31 January 2010

1989: A Talking Remote Control For Your VCR...

Video recorders were wonderful but so bloomin' difficult in the 1980s.

In 1980, only 5% of UK households had them.

In 1983, nearly 20% of UK households had a machine, and in early 1985 it was 25%. The sky was now the limit and it would not be long before a VCR in the home was regarded as essential by the majority of us.

Most people I knew rented their first VCR.

And most people I knew had difficulties setting the timer.

"What a load of vidiots!" I chortled.

My mother was one of the first VCR renters I knew. She obtained one in 1983, just before I left home, so I had little time to familiarise myself with it.

I began renting one in 1987.

I wanted to watch the American comedy series The Golden Girls, but as it aired on Channel 4 on Friday nights I had to rent a VCR to be able to see it. Fridays and Saturdays were nights I went out and no way was I staying in.

Having got a video machine, I confronted the timer and entered into battle.

It won.

I couldn't set it, no matter how I tried.

When I tried to tape Channel 4, it taped BBC1, when I tried to tape ITV, it taped grey fuzz...

So, I used to pop a video cassette in and put the machine on record just before I went out on Fridays, leaving it to tape hours of Channel 4 just so I could wade through and watch one half-hour programme.

Perhaps I could have done with the remote control featured in the September 1989 magazine ad above.

One that would have talked me through the process...


The Sharp video with Talking Handset.

If you're still wondering why your "Neighbours" didn't turn up.

Or wondering why the Big Film turned into the big fiasco.

Why Ivan Lendl bore a remarkable resemblance to Sandy Gall.

And why J.R. was cut off in his prime.

If all these wonders of conventional video leave you wondering why you keep programming things incorrectly, Sharp now have the solution to your video nasties. The Sharp Video with Talking Handset.

The unique Handset has its own voice to guide you through all of the various stages of programming. Accurate talking instructions for you to follow, from "Let's set the Timer for recording" to "Which channel do you wish to record?"

The 44 function remote control is a handy size with an easy button layout that's simple to operate.

The video itself (VC-T310HM) enables you to pre-programme a full year of recordings with a 365 day eight programme facility.

There's a super search feature which locates any recordings you're looking for.

There's even a child-proof lock.

Sharp really do think of everything.

As well as this particular model, there's an alternative in the Talking Handset range. The VC-T510HM. A 4 head system, providing improved picture quality, an extended recording playback of up to 8 hours, variable slow motion, frame by frame advance and double speed playback. To list just a few features...

The wonders of modern technology. Love the Radio Times Neighbours synopsis featured in the ad:

Charlene breaks out in a mysterious rash.

I would have been so hacked off if the VCR timer had made me miss that...

30 January 2010

EastEnders 25th Anniversary - Post 1

EastEnders first burst on to our screens on 19 February 1985. And that's almost twenty-five years ago.

February 2010 sees the BBC soap celebrate its 25th anniversary, and '80s Actual will be adding to its current Albert Square posts with a short series looking back at some of the behind-the scenes-folk, characters and story-lines from the soap's birth decade, the 1980s.

The photo above shows Pete Beale (Peter Dean), his son (well, at least Pete thought it was), Simon Wicks (Nick Berry) and the fearsome Pat Wicks (Pam St Clement) enjoying a happy evening in the Queen Vic.

Pam St Clement had cut her soap teeth in that other ITV saga Emmerdale Farm. She briefly played a Mrs Eckersley. Debuting in episode 561 on 10 March 1980, she appeared in the Yorkshire farming saga for five episodes, bowing out in episode 565 on 25 March 1980.

Pam's character actually deputised for Emmerdale matriarch Annie Sugden, looking after the cooking and the kitchen at the farm whilst Annie took a holiday in Ireland.

Mrs Eckersley sang hymns as she trundled around Beckindale on her trusty old bike and was a thoroughly nice woman.

Pam St Clement made her debut as Pat Wicks in EastEnders in episode 138, broadcast on 12 June 1986.

Of course, Pat didn't sing hymns. And whilst many Walford locals regarded her as an old bike, she didn't ride one and nobody in those early days would have described her as trusty. Or as a thoroughly nice woman, come to that.

Not even after ten pints of Churchill's strong ale.

But times and soap characters change, and Pat is now an EastEnders favourite.

Click on our EastEnders label below for lots more '80s Albert Square stuff and look out for further 25th anniversary posts.

