28 September 2008

Speak And Spell

A newspaper advertisement from December 1980, featuring a "Speak & Spell". This clever push-button operated gadget was originally released in America in July 1978. In 1980, a new membrane keyboard model (pictured below) debuted - although the version featured in the ad above is of the push button variety.

Do not run away with the idea that all kids were playing with Speak & Spells at Christmas 1980. For many families £44.95 was an absurd amount for an individual present - remember there was a recession on.

Purse-string holders in my family did not even consider objects like the Speak & Spell for purchase until somewhat later in the decade.

We had our own English-speaking version here as there are many differences between American English and English as it is spoken in England and the other nations of the UK.

Speak & Spell later went on to great fame - appearing in a certain film about a stranded alien. Click here for details!

"That is correct!"

A Speak & Spell with membrane keyboard, released in 1980.

25 September 2008

1982: Erika Roe - The Twickenham Streaker

Twickers Winning Streak

Sunday Mirror, 3/1/1982

This daring girl was the tops for 60,000 rugby fans at Twickenham - and millions of TV viewers yesterday. She did her strip during the England v. Australia international. Oh, and by the way, England won.

End of newspaper blurb.

“Streaking” - throwing off all your clothes and cutting a dash in public - was (apparently) a craze in America in the early 1970s.

It probably came about because of all that 1960s “Be free, Man!” stuff - although people had run amok in public naked for kicks before that. 20th Century Words by John Ayto (Oxford, 1999) records this quote from a 1974 American Runner’s World magazine: “During the winter of 1958-9 a group of us ‘streaked’ all over Berkeley.”

So perhaps it was the rockin’ rollin’ 50s that set the trend in motion?

Who knows?

Over here in England, we’d sniggered over a song called The Streak in 1974 (“Here he comes! There he goes! And he ain’t wearin’ no clothes!”), and one or two hardy souls had flashed their bits, but the craze never really got going (not surprising when you consider our climate).

And then, in January 1982, a young woman called Erika Roe braved the English elements, together with a pal, and invaded the rugby pitch at Twickenham - bravely carrying all before her.

She is our best remembered and most celebrated streaker…
 Titters At Twickers

I say chaps! It’s shirts off at the big, big match

A buxom brunette had a nice try yesterday - at converting millions of TV viewers to the jolly old sport of rugger.

She ran on to the pitch at half-time during the England v Australia match at Twickenham - and promptly began to peel off her blouse.

There were hearty roars of approval from the 60,000 chaps in the crowd as the stripper - with the chest measurements of a full-back - and a girl-friend, built more like a fly-half, tried to do a lap of honour.

Even the England team, who were getting a pep-talk on the field, couldn’t keep their eyes off the topless antics.

Skipper Billy Beaumont said: “I was trying to get through to the boys - but most of them seemed to be gazing over my shoulder.”

Finally the topless pair were tackled and put into touch by smiling policemen. A 24-year-old girl from Hampshire was later questioned and warned she may be summoned for insulting behaviour.

The display, shown live on BBC’s “Grandstand”, didn’t distract the England team - they went on to win 15 - 11, Beaumont’s 11th win in 20 matches as skipper.

He’s clearly on a winning streak.

Daily Mirror, 7/1/1982

Public opinion on Erika's ... er... revelations differed, as seen above. Some blokes (probably an awful lot!) liked them:

Thanks Erika Roe for doing a streak at the televised Twickenham rugby international. I've seldom seen so many smiling faces at work as the lads discussed it all on Monday morning.

Good luck to Erika. She has given the men of Britain a wonderful tonic.

Of course, women seeking "equality" were not so keen:

God help our chances of being treated as equals when someone like Erika Roe thoroughly enjoys streaking in front of thousands of rugby fans. What a silly woman she is.

And what did I think? Well, I could see both sides.

23 September 2008

Michael Fagan: The "Prowler" At Buckingham Palace...

On the 9th of July 1982 an intruder entered the Queen's bedroom at Buckingham Palace.

From the Daily Mirror, 12/7/1982:

An intruder at Buckingham Palace got into the Queen's bedroom, it was revealed last night.The man sat on the Queen's bed for ten minutes and she engaged him in conversation. Eventually she found an excuse to fetch a footman, on duty in the corridor outside, and the prowler was detained.

