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25.12.14

Merry Christmas!




Here's a Christmas card I received in 1988 - with our old feline pal Garfield offering some excellent seasonal advice. We wish you all the best for Christmas (remember, more is more!) and for 2015 (onwards and upwards!). 

'80s Actual will be back after a bit of seasonal excess. xxxxx

20.12.14

This Is Not A Love Song - "Crossing Over Into Free Enterprise" With Johnny And PIL



John Lydon found there was a future after all in 1983 - in free enterprise!

Cally Asks:

In the 1983 PIL song This Is Not A Love Song, I thought John Lydon sang: "I'm crossing over into free enterprise/big business is very wise". But I keep reading on lyrics sites that it was "e-enterprise". This makes no sense as E's were not big business then - lol! Which is it?

It's free enterprise, of course. The mantra of the 1980s. Good song that, even though it wasn't a bit like Spandau Ballet's big 1983 hit, True. But then it certainly wasn't a love song! :)

Back in 1983, the internet was unheard of by the vast majority of us (in fact it was still coming into being) and, as the World Wide Web would not even be invented until 1989 and was not up-and-running until the early 1990s, that's how things remained. The "on-line" experience was a far rarer - a far geekier and nerdier - experience back then.

However, the phrase "Free Enterprise" was everywhere in the 1980s, even the ferry tragedy of 1987 contained it. The ferry's name? Herald Of Free Enterprise of course!

But no "e-enterprise" We simply didn't have the technology to get selling on-line, although computing came on in leaps and bounds during the decade, including the arrival of the first commercial computer mouse, the invention and release of the first versions of Microsoft Windows, plus the likes of the ZX Spectrum and the Apple Mac.

However, John Lydon may have updated his lyrics in more recent renditions of This Is Not A Love Song.

Bless 'im.

 

17.12.14

Christmas Presents 1980s Style - 3: Sportswear

I was surprised at work the other day when a nineteen-year-old girl told me she was aping my fashion-sense. I was an unashamed 1980s trendy person, and still have numerous garments left over from that glorious decade. Of course, many '80s fashions have returned over the last fifteen years or so, and I've taken to wearing a 1987 sports jacket that I received for my twenty-second birthday way back then. Imagine my surprise when my young colleague informed me that she had acquired one just like it - at a price I found surprising - in a vintage shop and, furthermore, wore it to "modern day" rock concerts! With all that in mind, take a look at the beauties above. Sportswear moved on in leaps and bounds in the '80s and has had a tremendous impact on keep-fit wear ever since.

Perhaps your current cuddle will be dead chuffed if you present him/her with something rather shell suited in style this Yule...

15.12.14

Christmas Presents 1980s Style - 2: Garfield Car Window Stick-On

Dear old Garfield. So funny - and downright... er... catty. After creator Jim Davis' Paws Inc company was founded in 1981, Garfield merchandise flew into the shops and began arriving here in England circa 1983.

The character had made his debut as an American newspaper comic strip in 1978 - back then he was far more traditionally cat-like in appearance, but his image evolved until the early 1980s when he came to look pretty much as he does today.

In the 1980s, there were Garfield posters, mugs, figurines, greetings cards, soaps, clocks, telephones - you name it. By the middle of the decade, he was everywhere.

And he stared out from many a passenger seat window in passing motors.

These still crop up on internet auction sites, and, if seeking to evoke the feel of the Style Decade are surely a must.

Garfield seems to capture the attitude of many cats I've known - selfish and yet hugely lovable. Perhaps he also sums up the selfish side of ourselves we don't like to confess to.

Whatever the reason, he's tremendously funny.

Read our main Garfield post here.

14.12.14

1982: The Genius Of Snoopy (And Charles Schulz)... "Don't Be Born So Soon"...

Ooh, the 1980s!

"It's not that you're not good enough. It's just that we can make you better. Given that you pay the price, we can keep you young and tender..."

Tears For Fears (Mothers Talk - Songs From The Big Chair). How I love those biting lyrics!

The mid-to-late 1980s were fixated with youthful looks, health and beauty. Of course, vanity was not invented in the 1980s, but there's no doubt that the boom era played host to that vice in plenty. More was definitely more. So it's wonderful to read Snoopy's advice on looking younger from May 1982 below.

He ponders the question of how to look younger deeply.

And then comes up with the perfect solution - better than anything on the market.

So simple.

And yet so absolutely impossible.

It's beautiful.

Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, was a genius.

From 1950 until his death in 2000, he kept coming up with the goods.

And beagle Snoopy (Vs the Red Baron), Charlie Brown ("Good grief!"), Lucy (with her "crabby genes"), Linus (follower of the Great Pumpkin) and the others are today, deservedly, comic strip legends.

The original comic strips are being collected into a series of books, The Complete Peanuts, and I heartily recommend them.

Simple brilliance. 

 Peanuts, 4 May, 1982.

8.12.14

Christmas Presents, 1980s Style - 1: Snoopy "Inspiration" Photo Frame


With Christmas looming up, we begin a little series of posts designed to give you some inspiration when it comes to showering your pals with gifts - either genuine vintage 1980s, or with an '80s theme.

