28 June 2009

Thatcher And Reagan - Into The '80s...

The Sun, February 25, 1981:

It promises to be the political love-in of the year.

Premier Margaret Thatcher flies to the United States today for cruicial two-day talks with President Reagan.

She is determined to be the first European leader to be on first name terms with the new President.

And yesterday, in a radio broadcast that was heard in America, Mrs Thatcher made her first throw.

She is, she explained, the same kind of girl as he is boy... a grocer's daughter who has plenty in common with the former movie star.

She said that they think and talk alike about state spending cuts, beating inflation, chopping bureaucracy and cutting taxes.

Last night President Reagan said he wanted to discuss Russian leader Leonid Brezhnev's offer of a peace summit.

But Mrs Thatcher will warn him to tread carefully.

She believes that Russia could best improve relations by withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan: she, UK Prime Minister; he, President of the USA.

And what pals they seemed. OK, there were one or two dodgy moments, but there is no doubt that from 1981-1988 Thatcher and Reagan bestrode the world stage like Godzilla and King Kong. Well, okay, maybe not quite like that, but, united, they seemed absolutely colossal!

I always recall how shocked my mother was when she heard about Reagan's election in November 1980: "But he's an actor! He was in cowboy films! He can't be President - that's ridiculous!"

The American political scene was not something my very English mother ever understood.

And it must be admitted that left wing UK newspapers like the Daily Mirror made fun of Mr Reagan's acting background...

Daily Mirror, February 27, 1981 - The Co-Stars! Below, the article inside the paper...

Guards of honour, silver trumpets, military bands and red carpets welcomed Premier Margaret Thatcher when she arrived at the White House yesterday yesterday for her talks with Ronald Reagan.

The hundreds of guests invited to the ceremony on the lawn outside the President's office were handed free Union Jacks to make the event even more colourful.

All that was missing was a credit line saying it was a production by Warner Brothers - the film company for whom the President used to make B movies in Hollywood.

Mrs Thatcher played her part perfectly.

Wearing black - an unusual choice - and a pillbox hat, she said exactly what her host wanted her to say.

"We in Britain stand with you," she declared. "America's successes will be our successes, your problems will be our problems. When you look for friends, we will be there."

There was perhaps a hint of Britain's own economic problems when she said that weaker spirits might be tempted to give way to gloom.

Then, raising her voice and turning toward the President, she said: "Others, like you, will be stirred by the challenge."

The new Washington establishment, headed by Vice-President George Bush and Secretary of State Alexander Haig, were all there to demonstrate that with Mrs Thatcher and Reagan in power the special relationship between the two countries now has a new special meaning.

Mrs Thatcher spent two hours with the President in his oval office - 45 minutes without their officials present.

They spoke particularly about Soviet President Brezhnev's proposal for a summit, the international economic situation and the growing crisis in El Salvador.

NATO was discussed, but the neutron bomb was hardly mentioned.

In the first volume of her autobiography, The Path To Power, Margaret Thatcher recalled how she first heard of Ronald Reagan's political endeavours in the late 1960s:

Denis had returned home one evening in the late 1960s full of praise for a remarkable speech Ronald Reagan had just delivered at the Institute of Directors. I read the text myself and quickly saw what Denis meant.

She met him in 1975 and 1978, and later wrote in The Path To Power:

In the early years Ronald Reagan had been dismissed by much of the American political elite, though not by the American electorate, as a right wing maverick who could not be taken seriously. (I had heard that before somewhere.) Now he was seen by many thoughtful Republicans as their best ticket back to the White House. Whatever Ronald Reagan had gained in experience, he had not done so at the expense of his beliefs. I found them stronger than ever. When he left my study I reflected on how different things might look if such a man was President of the United States. But in November 1978 such a prospect seemed a long way off.

What a difference 1980 made!

23 June 2009

The Scotch Skeleton Ads: "Re-Record Not Fade Away"

A December 1985 TV Times magazine advertisement for "New Scotch Extra High Grade Tape", designed for "when you want to watch something again and again and again".

