THE STREAMS!!!!

Amazingly, we seem to have done ALL of this in a period of precisely forty minutes, which suggests that either a) Stockton is stuck in some kind of strange, temporal warp (stop it) or b) we were so hepped up on life, festive spirit and Dr Pepper that we were virtually hyperactive. I’m proud to say that we discovered Attention Deficit Disorder years before the professionals, except the only treatment we ever received was my Dad shouting ‘SIT STILL, for God’s sake, I’m trying to get the bloody score-draws for the pools!!!’

And the dividend forecast…? Low.

And yes, Doug had a video recorder! I’ve got a strange feeling that this was a ‘family’ Christmas present, but they’d made a joint decision to open it early, so they could use it to record all the fab and smart 1984 Christmas specials in the run-up to the day itself. It was definitely brand new, and the first time I’d ever seen one, apart from a fleeting dalliance with my Uncle Trevor’s recorder in 1982 when he’d kindly taped the Kenny Everett Television Show for me (I’d missed it when I attended the premiere of Levendale Primary School’s ambitious production of ‘Oliver!’)

I remember Doug excitedly fast-forwarding through Thursday’s Top of the Pops (Peter Powell looked like he was having a seizure) to find that coveted ‘Power of Love’ video…

And then we watched it. Pointing out members of the band (‘There’s Paul!!!’) and marvelling at the arrival of this amazing new technology. I’m pretty sure the machine was a fabled ‘top-loader’, and I’d never been so jealous of anything IN MY LIFE. I mean, if we had one, then I could… record… Doctor Who… and… watch it back… as often as I… … … liked…


I made a vague mental note about asking my parents to send back my already-bought ZX Spectrum, and plump for one of these instead…

And yeah, the second new bike of the year for Doug! I think our garrulous classmate Marc ‘Thompson’ Thompson was upgrading to an even newer, flashier BMX, and a shady inter-family deal had been reached for Doug to buy his old model – subject to it getting the once-over at our beloved Yarm Cycles. We climbed giggling into Doug’s family’s yellow Lada, and – with our breath hanging heavy in the air – stuffed the glistening, silver bike on top of the pushed-down back seats. Before realising that it was now impossible for us all to fit back in the car. So we took it out again, and Doug cycled home by himself, while his Mum drove me back to my front gate with a Mars Bar for compensation.

Oddly, it’s the atmosphere of this day that I remember slightly more vividly than the actual events… the grey-washed out landscapes of mid-1980s Yarm, with the smoke from coal fires wafting across our cobbled streets and the smell of the ‘skinyard’ tanning factory hanging heavily over the flashing lights on the frosted High Street lamp-posts. And the excited buzz of the pre-Christmas period… all carols and brass bands and Wizzard and Slade.

And yes! Holly Johnson was on Wogan (so to speak), and I hung avidly from his every word, wishing – just wishing – I had some way of keeping this interview forever so I could watch it again and again at my leisure.




  Dr. Giles Parcel wrote @

Like queuing outside to see a film, ‘video envy’ is something you’d struggle to explain to the 12 year olds of today. Or rather, they’d laugh at the idea of a television programme that you’d probably never be able to see if you missed its scheduled broadcast. Even if you didn’t manage to record it nowadays, it would be easily available (by fair means or foul) to anyone who was determined to see it. Television was far more transient and ephemeral then, which is why a VCR seemed to be such a magical invention – especially to those of us who didn’t have one!

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Oh I loved our video recorder when we got one (i’m guessing circa 84/85) and i still have all the tapes I recorded from it esp all my A-Ha stuff :O)

We rented our tv and video recorder! Couldn’t afford to buy them back them.

  bobfischer wrote @

Amazing, isn’t it? I still remember the utter, utter envy I felt in 1982 when Andrew Sugden revealed at school that his family not only had a brand new VHS video recorder, but that he’d taped the first-ever British TV screening of Star Wars, and had already watched it six times!!! I actually felt physically sick. And yet I miss the days of everyone watching the same TV programme at the same time. It was a lovely, communal cultural experience.

Fiona, I’ve been trying to remember when we stopped renting a TV as well! I think it was around the end of 1985. I think TVs were much less reliable back then and tended to go wrong much more often, so it made sense to rent them, and then all your repairs were taken care of.

Is it still possibly to rent TVs and videos? When I was a student in 1992/93, our five-man household definitely clubbed together for the monthly rental of a TV and video, but that’s the last I heard of anyone ever doing it.

  Fiona Tims wrote @

I can’t remember when we stopped renting either-it was a good few years I think. Got it from Radio Rentals! I remember us having the same tv for a very long time and it wasn’t like HP where you paid it off and then it was yours.

I have no idea about renting these days, people may still do, but it’s so checp to buy a small tv/video these days it’s not worth it.

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