31 December 2009

Happy New Year - And Happy New Decade!

Wishing all our readers a very Happy New Year - and a Happy New Decade too! Of course, there'll never be another decade with the glitz, grit, hustle, bustle, turmoil and sheer pizzaz of the 1980s!

But never mind.

30 December 2009

Emmerdale Farm - Amos Does Himself A Mischief, Crossroads - David And Barbara Get Married, Coronation Street - Hilda And Eddie Sing Carols...

Rita Fairclough (Barbara Knox) gives husband Len (Peter Adamson) a right lambasting before walking out on him in 1980.

What were UK soap operas like in the early '80s?

Well, we had Crossroads, Coronation Street and Emmerdale Farm. The farming saga (as it was then) would not be networked - shown on the same day and at the same time - until January 1988. We also had a couple of new soaps - Take The High Road took us to Scotland - to the village of Glendarroch; Together was set in a block of flats in the south of England. In 1981, we gained English-speaking Welsh soap Taff Acre.

Both Taff Acre and Together were short-lived.

Those were the days before the shock of the new in the soap world - the arrivals of Brookside (1982) and EastEnders (1985). Life in soap land was a lot slower than it is today...

What were the early months of 1980 like in Beckindale, the original name of the village now called Emmerdale? Well, the start of a new decade should have brought smiles to a few of the characters.

Let's time-warp back and pop up to Home Farm to see Judy Westrop (Jane Cussons). Good old Judy's having a fag and saying: "I'm angry - and I'm enjoying it!"

Oh dear...

And Matt Skilbeck (Frederick Pyne) is at the hospital where there's bad news from the doctor: "I'm sorry, Mr Skilbeck, there's no choice. Your wife's condition is critical. We must operate now."

Oh no! But surely there's better news at The Woolpack? After all, Amos Brearly (Ronald Magill) is sure to want to start the new decade on a positive note...

Oh 'eck! Steady on, Amos - you'll do yourself a mischief!


Too late!

Oh, well... much better news - Clive Hornby made his first appearance as Jack Sugden on 19 February 1980 - and Joe (Frazer Hines) greeted him: "Welcome back to Emmerdale, big brother!"

And a bit later there was a new woman at Annie's Aga - just temporary of course... but, hang on, doesn't she look familiar? Good grief, it's Pam St Clement, later Pat of EastEnders, getting an early taste of soap life as Mrs Eckersley in March 1980.

And Grandad Sam Pearson (Toke Townley) caught a big smelly fish whilst on holiday in Ireland: "I'm goin' to 'ave it stuffed, and it's goin' in a glass case over't mantelpiece," said Grandad.


Funny old year. Funny old start to a new decade...

However, villagers and viewers alike were delighted to meet the new Dolly Skilbeck, now played by Jean Rogers. The new Dolly made her screen debut on 1 April, 1980.

Thanks to our sister blog, the Beckindale Bugle, for our Emmerdale Farm pics and insights.

It was decreed in 1979 that the weekly number of Crossroads episodes broadcast should be cut from four to three in 1980. The IBA was unhappy with the standards of the show.

In the story-line, 1980 got off to a cracking start nonetheless with Rosemary Hunter (Janet Hargreaves) shooting her ex-husband, David (Ronald Allen) in the motel office. David survived and went on to marry his new love, novelist Barbara Brady (Sue Lloyd).

Sue Lloyd had made her debut in the show the year before and revealed in her 1998 autobiography that she had had doubts about going into Crossroads:

The first time I was offered a role in Crossroads, I must admit my initial reaction was to be a bit sniffy about it. The soap was renowned for its wobbly scenery, bizarre sory lines and regular slaughtering by the critics. Why would I, just back from filming The Pink Panther with Peter Sellers in the South of France, and about to embark on the comedy The Upchat Line with John Alderton, want to get involved in a project like that? Besides, I was too busy.

'If they want you,' advised my agent, 'they'll come back.'

He was right. About a year later they called again. They were looking for an actress to play a slightly mysterious, classy lady named Barbara Brady. She was to arrive at the Crossroads Motel, apparently to take a post as a sort of upmarket housekeeper, but in reality she was an author researching material for a new book.

David and Barbara were two of the show's most popular characters until they were axed in 1985.

The Ogdens had been Corrie favourites since the mid-1960s. In December 1981, Daily Mirror TV critic Hilary Kingsley issued a plea to the Street's writers to stop Hilda (Jean Alexander) singing!