The Scotch skeleton TV ads were launched in 1983 when less than a quarter of UK households had a VCR. The skeleton didn't sing in the original ad - he fell off his chair instead! The 1983 ad was set in the year 2021, and the premise was that a Scotch video tape bought in 1983 was still perfectly usable for re-recording in the 21st Century!

In 1985, came the famous "Re-record, not fade away, re-record, not fade away..." slogan. The ads ran for years and were highly popular.

If I remember correctly, Deryck Guyler (Corky the policeman from Sykes and the caretaker from Please Sir!) was the voice of the skeleton.


The skeleton idea was indicative of the manufacturer's confidence that the Scotch tapes were amazingly durable and could well outlast the buyer. And if every recording wasn't as good as the first, they'd give you a new video cassette. Good, eh?

Video technology had been around for ages, but by the 1980s domestic VCRs had not. In 1980, only 5% of UK households had a video recorder. They were hugely expensive for the average household to buy. Renting was not terribly popular either because, in those financially-stressed times, further commitments were unwelcome in the majority of homes. Also, as most people had never even seen a VCR, there simply wasn't the interest.

And on top of the dosh considerations, there was the confusion over which make to have - Betamax? Video 2000? VHS? My well-off aunt bought a Betamax machine circa 1983, and soon regretted it bitterly. Betamax video tapes were still on sale for several years after VHS won the sales battle, and, determined to get value for money, Auntie used her Betamax machine for taping films and Brookside until it finally conked out!

I recall, when my mother first rented a VCR in 1983, we considered ourselves very posh indeed. In that year, the year of the very first Scotch skeleton ad, nearly 20% of UK households had a VCR. The Steve Wright In The Afternoon Book, published in 1985, the year of the first "Re-record, not fade away" skeleton ad, informs us that the proportion had grown to 25% by that time.

A Scotch skeleton ad from the series' launch year - 1983 - very cleverly set in the 21st Century (then the distant future), with the video cassette featured bought in 1983 and still in use! Amazing to think that under 20% of UK households had VCRs in 1983!

The original 1985 "Re-Record, Not Fade Away" Scotch Skeleton ad.

14 June 2009

Mrs Margaret Thatcher: A 1980s Postcard Of The Prime Minister...

The special effects used in science fiction TV series V were quite terrifying.

I'll stop messing about. This is a postcard of Margaret Thatcher, UK PM, who won three consecutive UK elections in 1979, 1983 and 1987.

I bought the card circa 1988, when Mrs T was in her third term, and stuck it to the loo door.

Unflattering images of Maggie were everywhere.

And such things amused me.

Mind you, in these days of Gordon Brown and co, the political scene in the 1980s increasingly seems like something to cherish...

And I speak as somebody who wore my "The Only Good Tory Is A Lavatory" badge with pride back in that decade of big hair and big shoulders...

Frankie Goes To Hollywood: The "Relax" Ban

"Relax" by Frankie Goes Hollywood sent shockwaves through the pop-picking population of England...

Although used to scantily clad young women "flaunting themselves", as my auntie Maggie always put it, on "Top of the Pops" since Pan's People first strutted their stuff in the 1960s, nobody was prepared for the saucy lyrics of the "Relax" song and "downright disgusting" (Auntie Maggie again) visuals of the "Relax" video (see above)...

And as for simulated gay sex acts, well, civilisation was obviously on its last legs!

From the Daily Mirror, 25/1/1984:

Britain's number one record has been banned from "Top of the Pops" tomorrow night.

BBC TV chiefs won't play the smash single "Relax" because, they say, the lyrics are sexually explicit and not suitable for family viewing.

The record is by Liverpool group Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Their song is now banned by both BBC TV and radio - although it owes much of its popularity to both. "Relax" was performed on "Top of the Pops" three weeks ago and was played more than 70 times on Radio 1.

But two weeks ago DJ Mike Read refused to play it on his breakfast show, and Radio 1 executive producers extended the ban to all their programmes.

The group's lead singer William "Holly" Johnson said the song simply "encourages people to go out, have fun and relax."

The only other No 1 banned from "Top of the Pops" was the 1969 hit "Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus" by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg.