28 January 2010


It's the day after the first episode, and the Sun gives EastEnders the thumbs up, 20/2/1985. Created by Julia Smith and Tony Holland, EastEnders, like Brookside, was a real kick up the backside for staid, tightly permed soap operas.

Sun writer Charles Catchpole opined:

Ethel is what they call a Character. But she's a cardboard cut-out compared with loud-mouthed Lou Beale. Gravel-voiced granny Lou makes Hilda Ogden look like Mary Poppins.When she lashes out at her friends and family, she makes Ena Sharples sound like Mother Teresa.

Meanwhile, the rest of Albert Square is seething with sex, spite and savagery.

The main man in Albert Square was Dennis "Dirty Den" Watts - landlord of the Queen Vic, husband of Ange, adopted father of Sharon and lover of Jan.

Daily Mirror, 27/2/1985...

There's no doubt that articles like the one above did the show no harm at all. The consensus of opinion was that Leslie Grantham had served his time and there was no reason why he shouldn't be in EastEnders. But the actor's background somehow added something to the character of Den Watts. To many viewers, the boundaries between fiction and reality became blurred.

Emotionally topsy-turvy Angie Watts coped with her pig of a husband by hitting the bottle. She was well used to putting on a brave face behind the bar at the Queen Vic, where she said things like, "Wot can I git ya, darlin'?" and, "yew, yew, aht - go on, git aht."
It's hard to imagine, but Anita Dobson was a last minute appointment to the EastEnders cast, and the role of Ange had very nearly been played by somebody else!
Tom Watt made a terrific job of playing gawky, spiky-haired misfit Lofty Holloway, who seemed far too naive and vulnerable to be roaming Albert Square.

Tony Carpenter was a cheerful soul, crying out for cheerful situations, but the scriptwriters gave him miserable son Kelvin and nagging wife Hannah instead.

Oscar James, the man behind Tony, was unhappy with the Carpenter family:

"The Carpenters were always arguing and at each other's throat. Having a black family in a top TV show should have been a wonderful method of educating the nation to treat each other as individuals, not according to their colour. That is the way to world peace. EastEnders has done a lot of good. It's just that the BBC could do so much better - and recognise that the ethnic minority in EastEnders deserves better."
Dr Harold Legg was the Square's affable Jewish doctor. He'd practiced there for years and had been a confidante to many - including local hubble, bubble, toil and trouble merchant Lou Beale.

Leonard Fenton, the actor behind the good doctor, had appeared in television shows such as Z Cars, Secret Army and Shine On Harvey Moon before becoming Dr Legg - the TV role that made him a household name.

Lou Beale said what she thought to her family or anybody else and there's no doubt she was absolutely right.

As far as she was concerned.

Actress Anna Wing on her interview for the role:

"I knew the producers were looking for the real thing, so I turned up at the interview for the part with my birth certificate, my gran's picture and a family album. You see, I was born in Hackney, the daughter of a greengrocer, and although off-screen I talk with a proper English accent I still have an East End accent in my heart."

Lou was a memorable creation who certainly stamped her mark on the Albert Square saga. Sadly, the character was killed off in 1988 when Anna Wing left the show.
The photograph above, signed by Anna "from Lou with love", is my favourite '80s Actual EastEnders item.
Wendy Richard - saucy Miss Brahms in Are You Being Served? - made the leap to dowdy Pauline Fowler in EastEnders in 1985. Wendy was an exception to producer Julia Smith's rule not to use established stars in the show.

Pauline struggled with monstrous Mum Lou and a new baby on the way. She also served up some awesome dollops of grey mashed spud.

