Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 358

Sunday 23rd December 1984

I got up at 10.00, and at 11.00 Doug came down and we played Quest for the Rings. At 12.00 we had dinner and then we had a ride down the mud track and saw Pot. At 2.30 I came home and at 3.10 I watched Scrooge.

At 5.15 I saw Jasper Carrot got this mole. At 5.30 I had tea, and at 6.20 Richard Moxham rang me from Canada! At 7.15 I saw Ever Decreasing Circles, at 7.45 I saw Big Deal, at 8.30 I saw Steptoe and Son, and at 10.10 I saw Frank and Selina’s christmas time.

I went to bed at 10.45.

Christmas Eve Eve! A phrase I coined, I think, on the 23rd December 1982 when I decided – surely perfectly reasonably- that, as the day before Christmas Day was Christmas Eve, then clearly the day before that was Christmas Eve Eve. I think I even toyed with calling the 22nd December Christmas Eve Eve Eve at one point – desperate to somehow bring the Great Day itself just that LITTLE bit closer in my head. No doubt, given half a chance, I’d strung this out backwards throughout the year, so that – say –  5th April became Christmas Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve (times 263). I think someone would have hit me over the head with a Doctor Who Easter Egg long before that, though.

Anyway, a dark and rainy day I think, and a last little scurry around the streets of Yarm for Doug and I before we went our seperate ways for Christmas. But first… a quick bash at Quest for the Rings on the Philips G7000 Videopac console, no doubt inspired by my games-hogging antics round at Gareth ‘Gazzie’ Jones house the previous day. I don’t think Doug was ever QUITE as enthusiastic as me about Exciting! New! Computer! Games! but he gamely showed a bit of interest and waggled a joystick if it made for a quiet life. Providing we could go out on our bikes afterwards.

(Oddly enough, I remember clearly that we played on the G7000 using the portable TV in my parents’ bedroom, so my Dad must have been watching the telly downstairs. BBC1 was showing Bonanza, and ITV had The Smurfs and CHiPs, so take your pick. And that’s just given me a great idea for an exciting new fast food venture. Brilliantly, from 9am – 2pm, BBC2 showed nothing but ‘Pages from CEEFAX’. Merry Christmas, Everybody!!!)

Pot was our 1cw classmate Vince Potter, a friendly and funny lad who had already promised to make me a full C90 tape of his games when I got that coveted ZX Spectrum for Christmas. I think he was just killing time by himself on the swings at the mud track. It’s amazing how much your perception of those pre-Christmas days changes as you get older. Now, aged 37, I just can’t find the hours to cram in everything I  need to do… finishing off work, meeting deadlines, buying and wrapping presents, writing and delivering cards, faffing about endlessly with dogs and friends and family and stuff and desperately trying to cram in the odd, relaxing sit down with a glass of sherry. 

When I was a kid, the week leading up the Christmas was without a doubt THE slowest week of the year. I had nothing whatsoever to do but hang around waiting for Christmas morning, and the seconds ticked by with interminable reluctance. Half-hour TV shows seemed to last all evening. I’d cycle around the streets for hours, only to return home and find that twenty minutes had passed. Every toy and game and book and comic in my bedroom seemed startlingly dull and dreary compared to the wondrous NEW SHINY THINGS that were to come.

So I think Doug and Vince and I were just trying to idle away a bit of that. It didn’t work, though. We jumped around half-heartedly at the mud track for an hour, and the minutes flowed like treacle. I can’t remember saying goodbye to Doug on the way back, but we won’t have made a meal of it.

‘Have a good Christmas. Seeya’

That kind of thing. No-one had invented emotions in 1984. We’d have all made brilliant Jedi Knights (although I’d probably have struggled with the hand-to-eye co-ordination, I was still having problems with shoelaces at that stage) 

Scrooge was on ITV at 3.15pm. It’s the musical version with Albert Finney, and I’ve no recollection of it at all… although I do remember watching the glorious Alistair Sim version on Christmas Eve afternoon a couple of years later, and my Dad – who always had a vaguely ironic cynicism about the festive period – proclaiming it ‘a great film with a terrible cop-out ending’. I loved it as well, and remember being thrilled to see George ‘Arfur Daley’ Cole in a minor role.