Her carol duet with Eddie Yeats (Geoffrey Hughes) had not been appreciated.

Originally a petty crook and lovable layabout, Eddie got a job as a binman in 1980 and moved in with the Ogdens at No 13.

The early '80s were the final on-screen era for a number of the Street's original characters - Annie Walker (Doris Speed), Ena Sharples (Violet Carson), Albert Tatlock (Jack Howarth) and Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix) all made their final appearances in the first half of the decade.

By mid-1984, Ken Barlow (William Roache) was the only remaining member of the cast who had appeared in the first episode, broadcast on 9 December 1960.

23 December 2009

Christmas Greetings!

Another year almost over... and the 1980s become even further away.

Next year 1980 will be thirty years ago. Yes, thirty. It doesn't seem possible. This was a very decisive year for the decade as Ronald Reagan was elected US President in November. And from America soon would come the word "yuppie" and a whole host of ripple effect changes.

From Adam and the Ants to Pump Up The Jam, from the Rubik's Cube craze to the invention of the World Wide Web, the 1980s brought many, many changes.

And now they are the increasingly distant past.

But the memories remain.

Stay tuned to '80s Actual in the New Year for much more 1980s nostalgia - and if that wondrous, turbulent decade sometimes seems so very far away, just turn on your computer, pop over here, and remember that, when it comes to the '80s:

"We'll always be together - however far it seems - we'll always be together - together in electric dreams..."

22 December 2009

Joan Collins And Her UK Dynasty Debut - TV In '83...

It's New Year's Eve. New Year's Eve 1982, that is, and the telly pages of the Daily Mirror are looking forward to 1983.

So, what had we in store?

Well, firstly, there was Joanie. Our very own Joan Collins, that is. Joan had already made her debut in America on the glitzy soap Dynasty, but we'd yet to see her Alexis exploits here in blighty. New Year's Day 1983 would change all that. And the Daily Mirror on 31 December 1982 was heralding the fact:

Joan Collins was driving through Hollywood. She stopped her car at lights, and was spotted by two young girls.

"We hate you! You're a bitch," they screamed at her.

Joan says: "I was quite taken aback, then I suddenly realised it wasn't me they hated, but Alexis. And I understood just how they felt."

Alexis is the new character Joan plays in the American soap opera DYNASTY.

She takes her bow as a surprise witness for the prosecution in the trial of her ex-husband, oil tycoon Blake Carrington, who is accused of the murder of his son's ex-lover.

I watched Joan working on the TV set in Hollywood. Then, over lunch, she told me: "Alexis is a scheming, sexy, ruthless woman. The part seems to get bigger and juicer all the time.

"Viewers want to be taken out of themselves. They want to watch extremely rich people living the high life, full of emotional problems.

"I think that's why this show is doing so well. instead of cops and robbers and beating people up, the accent is on intrigue and sex.

"It's very glossy and no expense is spared. Each show, which takes us just six days to shoot, costs half a million dollars.

"A lot of money is spent in front of the cameras. We have fresh flowers on the screen - no imitation ones and fresh flowers in Hollywood cost a fortune. I also wear some very expensive gowns."

[Andy's note: Of course it was the Dynasty dress budget and outrageous costumes which set actresses in rival American soaps Dallas and Knots Landing screaming for parity!]

Joan won't talk about what she earns. But her TV contract is said to be worth £250,000.

She says: "When you're used to earning three million dollars a film, I suppose it's difficult to accept a quarter of a million dollars a film.

"I would hate to get into that situation. I think it's obscene, I really do. Some actors do get paid far too much."

Popular ITV quiz show Family Fortunes, which began in 1980, was returning on New Year's Eve 1982 for a fourth series

Presenter Bob Monkhouse said:

"So much money was invested in the first series we had to be sure the idea was a good one. But I stand by my prediction that it can only survive five years, then we'll have to think of something else."


1982 was the last year the UK had to make do without breakfast television, and on New Year's Eve '82, we got our first broadcast from the TV-am studios, home of the ITV breakfast service - and Joan Collins was on the billing:


David Frost is using a New Year's Eve party to warm up for Breakfast TV.

Tonight he hosts THE END OF THE YEAR SHOW (Channel 4, 11.00) which comes live from TV-AM's new studios in Camden Town.

This is the first time that they have been used and are scheduled to be fully operational by February.

