Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 362

Thursday 27th December 1984

At 9.00 I saw Charlie Brown, and then I got up and played on the Spectrum. At 11.00 we went to Middlesbrough and I got the code card for Jet Set Willy. I also exchanged £5.00 and Alchemist for the Ghostbusters tape.

At 2.30 I got home and played my games till tea at 5.00. Then I played Jet Set Willy till 6.00, when I went out in the frost. After that I typed in a game called LOGO and at 7.40 I saw Kenny Everett. At 8.20 I

Anyone like to hazard a guess that I wrote this diary entry at 8.15pm and never went back to it?

Another day of which I have very clear memories… even of watching ‘He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown’ on the crackly black & white portable TV perched precariously on my grubby bedside table. No buttons or remote control, just a round, bakelite knob (stop giggling) that spun through the TV channels, BBC1 and Tyne Tees occasionally breaking the surface of a sea of static and white noise. Infuriating if you were trying to get a good reception to watch The Red Hand Gang of a morning, but strangely exciting when you chanced upon a fuzzy, buzzy reception of Yorkshire TV and watched programmes that we in Tyne Tees land were clearly NEVER MEANT TO SEE.

I caught lots of Yorkshire TV episodes of The Twilight Zone (glossy 1980s version) during illicit wee-hours sessions on school nights in the late 1980s, watching them out of the corner of my eye while standing on the bed, holding the metal aerial at JUST THE RIGHT ANGLE in my outstretched hand.  

And then the traditional post-Christmas ‘swopping stuff’ visit to Middlesbrough! All year, I’d been longing to play Jet Set Willy on the ZX Spectrum… absolutely THE game that any self-respecting 12-year-old oik HAD to have in his collection, and – for months – I’d dreamt of playing it ALL THE WAY through Christmas Day. When it came to the crunch, however, I couldn’t… because my copy was lacking this…

Yes, the legendary Jet Set Willy Code Card! It’s an anti-piracy device. Clearly sick of devilishly clever 12-year-old oiks running off copies of Jet Set Willy for each other using their Dads’ precious tape-to-tape sound systems,  Software Projects had decided to combat this by asking all budding Willies (stop it) to enter one of the four-colour combinations from the above card into the Spectrum before the game was allowed to commence. Presumably assuming that no 12-year-old in their right mind would be arsed to sit down with green, blue, red and magenta* felt-tip pens and create a replica for themselves on a the back of a packet of Benson & Hedges. Entirely incorrectly, of course… that’s exactly what we did.

*Magenta being a colour ONLY ever known to ZX Spectrum obsessives. Along with its pale blue counterpart, Cyan. Sir Clive was a romantic old sod at heart, wasn’t he?  

Still, the sullen teenage girl on the computer counter downstairs in Boots wordlessly handed over the required code card from her drawer, and I also swopped the – frankly – crap ‘Alchemist’ for the big-money (£9.99) ZX Spectrum game of ‘Ghostbusters’, a film – lest we forget – that I hadn’t actually seen yet.  Doug and I had failed dismally to get into a crowded Classic Cinema on two occasions in December, but we were determined to have another go before the end of 1984…

Not today, though. Today belonged to Jet Set Willy…

I still go bit a giddy and mushy watching the game in action. It’s still one of the best computer games ever played, despite the fact that it DOESN’T ACTUALLY WORK. No really… you can’t complete it. The aim is to guide the nouveau-riche Miner Willy around his 60-room mansion to clear up all the detritus from a wild party, but one room (The Attic) contains a bug that prevents you from entering several other rooms, thus rendering the whole exercise completely pointless. Do you know what, though? It doesn’t matter. The fun is in the journey. The whole thing is so brilliantly mad, so splendidly English and twisted and perverse that – 25 years on – I couldn’t give a twisting sausage if I never complete it. I still play it on  my PC with a Spectrum emulator, and I still love it. It’s the gaming world’s Monty Python, its White Album, its Apocalypse Now. Huge, sprawling, overblown, brilliant and utterly, utterly mental.

(And if anyone in the world can put me in touch with its creator, Matthew Smith, for a radio interview, I’d be eternally grateful. He vanished for years and spent time messing about with motorbikes in a Dutch commune, but I believe he’s now back in the UK and calling himself ‘Matt from Earth’…)

So I spent all day in my bedroom, stuck in Willy’s Mansion and the Ghostbusters HQ, goggle-eyed in front of that crackly portable TV, now lashed up to my spanking new ZX Spectrum. This was pretty much the pattern for the next four years of my live, and – in retrospect – I really SHOULD have got out a little bit more. Still, the sight of the frost sparkling in the freezing night air was at least enough to drag me into the garden for an hour. One of those frosts so thick and solid and white that – as a kid – you convince yourself that it’s JUST LIKE SNOW. While spinning arse over breakfast half a dozen times on the ten-yard walk from the kitchen door to the tarzie.

And I’ve written reams and reams about Kenny Everett in this blog throughout the course of 1984, so suffice to say that his 1984 Christmas Special – broadcast 25 years ago today – was as insanely enjoyable as ever. The only clip I can find from it features Culture Club performing ‘Mistake No 3’ but hey… I’ll have watched it at time, and it’s a lovely slice of authentic 1984 Christmas.

And, after 25 years, the truth can finally be revealed. What I ACTUALLY did at 8.20pm was


  F Fuzzy wrote @

Feet! Razor blades! bleeps! I could’ve quite happily watched jet set willy for a couple of hours rather than the 3mins 19secs on display. I seem to remember photocopies of coloured cards at the layfield social club that never worked? Anyway, Thanatos was easily the best speccy game ever.

  F Fuzzy wrote @

Just watched the ghostbusters clip! who recorded the “he slimed me” soundbite anyway? brought me right back.

  bobfischer wrote @

Hey Mr Fuzzy! I trust you’ve got a Speccy emulator for your PC? Go on, download one now and treat yourself to a full day of Willy. So to speak. And then come back here and tell us all how to get past the Banyan Tree.

I remember it taking me ages back in 1984 to work out what ‘He smiled me’ actually WAS, probably because I hadn’t seen the film at that point! Early Spectrum speech was great, wasn’t it? Like listening to someone with a severe speech impediment talking on a badly-tuned longwave radio.

  Drew Smith wrote @

The very funny Angry Video Game nerd reviews the Ghostbusters NES Game – which is basically the same as the ZX version – here:

  bobfischer wrote @

Clearly a spoilt kid… in Yarm in 1984, the Ghostbusters ZX Spectrum game was A VISION OF THE FUTURE.

Anyway, the NES console didn’t come out until 1985, by which time any self-respecting kid had moved onto Back to the Future. He’s obviously just bitter at being stuck in the past.

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