Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Dear Parent/Guardian…

Alright, you asked for it… actually, no, scrap that. You didn’t. But I did mention that, amidst the Ker-Plunk accessories and spider droppings in the loft, I’d found another priceless artefact from my 1980s school days. And – excitingly – here it is…


Yes, a bona fide letter! Signed by our shiny-domed headmaster Mr Metcalfe and distributed to the grotty footsoldiers of 1CW by Mrs Bush during morning registration. Chris Byers and I hadn’t quite cranked up our ‘Statler and Waldorf’ routine by July 1987, so we’ll have had to sneer and grumble about Mr Metcalfe’s words of wisdom from opposite ends of the classroom. In fact, in 1987, I was forming an unbelievably annoying double act at the front of the class with Chris Selden… tousle-haired Douglas Adams-obsessed genius and the star of Chapter Six of ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’.

I’m still quite proud of the fact that, by July 1987, we were quoting The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy SO MUCH that Mrs Bush – on the verge of a nervous breakdown – actually had to ask us to stop. We were 14, and would respond to her every utterance by smugly whispering ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy has this to say on the subject of…’ before giggling into our ski jacket sleeves. I think it was the Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’s opinion on Mr Ledgerwood that finally forced her to snap.*

(*’Mr Ledgerwood is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how mind-bogglingly big he is. I mean…’ etc)

Anyway, that letter…


Something like that, anyway. Note: When I found Mr Metcalfe’s letter last week, it was tucked inside the front cover of Tricolore 4, in which Jean-Pierre and Marie-Claire visit La Rochelle to buy a Croque Monsieur for their ‘oncle’.  

2. ‘Some parents may be unaware that their child is leaving the site at lunchtime and going into Yarm instead of staying for school lunch’. Something of an understatement, I think… by 1987, if you wanted to find a Conyers School pupil between the hours of 12 and 1pm, then the LAST place you wanted to be looking was Conyers School. The main dining hall was actually serving tumbleweed and chips during this era (possibly literally, actually… I once caught of a glimpse of a cottage pie that looked like it had blown in straight from the streets of Dodge City) 

My house was less than five minutes walk from the Conyers gates, so I didn’t head to Yarm… I just went home. There was no requirement to tell anyone, I just wandered off, and no-one cared.  I didn’t eat a single meal on the school premises between Christmas 1984 and January 1991, when – as sixth formers – me and my snooty, indie snob mates decided there was a hilarious ironic coolness in staying for school dinners, and would sarcastically tuck into spam fritters, chips and semolina while giving each other knowing winks and thumbs up gestures. All done in the most insincere, post-modern fashion imaginable, of course, while quoting endlessly from Vic Reeves Big Night Out (‘You ‘ad to mention Spam Fritters, didn’t yer? YOU WOULDN’T LET IT LIE!!!’) and singing Chesney Hawkes ‘The One and Only’.  

In July 1987 though, I was still enthusiastically tramping home, and my staple diet was a cheese savoury sandwich (bought by my Mum the previous day from the Three Cooks bakery in Yarm High Street) and a packet of Tudor cheese and onion crisps. Sometimes my Dad – working shifts at RAF Linton-on-Ouse by this stage – would be at home, other times the place would be empty. If my Dad was there, we’d invariably watch the telly for an hour, and throw ourselves into the splendidly tatty lunchtime revue that was ‘The Tom O’Connor Roadshow’.

From what I can remember… basically a live variety show broadcast from selection of provincial theatres around the country, with a sparkly-eyed Tom introducing local bands (of the safe ‘sounding a bit like The Shadows’ variety rather than grotty oiks in Half Man Half Biscuit T-shirts), theatre groups and occasional quiz contestants onto the stage. I think ‘former Miss Great Britain’ Debbie Greenwood – a powerful teenage crush of mine – might have been involved as well. We’d giggle sarcastically at all this over industrial-strength pots of tea before – just before I went back to school – I was able to catch the first five minutes of Going For Gold. 