How about the above? Dear old Snoopy of Peanuts fame faced stiff competition from Garfield in the 1980s, after several decades of reigning supreme. But we still loved him dearly, and Snoopy merchandising continued to sell like hot cakes. The frame above, manufactured by Hallmark Frames (copyright Hallmark Cards Inc.) in 1981, is great. It features Snoopy at his typewriter ("It was a dark and stormy night"). You can pop in a pic of your nearest and dearest and present it to them, or, if you don't HAVE a nearest and dearest, pop in a pic of yourself!


15.11.14

The Great 1980s Courgette Explosion...

So, the 1980s kicked in, and we grotty working class types still ate bread and dripping and considered curry to be the finest foreign food ever invented. Peppers? No plural - pepper was something you shook over your dinner. Mayonnaise? What the 'ecks that? I'd 'ave salad cream, ta! Courgettes? Never 'eard of 'em, mateyboots!

Alf Roberts of Coronation Street stocked some courgettes in 1981, but failed to sell them because his customers had no idea what they were and were not impressed with them when they were explained. In fact, it was very unlikely that staid old Alf would have tried stocking them in 1981, but then Corrie was a fantasy of very well-heeled scriptwriter types.

But in the mid-1980s, as the credit boom boomed and yuppies arrived and consumers finally had a bit of dosh to consume with, courgettes swept in as the thing to be seen dishing up. Even I fell for them, and my local Sainsbury's seemed to be bursting full of them. In May 1984, Weekend Magazine printed the Greenfingers feature above to tell us what courgettes were and how to grow the little blighters.

Of course, in the 1980s we were bombarded with strange new foodstuffs - as "posh nosh" arrived in force and even impacted on the Great Unwashed (people like me).

Read our feature here.




4.8.14

Crossroads 1987 - Growler And Charlie And Mrs Tardebigge And "Chloe"...


Debbie Lancaster (AKA "Debbie Dreadful), played by Kathryn Hurlbutt, is introduced to Growler, played by Growler, by Charlie Mycroft, played by Graham Seed.

Soap operas were different back in the 1980s. Brookside and EastEnders were brave new innovations which had tremendous impact and helped to shape the format of today's soaps (although soaps have become so sensationalised now they're rubbish - in my humble opinion, of course!). There were tremendous changes at the Crossroads Motel in the 1980s and the decade finally killed the Midlands-based soap. 

But, before that, in 1987, brash Brummie businessman Tommy "Bomber" Lancaster bought the place and invited his daughter, Debbie, to have a look around. Charlie Mycroft, major star of the Major International Hotels company, showed Debbie around and introduced her to his mascot - Growler - a plush Scottie dog with googly eyes which guarded his pillow.

Of course, Debbie was a little taken aback and Growler failed to charm her.

Meanwhile, motel char Mrs Tardebigge, had found a fifty pence piece up her 'oover. Wasn't that brilliant? "Finders, keepers, lover!" as Mrs T might have said. Mrs Tardebigge was, of course, a leading member of the Pat Boone Fan Club (West Midlands Branch).

 Mrs Tardebigge (Elsie Kelly) is thrilled by her unexpected good fortune. Elsie Kelly first joined the cast of Crossroads in late 1986 - her character was a creation of new producer William Smethurst.

Meanwhile (again), schoolgirl Beverley Grice, just arrived in the area, was trying to make friends at her new school. She introduced herself to posh Sara Briggs as "Chloe", and was not impressed when her younger brother Jason, who had personal stereo headphones apparently welded to his ears, told her that Chloe was a dogs' name. Somebody in their old neighbourhood had owned a mutt with that name. And it had peed up his leg and was a smelly old thing.

That dog was called "Woofer", Beverley insisted. Nope, their nana had called it "Woofer" but its proper moniker was Chloe, said Jason.

When Mrs Grice verified this at the dinner table, Jason smirked and Beverley stormed out in a strop. When she later asked her mother why she had called her Beverley (the girl HATED her name), Mrs Grice told her she might have had a spot of post-natal depression at the time.

Yep, soap operas were different back in the 1980s... All that, and not a serial killer or an explosion in sight...

Beverley Grice, played by Karen Murden.

21.7.14

30 Years Of The Mobile Phone


Nice brick, mateyboots! The DynaTAC 8000x - the very first hand-held cell phone on the market. The year? 1984!

Crikey! Go back thirty-one years to 1983 and you couldn't have owned a cell phone - and had probably never even dreamt of such a thing! Weird, eh?

Motorola unveiled the first hand-held cell phone, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x in '83, but it wasn't commercially available until 13 March 1984! And it was a brick. Cellular technology had taken decades of research, Motorola had been involved since 1968, but it wasn't until 1973 that a test call was made on an even larger prototype phone (nicknamed "the boot"!). The "boot" was not designed for marketing.

"The first [phones] we made were a research product," recalls Rudy Krollop, Motorola designer. "The [first prototype] DynaTAC wasn't designed to be manufactured and mass produced. Plus, the FCC was giving us all kinds of problems, so to design something we could manufacture sucked up 10 years. We were very busy."

Several prototypes were made between 1973 and 1983 and then... bingo! Of course, here in England, you couldn't have got involved in the fun of wielding a brick until 1985 - the first UK cellphone call was made on 1st January that year - by comedian Ernie Wise.

