Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

If You Like A Lot Of Chocolate On Your Biscuit…

…then you’ve probably got self-esteem issues and a weight problem. Alternatively… join our club! Huge thanks to my former Levendale Primary School compadre (and Conyers class 1CW veteran) Chris Byers, who I met up with last week for the first time in years. We spent a leisurely Wednesday afternoon discussing our school days in scarily obsessive detail, and I’ve now discovered that not ALL of my schoolmates were taken on that legendary 1981 trip to High Force waterfall, during which Messrs Hirst and Millward gleefully dangled each grotty schoolboy in turn over the edge of the precipice.  No, on the same day, Chris and a busload of other unfortunates were taken to see… wait for it… the Cleveland Potash Terminal at Tees Dock!

On reflection, I think I got the better deal, even if I still occasionally have nightmares about plummeting headlong onto the Whin Sill rocks in an orange cagoul, as a shower of Trio biscuits and Hula Hoops cascade into the foaming waters around me.

Anyway, Chris revealed – tantalisingly – that he was still in possession of a genuine Levendale Primary School artefact. In 1981, Chris – along with our classmate Tim Scott and my future partner-in-crime Doug Simpson – joined ‘The Famous Five Club’. Yep, THAT Famous Five, the Enid Blyton bunch, whose names I can never remember. Off the top of my head… Dick, Anne, Beaky, Mick and Titch. I think that’s right. I’m guessing this was a fan club run by Puffin Books (or whoever), prompted by the 1978 TV version that I vaguely remember playing warm-up to vintage Leslie Judd-era Blue Peter.

Chris was sure he still had his Famous Five Club membership card somewhere, and – fantastically – he was right…

And on the reverse…

And yes, that’s Doug’s signature. It feels incredibly strange seeing his handwriting again, and brings back a little giddy rush of nostalgia… swimmy-headed memories of reading each others’ rambling stories and random scribblings on cold January mornings in Mrs Keasey’s form room nearly THIRTY SODDING YEARS AGO. Yikes. Chris was wondering why Tim Scott didn’t sign the card as well, but if you look closely at the scan – and I’ve only just noticed this – I think Tim HAS started to sign it, on the line below Doug. There’s definitely a ‘T’ and and ‘I’ there, but it looks like they’ve been written in pencil and then rubbed out! No doubt with a filthy grey rubber containing at least one snapped-off pencil nib embedded into its battle-scarred torso. Maybe Tim had second thoughts, or maybe there’s a darker story to tell here (probably involving a smugglers’ cove, a gypsy girl and one of Uncle Quentin’s strange experiments…) 

I think the only club I ever joined as a kid was – predictably – the Star Wars Fan Club, which I hastily signed up to sometime during my Skywalker-obsessed Summer of 1978. I don’t think I got much for my £3.95 annual membership fee (hey, it was a lot of money in those days) but I remember…

1. A Star Wars knee patch for my trousers (which never got used… I kept it pristine in a shoebox under the bed for years. It’s probably still in the loft somewhere, immaculate and untouched)

2. An ‘iron-on’ transfer for a T-shirt. These were all the rage in the late 1970s, the theory being that you took a plain white T-shirt from your wardrobe and relentlessly pestered your poor, overworked mother to iron the lurid, sticky-backed Star Wars transfer onto the front, thus transforming your drab garment into – HEY PRESTO!!!! – a brilliant, colourful Star Wars T-shirt that would look fabulous for about twenty minutes before Darth Vader’s helmet started to peel off at the edges, then dissolve into a pile of sticky, lurid mush at the bottom of your Mum’s twin-tub washing machine the following Sunday. 

3. A newsletter containing all the LATEST, EXCLUSIVE GOSSIP ABOUT THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE!!! I’ve had to frantically squeeze my brains over the bathroom sink to recall this, but it was called ‘Bantha Tracks’ and had a nice, homespun fanzine quality to it. I’ve probably still got these somewhere as well… I really must get round to sorting through the 2,546 cardboxes boxes of assorted guff in the loft, but I’ll need to take a month off work. Probably worth doing before it all comes through the landing ceiling, though.

I DID find an exciting artefact from my schooldays yesterday, however, but I’ll create an air of entirely unconvincing suspense by waiting until later in the week before posting it on here. Consider that a cliffhanger… (albeit a rubbish one, in which the camera just zooms into my cackling face before the credits roll)

(Utterly pointless bit of true but useless trivia about this advert… it’s Derek Griffiths playing the bongos. There, you can all sleep safely in your beds tonight…)


  Stuart Downing wrote @

Great to see the blog back!!
I remember the Famous Five – the theme tune sounds a bit like one of the Beatles album tracks that Ringo used to sing.
And you’ve just reminded me that I was in the official Star Wars fan club too! I’d completely forgotten – Bantha Tracks it was, and a patch that never got used!

  Chris Byers wrote @

Well spotted Mr F, but I don’t think it was Tim’s signature as I am almost certain he didn’t sign it and at close inspection I can’t see any other letters written.

One thing I did fail to mention about our sightseeing tour of the Tees was the rather glamorous location that we ate our lunch. It’s not everyone who gets to eat there lunch outside the main gate of Hartlepool’s nuclear power station.

  bobfischer wrote @

I don’t think I can keep up a daily blog this year, but I’ll try to do something at least once a week!