BT laid on a special "catch-up" service for fans who missed an episode. By dialling 01-482 4042, they could hear Wendy Richard/Pauline explaining what had gone on in the previous episode.
The way we talk in my neck of the woods isn't that different to the east-end cockney accent, and whenever I watched EastEnders back in the '80s, I liked to shout questions and advice at the characters on screen and "tork the lingo".
September 1985 found me saying:
"Awright, 'Chelle, wass goin' on 'ere? You're up the duff, tha's plain, an' I wanna know oo the father is. I've gotta right - I pay me licence fee!"
The BBC kept us guessing as young EastEnder Michelle Fowler (Susan Tully) discovered she was pregnant and arranged to meet the father by the canal.
Was it Ali from the cafe?
"Surely not, 'Chelle - bloke's a loser an' you wait till 'is missus gets 'old of you..."
Was it soppy nurse Andy?
"Bit of a wimp, 'Chelle - that Debs walks all over 'im..."
I was pretty sure it wasn't Tony Carpenter...
And what about...
Several men were seen leaving Albert Square at the time Michelle was making her way to keep the appointment with the father of her child. Who would it be?
A certain Dennis Watts of the Queen Victoria public house, Albert Square, Walford, E20, joined Michelle by the canal.
"HIM?! Oh Gawd, 'Chelle," I howled at the telly, "what 'ave you done?!"
Ethel Skinner was Albert Square's very own mistress of the malapropism, and also a friend to many. But her number one priority was always her little Willie.
Gretchen Franklin, the actress behind Ethel, once said:
"I think she was popular because she was simple, kind, generous and brave. But the only thing she and I really had in common was our height."
"'Ere, I'm just poppin' over to see Lou..."
Dot Cotton arrived in EastEnders in episode 40 - broadcast in July 1985 - and was soon to become one of the show's most popular characters. Hot flushes, fag after fag, 'orrible Charlie (her ever loving) and nasty Nick (her git of a son, who had first appeared in episode one) - Dot's lot was not a happy one.
She moaned.
She gossiped.
She smoked for England.
And we loved her.
I well remember the time she won a personal stereo in a competition and went round the Square with her headphones on upside down, listening to James Last.
June Brown, the actress behind Dot, was actually born in Suffolk, not the East End of London. But you'd never guess, listening to her on EastEnders!
For more EastEnders fun and info, click on subject:

16 January 2010

Computers In 1980 - The Acorn Atom, The ZX80, The World's First PET Show And Prestel News At View Data '80...

June 1980: word has arrived from Personal Computer World's distributor that he would like to increase the number of copies printed by 70% - immediately. A move almost unprecedented in the annals of specialist magazine publishing, writes the editorial team, very chuffed about it indeed.

Here, PCW is proclaiming itself as being EUROPE'S LEADING MICRO MAGAZINE on its front cover. At some point between June 1980 and November 1982, it would be demoting itself to BRITAIN'S LARGEST SELLING MICRO MAGAZINE (see here) as interest in computers began to increase, creating an upsurge in computer-related magazines.

Computing 1980 style... (yawn)... sorry, but before the World Wide Web I couldn't see the point. OK, in 1980 something called "Usenet" was established in the States, but it was the invention of the Web in 1989 and its implementation in the early 1990s which led to me joining the computer brigade - and millions of others. In 1980, I never dreamt I'd ever use a computer.

It is worth noting that World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee took the first steps towards his wondrous 1989 invention in June to December 1980 - he wrote ENQUIRE, his first computer program for storing information. At this time he was working a six month stint as a consultant software engineer at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.

He left CERN for a spell, returning in 1984, and in March 1989 invented the World Wide Web.
Read more about 1989 and the World Wide Web here.

Back to 1980, when most people didn't even have a VCR, let alone a computer, and I must say those Verbatim minidisks in the photograph above don't look very "mini" to me!

A brand new arrival in 1980 - the Acorn Atom:

New! - The Acorn Atom - £120

An outstanding personal computer kit

Also available ready-built for £150 plus VAT and p&p

The ATOM - a definitive personal computer. Simple-to-build, simple-to operate, But a really powerful full-facility computer. And designed on an expandable basis. You can buy a superb expanded package now - tailored to your needs. Or you can buy just the standard Atom kit, and, as you grow in confidence and knowledge, add more chips. No need to replace your equipment. No need to worry that your investment will be overtaken by new technology. As you need more power, more facilities, you can add them!

The standard ATOM kit includes:

*Full sized QWERTY keyboard

*Rugged polystyrene case

*Fibreglass PCB



*23 integrated circuits

*Full assembly instructions including tests for fault-finding (once built, connect it to any domestic TV and power source)...

MSI 6800: At the root of every good system...




(plus V.A.T) Delivery 30-60 DAYS

*Built-in 1/2 Megabyte 8'' Floppy Disc

*32 or 64k Random Access Memory

*12" High Resolution Video Monitor

*24 Lines of 80 or 40 (wide) characters

*Upper/Lower Case

*Two RS-232c Serial Interface Ports

*"Power-Up" Self Testing

*One Centronics Parallel Interface Port

*Two Programmable Special Function Keys

*Direct Memory Access

*Vector Driven Interrupts

*Full 4 Megahertz operating speed

*Provisions for plug-in Expansion Boards


Tandy are opening specialist TRS-80 microcomputer centers the length and breadth of Britain - many are already open and new ones will be appearing all the time. So you'll be able to drop in and experiment with the TRS-80 range, discuss your needs with a TRS-80 expert and buy one over the counter. Each store will be backed by a service engineer to iron out any problems you may encounter when commissioning your system.