David, who is one of the main forces behind TV-AM, says: "I thought it would be a good idea to have a practice run in the studios before we start our breakfast programmes.

"We have marvellous facilities here and I've always wanted to do an irreverent look at the year.

"We will be looking for the silliest statement, the saddest story, the funniest misprint, the most welcome comeback, the biggest scandal and the worst example of sheer incompetence.

"It will be a ninety minute frolic with such star guests as Joan Collins, Jonathan Dimbleby, Joanna Lumley, Susan George, John Wells, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Instant Sunshine and many others. Richard Harris sings a great finale. It should be great fun."

Of course, the early days of TV-am have been called a real life soap opera - maybe not quite Dynasty, but definitely very intriguing!

12 December 2009

Adam And The Ants: "I'm The Dandy Highwayman..."

Adam Ant, AKA Stuart Goddard, emerged from the ashes of Punk and relaunched himself as the Dandy Highwayman of New Romantic pop. His image - hair ribbons, lip gloss, and the famous white line across the face, was stunning. Actually Adam has said he wasn't ever a New Romantic, but, whatever he was, he was fabulous.

Qua qua, fa diddily qua qua, fa diddily qua qua...

An Adam Ant mirror - Adam was King of the Wild Frontier AND 1980, 1981 and 1982. The mirror, which is dated 1980, hangs in my hall to this day and brings back fond memories of youth.

In the mid-1990s, my mate Pete, bored with the "we can do a better Beatles than you can" squabble between Blur and Oasis, asked mournfully: "Andy, whatever happened to all the GOOD music? Whatever happened to Adam and the Ants?"

What indeed!

How would you feel if your son looked like this? asks this TV Times from June 1981. On the housing estate where I lived, no bloke would have DARED to look like that!

An interesting article from the Daily Mirror, June 1981:

A film scene showing pop idol Adam Ant being hanged was chopped from TV's Top of the Pops last night.

The three minute film promoting Adam's latest hit Stand And Deliver was shown on the programme a few weeks ago.

But a BBC spokesman said last night: "It was decided to cut the scene from future shows because we don't want to encourage younger viewers to copy Adam's antics."

Film maker Mike Mansfield said: "It was just a piece of fancy dress fun - and, anyway, Adam does not die."

Sensitivities were obviously very different back then - think about what today's children view! Note the way the article's writer refers to the video as a "film". "Films" or "promo's" for songs actually stretch back many years. The "video" tag took off during the 1980s, greatly influenced by MTV.

Adam And The Ants starring on the cover of "Look-In", October 1981


Daily Mirror, 10/9/1981:

There's another new girl in the life of lady killer Adam Ant. It's Diana Dors, who was a sex symbol before he even knew about such things.

The odd couple have teamed up for a TV film that will be shown on "Top of the Pops" tonight to plug Adam's new single, "Prince Charming".

Diana appears as a fairy godmother who turns Adam from a pauper into a prince.

Prince Charming is one of Adam's best-known "TV films", and his fabulous co-star was once described as "the English Marilyn Monroe". 

See a slightly later 1980s pop star with some fab make-up ideas here.

20 November 2009

Ted Moult And The 1980s Everest Double Glazing Ads ...


Before the 1980s, I never even dreamt of having double glazed windows. My bedroom window was an old wooden sash, ice formed on the inside when it was cold, and if it was windy it rattled all night long. Breath came out as steam on cold nights.

In the 1980s, double glazing started coming into the lives of people like me - lowly members of the common herd - and one of the TV, newspaper and magazine ad series which most attracted my attention was the one for Everest Double Glazing. The ads featured Derbyshire farmer Ted Moult - the man credited for coming up with the concept of "pick your own strawberries". A popular media figure since the 1960s, in November 1982, Mr Moult began distinguishing himself further as a contributor to the first programme ever shown on Channel 4 - Countdown. 

Of course, double glazing was then different - mostly wood or metal frames, but all that PVC came home to roost in the 1980s and I was shocked when a friend of mine had plastic windows and doors fitted around 1986. I have them now - but I'm still not keen.

Anyway, back to the Everest ads. Remember the '80s Everest ad at the top of this post, probably the most famous, with Ted visiting the Tan Hill Inn, England's highest inn? And the feather routine? Not even a hint of a draught, was there? Etched on the memory is it not? Along with that catchphrase: "You only fit double glazing once. So fit the best - Everest." 

