Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Nuggets from the Loft… Volume 2

As threatened, I’ve been rummaging in the loft again, and this time I’ve unearthed two long-lost early 1980s artefacts that would have the Antiques Roadshow team… well, let’s be honest, they’d be rolling their eyes and muttering ‘for f***’s sake’ under their breaths. But, to me, these antiquities are as priceless as any dusty oriental remnant. After all, who wants a Ming vase when you can have a Ming The Merciless Weetabix card?

Weetabix… breakfast cereal of choice on the Planet Mongo! Found rattling around the bottom of cereal packets along with stray offcuts of mouldy biscuit, these cards were – of course – a shameless marketing tie-in with the BRILLIANT Flash Gordon movie that the velvet-curtained fleapits of Britain were showing during… well, thereby hangs a tale. The official US release date for the film was December 5th 1980, but I’m convinced it can’t have hit the UK until at least Spring 1981. The impeccably-researched evidence that I’m using to back up my theory is that I remember swopping some of the above cards with Andrew ‘Stan’ Henry on a bright, breezy summers day at Levendale Primary School, with the sun blazing through the grubby window pane upon which Paul Frank and I had recently made a bloody awful pig’s ear of painting the Loch Ness Monster.

Presumably Stan, like me, was attempting to gain the full set by eating seven Weetabix for breakfeast every morning (‘Burppp… farrrt… keep ’em coming Mum, I’m REALLY hungry today… blurrrp’) before arriving at school with a waistline like the Michelin Man. And a complexion to match.

Anyway, it’s a great film. Now remembered chiefly for Brian Blessed’s towering performance (‘GORDON’S ALIVE??!?!?!?!?’), but it also contains the sobering sight of nubile twentysomething Italian sex siren Ornella Muti (a woman once voted the world’s most beautiful, and reputed to have insured her all-conquering breasts for $350,000) snogging Howard from Ever Decreasing Circles.

All of this passed me by at the time, naturally, although I was intrigued by the fact that Flash Gordon himself was a professional footballer, as he didn’t bear any resemblance to any professional footballer I’d ever seen in 1981. Where was his bubble perm, moustache, beer belly and permanent haze of Lambert and Butler smoke? Amateur.

Anyway, I lied, it isn’t a Ming The Merciless card at all. It’s actually dedicated to his sidekick, the slightly dubiously-named Klytus…

As portrayed, splendidly, by former Jason King lothario Peter Wyngarde. ‘Klytus, I’m bored… what plaything can you offer me today?’

‘Well Masterful Ming, I’ve got a slightly rusty badge* featuring one of the Weetabix skinheads…’

(*stop giggling)

Yes, this is today’s second Nugget from the Loft. This was Weetabix’s other concerted early 80s attempt to win the hearts and minds (and waistlines) of gullible eight-year-olds.. a gang of loveable, cuddly Weetabix skinheads (or ‘Bovver Boys’ as they were often affectionately known at the time). I think these came a little later than the Flash Gordon cards, possibly in 1982, and you can see them in full action here…

Again, they bore little resemblance to the ACTUAL skinheads that I’d seen in 1982, who were usually to be found gently inserting barbed wire into innocent bystanders near the perimeter fence at Ayresome Park. I’m guessing the Weetabix Frontline were mainly influenced by Madness – who were EVERYWHERE in 1982 – although I’d like to think there’s a little bit of Ian Dury and the Blockheads in there as well. And, equally, you’re perfectly entitled to think that I should get out a bit more and stop contemplating this rubbish in such detail. As my former Levendale teacher Mr Millward once said to me with a flabbergasted glare, ‘Do you not sometimes think you’re a little bit… anal?’