13 June 2009

1980 And 1981: The Adventure Game And Moira Stuart - The UK's First Black Female TV Newsreader...

The Sun, 6 June, 1981...

Great, Ms Stuart was fine as a BBC newsreader. But she didn't need to acquaint herself with some of us who had met her via the TV screen in 1980. Remember? Doog yrev!

Don't know what I'm on about? Oh, very well - Moira had previously appeared in the first series of the absolutely wonderful BBC series The Adventure Game, as an alien who sometimes wore very fashionable boiler suits!

Remember Darong? And Dorgan? And Gandor? And Gnoard? And the Drogna Game? And how many Argonds Round The Pond? And the Rangdo of Arg? Was he an aspidistra or a teapot? Or both? What about the terrifying Vortex - the mind-numbing fear of being evaporated and having to walk home? Or those green cheese rolls? Or that series when Lesley Judd turned out to be a mole?

Bliss. Much better than the dreary old news!

Darong as Moira Stuart, Gandor as Christopher Leaver and Gnoard as Charmian Gradwell welcome you to the planet Arg.

11 June 2009

1984: Trendy Knits At The Crossroads Motel...

It was the King's Oak fashion event of the decade when, in 1984, a well-known knitwear company used Crossroads Motel staff and management to model their latest ultra-fashionable designs for a new pattern book. Mr David Hunter (Ronald Allen) and his wife Barbara (Sue Lloyd), pictured above, last made the local news in 1980 when Mr Hunter was shot in the motel office by his deranged ex-wife, Rosemary.

Sid Hooper (Stan Stennett) and Joe "Mac" MacDonald (Carl Andrews) work together in the motel garage. Mac likes Sid's sleeveless cardigan but isn't too sure about the pink shirt. Sid can't wait to get down to The Running Stag to show off his exciting new look.

Here's catering manager Paul Ross (Sandor El├Ęs), known to the staff as "Mr Paul", who arrived at the motel in 1982 to act as a spy for one of the directors. A real "one for the ladies", Mr Paul could be described as an "un-spot changing leopard".

"Oh darling, that pullover is so you!" trills Mrs Jill Chance (Jane Rossington), one of the motel's directors.

"The woman gets daffier by the day," mutters her husband Adam (Tony Adams). "Fortunately, this should be great publicity for the motel and the knitwear people are paying us on top of that. Not a bad day's work..."

Glenda Banks (Lynette McMorrough), motel waitress, was thrilled with the rustic jumper: "I think this really suits me - can't wait for Kevin to see it!"

"Ooh, it does suit you, Glen, it's ever so nice - just the thing for the winter evenings." - Kath Brownlow (Pamela Vezey), motel housekeeper, and Glenda's mother.

"Quite right, Kath, it's turning right parky out - I said to Benny, 'Time you 'ad a new 'at, my lad'..." - Doris Luke (Kathy Staff), motel cleaner.

Bringing back Motel memories - the YouTube 1983 cliffhangers selection...

05 June 2009

1984: The Invention Of Tetris

Alexey Pajitnov, the game's creator, began work on Tetris whilst employed at Moscow's Computer Centre in June 1984, and that work continued until 1986, in collaboration with Dmitry Pavlosky and Vadim Gerasimov. Online claims that the game was 'released' in the USSR in June 1984 are incorrect. 

Tetris prototype, but it would be some time before the game's fame spread to the Western World.

Today, 6 June 2009, Tetris is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its invention.

The release of the first Gameboy in the USA in 1989 set Tetris on its path to world-wide fame.

'80s Actual wishes Mr Pajitnov, the game's creator, and all the other people responsible for bringing Tetris to world wide fame, a very happy celebration!

04 June 2009

Heather Chasen As Valerie Pollard: Changes At The Crossroads Motel...

1982 - a new arrival at the Crossroads Motel...

An early 1980s Radio Rentals advertisement for a (then) new-fangled video recorder stated: "It can take 16 episodes of Crossroads (if you can!)".

As only around 5% of UK households had a VCR at the time, not many would have put that assertion to the test.