That ad convinced many of us that, for sound insulation and draught proofing, double glazing was a must. How had we ever survived without it? I must admit, thinking back on the icy cold bedroom of my youth, I do sometimes wonder, without even a hint of irony!

Some 1984 TV Times magazine ads - including an ad for Everest double glazing featuring Ted Moult. The ads spanned the early-to-mid 1980s. 

Andy's footnote... Suffering from depression, Ted Moult committed suicide in 1986.

08 November 2009

1981/1982: Buy A Trimphone PLEASE - We'll Give You Funky Two-Tone Colours, We'll Call Them Phoenixphones... We'll Knock £15 Off.... We'll Do ANYTHING

From the Daily Mail, April 15, 1981. British Telecom arrived in 1980 and in 1981 began selling phones for the very first time. Before that subscribers could only rent, and there wasn't much choice of styles. The Trimphone arrived in the 1960s, and with its distinctive warble was supposedly set for great things.

The Trimphone of the 1960s and 1970s came in one sludgy colour scheme (ignore Life On Mars and Margaret - they'll put you wrong - more about that later!) and I've often wondered just how popular they were? If you watch actual television shows of the era, how many Trimphones do you see?

Crossroads, the ITV Midlands soap, had one of the early sludge-coloured beauties - it was in the very trendy flat of the womanising restaurant manager (later home to Miss Diane) - and was on-screen from 1977 until the mid-1980s.

Incidentally, in a 1983 episode of
Crossroads I recently viewed, the Trimphone rang on one occasion like a traditional bell-ringer phone. This was obviously because the chap or chappess in charge of the sound effects had forgotten to use the "warble effect". None of the characters on screen appeared to notice the oddness of this event. Crossroads was endearingly batty at times!

But, apart from the very odd one in Crossroads, Trimphones were thin on the ground on the telly.

In 1981, with their desire to sell phones, that brave new entity, BT, seemed very keen indeed to flog off Trimphones. So, they gave them lovely two-tone colours. And offered £15.00 off.

From the newspaper ad above:

The Trimphone is a lightweight phone with a melodious warble. It combines the best in modern technology with a timeless elegance of design.

Normally, it costs quite a bit more than an ordinary phone, as you might expect. However, until 31 July 1981, we're offering it to you at a knock-down price.

There are two models, the press-button and a dial model. They come in a range of 3 attractive two-tone colours.

For full details, do one of two things. Call the operator and ask for Freefone 888 anytime during office hours, or fill in the coupon (no stamp required). Either way, you'll get a warble for a song.

I'm not sure how successful this marketing ploy was. Everybody I knew who had a telephone (apart from my posh auntie who had a Trimphone - but then she would) had a bog standard traditional dial bell-ringer and I noticed none of these new colourful 1981 Trimphones suddenly bursting out all over.

In early 1982, BT, seemingly absolutely determined to flog these phones, went further.

The two-tone colour gimmick of 1981 continued, but the Trimphones were now called Phoenixphones. Lord Snowdon had a hand in picking the colours, and they were all part of "The Snowdon Collection". There's stylish for you!

The Trimphone goes colourful - the 1982 Phoenix Phone, sorry, Phoenixphone, all one word, available in dial or push-button models.

I didn't see any of these new telephonic style icons on my daily rounds. And BT released such a range of telephones for sale in the 1980s that the Trimphone/Phoenixphone soon seemed positively quaint.

Bizarrely, a couple of the red trimphones - sorry, Phoenixphones - have recently, quite wrongly, appeared in TV programmes set in the 1970s - including
Life On Mars and Margaret.

They've also cropped up on one or two websites dedicated to phones as "70s" items and are often falsely sold as such on eBay

Odd, isn't it - just how many '60s and '80s pop culture items are attributed to the 1970s?

But then perhaps it's not so surprising - the modern day fantasy view of the 1970s largely depends on 1960s and 1980s realities to keep up its totally fake "funky" image!

07 November 2009

Texas Tom - Commercial Break 1988

Does anybody else remember the Texas Tom TV ads?

The words to the ads were set to a country and western dirge, and sung by a very rugged-sounding gent with an American accent, who was apparently called Texas Tom.

But the setting was England - complete with rain.

In one of the ads (I think there were several), a woman was at home, doing the ironing, apparently dreaming of somebody called Texas Tom. The accompanying song's lyrics assured us that he could transform her drab home. So off she went into the rain, headed for her local Texas Homecare store.

During the ad, we saw the back view of a man several times - and it would appear that this was Texas Tom, the hunk doing the singing...

