26 July 2009

Anglia Television: BC Of Birthday Club

B.C. - Terror of Anglia Television's Birthday Club in the 1980s...

You had to keep your wits about you with BC on the scene...

B.C. will be well known to younger viewers of ITV regional station Anglia in the 1980s. The puppet was introduced early in the decade to "help" the on-screen continuity person read out young viewers' birthday cards in the popular daily "Birthday Club" sessions, and inspired by the long-running ITV regional puppet character Gus Honeybun - a rabbit.

Helen McDermott worked with Gus at Westward.  

As the 1980s began, Helen was just months into a new role as a continuity announcer with Anglia Television. She put forward the idea to the Powers That Be of the time that an Anglia version of Mr Honeybun would be ideal for that channel's birthday club slots. Anglia was initially unimpressed with the idea, but Helen persevered. It would be good, she said, to have something in the Birthday Club feature that would amuse children who were not waiting for a birthday mention. Eventually, Anglia agreed. Interviewed years later, Helen recalled that the original puppet was then made by somebody called "Vera, from down the road." B.C. made his debut in late 1980.

B.C. - allowed to stay up to welcome in the New Year of 1985.

B.C. looked rather like a leopard, although many thought his ears were more bear-like! Before his launch, there was a competition to name the character. The winning entrant came up with "B.C." (for "Big Cat" and also "Birthday Club") and the little git proceeded to wreak absolute havoc in the years that followed.

An angelic wave for a young viewer from BC - but Helen isn't convinced...
B.C. liked lollipops, and was absolutely charming to the presenter-on-duty. Helen McDermott, the woman who brought him about, was a favourite presenter of mine. She was highly competent at serious reporting/presenting, but also evidently possessed of a sense of humour. She often appeared to be about to get her own back on B.C. as the screen faded to black after a Birthday Club session.

All the daytime presenters, including Katie Glass, Patrick Anthony, Caroline Oldrey and Michael Speake, did battle with B.C. in the '80s. In 1986, Michael Speake wrote a book about the character, B.C. And The Magic Book.

The Anglia TV presenters were very much part of our lives, almost like family. "Ooh, Michael's still got that cold," we'd say, or, "What's Patrick cooking tonight?" B.C. was a personality in his own right (as far as I was concerned), a somewhat anarchic addition to the team. But what made him tick? What (or who) was his motivating force?

David Clayton was a presenter at Anglia throughout 1982, and recalls:

"The continuity studio was by necessity small and had the usual collection of discarded announcer presents and letters, the odd pile of face powder compacts, hairbrushes and B.C., the birthday club puppet. My debut as an announcer was with my hand up B.C. operating it for the on-duty day announcer. If you did an evening shift you came in to relieve the day announcer so he or she could get some lunch and a break. You also became the unofficial puppeteer around tea-time for the children's birthday club.

"I think I was B.C. first to Katie Glass and had to crouch down at her side out of shot and try and make B.C. animated and cheeky. Michael Speake used to be quite ruthless with the puppet but Katie was the most frightening to work with. One of B.C.'s features was that one of your hands held a stick coming out of the base of him, the other hand was inside one of his paws. If you were announcing with Katie doing the puppet she had the habit of making B.C. grab your tie just at the last second and yanking downwards with some degree of violence.

"This then made your tie knot extremely small and tight to the point it was virtually impossible to undo it. So for the entire programme you had just linked to, you were struggling to actually undo and re-tie your tie. Short of cutting it off with scissors it was touch and go whether you could make yourself presentable for the next link. Sadly there wasn't an equivalent female garment with which to exact your revenge when roles were reversed."

David also recalls the deelyboppers craze of 1982, and taking a pair in for B.C. to wear on-screen. B.C. was very active that day, lots of head waggling, and one of the boppers fell off. David almost said: "Oh, B.C., you've lost one of your balls!" but managed to substitute the word "baubles" at the last minute! True professionalism!

If anybody has any Birthday Club footage, I would love to see it. It's time to start a B.C. archive! You can E-mail me at:

I must confess, I was about sixteen when B.C. made his debut and his target audience was tiny tots and primary school children. But I thought he was great.


"You were, and are, naturally childish," says my loving wife.

