Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 364

Saturday 29th December 1984

I got up at 8.00 and we went to Stockton. I got some graph paper and a tape from Smiths, and when we got back I had dinner. At 12.30 Doug came and we got the bus to Stockton again. Then we got in to see Ghostbusters, and it was great!

At 5.00 dad came and picked us up, and at home I had tea. Then I started writing a Dr Who program, and at 8.45 I saw the Price is right, following on from Russ Abbott. Then I played Jet Set Willy, and at 11.20 I saw Jasper Carrott.

I went to bed at 12.00.

Yay! Another nail in the coffin of my non-geeky childhood! Yes, after four full days messing around playing OTHER PEOPLE’S games on my brand new ZX Spectrum, I thought it was high time I started writing my own. I had the whole thing planned meticulously… I think I’d read about Jet Set Willy selling nearly a million copies, and – I guessed – making a wealthy man of its 17-year-old creator Matthew Smith. So it seemed fair to assume that if I got the early bus into Stockton to buy some graph paper (to design computer graphics on with my impressive assortment of felt-tip pens) and a blank TDK D90 cassette, then I might – just might – be a millionaire myself by the end of February.

This wasn’t just an idle, fleeting fantasy… until the age of about 15, it was the only career I ever envisaged for myself. I would be a computer games whizzkid, would leave school before taking my GCSEs, buy my first Aston Martin at the age of 17 and be living in Barbados before my 21st birthday. Any school initiative remotely connected to careers advice tended to stall at the first hurdle, because ALL I wanted to do with my life was write games for the ZX Spectrum, and ‘there isn’t really anything connected to that in my folder. Have you thought about teaching for a living?’

(Although huge kudos to our deputy headmaster Mr Dixon, who – at a 1987 meeting with my and my parents to discuss my GCSE ‘options’ – listened patiently to my ramblings about Match Day II and Alien 8 before telling me I should start sending samples of my programming to software houses – ‘dip your toe in the water’ was the phrase he used – and that I should definitely be looking at Computer Studies and Art as potential GCSE subjects. He was absolutely brilliant, and I took his advice to the letter. Nothing ever came of it, but credit to him for taking me remotely seriously!)

Nevertheless, 25 years ago today, I put my ambitions on hold for the afternoon because a) it was time for my dinner, and b) DOUG AND I WERE GOING TO SEE GHOSTBUSTERS!!!

And so, barely an hour after getting the bus back home from Stockton, we made the return 30-minute journey on the 294 from the Detention Centre bus stop, giggling and farting and swearing all the way. This, remember, was our third attempt to see Ghostbusters at the cinema… the previous two having ended in crushing disappointment after waiting on the pavement outside the the Classic Cinema for up to two hours in the pissing rain and freezing cold, only to be turned away by the sour-faced harridan on the door. ‘Sorry lads, full up… you’ll have to try again tomorrow…’

(And yes, that’s the actual Classic Cinema – I found a picture! It’s a shot from 1972, but it hadn’t changed at all by 1984. The whole building has been demolished now, but that brings it all back – especially the pavement! www.picturestockton.co.uk is full of this stuff, and well worth a rummage. Sour-faced harridan not pictured)

The film had been out for over three weeks now, so we thought we were in with a decent chance and, as we turned the corner of Dovecot Street and peered hopefully down towards the cinema front, our hearts leapt. There were about thirty assorted kids, nutters and haggard-looking parents shivering against the ‘Woman In Red’ poster, but no more than that. We were DEFINITELY going to get in!!! We joined the back of the queue, and waited for about an hour… and, as we stamped our feet, blew into our hands and had fun with the early stages of hypothermia, flurries of feathery snow began to swirl across the traffic from Prince Regent Street.

The first real snow of the winter! Four days late, obviously, but still magical. It didn’t stick around for too long, but it’s a lovely childhood moment that I’ll always remember. Standing outside the Classic Cinema with my best mate, four days after Christmas, about to watch Ghostbusters with snowflakes the size of puppys’ paws floating around our mop-topped heads. Glorious.

Do I need to write much about Ghostbusters, or will ‘it was great‘ still do? It IS a great film, although I haven’t seen it for nearly twenty years. But it has Bill Murray being hilarious, Sigourney Weaver being gorgeous, a scary ghost pensioner in a library, and a 200-foot killer marshmallow man. Oh, and the line ‘this man has no dick’, which made Doug and I double over in the back row and chortle like idiots. Pretty much everything any 12-year-old boy wants from a film, really, and – when we emerged from the crimson cinema foyer – the pavements were covered in a crunchy layer of snow, lit orange by the flickering streetlights as more dancing snowflakes whirled gracefully through a grumbling night sky.

Within five minutes, my Dad’s Reliant Scimitar hoved into view through a dwindling throng of busy post-Christmas shoppers, and we were heading back home again. Doug to have his tea and spend a night in front of the telly, me to work on that long-awaited ZX Spectrum Doctor Who game, complete with blocky blue TARDIS and Daleks that went ‘bip-bop-bip’ instead of their trademark ‘Exterminate’.

Sell the Reliant Scimitar, Dad – we’ll all be driving Aston Martins before you know it!

(By the way, is it wrong of me to get stupidly excited about finding a bit of BBC1 continuity from this VERY DAY?!?)


  Chris Orton wrote @

What I like best about that 1980’s style continuity is that you used to get proper announcers back then, who all seemed to have a proper handle on the job. None of your quipping, passing opinion, overly familiar announcers that you get these days back then were there? They all sounded like they had been to a special BBC school where they had to learn how to do continuity properly. I’d much rather listen to them between the programmes than the ones we have these days.

  illegibleme wrote @

“And yes, that’s the actual Classic Cinema – I found a picture! It’s a shot from 1972, but it hadn’t changed at all by 1984.”

I hope they weren’t still showing ‘Chisum’.

  bobfischer wrote @

Chris – yeah, I love old-school TV continuity. That sense of effortless authority… ‘THIS is BBC1…’ The modern lot try to sound too much like their snuggling up on the sofa with you. ‘Tell you what, you’ll love what’s coming up next on BBC1…’

Drew – I’m not ruling it out! ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth’ was seen as a current affairs documentary in 1980s Stockton.

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