The woman arrived at Texas, soaking wet, asked for Tom, the guy turned around... and he was not what you might expect.

For years, the Texas ads had the slogan "Texas - The Big One" - these ads are usually the first to spring to mind when Texas Homecare is mentioned.

Texas Tom arrived in the late 1980s (the screen capture at the top of this post is from a 1988 video recording) and didn't stick around for long. But the ad had a certain charm - and I remember it fondly.

And guess what? Apparently some customers actually asked for Tom at their local Texas Homecare stores!

"Just Ask For Tom" - Texas Homecare ad from the Sun, August 28, 1989.

By the miracle of YouTube see a 1988 Texas Tom
TV ad below!

UPDATE - 7/11/2009:

I have just received a comment from Mr Paul Richey. When Texas Tom made his TV ad debut in the late 1980s, Mr Richey was a country singer of Nashville, Tennessee. So, what has Mr Richey got to do with Tom? I quote from Mr Richey's comment below:

I was the voice of Texas Tom in the advert. I also appeared at the Wembley Festival three different years and did a six week tour with Billie Jo Spears. Our opening act was Raymond Froggett. I still live in Nashville and I'm a Songwriter and Music Publisher. Was surprised to have found this advert.

Texas Tom was a 1980s TV ads hero of mine, Paul! I thought those ads were great fun and remember them fondly. Thank you for getting in touch - I have often wondered who gave Tom voice!

06 November 2009

Some Advice On Blogging About A Decade...

Jim has written to ask me for advice about producing a blog based on the events and pop culture of a particular decade. Very flattering, although I'm no high-minded expert!

A few points may be of interest:

1) Choose a decade you are enthusiastic about - one about which you have good memories, an important time in your life - or a decade you never lived through but have enthusiasm for nonetheless.

2) Read up all about it. You may have lived through, for example, the 1980s, but you are one person. Your memories of living through the decade are very important - these insights help to give the blog life and colour. But also include as much media material as possible, and see yourself in perspective, also including the perspectives of others differently placed from yourself.

3) Don't trust all you read. I never use Wikipedia for example, or BBC on-line, or the I Love... BBC TV shows. I find there are inaccuracies and personal agendas seeping through to an alarming degree. Even media actually from a decade can contain misleading information, and I'm not just talking about political biases - basic facts are sometimes misreported. If you are including a snippet from a newspaper/magazine article or TV or radio show, and you know one or more facts are wrong, insert the correct fact/s - something like this:

[The Hungarian Magic Cube became Rubik's Cube in 1980 when it was re-named, re-manufactured and entered mainstream pop culture in the western world. It was released in America in May 1980, and the trademark was first registered in the UK on 7/5/1980 but, due to a shortage, the first Rubik's Cubes did not arrive here until just before Christmas].

Squared brackets indicate that this is your writing, a departure from whatever text you have been quoting.

4) Make it serious, make it fun. If you remember, for instance, the moment the Rubik's Cube first arrived in your household in 1980 or 1981, write it up. Was Dad befuddled? Did your little sis turn out to be an unexpected Cube genius? Cover major events, politics, TV, pop culture, pop music, film and fashion trends. Try and present as full a picture of the decade as possible.

5) Remember that decades are very short periods of time and look at how they link to other times. In the case of the 1980s, for example, something much seen in 1980/81 was flared trousers, not the height of fashion, but still around in large numbers. These are a link back to the late 1960s when this fashion first began to enter the mainstream. Do not be afraid to scan across the decades for the origins of some fads, fashions, news stories etc. Time is not split up rigidly into decades, it is a constantly flowing stream.

6) Accuracy is of prime importance. Study, study, study - there is a great deal of inaccurate information on-line. Try and make your blog a resource readers can trust. If you discover you have got something wrong, correct it!

7) Be prepared to answer e-mail queries/comments from readers.

8) Be as obscure as you like. You may have loved Max Wall as Walter Soper in Crossroads from 1982-1983, and have detailed knowledge of Marjorie Dawe and her life at Riddleton End (for example). Blog it all. You can rest assured that a topic not covered much elsewhere will add extra interest to your blog - and some people out there will come looking!

9) Most of all, have fun! And if you like your subject matter, that shouldn't be too difficult. I find '80s Actual to be both stimulating and relaxing. My final piece of advice, in the "immortal" words of Wham! is "Enjoy what you do!"