Mr Yuppie proudly wields his brick in 1985.

Expensive, hefty things ("yuppie toys"!) and horribly analogue, they were still the start of a revolution. Of course, analogue was rather naff when it came to reception at times, but fear not - the 1980s had things in hand. The GSM system we currently use had been in development since 1982, and received approval in 1987. It was implemented in the 1990s.

Love 'em or hate 'em? I'm not that mad on 'em myself, although they DO have their uses.

But sometimes I wish it was 1983.

Rucked-up shoulder pads and a lovely mobile - all the rage for the yuppie set of the mid-to-late 1980s.

7.7.14

1982: Coronation Street Demolished!

Much changed in the 1980s. Contemplating the decade on New Year's Eve 1989, I found it hard to visualise the way life had been in 1980. But Coronation Street demolished?! Surely even the 1980s wouldn't have gone that far?!!!

Well, they certainly did, folks, in 1982 - the year of the Falklands War, deelyboppers, a strange man sitting on the Queen's bed, and the first appearance of body popping on Top Of The Pops. In the photograph above we see the Rovers Return, then home to Annie Walker, and Number 1, then home to Albert Tatlock and the Barlow family, coming down.

Mrs Walker would of course have flared her nostrils at the spectacle and probably developed a migraine. Mr Tatlock, no doubt, would have resorted to a good old grumble (no diversion from the norm there then), but what was happening? WHY was the Street being demolished? Well, if you launch a search of this blog you'll find the answer - complete with some newspaper coverage from the time!

In the meantime, we'd just like to say: "Eee, Mrs Walker, this beer's a bit dusty, ent it?"

6.7.14

Howard and Hilda talk '80s

Howard and Hilda Hughes in the 1980s.

We asked Howard and Hilda Hughes, two of the stars of that searing 1980s suburban life documentary series Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-1989) what they thought of the decade...

Hilda: "Well, I was in the WRENS back then (giggles). I think I quite liked Lonnie Donegan."

'80s Actual: "That was the 1950s, actually."

Howard: "Oh dear, Hilda (laughs), you got it a bit wrong there old girl!"

Hilda: "Yes, I did, Howard!" Laughs as well. "The 1980s... we decorated the Polly Wally Doodle room I seem to recall..."

Howard: "Yes, we did, Hilda. A lovely shade of pastel pink."

Hilda: "Yes! Oh, that was lovely, Howard. And we had all that trouble with the buddleia ."

Howard: "That's right, dear. It got a bit out of control, didn't it?" (Laughs)

Hilda: "It did, Howard!" (laughs too.) "Wasn't that when we made our basketwork Neddy?"

Howard: "It was Hilda. I think we should try working in basket again."

Hilda: "Yes, it was fun, wasn't it?"

'80s Actual: "That's all very interesting. But what did you think about the popular culture of the 1980s?"

Hilda: "The Shipping Forecast was very good back then."

Howard: "It was, Hilda."

Hilda: "And the rosehip syrup. I don't think it tastes the same these days."

'80s Actual: "Did you participate in the fashions of the decade? Deelyboppers? Power dressing? Shell suits?"

Hilda: "Well, I made some lovely jumpers and cardigans. Quite a lot of them were matching - Howard and I like to be matching sometimes, don't we, Howard?"

Howard: "We do, dear."

Hilda: "And I like knitwear - it keeps the draughts out. I've got a back, you see."

'80s Actual: "Er, yes... What about the political scene of the 1980s? What did you think about Reagan and Thatcher? The miners' strike? Clause 28? Perestroika and Glasnost? The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War?"

Hilda: "I never discuss politics. Nasty things. Cause a lot of disagreements. My father was always very strict about that. We never do, do we, Howard?"

Howard: "Do what, dear?"

Hilda: "Discuss politics."

Howard: "No, dear."

'80s Actual: "Oh. What about the sporting scene? Botham and Becker? Lineker and Steve Davis? Zola Budd?"

Hilda: "Well, I remember that little beast at the World Cup. That "hand of God" thing. Was that when you're talking about?"

'80s Actual: "Yes, 1986."

Hilda: "Oh, well, we remember that, don't we Howard?"

Howard: "We do, dear. And I played a lot of cricket of course. And tried my hand at snooker. You could say I was something of a sportsman back then."

Hilda: "Yes! And I knitted the jumpers for the cricket team! We had that lovely wool shop in the high street back then. It's closed now of course. It's one of those coffee places now."

Howard: "Yes, it is."

'80s Actual: "What about pop music back then? Do you remember Adam and the Ants? New Order? Pet Shop Boys? Erasure?"

Howard: "No, I don't think we do, old boy. We liked Sing Something Simple though."

Hilda: "Oh, yes! We used to sing along, didn't we, Howard? Every Sunday afternoon. We always looked forward to that."

Howard: "Yes, we did, dear."

Hilda: "The neighbours must have thought we were a bit of a rowdy house when that was on. We got quite carried away at times!" (giggles).

Howard laughs.

'80s Actual (sighing): "So, is there anything else you remember from the 1980s?"

