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31.5.05

1983: The World's First Mobile Phone; Compact Discs; Garfield; Hip Hop; Flashdance; Blockbusters; Blue Monday; No. 73; Wallies; Sloane Rangers

Top of the nation's list of concerns this year was unemployment. In 1980, it had been inflation. Inflation, which had been such a tremendous worry during the 1970s, was down but the unemployment figures were going up. And up. And up...

We'd been horrified when unemployment passed the million mark, for the first time since the 1930s, in the early 1970s, but we hadn't seen anything yet... we now had three million unemployed. Yes, three million. And the 1979 Tory election slogan had been Labour Isn't Working! But never mind. Thatcher and co told us this nasty medicine was necessary. Once we had a stable, competitive economy everything would be rosy. Trust them, that was all they asked. Hmm...

The Hip Hop scene was evolving fast, born of the American rap scene. In 1983, the scene swept across England. Youngsters could be seen in city centres across the land, breakdancing and body popping. The boombox (aka the ghetto blaster) had arrived and was an essential piece of kit.

The boombox had developed from the radio cassette recorder, and the term boombox was probably first coined at the beginning of the 80s
. This was when the things began to grow rapidly in size. I recall them being called "ghetto blasters" here, and don't think I ever heard the name "boombox" back then.

In England in 1983, it was trendy to cover your boombox/ghetto blaster in stickers and no blank wall was safe from a spot of Hip Hop graffiti.

Our neighbours' eleven-year-old son painted "Hip Hop" on the side wall of his family home. I was impressed - it was a fine piece of work, like something out of a breakdance film, but his reward from his parents was a scrubbing brush, a bucket of soapy water and the loss of two weeks' pocket money. As I said to the lad, "Some people just don't appreciate art!"

I will always remember this as the year of Blue Monday by New Order. I hated it at first. Just a disorganised mass of synthy bits and guitar chords, thought I. Within a week, I not only had the record but was playing it around twelve times a day. Magic.

Sky TV didn't arrive until 1989, so I couldn't see MTV. Could anybody in England at this point? But the effects of the music video revolution were being felt - never more so than with Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Another trend that was reaching our level was continental quilts. You could buy them from mail order catalogues and pay for them in small regular amounts. But did you want them? This was debated long and hard. A conversation between two woman, which I heard in a local shop in early 1983, went something like this...

Carol: "I wouldn't want my feet sticking out. You can't tuck 'em in. It'd probably fall off in the night and you know my bedroom window doesn't fit properly - I'd freeze. And they can't be that warm either. Fancy just having one cover!"

Wendy: "The trouble with you, Carol, you don't think things through. I've ordered one from Audrey's catalogue. You can get different thicknesses, summer, winter, all that, and you can always put a candlewick over the top and tuck it in to hold it in place."

Carol was most impressed.

Flashdance, the film sensation of 1983, was a bit like Fame, but with better dancing. The film started a trend amongst the girlies for wearing off the shoulder tops.

Welsh songstress Bonnie Tyler scored a tremendous hit with Total Eclipse of the Heart.

What was the Total Eclipse video about? There was Bonnie, a singer I'd been fond of for a few years, rushing around a country house with big hair and boys in loin cloths.

What was all that about?


My mate Pete had the answer: "A headmaster's daughter who's gone off her rocker."


"Oh, right. How do you know that?"

"I read it in the paper."

"Fair enough..."

The hand-held mobile was still in the future for us here in England, but BT gave us its first cordless phone.


The first commercially available hand-held cellular phone ever was unveiled in 1983. Motorola had invested fifteen years of research and $100 million in the advancement of cellular technology, and the story stretched back much further than that. The first hand-held mobile was called the DynaTAC 8000X and was unveiled on March 6th. It was, of course, a brick. At a price of $3,995 it wasn't for everybody. More here.

It may have been late 1982 or during 1983 but Compact discs were first marketed here around this time. As with many new things, the price was prohibitive and it would be some years before they were widespread. Read all about them here.

Computers began talking the same BASIC language and the internet was on the way.

"B" was for brilliant Bob Holness as
Blockbusters began. The original American version had begun in October 1980, but our version was best - who else could host it like Bob?!

Children's TV show Number 73, which had begun in the TVS area in 1982, was networked.

A certain Mr JR Hartley went searching for a copy of his book, Fly Fishing, and found it with a little help from Yellow Pages. More here.
Breakfast TV arrived: on the BBC we had Selina Scott, Frank Bough (in some lovely jumpers) and Francis the weatherman. The style was sofa-based and relaxed.

TV-am, ITV's breakfast time service, was also sofa based but a little more formal as Angela Rippon, Anna Ford, David Frost, Robert Kee and Michael Parkinson set out with their "mission to explain". The mission never really got off the ground, and it wasn't long before "The Famous Five" had been replaced by Anne "don't call me Annie!" Diamond, former sports presenter Nick Owen, weather girl Wincey Willis and Roland Rat - "Yeeaaarrrgggh!".

Australian soap Sons and Daughters came to English afternoon telly. Lucky viewers in some ITV regions got their first look at the feuding Hamilton and Palmer families in 1983, and quickly took "Pat the Rat", played by Rowena Wallace, to their hearts. The actors were greatly admired for their ability to freeze and turn sepia at the end of each episode. Production on the show in Australia took place from 1981 to 1987.

Garfield, the American fat cat, was becoming popular over here, with a range of merchandise available at Clinton Cards.

Care Bears were the year's cute and cuddlies, but the end of the year held something quite different: newspapers from 1983 record that just before Christmas some Cabbage Patch Dolls had made their way from America to England. In great demand, they came with their own adoption certificates and, by the look of them, a nasty attack of mumps.

"Choose Life" slogan T-shirts and luminous fingerless gloves were all the rage. Thanks, Wham! But who came up with the idea for wearing odd coloured luminous socks? Don't know, don't want to know!

Some brave everyday blokes were beginning to wear pink and putting blonde highlights in their hair.

Thatcher won a second term in office (Boo! Hiss!).

"Wally" was a popular mild insult and How To Be A Wally was published.