01 November 2009

The Pretenders - Chrissie Hynde In 1981...

There was no House Music in 1980. It did not exist. No true Hip Hop scene either (we'd just experienced the first Rap record to chart).

But 1980 threw us a few final Disco classics, brought us
Buster Bloodvessel and Bad Manners, David Bowie's weird and wonderful Ashes To Ashes with its groundbreaking video, and The Cure with A Forest. Adam Ant and Spandau Ballet hit the charts as The New Romantics began their reign, and it was a golden year for new boys Madness. In fact, all in all, 1980 was an excellent year for the pop charts.

19 January 1980, the decade got its first new chart topper - Brass In Pocket by The Pretenders.

With a title like that, some think it an appropriate first new Number 1 for the '80s. Perhaps it is - although in 1980 the financial climate was grim and
yuppies unknown.

Brass In Pocket was gloriously downbeat music-wise, whilst the lyrics were personable and optimistic.

Here's a small but (I think) fascinating glimpse into the world of Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde from the Daily Mirror, July 27, 1981.


Now rock star Chrissie really is mean and moody

She looks as though she has just got off the pillion of a greaser's motorbike.

Big leather jacket, black eyeliner, stark white face and a street fighter's stride.

The tough image would force a building worker to think twice before whistling.

But the mean, moody look has made Chrissie Hynde star rock singer with The Pretenders. Now the moodiness is for real, because Chrissie is not sure anymore she wants to be a star.

"I could go back to being a dropout. I was really good at that. No stage nerves, no worries or responsibilities. Just a bag on my back, moving around, sleeping on somebody's floor, earning a few pounds here and there.

"That was much more me than all this."

She means the top hotels, the chauffeur-driven limousines and the shyness she has to fight each time The Pretenders appear in concert.

"I didn't go into the rock world for money and stardom, or to join the superstar sex round their swimming pools. I like writing songs and playing my guitar. A recording contract came along. At the time, it seemed more fun than being a waitress. Now, I'm not so sure."

Rock fans might find that a little difficult to swallow. But the stage punk has little in common with the thoughtful, 29-year-old Chrissie voicing her doubts.

Chrissie left her native American city, Ohio, in 1973, and bummed around London for four years until she met Pete Farndon, Martin Chambers and James Honeyman-Scott - the three Hereford men who eventually made up The Pretenders.

After Brass In Pocket reached number one, the band became one of the biggest names on the international rock circuit.

A tour of Britain, America, Japan and Australia - to coincide with their new album Pretenders II - ends in three days.

Non-smoker Chrissie hardly drinks. And has no interest in the rock tour diet of sex and drugs.

"Cocaine, it's the new calling card when you're on the road. Strange people appear backstage with little packets. They say, want me to cut you up some fun? And I say, get your ass outa here.

"Believe me, it's difficult trying to stay sober and clear-headed around rock people.

"Everyone is so intent on getting high. A little bourbon here, more beer over there.

"Meanwhile, I'm trying to smile at the jokes, keep up with the fun, and all the time I'd rather be sitting in a room by myself."

She gives the impression that her life is one long solo act.

Try steering the conversation to men, and a series of no-entry signs appear.

Mention love, and she clams up tighter than her torn, drainpipe jeans.

"My man of the moment?" She repeated the question with a shocked expression.

"I don't have men for the moment. I'm not like that

"I've never had a boyfriend until now. There is a man in my life now, but I'm not telling who he is or what he does.

"I'm not denying him because I want the fans to think I'm wild, free and available. I was always a loner before I met him.

"Friends filled my life, that was enough."

She hums, she plays with her hair and eventually admits that life is better with love.

"I suppose there is some colour now. Yeah, colours like black and blue."

Later, she walked back to her West End flat chatting happily, then she saw a poster advertising The Pretenders.

She paused and said: "When I see pictures all over the walls like that, I know there's no escape."

The first two Pretenders albums, released in 1980 and 1981.

27 October 2009

Keith Chegwin And Maggie Philbin

As health workers pelted Mrs Thatcher's car with eggs, Keith Chegwin ("Cheggers") and Maggie Philbin, the Posh and Becks of 1982, prepared for their wedding...

From the Daily Mirror, 3/9/1982:

For millions of youngsters, it will be the marriage of the year when their TV favourites Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin wed tomorrow.

The former "Swap Shop" assistants had only one worry about the great day... the smartness of the parish church in Little Stretton, Leicestershire, where Maggie grew up and was determined to marry.