Hilda: "Well, [lowers her voice] I attacted a poltergiest. I know it was then because I kept a diary. I bought it at WH Smith's - it had a lovely pink pelican on the front cover. Hardback. I bought it because I wanted to see if there was any pattern to the supernatural activity, you see. 1989 it was."

Howard: "I don't think it was really a poltergeist, Hilda."

Hilda (getting slightly indignant): "Then how do you explain my little wooden windmill? Me predicting the Red Devil? What happened at the supermarket?"

Howard: "Don't distress yourself, Hilda. That was a long time ago."

Hilda (calming): "Yes, you're quite right, Howard. And we have a guest. I'm sorry, Howard. I'm sorry, Mr Actual."

'80s Actual: "That's fine. I think I should be going now. Thanks for answering my questions - I'll definitely feature you on the blog."

Hilda: "Would you like a nice cup of tea before you go? Rosehip syrup? A nice muffin with zero cholesterol butter perhaps and some of my homemade jam?"

Howard: "I can really recommend Hilda's cherry."

'80s Actual: "No, no, thanks - I really must go. Thanks again. It's been really..." (leaves quickly). Standing on the garden path at the front of Howard and Hilda's house, our '80s Actual "journalist" hears a voice inside the house drifting out of the open window:

Howard: "Shame we unpicked Neddy's ears, wasn't it?"

Hilda: "That was nervous tension, that was, Howard Hughes."

Howard: "Yes, it was, dear. Still, we could always fetch him down from the attic and re-basket them, couldn't we?"

Hilda (enthusiastically): "Yes, we could, Howard. That would be wonderful. And we could put him in the Polly Wally Doodle Room with the gramophone."

Howard: "And people say retirement can be boring! We've never found that, have we, Hilda?"

Hilda (giggling): "No, we most certainly have not, Howard!"

They laugh together.

Pause. Then:

Hilda: "Howard, is there such a word as 're-basket'?"

'80s Actual hastens away.

2.7.14

Soap Opera Heroines Of The 1980s - 1: Miss Babs Of Acorn Antiques


The wonderful Miss Babs (Celia Imrie). Answering the phone in the family antiques business seemed to suit her...

Women who endure great hardship (usually foisted on them by men - what a grotty lot we're made out to be!) have always been an essential ingredient of English soap operas. Look at Angie Watts of EastEnders. Boy, did she suffer! And then there was Sheila Grant of Brookside. My gawd! And Jill Chance of Crossroads. Didn't that lass go through it? Of course, my wife says it's all very true to life and that real men are a bunch of louses, just like soap men (although I hope she has a twinkle in her eye when she says it!) but the soap opera heroine to top ALL soap opera heroines has to be Miss Babs, of the '80s spoof soap Acorn Antiques, broadcast as part of the very wonderful Victoria Wood - As Seen On TV series from 1985 to 1987.

What Miss Babs went through really doesn't bear thinking about, but we're going to think about it, just to illustrate our point about how wonderful soap women in the 1980s (forget Alexis Carrington and Angela Channing) were. Whatever life threw at her, Miss Babs carried on. And life threw a lot!

As the serial began, we found Miss Babs working in the family business, Acorn Antiques, on the outskirts of Manchesterford.

The return of her ex-love, Clifford, stunned her. He'd left her by the handbags in a well-known store. His unexpected return drew from her icy contempt: "Bored with Zurich? Or did Zurich get bored with you?" she asked. He declared his love for her, but she told him she'd changed - she had triplets now. Clifford had a startling confession to make - he went bell ringing on Wednesday nights.

Miss Babs's marriage to Mr Kenneth was unhappy. Who was the mysterious Rowena, who phoned from Kuwait? Why was he booking into the Formica Motel with Trixie ("Trixie Trouble they call me!") from the antique packing department? Trixie truly was trouble. She discovered that Miss Babs had booked into the Formica Motel nine months to the day before the triplets were born with Derek, the large, bumbling, handyman from Acorn Antiques. And then Trixie discovered some photographs, in a waterproof bag, tied to the lavatory ballcock, which revealed that she wasn't the only one with a birthmark shaped like a moped. Miss Babs was her mother.

Miss Babs kept her stiff upper lip and adjusted accordingly. Trixie stopped being Trixie Trouble and took holy orders, becoming a nun.

It seemed there HAD been some hanky-panky between Miss Babs and Derek - in one scene their passion seemed set to erupt anew. He told her he always thought of her when he was watching the show jumping or grilling a tomato. So, who WAS the father of the triplets? Or the mother, for that matter. As Miss Babs confided to her faithful char Mrs Overall, she didn't know if they were really hers - she'd only gone into hospital to have her ears pierced.

Kenneth caused further heartache for Miss Babs when he tried to commit suicide, attempting to slash his wrists with an electric razor, but Miss Babs was so used to (her) life's never ending shocks and surprises that she was completely unfazed when he phoned up, not dead at all, and told her to put the triplets in their body warmers - he was taking them to Manchesterford Zoo.