1980 saw saw the world's very first Commodore PET show...

There are over 18,000 Commodore PET Microcomputers in regular operation throughout the UK.

The list of PET applications is endless - ledger, payroll, word processing, stock-control, business information, activity planning, time recording, incomplete record accounting, graphics, voltage stabilisation and so on.

One user uses his PET to compose poetry, another even composes musical scores. All on the PET Microcomputer.

Commodore felt that it was high time approved PET Products, PET User Clubs, Special Interest Groups and potential and present PET users were brought together.

So they have asked Baroness International to organise the World's First PET Show, in the Empire Napoleon Suite at Cafe Royal.

Over 50 stands will be demonstrating a range of approved PET Products...


One of the highlights of the recent Viewdata '80 exhibition was the announcement of three major enhancements to Prestel - "Picture Prestel", "Telesoftware" and "Dynamically Redefinable Character Sets" (hereinafter referred to as DRCS). The publicity for these developments seems to have been particularly ill-timed considering the fact that, just as Prestel seems to be getting off the ground, along come some new features which demand the use of radically different Prestel receivers. Nevertheless the facilities announced are quite interesting and well worth a closer look.

Click on the image for more details!

Cromenco Micro Systems Ltd, Edinburgh - a lovely display of computers. The thrill of the new in 1980, so quaint today.

The dear old floppy disk... somewhat larger in the 1980s film and TV footage I have seen than the dinky little things prevalant when I first purchased a PC in 2004...

And last, but by no means least, this brand new 1980 arrival needs no introduction - Clive Sinclair's ZX80 - Britain's first complete computer kit - £79.95:

You've seen the reviews... you've heard the excitement... now make the kit!

This is the ZX80. 'Personal Computer World' gave it 5 stars for excellent value. Benchmark tests say it's faster than all previous computers. And the response from kit enthusiasts has been tremendous...

'Excellent value' indeed!

For just £79.95 (INCLUDING VAT and p&p) you get everything you need to build a personal computer at home... PCB with IC sockets for all ICs; case; leads for direct connection to a cassette recorder and television (black and white or colour), EVERYTHING!

Yet the ZX80 really is a complete, powerful, full-facility computer, matching or surpassing other personal computers at several times the price.

The ZX80 is programmed in BASIC, and you can use it to do quite literally anything from playing chess to managing a business.

The ZX80 is pleasantly straightforward to assemble, using a fine-tipped soldering iron. It immediately proves what a good job you've done: connect it to your TV... link it to an appropriate power source... and you're ready to go...

Fascinating - I don't fancy the bit with the soldering iron, though!

Compare computers in 1980 with computers in 1982 here.

14 January 2010

1981: Shergar Wins The Derby

The 1981 Derby - a newspaper report which appeared on 4 June:

Walter Swinburn, boy wonder, moved straight into the superman bracket at Epsom yesterday.

And the Michael Stoute-trained Shergar on whom Walter landed a runaway Derby triumph, is certainly in the superhorse class. Shergar may have been odds-on favourite and expected to win, but could hardly have had better handling from his 19-year-old rider.

Shergar is probably the most famous horse in recent history, but sadly not for stories like the one featured above. In February 1983, he was taken from an Irish stud farm and was never seen again.

05 January 2010

Albion Market - Water Street Set Partly demolished...

The shaded area of this photograph represents the portion of the Albion Market warehouse which has been demolished.

Left - an early '90s view of the old Market set standing beside the newly-opened Victoria and Albert Hotel. Right - the partly-demolished Market set as it is today. A new building stands on the site of the demolished section of the set.

I've had an e-mail from Rod, who asks:

Is it true that the set used for Albion Market in Water Street, Manchester, has been demolished?

Not totally, as far as I know, Rod - unless there have been recent developments I am unaware of.

The building which was used for the market superintendent's office and Waterman's Arms pub was demolished in the early 1990s. A photograph of it exists from 1990, but I think that this was the very last pic taken - the building disappeared, I believe, when work began on the Victoria and Albert Hotel, which opened in 1992.

The building used as the Albion Market bookies disappeared at the same time.

The Albion Market warehouse remained intact until more recent years. Part of it was then demolished to make way for a new building - I believe it is part of the hotel.

If anybody has any more information to share, I would be pleased to hear from them. Click on our "ALBION MARKET" label below for more market memories.