But the villagers rallied round. "They have been fantastic," said Maggie.

"The church garden has been weeded, the grass cut, and even the old stone floor scrubbed."


I remember Keith on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Saturday Superstore. And then there was Cheggers Plays Pop - which ran all the way from 1978 to 1986...


Of the egg chuckers, who pelted the PM's car when she visited Aberdeen University medical school, Mrs T said: "It's a pity they have nothing better to do."

Like Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin?

From the Sunday People, 5/9/1982:

"Swap Shop" sweethearts Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin will soon be saying "I do" again.

For their wedding yesterday was recorded by a film crew for broadcast next month in a new children's TV show called "Saturday Superstore".

Maggie and Keith, who will both be on the new BBC show, fell for each other while presenting "Swap Shop".

And yesterday they were the stars in a white wedding at the tiny parish church in Little Stretton, Leicestershire, Maggie's home village.

DJ Tony Blackburn and TV personality John Craven turned up to join the hundreds of fans who beseiged the church.

The bride and groom even started the day by helping Tony Blackburn in an on-the-spot radio special.

Keith, who arrived at the church half an hour early, said: "It really got to me."

After the ceremony he admitted: "It was a tremendous emotional experience. I was so nervous that I even fluffed my lines towards the end."

Maggie, who turned up in a Rolls ten minutes late, said: "It was all right until I got into the car, then it really hit me. And I felt the tears coming when I entered the church and saw Keith standing there."

Mike Reid of Saturday Superstore - the start of a glittering new BBC Saturday morning children's telly era in 1982.

26 October 2009

Do You Remember That Quirky September Of 1981? Willo The Wisp, Mavis Cruet, Evil Edna, The Beast, Car Wash The Cat - And Others Too...

1981: Detail from the original opening titles of Willo The Wisp. 

It wasn't in quite the same league as The Magic Roundabout, but in my humble opinion Willo The Wisp, a creation of one Nicholas Spargo and brought to us courtesy of the BBC in 1981, was the best piece of pre-Evening News whimsy since Florence and Dougal made their screen debuts in 1965! Here we see the Willo The Wisp characters displayed on the back cover of a book based on the series.

The show's star was the voice, or should that be voices, of the very excellent Kenneth Williams. 

Willo The Wisp, a floaty, smoggy little thing, popped up at the start of each programme to narrate the latest tale from Doyley Wood. The origins of this character can be traced back to a ten minute British Gas tuition film called Super Natural Gas, in 1975.

Nicholas Spargo, a highly experienced script writer and animator, who had set up his own company - Nicholas Cartoon Films - with his wife Mary in 1954,  thought that the British Gas character could be developed, but it was a long and arduous process. A new setting, new characters, financing, new animation and backgrounds - all had to be sorted.

But finally, in that quirky September of 1981, Willo debuted on our TV screens in the scenic setting of Doyley Wood. This is a real wood in Oxfordshire, England. Don't bother going there to seek out the Wisp and his friends though. They all keep well out of the way when the likes of us are around.

Sliding down a moonbeam with Willo The Wisp.

Willo the Wisp seemed to benefit from its lengthy gestation period, because what was launched upon us unsuspecting viewers in 1981 was rather brilliant, and earned huge ratings for a BBC teatime five minute show.

So, what was it all about?

We'll start with Willo himself. He was a bit of a gossip, giving us telly viewers a daily up-date on the doings of the local residents. But he seldom became involved in the happenings himself, and seldom interacted with the other characters. 

A teatime treat! Willo the Wisp appears to give us all the latest gossip.

In the decade when Frankie went to Hollywood, Car Wash went to Catford. I was so intrigued, I wrote a short story on the subject.

 Car Wash - the figurine!

The other somewhat odd characters who lived in Doyley Wood in the '80s TV series included Mavis Cruet, a fat, good natured, but largely ineffectual fairy; Mavis's great friend and confidante, the gloriously down-to-earth Arthur the caterpillar; The Beast - previously Prince Humbert the Handsome; Car Wash (sometimes written Carwash) - the bespectacled, posh and slightly supercilious cat - who went on holiday, staying with a very dear friend in CATford; and the dog-like Moog, very good natured but not the brightest of sparks ("DON'T THINK, MOOG, DON'T THINK!").

 The adorable Moog, a loveable creature indeed. Well, he wasn't quite so loveable when he got a You-Know-What, but never mind.