Miss Babs was a kind and considerate employer. When Mrs Overall's husband died and Mrs O asked for time off for the funeral, Miss Babs said, in a voice throbbing with sympathy: "Of course. Just pop back at five for the hoovering." So, it came as a terrible shock when Mrs Overall laced her coffee with poison in an attempt to kill her. Miss Babs bought Mrs O a new blouse, and the old charlady was soon back to her old devoted (in fact positively fawning) self.

Mr Kenneth ran off with a weird religious sect, and Miss Babs failed to get custody of the triplets - although she did get a deep fat fryer and a weekend for two in the Peak District.

Acorn Antiques appeared to have had its day when Miss Babs's wicked Spanish cousin Jerez turned up. He had been masquerading as the postman to intercept letters to Miss Babs about a new motorway which would mean curtains for the business. This did not go ahead (I forget why) but Jerez did turn out to have his uses. With Acorn Antiques facing bankruptcy and about to go up for sale, Jerez asked Miss Babs to marry him, but when Miss Babs said no (her first marriage had been nothing but trauma, from the moment two of the triplets had been born with dangerously straight hair and had to be whisked straight off to the hairdressers's), Jerez turned nasty. He stormed out of the shop, passing Clifford on the way in, who whisked the fat cheque intended to sweeten Miss Babs towards the prospect of marriage from Jerez's jacket pocket.

The show was updated during its run, with a lovely opening sequence of Miss Babs driving to Acorn Antiques and the title displayed on a set of vertical window blinds. Sounds familiar?  

Also like Crossroads in the mid-1980s, Acorn Antiques gained a new leisure centre - with sunbeds.

There was so much more the stately Miss Babs had to face - Miss Berta's marriage to Mr Clifford, for example (Miss Berta was suffering from amnesia at the time), and the death of Miss Berta's father, who got himself shot in Dakar, but was then spotted buying a padded envelope and a TV licence stamp in the local post office. And what about the time Mrs Overall was revealed as being the mother of Miss Berta and Derek the handyman, who were apparently twins? And what about the time Mr Clifford was killed by a faulty plug (never mind, he went nice and stiff and was propped up by the ironing board) and Mrs Overall choked to death on one of her own delicious homemade macaroons? Miss Babs murmured words of comfort to her faithful employee as she lay dying - assuring her that she was going to send the macaroon recipe to the Weekly News

Truly the soap heroine to top all soap heroines - not just of the 1980s, but of all time

Miss Babs, we salute you!

But don't eat any of Mrs Overall's macaroons, will you?

24.6.14

Press Gang - I Vole It!


 Who ARE these people?!

Who were Lynda Day and Spike Thomson? What was Press Gang? Having received several e-mails over the years requesting that '80s Actual devoted a blog post to them, I became aware that they were 1) and 2) fictional characters and 3) a TV series which featured them. A teenage interest TV series which featured them. This series went into production in 1988 and first appeared on-screen in January 1989. Another series was produced in 1989 and screened in early 1990. Another three series (with fewer episodes) followed.

It all passed me by at the time. Not that I wasn't into '80s kids' TV (although I wasn't a kid at the time) - Murphy's Mob, Dangermouse, Super Gran, Gilbert's Fridge, Duckula, Henry's Cat, Number 73 and many other kiddywink shows captivated me back then (I left school early in the decade and dropped Grange Hill - I didn't want to be reminded of school). But a show about teenagers running a newspaper called the Junior Gazette (A Voice For Today's Youth) somehow did not register on my radar at all.

And yet it's brilliant. It's innovative. It's quirky. It's witty. It's fast moving. It's surreal. It's dramatic. It's nail biting. It's sad. In fact, it's all of these things and probably more.

Encouraged by the enthusiastic e-mails I've been receiving, all saying that Press Gang was the best thing since sliced bread, I've caught up.

My first reaction, as the e-mails requesting a blog mention for the show trickled in, was: "Oh Gawd! A series with teenage interest? Oh! YAWN!" Then, finally: "Well, s'pose I'd better take a look at it..."

But I quickly found I couldn't put it down. I laughed. I cried. It changed me.

The main characters in the show are all teenagers who work on a youth newspaper called the Junior Gazette. Of course, I wasn't a teenager in the late 1980s. No, no, my teenage era was a little earlier (Oh, Alannah Currie of the Thompson Twins, be still my fluttering heart!) and things were a little different, but the series still reminded me quite powerfully of the fun - and the pain - of my own teenage years. There's truth there. And, true to life again, the show doesn't neatly tie up all the story-line loose ends either. What led up to a suicide in series one? It seems there was a lot more to it than met the eye, but, just as in life, we don't discover all the answers to everything. There are lessons in living to be learned, but the show is never preachy. And some topical issues of the time are included, without being shoe-horned in. I'm still recovering from the tragic tale of the boy who flew - until he hit the ground. No spoilers, I promise!

Remember the '80s Sunday teatime "treat" Highway, starring Harry Secombe? Well, thoroughly unlikely though it seems, there's a link between this show and Press GangIn 1984, Bill Moffat, headmaster of Thorn Primary School in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland, was working on an environmental studies kit he called The Norbridge Files, centred on a children's newspaper - the purpose of the kit was to motivate students to participate in projects concerned with health-related issues. Bill Moffat showed his kit to Highway's executive producer Bill Ward when the school was visited to film the choir, and they discussed the idea of it being developed as an idea for a children's TV series.  