I’d like to pretend this happened 25 years ago, but it was actually this Tuesday night, when he and Mr Hirst joined me for a cheeky pint (more on this to follow soon)

Anyway, ‘Brains’ was the intellectual giant of the Weetabix skinheads, and we knew this because – obviously – he wore glasses. Early 1980s optical science had proved beyond doubt that ALL specky four-eyed freaks were DEAD CLEVER, like.  It was all that swotty book-reading and squinting down microscopes wot did it, although admittedly there was ONE OTHER WAY in which it was possible to lose your eyesight in the early 1980s. This was – as any self-respecting fishcake-toting mother would tell you – ‘sitting too close to the telly’.

I spent most of the first ten years of my life being warned repeatedly about this. ‘Get away from that telly, you, or your eyes will go bad and you’ll have to wear glasses when you’re older’. I’d get this at least three times I week as I pressed my face up against the concave screen of our four-channel, wood-panelled Granada behemoth to drool over Sarah Greene. I’m now 37, and I’ve still yet to join the intellectual specky elite.

I need closure on this… is there any evidence whatsoever to suggest that watching TV from a short distance can have a detrimental effect on the eyesight? Surely it’s no different to looking at anything else from close-up? Will my ‘eyes go bad’ if I also sit ten inches away from the front room wall and stare at that all night instead? The other Saturday I caught 15 minutes of ‘Celebrity Mr and Mrs’, and was sorely tempted to do exactly that.

NB For the record, I’ve spent most of the last 37 years talking absolute bollocks, and my tongue has yet to split either. Although those who’ve met me in the flesh could make a reasonable case for the wind having changed, and me staying like that.


  Justin wrote @

And to bring everyting full circle, of course alongside Sarah Greene on Blur Peter at this time was that chap Peter Duncan… who was also in the fantastic and very quotable Flash Gordon film as the young Treeman who shows us how a nasty monster worked (sort of like a Red Shirt in Star Trek, only in green… though not in Greene I hasten to add).

  bobfischer wrote @

Of course! Weirdly, I don’t think I recognised Peter Duncan when I saw Flash Gordon at the pictures, although I must have seen him on Blue Peter by then. But Flash was screened on TV sometime around 1982 (?) and that was when the penny dropped.

Actually, I’d love to know when Flash did first appear on TV, as I’ve really clear memories of watching it in the front room with my parents, and EVERYONE at school talking about it the next day.

It is stupidly quotable, isn’t it? It must have been on TV again around 1989, because ‘NO! NOT THE BORE WORMS!’ became an unlikely catchphrase for me and my sixth form mates around that time.

I spent most of the 1980s in love with Sarah Greene. I think if her and Janet Ellis had ever appeared on Blue Peter together, my hormones would have reached some kind of dangerous critical mass.

  bobfischer wrote @

By the way, I love the sound of ‘Blur Peter’. I can just imagine Graham Coxon crashing into the Cambodian famine Totaliser while Damon sets fire to the Advent Crown. 😉

  Thing wrote @

The one about watching TV up close is apparently a myth, as shown by the way that people can work while sitting close up to a computer screen without ill-effects. Of course, prolonged exposure to a screen close-up can cause eye strain and headaches, and that might perhaps be where it comes from. But it’s the overdoing it which causes the problems.

I do definitely remember Blue Peter promoting the Flash Gordon film in November or December 1980 and talking about how Queen had written the music while playing clips. I also remember the film being shown on television on Christmas Eve 1983, but wouldn’t know if that was its premiere. Couldn’t be the showing you remember if they were talking about it at school the next day.

  bobfischer wrote @

Thanks, Thing… a fount of knowledge as always! Glad to hear my eyesight is safe for the time being, to celebrate I’m going to spend the rest of the night watching Doctor Who on DVD with my face pressed up against the screen. 🙂

I can’t remember watching Flash Gordon on Christmas Eve ’83 (was that during the daytime or the evening?) but I’m sure I saw it one school weeknight before that. I’m pretty sure it was a dark, dismal night as well, so I’m going to hazard a guess at late 82/early 83!