Early this morning Buckingham Palace would only say: "It is entirely a police matter."

But the apparent ease with which a stranger managed to reach the Queen's side - she unprotected and he undetected - casts grave doubts about the efficiency of security at the Palace.

The drama happened early in the morning and the Queen remained calm.

She was eventually able to get help when the man asked for a cigarette.

The Queen said there were none in the bedroom and offered to have some brought.

Once the intruder's confidence had been gained, the Queen opened her bedroom door and beckoned a footman outside in the corridor.

The footman pretended to bring the cigarettes, opened the bedroom door and detained the intruder.

Prince Phillip, it is reported, was in a separate bedroom at the time of the incident.

Lapses in security at Buckingham Palace during the past year have caused grave concern for the Queen's safety.

Action to improve security is already under way.

On Saturday a barbed-wire barricade was put up as part of the new safety measures. The wire tops iron spikes already protecting the palace walls.

The palace has been invaded by strangers several times in the last year.

Three West German tourists camped in the grounds for twelve hours, thinking they were in a public park.

A man claiming he was hopelessly in love with Princess Anne was found wandering in the grounds.

Last month a member of the Royal Household reported seeing an intruder at the palace shortly after American President Ronald Reagan arrived.

A top-level police enquiry into security has been ordered by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir David NcNee...


Yesterday, in just about the craziest case since the trial of the Knave of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, a court of law solemnly declared open house at the Queen’s residence.

The Sun declared that the decision to clear Michael Fagan of the charge of burgling Buckingham Palace was “BONKERS!”

… Michael Fagan, the prowler who had a bedside chat with the Queen, was sensationally cleared yesterday of burgling Buckingham Palace.

An Old Bailey jury took just 22 minutes to acquit 32-year-old Fagan.

He had told them that “a little voice in my head” had ordered him to break into the Palace twice this year.

Fagan added that he did it to prove that the Queen’s security was lax.

He said: “I wanted to show that the Queen was not too safe… I could have been a rapist or something.”

The jury of seven men and five women cleared him of trespassing at the Palace, and stealing half a bottle of Californian wine belonging to Prince Charles.

Fagan - whose break-ins earned him the nickname “Spiderman” among Palace staff - beamed with delight at the verdict.

But last night he was still behind bars at London’s Brixton Prison facing two other charges - of taking a car and of assault.

Fagan’s wife Christine and mother Ivy were in the public gallery to hear of Fagan’s two break-ins - on July 7 and July 9 this year.

He appeared in the dock in the crowded Number One Court wearing a red pullover, navy slacks and white open-necked shirt.

Fagan, of Copenhagen Street, Islington, North London, was flanked by three prison officers and replied “Not Guilty” when the charges were read out.

Fagan told how he first got into the Palace on June 7 - after disturbing housemaid Sarah Carter. He said: “I went round there with the children and heard security was a bit lax. So I decided to show that someone could get in.

“I disturbed a young lady and then walked around the place…”

At this point Recorder James Miskin, QC, urged him not to talk so quickly as he had to write the evidence down. Said Fagan: “OK - did you get it?”

Fagan, who started most of his sentences with “yeah”, said he was surprised he was not captured right away after disturbing the housemaid.

He added: “I could have been a rapist or something.

“I stayed there about half-an-hour without being captured. I even had time to have a drink because I was thirsty.”

Fagan said during his roaming he noticed names on various doors.

“Princess Anne was on one room and Captain Mark Phillips on another. I decided not to disturb them,” he said with a laugh.

He said he opened another door with “Prince Phillip” on it, adding: “But they were out seeing President Reagan.”

Fagan described how he went into a post room and drank from a bottle of Californian wine he found there.

The court heard the wine - and a pair of baby bootees - had been sent to Prince Charles and Princess Diana before the birth of their son.

Fagan slumped forward and rested his arms on the edge of the witness box as his counsel, Mr Richard Slowe, quizzed him about his activities.

He said: “I was in the room for half-an-hour waiting to get pinched.

“In my opinion I have done the Queen a favour. I proved her security was not one up.”

Mrs Barbara Mills, prosecuting, suggested to Fagan that the wine had not been his to drink. He replied: “It was not my palace to get in, was it?”