‘The heat is on… the time is right… it’s time for you… TO BUGGER OFF BACK TO SCHOOL, YOU’VE GOT GEOGRAPHY WITH MR MOORE IN FIVE MINUTES’ 

If my Dad wasn’t there, then – inevitably – I would crank up the ZX Spectrum within nanoseconds of walking through the door and throw myself into Match Day or Sabre Wulf while an ageing Poggy Doggy snuffled around the carpet looking for crisp droppings. I’m eternally proud of the fact that I once missed an afternoon registration with Mrs Bush because I was still in the front room at 1.10pm playing Lord of the Rings. I’d sent an SAE and a postal order for £1.99 to an address in the classified adverts of Your Sinclair magazine, and received – by return of post – a full walk-through solution to the game, all printed out on shiny grey ZX Spectrum printer paper. I ate my Three Cooks cheese savoury sandwich on the ferry across the  Brandywine Bridge, and was determined to get to Rivendell before I had to head back for double Physics with Mr Dillon. I failed.

3. ‘Plans have been submitted for alterations to the lay-by’… I have no recollection whatsoever of the parking lay-by at the front of the school ever changing shape during my time at Conyers, so I assume the application was unsuccessful. The Hitch Hikers’ Guide To The Galaxy has this to say on the subject of unsuccessful planning applications… it’s a bypass, you’ve got to build bypasses… I’m game, we’ll see who rusts first… with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’… you should send that in to the Reader’s Digest, they’ve got a page for people like you… etc… etc…

(Actually, all of this Hitch Hikers stuff has reminded me to post this fabulous piece of work by my friend Andrew Orton, which is – frankly – so bloody good it makes me want to throw all of my feeble lifetime achievements into a skip and set fire to them. Take it away, Mr O…)



  Justin wrote @

The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of Blogs… second only in effect to a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, reading one can be likened to having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped round a large silcon brick 🙂

  bobfischer wrote @

Tum te tum te tum tum te tum… sorry, did someone say something? I was still thinking about Debbie Greenwood… 😉

  Ian Farrage wrote @

Can the joys of Greenwood still be found on QVC ?
Beautiful eyes, gorgeous smile and a lovely soft voice I could listen to for hours (only bettered by Bernard Cribbins on Jackanory). She really is/was First Class !!! (ref classic Ozzy Oswald starring BBC TV show – pre Blockbusters fame)

  bobfischer wrote @

Blimey, yes… I remember Ian Oswald going on ‘First Class’. 1986-ish, I reckon… did he have any fellow Conyers veterans as his teammates, or did he fly solo?

For the benefit of our younger viewers…

(Did it really go out on a Saturday? I’m sure I remember watching it as part of Children’s BBC on a weeknight)

Ozzie definitely went solo on Blockbusters a few years later, and did all the Gold Runs as well, I think… although by then they’d whittled down the maximum from five to three! Can’t remember what he won at all, must have been something decent, though. I might drop him a line and find out…

  Ian Farrage wrote @

As with many boys in those early/pre teen years – he did it solo. I was going to try and go for something regarding playing with a paperboy – the spectrum game they had on first class, but I decided against such a cheap shot (and stayed with a vague wanking reference instead).
As it was paperboy, as well as some Commodore games, I think it was more like ’84 or early ’85. They probably kept the age down to minimise the uncontrollable breaking voices of pubescent boys in the presence of UKs finest.

  bobfischer wrote @

I’m sure if he’d done it in 1984 I’d have mentioned it in my diary, so let’s split the difference and say 1985! I’d forgotten all about Paperboy, I remember playing the arcade version on endless windy days in Redcar around that time.

A quick Google reveals that Debbie Greenwood does now appear to be a QVC presenter! Seem to recall she was married to Paul ‘Pebble Mill At One’ Coia at one point as well.

  Justin wrote @

Seem to recall she was married to Paul ‘Pebble Mill At One’ Coia at one point as well.

Wikipedia say she actually still is and they have 2 daughters

  bobfischer wrote @

Ah, good to know! A rare beacon of stability in a topsy-turvy showbiz world.