All of this has got me wondering when Star Wars was first shown on TV as well, as I definitely remember that being a pretty momentous event. The hype surrounding it was unbelievable, I remember listening to the radio during the day, and they were running features about it!

Early 1983 again, possibly? Maybe even Easter weekend? And I think it was shown again around October 1983, as I remember turning down a chance to visit Yarm Fair so I could watch it…

  Thing wrote @

The Christmas 1983 showing was either late afternoon or evening. I could probably look it up to find the exact time, might try that sometime.

I remember a discussion about when Star Wars got its TV premiere coming up on a certain DVD Forum, although I can’t remember exactly what was said there. Seem to remember 1984 – 5 being mentioned but that seems unlikely, and doesn’t fit with your own memories. 1982, perhaps?

I’m fairly sure that Star Trek: The Motion Picture got its TV premiere around August 1984. Well, it was definitely shown in the summer of that year and I’d guess that that was its first UK television broadcast.

  bobfischer wrote @

I’ve done a bit of rooting around online, and Sunday 24th October 1982 has been suggested as the first British TV screening for Star Wars, which actually sounds about right to me. I remember being unbelievably excited, and jumping around the house all evening, checking the time every five minutes. I definitely remember my Mum saying ‘You’re just counting off the minutes until Star Wars is on, aren’t you?’, as I hung from the stairwell with a Han Solo blaster pistol in my hand!

Although that wouldn’t have been a Yarm Fair night, so I reckon it must have been shown again in October 1983! And then it was definitely on again on Sunday 30th December 1984, as mentioned in my 1984 Diary.

By the time of that ’84 screening, Star Wars on the telly felt like old news, really. Even for me, who didn’t even own a video recorder at that time! I think all of my video-owning mates had recorded it from previous screenings, and watched it dozens of times by then.

I remember a frisson of excitement going around the school after the ’82 screening when it was rumoured that Andrew Sugden (an early video adopter) had taped it, and watched the whole film THREE TIMES in the same night. I was absolutely consumed by envy.

  Chris Orton wrote @

The Weetabix skins went on until well into the mid-80’s and I remember getting some of the characters as those shrinkable-in-the-oven things that you had to colour in with felt tips. I wonder who did the main voiceover on that Weetabix ad? It sounds to me a little like Christopher “Frank Burnside” Ellison from The Bill.

And yes, I am a little bit anal too.

  bobfischer wrote @

You’re right, it does sound like Chris Ellison, although I don’t suppose he puts it on his CV. Dozens of gruff-voiced Cockney actors must have spent the early 1980s fighting over that lucrative Weetabix gig!

The Weetabix skins became cult figures for a couple of years, I think. Unlikely as it sounds, I remember quite a bit of Weetabix merchandise doing the rounds – there were pencil cases and school lunchboxes with the skinheads on, all that kind of thing. They really went all out to get the kiddie breakfast cereal market, didn’t they?

You’d never get kids today eating that healthily. My mate is a primary school teacher, and recently asked his class to write about their breakfast. He said all of them described something that was basically ‘chocolate chip cookies with milk poured over them and sugar on the top’.

Broken Britain. 😉

  Thing wrote @

There was even a comic with the Weetabix figures, I think a one-off that probably came free with something. Little comic strips and puzzles or games. There was one where Brains worked out how many Weetabix would fit into Wembley Stadium with his calculator.

  bobfischer wrote @

Or even Broken Biscuit Britain.

  Chris Orton wrote @

Oh dear, that sounds grim. It was Weetabix, cornflakes or rice crispies for us. Or toast.

  bobfischer wrote @

Blimey, I remember that Weetabix comic! I assume it just came free with a packet of cereal? Or I wonder if you had to collect so many tokens from Weetabix boxes and then send them off…? Whatever it was, I did it. Let’s face it, my yellowed Weetabix comic is probably in a box in the loft somewhere. If I find it, I’ll provide a scan!