And ‘Jasper Carrot Got This Mole’! Brilliant… I’d forgotten all about this, but it’s a strange and lovely little animated version of one of Carrott’s live stand-up routines. Like Kenny Everett, Carrot was one of my childhood comedy heroes, and (also like Kenny) I still think his influence in modern comedy is hugely underrated… he played a huge part in dragging comedy away from the old club circuit comedians into the more personal, observational style, and his Carrot’s Lib shows – late night BBC1 Saturday shows in the early 80s – seemed possibly daring and risque at the time. One of the shows that skirted the boundaries of stuff that I was allowed to watch, but – when I got away with it – it all felt excitingly grown-up and radical. Routines about sex, politics and nuclear war were a giant leap away from Are You Being Served and Dad’s Army, and watching his shows felt like a trembling step into a brave new world.  

Amazingly, the whole animated routine is here… still great stuff, I think!

And hello to Richard Moxham! Now immortalised in ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ (something he took with delightfully good grace considering we’d barely spoken for 25 years) Richard was one of my best mates throughout my early childhood, and I’d been shocked and upset in the Summer of 1981 when – aged 8 – he and his family emigrated to Canada. We kept in touch by post (writing reams of nonsense on that ultra-flimsy special ‘Air Mail’ paper that would rip into shreds if you attempted to cross anything out) and I think this was the second year running that he’d phoned in the days leading up to Christmas.

I still remember the shock in my Mum’s voice a year earlier, the first time he’d done it… ‘I think it’s Richard Moxham… phoning FROM CANADA!!!’ I’d nearly fainted myself. Back in the early 1980s, it still seemed unfeasibly flamboyant and extravagant to make an international phone call. It was something that only rock stars and Prime Minsters did. In fact, I remember my parents sucking their teeth and taking sharp intakes of breath whenever they needed to make a national phone call to somewhere outside Teesside! And thus, my weekly plans to call Swap Shop and speak to Adam and the Ants were perpetually scuppered. ‘London?!?! You want to phone LONDON? You might as well just chuck the money in a bucket and set fire to it…’ 01 811 8055, as if you needed to ask.

Lovely to speak to Richard though, even on an international phone line that sounded like strings and paper cups were involved somewhere in the technology. And his now-strong Canadian twang made him sound enough like a rock star (or a Prime Minister) to justify the EXTRAORDINARY expense.

And then back to the telly! The Ever Decreasing Circles Christmas Special (the one where everyone comes to stay at Martin and Anne’s house, of course), the penultimate episode of Big Deal and – hey! – Frank and Selina’s Christmas Time. A rare evening spin-off from the BBC Breakfast show, on BBC1 at 10.10pm. According to the Radio Times…

‘Frank Bough and Selina Scott present a star-studded curtain-raiser to your Christmas viewing. With special studio guests and clips including Mary Poppins, The Two Ronnies, Hi-De-Hi and Absurd Person Singular. Special reports by Mike Smith from the set of Christmas Day edition of Just Good Friends, and a magical occasion where Paul Daniels conjures up some Christmas surprises. Barry Norman makes his choice of feature films’.

I remember it well… oddly enough, it was the ‘little’ shows like that made me feel incredibly Christmassy, not the big, sprawling spectaculars. A sofa, a few familiar TV faces, a pastel-shaded set covered in tinsel, and a genuinely warm feeling of ‘IT’S CHRISTMAS BECAUSE THE BBC SAYS SO’.

My Mum, Dad and Gran were all in situ in the front room by this point, and I sprawled across my usual front room armchair with a glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, ticking off a few more vital seconds. 35 minutes long, going on six hours.

(And, fantastically, here’s the BBC1 closedown from this very day! Enjoy…)



  Thing wrote @

George Cole was playing the younger Scrooge, which was sort of a minor role, I suppose, but still a fairly important one for the story, you could say, and he appears in quite a few scenes. Alastair Sim was something of a mentor/father figure to him when he was young apparently, so it’s nice that they got to play the same role in a film.

The Albert Finney is at a bit of a remove from most of the others, being a musical, although it does have David “Silver/the voice of Monkey/Mawdryn” Collings as Bob Cratchit.

Have you ever seen the George C Scott one? That has Mark “Turlough” Strickson as young Scrooge…

  Fiona Tims wrote @

I’m obviously missing something-but how does someone move to Australia and gain a Canadian accent?

  bobfischer wrote @

Thing – definitely never seen the Mark Strickson version! I’ll keep an eye open for it. Brilliantly, on Christmas Day this year, my Dad dug out the Alistair Sim version on DVD and we watched it while we ate our dinner. Great stuff.

Fiona – my mistake, oops! He definitely moved to Canada, and he’s still there. Corrected it now. 🙂

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