  Chris Byers wrote @

From what I can remember of Ozzie’s appearance on ‘First Class’ he was part of a team with two older pupils from Conyers, but who they were I don’t know. I would agree with Ian and guess the year to be 84 or 85 and it definitely went out on a week night.

  bobfischer wrote @

Right, I’ve had words from Ian Oswald himself… here you go!

“Ah, bugger…Brother Farrage, and his unfeasibly good memory – more skeletons from my historical closet!!

So, the gaps…well, I was in 2nd year, so it would have been 1985 or more likely 1986 when it actually went out. There were three of us – can’t remember the oldest lad, but the middle was one of the Waltons (no, not those ones) – think it was Jonathon, but it could have been Nick. More likely Jonathon. Mr Venables was the schemer behind it…

The game was an arcade thing called Hypersports, with frantic, and quite frankly, wrist-breaking simulations of the vault, swimming, etc. It did go out on a weeknight, and we filmed it up in Glasgow. All I remember about that is the rain, and the Clockwork Orange (the Glasgow underground). Oh, and Mr Venables going for a run on the evening we travelled up there, and finding an arcade with the hypersports machine so I could have a practice before demonstrating my talents to the lovely Debbie.

Who was, it has to be said, as the young ‘uns might put it these days (I guess)… easy on the eye. Very nice as well – friendly, and mildly flirty at times, though that was probably just the hormones (mine, not hers, I hasten to emphasise!)”

  Ian Farrage wrote @

“unfeasibly good memory” – well I thought so, until I saw the words Mr Venables – who is/was he ?
I can only think of Terry & I am certain the guv’nor was not at Conyers. So what did he teach / what did he look like ?
BTW – there’s a disturbing collection of leather pants QVC related video on YouTube if Debbie Greenwood is searched for. It makes me glad to see the world never changes from being filled with sad/sicko/juvenile/hormonal boys/men/grandfathers who should all know better – thank God we’ll never grow up.

  Patsy wrote @

Just realised that you have posted a few more things recently – have you no heart, why didn’t you inform us on facebook that there was more to read..

  bobfischer wrote @

I wasn’t sure about Mr Venables either, although the fact that he actually went for a run pretty much rules out him ever being a PE teacher.

Good to see a mention for Nick Walton, though, who was without a doubt THE best artist I ever saw in my time at Conyers. He was a few years older than us, and seemed to spend his entire time creating amazing Terry Gilliam-esque airbrush grotesques on giant canvases. I remember going to the Arena in Middlesbrough in the early 1990s, and the whole of the downstairs walls were covered in his paintings. No idea where he is now, but I hope he’s still making good use of his talents.

Patsy – sorry! I’m trying to do one entry a week these days. Although, predictably, I’m now slightly overdue… maybe tomorrow!

  Sue Stredwick wrote @

I don’t remember a Mr Venables either, but Mr Ventress was a keen runner as I remember…

  bobfischer wrote @

I had a chat with Ozzie himself, and yes – he confesses it was Mr Ventress he was thinking of. Well, actually, it was Debbie Greenwood he was thinking of, but you know what I mean…

Incidentally, I bumped into fruity-voiced chemistry teacher Mr Hobson a few months ago. I was walking my dogs in the woods near Long Newton and he suddenly emerged around the side of a bush, attached to an equally fruity-voiced brown labrador. We had a nice chat – he’s in very fine fettle and form, retired now but he looks EXACTLY the same as he did 25 years ago. There must be a portrait in his attic somewhere. Probably of Mr Hindle…

  thelyniezian wrote @

By 1987, I’d reached the grand old age of… two. I recall Going for Gold, however- used to be one of my favourite shows, and sadly by the time I’d started school at the age of not-quite-five, I was disappointed lunchtime didn’t quite stretch to the time it was on.

Disappearing from school lunch was still around by my era of secondary school, roughly a decade later (not Conyers tho’). To begin with I was one of the lucky ones with a pass to go home for lunch, but only to begin with.

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