Not at all. B.C. was... er... well... he was... um... cult... yes, that's it, he was cult!!

That makes him respectable.

The celebrity at home in 1986. The former co-presenter of Birthday Club celebrates his own birthday on April 1st. In 1986, B.C. was living in this desirable residence at the bottom of Uncle Michael's garden. Where is he now?
Helen in more recent years. That's not the REAL B.C. with her, just a puppet.

Courtesy of YouTube - inspired 1980s lunacy with BC and his companions.

18 July 2009

Eurovision 1981: Bucks Fizz - Making Your Mind Up...

Bucks Fizz, seen here before Eurovision, knew they were on to something with their "whipping the girls' skirts off" routine...

It was all in the best possible taste!

Happy and victorious...

Comparisons were made between Bucks Fizz and the 1974 Eurovision winners, Abba. The two groups were not only similar in looks: musically, "Making Your Mind Up" and "Waterloo" both owed more than a little to 1950s rock n' roll.

From the Daily Mirror, 6/4/1981:

Jubilant Bucks Fizz returned in triumph to London yesterday vowing: "Now we're out to do an Abba."

The four delighted singers were dubbed lookalikes of the Swedish group even before their nail-biting victory in Saturday night's Eurovision Song Contest.

Now, with their winning song "Making Your Mind Up" soaring towards the top of the charts, they're hoping to emulate the world-wide success of Abba.

The group, who have already landed a lucrative recording contract, thought they had fluffed their chance of winning through a poor performance in Dublin.

Another man delighted with the result was Norwegian TV boss Harald Tuesberg. He said: "We are proud to be the only country to finish bottom twice with no votes.

"If someone had voted for us we might have lost our place in the Guinness Book of Records."

Not only did they win Eurovision for us, they also gave us this lovely piece of '80s clatter pop. Good old Bucks Fizz!

14 July 2009

Vince St Clair Helps Jack Duckworth Into Coronation Street....

Here we are, in the summer of 1983, and William Tarmey (Jack Duckworth) is still not a permanent Coronation Street regular...

Daily Mirror, June 15, 1983:

As Bill Tarmey walks towards the TV studios, an army of autograph-hunters surround him.

Surprisingly, they're not middle-age women, but teenagers and schoolkids.

And it's not the name of Bill Tarmey they want in their books. Or even Jack Duckworth. "Sign it from Vince," they scream.

For the past couple of years, Bill has had to get used to being called Jack Duckworth - the Jack-the-lad character he plays in Coronation Street. But since he got into trouble with his wife Vera for signing on at an escort agency as Vince St. Clair, the new name has suddenly caught on.

Bill says: "Everywhere I go, people call me Vince. It was all meant as a bit of fun in the scripts. But I'm not going to be able to live down Vince St. Clair in a hurry."

Tarmey has no long-term contract. But he pops up for a spell every few months in The Street - usually for a slanging match with wife Vera, Elsie Tanner's factory-mate.

"It's amazing the way the characters of Jack and Vera Duckworth have caught the public imagination," Bill says.

"The trouble is, every one thinks I really am like Jack Duckworth, who spends his life ducking and diving. And I'm quite the opposite."

Bill says: "I love the character. He's a bit of a head banger is Jack. I suppose you'd call him a lovable rascal."

So, no long-term contract for William Tarmey at the time of the Daily Mirror report on June 15th, although the viewers' interest in Jack Duckworth - and his 1983 alter ego Vince St Clair - appeared to be booming.

But, move on a few days and...

Exciting news - the Duckworths are going to be moving into Coronation Street!

Sunday People, June 19, 1983:

The move will arouse even more resentment against "the family the rest love to hate".

But for night-club singer Bill Tarmey, who plays Jack, it means a long-term contract in Britain's top soap opera - the chance of a lifetime.

That lifetime was almost cut short seven years ago when Bill, then 35, had a massive heart attack on the stage of a Manchester club.

"I thought it was the end, and that I'd never work again." he told me.

But helped by his wife Alma and showbiz friends, he returned to the club scene, and did some small walk-on parts in Coronation Street.

Then he played a tough-guy in The Strangers - the ITV thriller series - and really caught the eye of producers.

He was offered the part of dizzy Vera's husband and made an impact in the Street recently, posing as Vince St Clair at a video dating agency.