American TV producer Sandra C Hastie had relocated to England from America in 1984 and was in partnership with Bill Ward. Bill discussed the Norbridge Files with her and they looked at Bill Moffat's original brochure, but other things got in the way and the Norbridge Files was filed away on a shelf. 

In 1986, Sandra was considering returning to America, but, after dusting off the Norbridge Files, she became interested in developing it into a TV series again.

With Lewis Rudd of Central Television also interested in the concept, Sandra revisited Bill Moffat, who suggested that his son, Steven, a teacher, should write a pilot script. Sandra was rather dubious, but Steven submitted a script, which Sandra later described as 'the best half-hour script I have ever read'. Much work needed to be done, many changes would be made to the original concept, but Steven was on board and became the sole writer.

The Norbridge Files was commissioned in 1987. The title was quickly changed to Press Gang. Filming of series one took place in 1988, ready for broadcast in early 1989. Series two was filmed in the summer of 1989, ready for broadcast in early 1990.

And, as they say (well, we do, anyway!) the rest is history.

The Junior Gazette team hard at work - series one.

Back to the story, and the Junior Gazette is a brainwave of former Fleet Street newspaper editor Matt Kerr (Clive Wood) going back to his roots after the bright lights to edit a local rag - the Norbridge Gazette. The Junior Gazette is conceived as an outlet for the creative talents of kids at Norbridge High School, a large comprehensive, somewhere in England.

The kids are given very basic equipment to do the job - manual typewriters, not fancy electric gizmos, though they do manage to win a computer in a competition. But it wasn't a competition really. In fact, it was... but no, no, no - I won't drop a spoiler in here. Buy the DVDs and find out. The Junior Gazette kids are not even allowed a phone, but manage to acquire a lovely red oh-so-1980s-typical-of-the-time model, but keep it secret from Matt Kerr, although his newspaper is footing the bill, until... oops, no spoilers!

Spiky, shaggy permed English girl Lynda Day (Julia Sawahla), editor of the Junior Gazette, apparently vehemently dislikes slick and sassy "I wear my sunglasses at night" American boy James "Spike" Thomson (played by an English guy called Dexter Fletcher). Spike's a rebel who did something unspeakable at a school disco, and is press-ganged into joining the team in the newsroom. Lynda doesn't dislike him really. Perhaps she "voles" him?

When Spike goes missing, it seems that he may have been caught in a gas explosion at a local record store where he'd gone to buy a replacement after his personal stereo had eaten a friend's cassette. Lynda is worried, but then we see Spike and he seems fine - chatting up the ladies and apparently having a great time... but is that the reality of that moment?

By the way, Spike definitely "voles" Lynda. But perhaps it's not to be?

Underneath Lynda's spikiness there is vulnerability. But was it really an encounter with her that caused a schoolboy to put a shotgun in his mouth, pull the trigger and end his life  in 1989?

Kenny Phillips (Lee Ross) is Lynda's friend - and has been since childhood. He's Lynda's rock and has spent a lot of time picking shrapnel out of people who have got in her way over the years, and she's suffered for him, too. She sprained her arm whilst trying to push him out of a window in the early 1980s (according to the show's pre-story references).

Colin Mathews (Paul Reynolds) looks after the Junior Gazette's finances. He's a thoroughly Thatcherite young geezer, used to bring much comic relief to the series, but is he totally selfish?

Sarah Jackson (Kelda Holmes) is a good friend to all and tends to be stepped on by Lynda. She's a great reporter. But will she ever find a long-term boyfriend? Can she ever escape from Lynda? Lynda will use every trick in the book (and some that aren't) to stop her.

Billy Homer is a tetraplegic and a whizz with computers. This recurring character was played by Andy Crowe, a real life tetraplegic. 

And then there was school teacher Mr Sullivan (Nick Stringer) - was he really Lynda's guardian angel? And what about the sewage in his front garden?

There are other characters. But I could go on all night.

Bill Moffat, father of series writer Steven, and originator of the "Norbridge Files" - the concept that led to "Press Gang" - wrote the novels based on the series. "Exposed!"  - book two in the series - was published in 1989.

The series runs story-lines very quickly, the humour comes thick and fast, but, just when you think it's all a bit superficial, a character or scenario from many episodes before turns up, remembered in perfect detail by the writer, and it all seems very real. Or things suddenly take a turn to the dramatic. Or sad. Or odd.

The series ran from 1989 to 1993, with twenty-five of a total of forty-three episodes being recorded (twelve broadcast) in 1988 and 1989.

So, it deserves a place on '80s Actual.

Below, we have some snippets from an article published in Look-In magazine in March 1989, which tells some behind the scenes facts about the filming of the first series in 1988, courtesy of Julia Sawahla and Dexter Flexter, AKA star crossed lovers Lynda Day and Spike Thomson...

 How long did it take to make the series?

Dexter: "About thirteen weeks. We had twelve episodes to shoot, and it started out that we would do one a week. But things got more and more complicated, and it started to mean that time was running out. So, we went from doing a five-day working week to six days. We had to be at work each day from from 6.30am to 6.30pm. You were up nice and early, and home nice and late! I'd go to bed, wake up, and before I knew it I'd be back at work again."