I was definitely a Weetabix kid, I remember eating it mushed up with warm milk when I was very small indeed and have never lost the taste for it. I had the occasional foray into Coco Pops, Frosties or Sugar Puffs (titter, chortle, etc) but always came back to the ‘Bix. I had dozens of those Flash Gordon cards, so I must have got through loads of the stuff.

It didn’t hurt that I’d often eat two bowls of cereal a day, one in the morning and one before bedtime. Still do, most days. I didn’t think there was anything unusual about this until I shared a house at University, and was looked on as something akin to a circus freak.

I’ve never got on 100% with Cornflakes, for a brash American invention they always seemed a bit dull and plain and utilitarian. The Soviet Bloc of 1980s cereal.

  Andrew Smith wrote @

You never get anything interesting in cereal any more. I remember eating unnatural amounts of frosties in order to collect all the Thunderbirds vehicles in the early 1990s but ever since then all the prizes to be found at the bottom of a box seem to be designed in order to counteract the damage done to your health while eating the muck – it’s all frisbees and beanbags and P.E. tokens.

  bobfischer wrote @

I’d like to see the box of Weetabix big enough to contain a beanbag at the bottom of it! You’d need Geoff Capes to help you carry it home from the supermarket.

What’s a PE token?

  Drew Smith wrote @

By rights, P.E. tokens should be used to excuse you from P.E. at school that day. Instead you hand them into your school, they store them up and then redeem them for basketball hoops and stuff. Like those computer vouchers Tesco used to do. In other words – boring!

  bobfischer wrote @

Ah! Yeah, you’re right, that is dead boring. Genuinely interested – when did all the ‘buy this brand of cereal and your school will benefit’ stuff start? There was nothing like that when I were a lad.

To be honest, anything that purported to provide equipment or funding for my school, I’d have avoided like the plague. I wanted Flash Gordon cards and shiny badges for ME ME ME. There’s no way I’d have stuffed myself with so much Weetabix if I’d known it was just going to buy wooden benches with rubber knobs on the end for Mr Hirst.

  Mark Hirst wrote @

Ha. I think those benches have probably been outlawed by the Health and Safety crew and banned due to the fact they were made of best Amazonian timber. I still use them of course.

The new breed of bench is much more eco friendly and streamlined. Safe, with no element of possible testicular discomfort.

As for vouchers, God bless Sainsbury’s.

Their `vouchers for schools` scheme has kept our PE stock going for years now and you get a lot for your voucher, so to speak. Unlike the inferior Tesco computer vouchers, where several million vouchers entitle you to a nice mouse mat, or similar!

Stuffing cereals down your throat wouldn’t help your overall fitness Fisher, just fill you full of roughage and regular visits to the loo. Might I suggest that a more balanced diet may have propelled you to the higher echelons of performance and you’d have been up there with Frank, Henry and Atkinson.

  Thing wrote @

Kevin Keegan promoted a ‘Help your school buy the things it needs’ campaign, which I think was various sport equipment, on, if I remember correctly, a range of crisps circa 1979/1980. Nice connection there, when you think about it. Stuff yourself eating crisps and take pleasure in the thought that although you might be less fit and more in need of the exercise, at least you’d helped pay for all the sports stuff in the process.

  bobfischer wrote @

PE without testicular discomfort??!? It’s political correctness gone mad. It wasn’t proper PE if I didn’t leave your gym lessons without a pair of aching cobblers in my shorts. And sometimes they were even my own.

I had appalling diarrhoea towards the end of the 1983 summer holidays, and my mother genuinely DID blame it on the fact that my Shreddies habit had escalated to three bowls a day by that stage. Apparently the 10-year-old digestive tract just isn’t cut out for handling that amount of roughage.

I was about to joke that the next stages of my addiction were Frosties followed by uncut heroin, but have just remembered that my bout of the trots was actually cured by a severe dose of Kaolin and Morphine from the chemist, so that’s not far from the truth! Did they really give Morphine to 10-year-olds back in 1983? Tasted quite nice, as I recall. No wonder people get hooked on the stuff so easily.