Detail from the box cover of a 1980s Willo The Wisp jigsaw puzzle: the Astrognats blast off, watched by The Beast, Mavis Cruet, Willo, Evil Edna and Arthur the caterpillar. They boldly went where no gnat had gone before.

Dear old Arthur the caterpillar was such a good pal to Mave the fairy, but his dearest wish was to become a moth. Well, it takes all kinds to make a world. Sadly, when Arthur built a chrysalis,  squatters moved in.  He was quite proud of his appendages, and not pleased when they got singed off by a small but belligerent dragon.

Last, but by no means least on our list of 1981 Doyley Woodians is Evil Edna, a wicked witch who looked like a telly. Why? Ask me another! Edna performed her wicked spells by zapping people with her set-top aerial antennae. Mind you, she didn't have it easy. There was that dreadful time her feet went rusty at the seaside, and what about the time she went all the way to Cockfosters? I ask you!

I ate this programme with a big spoon! Glorious!

"Sucks boo to you!" She didn't mince her words didn't Edna.

Did Car Wash the cat go to a car wash when he wanted to clean himself up? Really, what an uncouth idea! No, he did not!

It's curtains! Willo The Wisp curtains, that is. 

A page from 'Holidays' - one of the series of books which accompanied the series. Arthur the caterpillar is enthusiastic at the prospect of climbing a tree for his holiday - after all, his father always went on climbing holidays, and if it was good enough for Dad... Car Wash, heading for Catford, decides tree climbing sounds dull. I wonder if Car Wash was an admirer of the Catford Centre Cat? Mind you, he might have thought it vulgar... he was a bit of a Noël Coward type, our Car Wash.

Twit was one of the local birds. When Mavis tried to make his pin-up bird reality, disaster followed...

Evil Edna - busy being evil to Car Wash the clever cat, the adorable (but never clever) Moog, Mavis Cruet - the fat fairy - and Arthur, the down-to-earth caterpillar.

Kenneth Williams, who gave voices to all the Doyley Wood characters so brilliantly, was a complex man, very much a creature of moods. He wrote of the series in preparation in April 1980:

Must say, I admire Nick Spargo's industry and inventiveness! His ideas are charming.

When Mr Williams performed the dialogue for the final episode on Thursday, 5 March, 1981, he wrote:

Met Nick Spargo and the rest and we did the last 'Willo' script; it was an amusing one too, apropos Christmas and Mavis Cruet hanging up BOTH her stockings. Nick produced a bottle of champagne and we all had a celebration drink for the occasion of the 26th and final script.

On viewing an episode on 23 September 1981, Mr Williams lamented:

Watched 'Willo The Wisp' and one's heart sank 'cos one realised that it's 1) technically indifferent with recording levels wrong 2) it lacks drive and energy 3) there's nothing with which the young can identify 4) the jokes aren't good enough. Oh! One could go on and on.

But the show was a tremendous success, with an appeal to both young and old which also crossed class barriers. Mr Williams was surprised on 5 November 1982:

When I was walking down Bolsover St some men were digging in the road and they cried out 'Here's old Willo The Wisp!' as I came along and shouted 'Hallo Kenny!' I'd never have thought navvies would watch 'Willo'! It's extraordinary the audience television attracts. 

Mr Williams also acquired at least one new fan through Willo The Wisp - me! I'd never liked the Carry On films, which had brought the man fame, but Willo The Wisp was so excellent and Mr Williams's character voices so wonderful that I joined his vast audience of admirers. 

Kenneth Williams with presenter Sarah Greene and Evil Edna, Arthur the caterpillar and Mavis Cruet on 'Blue Peter', circa 1982. 

Mavis Cruet - called "fat fairy person" by Evil Edna, Mave didn't like being called 'fat'. She preferred 'obese' because she didn't know what it meant. Mavis was too fat, er, sorry, I mean obese, to fly and her magic wasn't as powerful as Edna's, but she was very kind hearted and always meant well. Even if her magic didn't always turn out that way. Bless her. Mavis was a great romantic and wanted to be married, but sadly her Prince Charming never arrived.

The cover of a 1980s Willo The Wisp book - Evil Edna turned nasty with handsome Prince Humbert, and The Beast was born. Wugged Wocks? If only he could pronounce his r's! Here, he's about to become an ice lolly. Edna scared me a bit. Well, I was only sixteen at the time!

Evil Edna got her own storybook in 1984.