He went on: “There was no tap… I was thirsty. I had done a good day’s work for the Queen showing the security was bad.”

Earlier Miss Carter told how she came face-to-face with Fagan.

She told the jury she was sitting on her bed after 11.00pm when she heard a noise.

“Turning towards the window I saw some fingers on the outside of the frame. They were a few inches up from the sill itself.

“I saw a fleeting glimpse of a man’s face. Then I ran out of the room into the corridor shutting the door behind me.”

She told two other housemaids in nearby rooms about what she had seen and added:

“As I talked to them I heard a small noise in my room. But I decided against opening the door.”

The three girls then alerted a duty police officer.

Det Sgt Geoffrey Braithwaite admitted that at first he did not believe the girl’s story because of the climb involved.

Mrs Mills told the court it was 55ft from the Palace courtyard to Miss Carter’s window.

But later pigeon repellent - from window ledges - was found on a carpet and a full scale alarm raised.

But, despite a big search with the help of police dogs, no trace of the intruder was found.

Then, on July 9, Fagan made his second visit to the Palace and was finally arrested.

Fagan was cornered in a pantry near the Queen’s bedroom by footman Paul Whybrew.

Mr Whybrew, who has been at the Palace for six years, said in a statement that Fagan kept insisting that he wanted to talk to the Queen… “My queen.”

He added: “I tried to keep him calm and he said he was all right.

“He said it was urgent and tried to pass me but I got in his way. I also noticed his breath smelled of alcohol.

“I laughed and tried to be casual and friendly and said: ‘How did you get here?’ He replied: ‘I just want to talk to her.’

To stall for time, Mr Whybrew told him: “All right but let her get dressed first.”

Mr Whybrew said Fagan appeared to be “not coherent or rational. He seemed very tense.”

The footman asked him if he would like a drink and Fagan replied: “Yes please, I would like a scotch.”

Fagan was given a glass of Scotch - and then PC Cedric Robert arrived in the pantry.

PC Robert said Fagan “appeared scruffy and was wearing a grubby grey sweatshirt and jeans. He was barefoot.”

As they grabbed his arms to lead him away, Fagan said: “I want to see the Queen - let me go back to talk to her.”

On his way through the Palace, Fagan became very abusive and said his name was Rudolph Hess, the Nazi war leader…

Of the charges laid against Mr Fagan, the Sun informed us:

Fagan was accused of “burglary contrary to Section 9 (1)B of the Theft Act 1968, the particulars being that between the sixth day of June and the ninth day of June, 1982, he entered Buckingham Palace and stole therein a quantity of wine.”

He was NOT charged with entering the Queen’s bedroom - which happened during his second Palace escapade - because, says the Director of Public Prosecutions, no criminal offence was committed.

Remembering '80s Technology...

I wasn't a great technology fan in the 1980s. In fact, the sort of things that were zooming into our homes and work places as the decade progressed seemed highly weird and a little bit suspect to me. I spent my leisure time down the local pub or Nite Spot, "done up like a dog's dinner", quaffing back the "Reassuringly Expensive", pushing up my linen jacket sleeves (they would keep sliding down!) and caressing my designer stubble. Sadly, the stubble made me look like a "well dodgy geezer" and had to go, but my blonde highlights, cerise vest and obvious shoulder pads ensured that I was still at the height of fashion. Lucky old me!

I was slightly the wrong age for the '80s technological revolution - when I left school in the early '80s, computer studies were just coming in, and the only time I'd glimpsed a home computer game was when Tristram got the "Pong" TV game as a present in an episode of George and Mildred shown at Christmas 1979.

The office I worked in in the early-to-mid '80s was absolutely computerless.

Some pals of mine were interested in what was happening and kept up with the incoming technology (or at least as much as they could afford to). But not me.

So this blog is something of a voyage of discovery for me. And like my other blogs is based on hard facts, recollections and material from the decade concerned.

By the late '80s, the new technology popping up everywhere was impossible to ignore. But I still wasn't keen.

Sky Clearbrook, a fellow blogster - the man behind the excellent "Avenues And Alleyways" blog, was much more "of the times" when it came to technology, and shares some memories and suggestions for this blog below...

Sinclair ZX81 - My mate had one of these.