(And, as a completely pointless aside, can any Yarmites remember what the chemist in the High Street was called, before it was the current Lloyds Pharmacy? I’m sure it had another name. Was there a third chemist as well, alongside that and Strickies Pharmacy?)

Frank Henry Atkinson sounds like a 19th century industrialist.

  Mark Hirst wrote @

18th century actually. He was imprisoned for `spinning jenny` and other lewd acts.

  bobfischer wrote @

Spinning Jenny was fine. It was Puffing Billy that really got him into trouble.

  bobfischer wrote @

Thing: Crikey… I can’t recall those Kevin Keegan adverts at all, I had no idea helping your school campaigns had started that long ago!

I had a look on Youtube and there’s no sign of them, but I did find the KP Crisps monks, who have lain dormant in the back of my brain for the last 25 years or so…

I wish there were more varities of crisps these days. Everything seems to be Walkers these days, or a subsidiary of them, and the days of Golden Wonder, Tudor, KP, Smiths and all the rest are long gone.

I’ve taken to buying only Seabrooks crisps as an act of solidarity with the underdog. They’re lovely, and they’re an independent company that once sponsored Captain Sensible’s ‘Blah’ political party. What’s not to love?

  Thing wrote @

I’m not sure whether the Keegan compaign ever was on TV, I just remember noticing it on some of the packets, with a little drawing or photo of him and some text, and maybe some other pictures. So that might be why you couldn’t find it.

Golden Wonder seem to have made a slight comeback recently, with some varieties appearing in shops again, by the way. I’m not sure who owns them though, admittedly. Have you ever tried Brannigans?

  bobfischer wrote @

What?!?!? Really? I haven’t seen Golden Wonder crisps up here for… probably nearly 20 years. I was hugely fond of their Smoky Bacon flavour as a kid.

But blimey… you’re right. They seem to be mainly available in Scotland these days…


  Ian Farrage wrote @

I’ve no idea where Lloyds Chemist is, it’s been a while since I’ve wandered round Yarm, however, the other chemist, across the road from Strickies was Dobson & Stokoe. I think there was only two on the High Street.
Seabrook – Tomato Sauce, Salt & Vinegar or Canadian Ham – what I would give for a packet of any of these ….. or Monster Munch or those stale pickled onion flavour Space Invader corn/crap based product

  bobfischer wrote @

Dobson & Stokoe! Of course. Lloyds is the same place, it’s just got a new name. And my Mum has wisely pointed out that it was called Hills Pharmacy at some point inbetween, and she’s dead right. Social history, this!

She also thinks there were only two chemists on the High Street… Dobson’s and Strickies, the latter of which has now been taken over by the corporate juggernaut of Boots. I’m not going to argue!

Mr F, drop me a Facebook message with your address and I’ll put you some prime Seabrooks in the post. Unless you think they’ll be intercepted by the Chinese authorities as a symbol of depraved Western decadance?

  Ian Farrage wrote @

Grateful for the offer Bob & I would love to say send on – however, common sense must prevail sometimes. As it is not possible to send a DVD containing innocent non-copyrighted innocent photos (by which I do not mean photos of innocents) or home movies or any written publication out of China, without government approval – the chances of importing some of Britains finest potato based snacks without problems are very small. And on the sensible front – they’ll be smashed to bits when they get here ….. oh yeah, the very sensible bit – it’ll cost a packet 😉 to send them. I appreciate the sentiment though, thanks.
I can send food product out without issue though – so if you want some chicken feet, dried fish heads etc, it won;t be a problem.

  bobfischer wrote @

Ha! No problem. I’m a long-standing* veggie so I’ll pass on the chicken feet and fish heads, unless you can stuff them and stitch them all together to make some kind of 19th century freakshow mermaid.

*Must try sitting down to do it sometime.

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