I’m pretty sure my Mum persuaded me not to shell out for a second year of Star Wars Fan Club membership… ‘You don’t get much for your money, you’d be better off spending it on the figures from Leslie Brown’s’. I suppose the initial parcel goodies were worth the £3.95, but after that it was down to a flimsy issue of Bantha Tracks three or four times a year. And then the price went up to (I think) £4.95. I got the renewal forms in the Summer of 1979, and – if you weren’t bothering – they asked you to send them back with the reason why. My Mum persuaded me to write ‘lack of communication’ in the box, and paid for the second class stamp to post it. Right on!

And blimey – you’re dead right about The Famous Five theme, I can just imagine Ringo singing that! George would do a twangy Chet Atkins solo in the middle as well. I think I had a bit of a crush on Anne, as I’ve always had a thing for well-spoken sporty girls in hairbands. I got terribly confused about my feelings when Ben Roberts played in goal for Boro.

Chris – fantastic! Can you remember who took you to Hartlepool and Tees Dock? My money’s on Mrs Mulhearn.

  Chris Orton wrote @

Other than the Dennis Menace Fan Club the only other two that I can remember joining were the Oink! comic one and The A-Team Club, which I joined at the point in my life when – shock, horror – I had been lured away from Doctor Who by the glossy U.S. series. With the A-Team club I seem to remember getting some sort of stationary set (pencils, paper, rubber etc, not something that didn’t move), and a Howlin’ Mad Murdoch baseball cap.

I’m wondering if I really did go away from Who for a period, or whether this all happened during the 1985 hiatus now…

  bobfischer wrote @

I was a huge A-Team fan for a very short period… I fell in love with it during the summer holidays in 1983 (which I think might have been when it was first shown in the UK?), and returned to school in September not sure if any of my friends had been watching it as well.

I’ve got really vivid memories of our first day back at school, and a huge gang of likely lads sitting around a table in Mrs Keasey’s form room. I asked, out of the blue, if anyone else had been watching The A-Team, and there was an explosion of ‘COR YEAH, IT’S AMAAAAZING!!!’

This was the first day that Doug reappeared at our school as well, after two years away living in Australia. I hadn’t known him too well during his first spell at Levendale, but found myself sitting next to him on this day, and we clicked instantly. We must have become friends very quickly, as I was invited round to his house as his ‘best mate’ on his birthday five weeks later.

Paul Frank and Andrew ‘Stan’ Henry were both there round the table, and I remember Frankie also talking about a) how it wasn’t REALLY that far to Christmas (we all sagely nodded) and b) that when he grew up he wanted to cruise around Yarm in a big open-top Cadillac with flames on the side, and the rest of us lot leering out of the back.

Another unfulfilled ambition! (Unless I just wasn’t invited)

I’d stopped watching The A-Team by 1984 really, I just seemed to grow out of it very quickly and head straight back to Doctor Who. Robin of Sherwood actually tested my loyalty much more… I’d loved the first series with an abiding passion, but was gutted when the second series was scheduled directly opposite Colin Baker’s first series of Doctor Who. I think I was able to watch the first 20 minutes or so of Robin before turning over for, erm… Timelash…

  Drew Smith wrote @

Five comments and nobody has mentioned Garry Russell’s magnificent Dick? I’m shocked.

  bobfischer wrote @

It’s seminal. Still stands up. Etc etc…

  Mark Hirst wrote @

Had I been in charge of the `lesser trip` you’d have all been dangled carelessly above Tees Dock and lunch would have involved a stroll around the main reactors. “Herbert……….go and grab a couple of those rods please”

Memory tells me it was a Mrs Moore/Mrs Mulhearn joint lead on that one.

The Hartlepool Power Station Trip was big in the 80’s and 90’s as British Nuclear Fuels were keen to market the safety and cleanliness of their product. All the kids got great `goody bags`, which alarmingly gave off an eerie glow when left in a darkened room.

Health and Safety…pah!!

  Fiona Tims wrote @

Oooooh I got a rush of excitment because there is a new blog entry to read! I’m such a saddo!!

THat’s my comment ;p

  Thing wrote @

I remember the Famous Five books used to have an advert for their club at the back, with the same drawing as shown on the membership card there, in the 70s. I thought about joining a the time, but never did in the event. So at least I now know what the material would have been like.

  bobfischer wrote @

Mr H – of course! It was a nuclear energy charm offensive, wasn’t it? ‘Hey kids, don’t believe all that stuff about Sellafield on John Craven’s Newsround… come and see how nuclear power is THE clean and healthy fuel of the future!’

I remember, at Conyers, being shown one of those great 1960s Public Information Films about nuclear energy… lots of smiling cartoon happy families (complete with waggy dog) living in the shadow of a gigantic, glowing reactor. ‘Sir Anthony Eden personally guarantees that, by the year 1981, every house in Britain will be powered by its own mini-nuclear power station!’ That kind of thing. Great stuff. I feel a bit left out that I went to rotten old High Force now.

Anyway, welcome back Fiona! And Thing… I bet you’re glad you saved your money now you’ve seen the merchandise. 🙂

  Chris Byers wrote @

Perhaps I should clarify that we didn’t actually have a tour of the power station, we just had our lunch outside. I think the idea was to try and inspire us to build our own nuclear reactor back at Levendale but surprisingly they didn’t posses any uranium (something to do with some health and safety nonsense). I suppose we could have used a couple of Spam fritters instead, I’m sure they would have worked just as well.

  bobfischer wrote @

‘By the year 1982, one in four homes in Sheffield will be powered by Spam Fritter…’

How come if you ate the school’s food, it was a school dinner, but if you ate your own, it was a packed lunch? Did anyone ever have a school lunch or a packed dinner?

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