Did that cause any problems?

Dexter: Well, you had to make sure you learned all your lines fairly quickly, because we had to film more quickly. What that meant was that we had to film several scenes all in one lump, to be used in different episodes. So we were jumping from episode twelve to episode five to episode nine. Things got really confusing and you didn't know where you were!"

Julia: "They were long days, but we did get an hour for our lunch break! But we had to have breakfast and tea on set, and just find a spot wherever we could to eat it. Mind you, after a while I'd lost my appetite as I was on pain killers."

What happened?

Well, I thought I had a really painful wisdom tooth so I  went to the dentist, because I had a big swelling on my face. He took the tooth out because he reckoned it had become infected. That was pretty painful. But what was even worse was when I later found out that the tooth hadn't been infected at all, and there was no need to have it out. So I've got a perfectly good wisdom tooth lying at home that shouldn't really be there."

Did anything go wrong?

Dexter: "I think the main problem everyone had with the cast was finding us! You see, when we got bored with waiting around we tended to wander off. So they were pulling their hair out, running around looking for us. The best example of that was when Charlie Creed Miles, who plays Danny, was wanted for a scene. They were all searching for him for about fifteen minutes and the guy was asleep under a desk! They were looking everywhere for him. That's the thing about Charlie; he's always asleep somewhere he shouldn't be."

Julia: "Lots of things went wrong! In particular, I can remember doing one shot which had me walking up towards a door, and the camera happened to be following me. It was mounted on wheels, and as it moved it just crashed into the wall. All the people who had been clinging to it fell off! On another day we hired about fifty pigeons to appear in an episode, and we had real fun and games with them. They would just crash into your head as you were doing a scene, and the director kept saying 'carry on, act naturally.' Of course, you couldn't; it just put you off. You don't expect to be dive-bombed by pigeons when you're making a TV series."

Did you get on well with each other?

Dexter: "Oh, definitely. As a group we all got on very well and we did spend a lot of time together socially. Paul Reynolds, who plays Colin, and I had some great laughs together."

Julia: "There are nine principal actors in the series, along with all the others and the extras, and we were very lucky because we all got on really well together. There was never any bad feeling."

 Have either of you ever wanted to be a reporter?

Julia: "No, I never have, but I don't think that makes any difference to the way I play Lynda. I certainly think I know enough about deadlines now through working on 'Press Gang'. My biggest problem was finding the time to learn my lines. I had to do that at home, and that was the most difficult thing about making the series."

Dexter: "Like Julia, I didn't do any real research into what it's like being a reporter, mainly because the character of Spike doesn't really call for it. He's a real rebel without a cause, and all he does is sit about with his feet up throwing rubbish into the wastepaper bin while everyone else is rushing about like an idiot. He just sits there and says, 'Hey, man, relax! Where's the problem?' That's the kind of reporter I'd like to be..."

Now that '80s Actual has finally discovered Press Gang (and been bowled over by it) you can expect  more  on the show very soon!


20.6.14

Blockbusters

"Can I have a 'P' please, Bob?"

Sorry, I couldn't resist it!

The original US version of Blockbusters debuted on 27 October, 1980, the brainchild of TV game show purveyor extraordinaire Mark Goodson. The American version was open to adult contestants of all ages. Our version, made by the Midlands ITV regional service Central, began on 29 August, 1983 - and quickly became a hit. 

After the American version of the show had been spotted, Central TV produced a pilot for a UK version in 1982. The pilot followed the American format and the 16-18 rule regarding the age of contestants did not apply. It was some months before the student age group was decided on and the decision was made to go ahead with a series of the show. The UK version went into production in 1983.

The show was very hi-tec by the standards of the day, and pitted two contestants against one.

Some people questioned this system, and Bob Holness, the UK show's presenter, said in 1986:

"People often ask me about this, and I say that it's to see if two heads are better than one and, anyway, the single player has less questions to answer than the team of two. I usually find that the single player wins because they've got one mind. Very often you can see team players delay before pushing the buzzer, because they've got to work together."

The contestants making their way across the board and taking the hotspot for the Gold Runs in the UK version were, as we said earlier, sixth formers, but the show attracted many and varied viewers: my seventy-something gran watched, as did my fifty-something postman, and my nine-year-old sister. Everybody, it seemed, was fascinated by Blockbusters.

Blue against white... are two heads better than one?

Bob Holness was terrific, whether introducing the contestants, their mascots, or asking the questions. And do you remember the Blockbusters hand jive which often took place as the end credits rolled? 

Despite Blockbusters being a show centred on teenagers, Bob himself was not a trendy young thing. He was a middle aged man, well mannered and groomed, who is remembered fondly as a caring host by many of the show's contestants. In those days, most quiz show hosts weren't trendy, but it mattered not with Bob. I always felt his genuine warmth and charm - and his reassuring manner, no doubt born of his maturity - made him ideal to present Blockbusters.

On how he got the job, Bob commented in 1988:

"When Central TV were looking for someone to host Blockbusters I was thought of. It was remembered that I'd done TV programmes of much the same sort, such as Junior Criss Cross Quiz which I compered in the 1960s and which was also a question and answer show. One led to the other."