"Life has turned full circle for me, but that's showbiz," said Bill, who lives with Alma and their two children in Gorton, Manchester.

02 July 2009

1983: Breakdancing And Body Popping - What A Feeling!

From the Daily Mirror, 4/6/1983:

The biggest dance craze since John Travolta set the discos alight in "Saturday Night Fever" is about to turn Britain head over heels.

It's called breaking. And it's a mixture of disco dancing, acrobatics, martial arts - and gut wrenching violence that makes a wrestling contest look like "Come Dancing".

Breaking, or hip-hop, started on the street corners and ended up stealing the show in a film called "Flashdance", which teenage America has turned into the surprise hit of the year.

The soundtrack single - America's No 1 - is already out in Britain, and the film opens later this month. It tells the story of a young girl, played by unknown student Jennifer Beales, who works as a welder and dreams of being a ballet star.

On the road to fame she brings her sexy, breaking-style routines to a nightclub audience, and these are the scenes that captured the imagination of teenagers and packed cinemas from coast to coast.

"Flashdance" made 20-year-old Jennifer a star overnight. But the real stars of breaking are the kids from the backstreets who created the craze.

They gather in America's big cities and launch into solo dances, or breaks, to a beat throbbing from a ghetto-blaster - a giant, portable stereo system.

They dash themselves to the ground, rolling and spinning on hands, necks and bottoms. Or they hurl themselves in the air turning back somersaults and freezing so that they land with a spine-jarring crash...

"Street dance can be just a form of aggression," said Jeff Kutash, who is touring Britain with Dancin' Machine, his troupe of street dancers.

"There's one move called the body slam, where two dancers hurl themselves against each other and bounce off on the rythm. That's popular in the punk clubs in America.

"I've seen cut eyebrows and broken bones. It's a bloodbath."

With the cult go names. In Jeff's group there is Mr X, a swaggering dancer in sequinned denim, Bad News, Sugarfoot and Ricochet Rabbit.

The street scenes in "Flashdance" are the work of the Rocksteady Crew, New York's first professional street dance gang.

Like Dancin' Machine, they perform stylised moves with names like the helicopter swipe, the coffee grinder and the frightening head roll, where a dancer stands on his head and gyrates using his neck muscles.

The milder forms of street dance are already taking off in Britain. There is Street Poppin', made up of jerky muscular spasms, and the gritty, hip-thrusting Nasty Girl and Gigolo.

As the craze spreads, the producers of "Flashdance" are dancing in the streets, too. Within two weeks of being released the 8.5 million dollar film has earned 11.3 million dollars.

The soundtrack LP - out in Britain at the end of this month - sold 700,000 copies in America in the first fortnight.

The single "Flashdance - What a Feeling", shot to the top of the charts there and went straight into the British charts at No 30 this week.

"Flashdance" opens at four London cinemas on June 30 and goes on general release a week later.

From the Daily Mirror, 21/6/1983:

Suddenly the afternoon bustle in Soho's Berwick Street market dies away. The traffic's at a standstill and a crowd has gathered.

They watch as an eccentrically dressed young black turns his body seemingly inside out. And upside down. Every movement is slow, precise and sinuous.

Jeffrey Daniel of Shalamar is Body Popping. Body popping is a Los Angeles street dance. It is the West Coast equivalent to the acrobatic "break dancing" that steals the new "Flashdance" movie.

Jeffrey gave Britain its first stunning taste of body popping when Shalamar appeared on "Top of the Pops" last June.

Until then they were just another faceless disco group. But Jeffrey's electrifying act helped push their single "A Night To Remember" into the charts.

By the end of the year Shalamar had notched up four hits in a row.

They sold out eight nights at London's Dominion Theatre and one at the Wembley Arena...

When Jeffrey is dancing it is hard to believe what he is doing with his body. One moment he glides backwards as if through quick-silver.

The next he shudders like a robot caught in the glare of a disco strobe light.

"Popping is slow and tightly conceived.

"But when it crossed over to the East Coast it became breaking - which is much more physical.

"Breaking is strictly acrobatic, spinning your body around your head or arms.

"Breakers are either gymnasts - or insane! With popping we never have to get on our heads or bounce off pavements."