But the ad clearly demonstrates the contempt felt for the poor old Crossroads soap, which had been on-air since November 1964.

Yet, daft and boring though many viewers thought it, there was also great affection for the show.

In fact, some of the people who found it daft and boring were also fond of it.

It was around the time of the Radio Rentals ad that turmoil struck the Crossroads Motel: Noele Gordon, who played the leading character, Meg Richardson/Mortimer, was axed, and further changes were planned as the old motel reception set, on-screen since 1969, was burned down.

In the wake of Noele Gordon's departure from the
show, Jack Barton, producer, made it plain that Crossroads couldn't revolve around a single character in the future.

And so, over at the motel, we had Barbara (Sue Lloyd) and David Hunter (Ronald Allen) running things with Jill Harvey (Jane Rossington) and Adam Chance (Tony Adams). Not a particularly cosy set-up as David and Adam did not get along, and David could not shake off his suspicions that Adam's interest in Jill was not entirely honourable.

The closest we came to a Meg-style linchpin in this new set-up was Barbara - but she had other fish to fry, like writing best selling novels, and refused to be tied totally to the motel.

Elsewhere, we had the Brownlows - lovable, motherly Kath (Pamela Vezey), grumpy Arthur (Peter Hill), brilliantly frumpy Glenda (Lynette McMorrough) and her newish husband, Kevin Banks (David Moran) - the couple had married in 1981.

The not-so-cosy boarding house belonging to Mavis Hooper (Charmian Eyre) had been introduced in 1981- Mrs Overall, who was first seen in Acorn Antiques in 1985, was Mavis's "lookey likey".

With waitress Diane Hunter (Susan Hanson) cleaner and kitchen help Doris Luke (Kathy Staff) and the Crossroads Garage staff - including Sharon Metcalfe (Carolyn Jones), Benny Hawkins (Paul Henry) and Joe MacDonald (Carl Andrews), the motel marched on post-Meg.

And then came a stroke of genius on the part of the writers and production team.

Businessman J Henry Pollard (Michael Turner) had first appeared in the Crossroads saga in 1980, along with his daughter, Miranda (Claire Faulconbridge).

In April 1982, we finally get to meet Mrs Pollard. Mrs Valerie Pollard, J Henry's wife, who apparently loathed him dearly and had been forced to travel from her home in Bermuda to England when J Henry suddenly cut her funding.

Val, played by the very excellent Heather Chasen, enjoyed the good life - luxurious accommodation, travel-on-a-whim, wonderful food, lots of beach romeos...

And then, suddenly, there she was trapped at the Crossroads Motel, where she would stay, her ever-loving hubby informed her, and become a good and loving wife.

Otherwise, J Henry would divorce her and she could rest assured that, with his best lawyers on the case, she wouldn't be getting any wonderful divorce settlement. She would get nothing.

Valerie hit back - and hit back hard, seducing and bedding Adam Chance on his boat. Jill was devastated and Adam left the motel.

What a bitch was Valerie...

But she wasn't only a bitch. Languid and witty, she was also capable of good deeds...

And, of course, under the veneer of vehement dislike, she actually cared for J Henry very much indeed...

And he cared for her.

With daughter Miranda on-and-off the scene, the Pollards were a complicated family. J Henry was not keen on showing his feelings, Valerie could be devious and Miranda was often headstrong and immature.

But they livened up Crossroads no end! I hadn't been particularly impressed by the father/daughter J Henry/Miranda set-up we'd been treated to (on occasion, the characters were not permanent regulars) since 1980. But with Val on the scene from 1982 onwards, the Pollard "thing" really got some zing!

And, with her huge wardrobe of swish clothes, plus her tendency to toy with the peanuts and her "Pussyfoot Special" at the bar, Valerie was a very stylish person indeed.

Although the character only appeared (intermittently) from 1982-1985, the memory lingers - oh for the great telly days of the '80s!

From the Sun - £10 telly-view reader's letter, 29/5/1982:

Heather Chasen has brought a refreshing touch of good acting to "Crossroads".

Her haughty but not over-acted Valerie Pollard makes the show worth watching for a change.

Mrs DL, Norfolk.