The difference being that Bob achieved far greater fame through Blockbusters. It was simply a great show with an ideal host. 

Bob later said: 
  
Blockbusters, which began in the Eighties, was my favourite time in television. Its success was such a huge and pleasant shock because no-one ever predicted it. In fact everyone scoffed at the show when it first was mooted and for the first few screenings.

“They had to fight even to get it a teatime slot but in the event that was ideal. Its appeal was to all ages, from older children who’d just got in from school to parents and grandparents. I think that’s what caused its success – it really was true family entertainment.”

A snippet from the TV Times, August 1985. "Blockbusters" was going from strength-to-strength. Bob had just recorded eighty editions in one month, and another forty were lined up for November! I was a big fan of Mr Holness and the show and collected the series of quiz books which accompanied the series. They really proved their worth on long train journeys!
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There were quite a number of these "Blockbusters Quiz Books" - I still have about eight of them. 

A signed "Gold Run" book. 

Bob gained  his own mascot on the show at Christmas 1983 - Harold the Hedgehog, a present from his wife.

 Interviewed in 1986, Bob explained his attitude to the contestants:

"I never call them kids. I call them youngsters. I think 'kids' is patronising. And I encourage them to be individualistic. Over the years, they've come to realise how far they can go. They can be a bit cheeky and they don't get knocked down."

Bob felt that he got on very well with young people in general: "I used to be one myself!"

During the 1986 interview, he also chatted about some of the memorable mascots that had appeared on the show:

"We've had jars of piccalilli, seaweed, a half-eaten apple, and even a three-foot high doll of me, with a suit and everything!"

As the '80s went on, the show saw several changes. One of the fondest remembered innovations was this highly distinctive opening sequence, in which we left planet Earth and took off for a futuristic alien city, where the shows apparently took place. The model city, evocative of the 1982 film Blade Runner, was designed by senior graphic designer Graham Garside and materials used in the construction work included foam board and perspex, covered with metallic foils.

Other fondly remembered visual features of Blockbusters were the figureheads hung around the studio, which, over the '80s years, included Zeus, Toyah Wilcox, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. These were designed by Derek Howarth and made of polystyrene, cut with hot wires and shaped with rasps and files. 

Here's a question:

What 'E' composed the theme tune to the UK version of Blockbusters?

The answer is Ed Welch and the theme tune was called Quiz Wizard.

The British Association of Toy Retailers 1986 Game of the Year - a boxed version of "Blockbusters". Bliss - now we could all have a 'P' at home. Sorry.

Oh those glory days of 1980s computers! You could play "Blockbusters" on them, of course! The pictured version of the "Blockbusters" computer game is for the Commodore 64.

Two 1980s contestants on "Blockbusters". The young gent with the mullet and the young lady with the pink bunny mascot tell Bob all about themselves.

 The letter  'C' is flashing - let's play "Blockbusters"!

 In the late 1980s, Bob spoke about how the show had changed since its debut in 1983: "I'm much more relaxed than I used to be. Blockbusters today features contestants who actually know 'the name of the game'. They know what's expected of them and they know how far they can go in their talks with me. At the beginning it was an unknown quantity, the young people then had no yardstick. But today they can come out with things like, 'Can I have a 'P' please, Bob?' "


From the "TV Times", April 1987 - Bob makes a spectacle of himself! The "Blockbusters Abroad" special followed several Gold Run winners on their prize holidays.


Bob goes trendy - he looks ready to challenge snooker ace Dennis Taylor in those glasses! 

In 1988, Bob was asked: "Is it true you have a jar of mints on the set?" He replied: "How did you hear about that?! The mints started right at the beginning of the show and they're now a feature of the programme - though they're never seen. I put a mint out for each contestant at the start of a show, just to make them feel at ease. Once they held them up to the camera - sending me up a little!"


The one and only "Blockbusters" annual, on shop shelves in late 1988 ready for 1989. In his introduction, Bob wrote:

... let me just say that I have enjoyed presenting 'Blockbusters' more than any other television or radio programme I've done...


Bob with the famous hexagonal board in 1989. Probably the strangest question asked on "Blockbusters" in the 1980s, and perhaps ever, was: "What 'C' has 4 stiff-standers; 4 dilly danders; 2 lookers; 2 crockers and a wig-wag?" The answer, which, not surprisingly, stumped the contestants on the night is "Cow" (4 legs; 4 teats; 2 eyes; 2 horns and a tail!).

A new question for you:
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"What 'T' was a 1980s pop group with a link to Bob Holness?"

Find out here.

UPDATED 20/6/2014

10.6.14

Rik Mayall


He really was one of the pioneers of the 1980s alternative comedy scene. The young Mayall and Ade Edmundson started performing at the Comedy Store in mid-1980. Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson joined at the same time. They all went on to found the Comic Strip in October '80, with Comedy Store compere Alexei Sayle. An advertisement for female performers was answered by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. When Channel 4 debuted in November 1982, the Comic Strip team hit the TV screens, and in the run-up to the launch of Channel 4 the BBC was prompted to start preparing something alternative itself - The Young Ones.

Magical times.

RIP, Rik.