* The keys were similar to that of a Speak 'n' Spell.

* It had 1K of memory which could be upgraded by purchasing the 16K RAM Pak.

* The 16K RAM Pak sat upright at the rear of the computer often caused what became known as the RAM Pak wobble.

* Completely monochrome display.

* The graphics for any game you bought for it would have usually consisted of Xs firing off Is to shoot the invading Os.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum

* Almost proper keys this time. Rubberised - became notorious for collecting dust.

* Came in 16K and 48K varieties. A 128K version in differently-styled casing came along a couple of years later.

* Featured colour graphics. It was only possible to have two colours per character (8 pixels by 8 pixels), so games very often suffered from what became known as "colour clash" when a number of characters moved in front of each other.

* Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy became huge hits. There were two versions of Manic Miner. It was originally released on the Bug Byte label, and then later with some changes on Software Projects. The two games made Matthew Smith very rich indeed. There were always stories about hidden levels and rooms, but I think these were mainly urban myths.

* Worth doing a few features on some of the software houses....

* Ultimate - Play The Game were based in the exotically-named Ashby De La Zouch (just like KP crisps!). They were very secretive, releasing very high quality games only periodically. "Sabre Wulf", "Atic Atac", "Lunar Jetman" and "Knight Lore" were probably their biggest hits for the Speccy.

* Ocean Software fairly churned them out. Saturated the market with their US Gold range (licensed from the likes of Midway et al) and film/tv show tie-ins which were a bit hit-and-miss.

* Imagine - The Name Of The Game were the subject of a BBC documentary. They released quite a few good games, but famously went bust - well worth digging into that.


* Sinclair User. Often published page after page of BASIC programs for the reader to type in. You could literally spend hours typing something in, only to run it and find that there were bugs somewhere in it. Cue loads of laborious rechecking. More often than not, the next month's issue would feature loads of corrections for previously published programs!

* Crash. The absolute dog's b******s. Written by real gaming enthusiasts, they would have loads of exclusive features, cheats and walkthroughs, etc. They subsquently launched versions of their mag for the Commodore 64 (Zapp 64) and the Amstrad (can't remember the title). There was one famous issue of Crash (summer 1985?) where they did a really good piss take of Sinclair User called... Unclear User. It was absolutely hilarious - right down to the logo, fonts and formatting, but it got them into quite a bit of hot water. The issue was pulled and then re-issued minus the offending pages. Anyone with a copy of the pulped version probably has a bit of a collector's item on their hands.

Phew. There's a fair bit there. I'm sorry these are really only suggestions for research rather than hard facts, but I hope the steer proves useful. If I think of anything else, I'll send you another mail.

Thanks, Sky - keep in touch!

"The Kit"

From the Cambridge Evening News, August 1982:

A Willingham businessman has hit the jackpot with his new concept in drumming.

Mr Mike Coxhead set up a company, MPC Electronics, based at his home in Willingham four months ago specifically to launch his idea, which is called "The Kit".

It is a small machine which electronically produces drum sounds to match those of a full-size drum kit. The drummer taps out the sound with his fingers on touch-sensitive pads giving a limitless range of rhythms.

Now Mr Coxhead and a partner, Mr Clive Button of Norwich, have captured orders worth £250,000 world-wide.

"The Kit" and its sister machines, "The Tymp", "The Clap" and "The Synkit" have gone into production at the Medco electronics plant in Ainsworth Street, Cambridge.

Mr Coxhead said the firm had had to take on ten more workers to cope with the orders and another twenty were expected to be employed by Christmas.

When he unveiled the prototype in April he told the "News" he was quietly confident it would sell abroad.

He is delighted with the response gained through the New York distributors. "I could end up a very wealthy man," he said.

The production model has been redesigned into a smoother looking unit. Mr Coxhead said it "went down big" in the USA where 2,000 were ordered before the product was in the shops.

"They have got the money over there and they are into synthesised music and the electronic idiom," he said...

Japan has also proved to be a viable market. "It's good to beat the Japanese at their own game. They are in the shops over there and selling well."

1981: The Space Shuttle's Maiden Flight...

Snippets from The Daily Mirror, 15/4/1981. The space shuttle Columbia has returned from its maiden flight, nine seconds late!