28 February 2010

1983: TV-am and Breakfast Time - Breakfast TV Arrives...

Breakfast TV arrived in 1983: on the BBC we had Selina Scott, Frank Bough (in some lovely jumpers) and Francis the weatherman. The style was sofa-based and relaxed.

TV-am, ITV's breakfast time service, was also sofa based but a little more formal as Angela Rippon, Anna Ford, David Frost, Robert Kee and Michael Parkinson, "The Famous Five", set out with their "mission to explain". The mission never really got off the ground, and it wasn't long before "The Famous Five" had been replaced by Anne "don't call me Annie!" Diamond, former sports presenter Nick Owen, weather girl Wincey Willis and Roland Rat - "Yeeaaarrrgggh!".

Here, we take a look back at some of the highs and lows of breakfast TV in the 1980s, beginning with a couple of newspaper articles from 1982, when TV-am was in its planning stages...

Esther Rantzen joined the TV-am enterprise, but dropped out before it reached the screen. Although it was, apparently, "an absurd financial sacrifice" - Daily Mirror, 9/3/1982. TV-am's loss was That's Life's gain as the BBC show continued with its original leading lady at the helm.

From the Sunday People, 6/6/1982...

David Frost means to give us a laugh along with the snap, crackle and pop of his new breakfast TV station.

"I'd like to make the presentation humorous wherever possible," he told me. "People don't like to be hectored in the morning."

And another thing. He wants to scotch the notion that presenters Anna Ford, Angela Rippon, Michael Parkinson, Peter Jay and Frost himself will be flirting with each other on the programme, as some stories have suggested.

"I was giving a talk and saying that the chemistry between the presenters should be allowed to work so they could laugh, disagree and ad-lib with one another," he explained.

"But I never said anything about sexual chemistry.

"Anyway, sometimes it will be Anna and Angela on the show together!"

He laughs a lot old Frostie, which is hardly surprising because the emergence of his new company is certain to put money in the bank, apart from being "the most amazing venture I've ever been involved with."

Frost hopes that "Good Morning Britain", as it will be called, will start early in February.

"It's so marvellous to start something brand new," he said, "where no one says, 'Well this is how we used to do it.'

"The main thing is that it adds up to more than 21 hours of original TV a week - more than any other company. We're not buying big American series."

Apart from the news we hope to include our own items for the shopper. Arts and religion on Sunday."

And good news for parents - "We hope to perform a public service for them by allowing them to lie in while we entertain the children at the weekend.

"We also hope to do a lot of sport - particularly overnight sport from America and Australia."

There's more to read if you click on the picture of the article above. I rather enjoyed David's final comment - speaking about possible problems with early rising for the new venture, and his TV-am colleague, Michael Parkinson, he said:

"Parky says he's going to save time by going to bed dressed."

Sensible man!

From the Daily Mirror, 7/1/1983:

Rise and shine! Here's Diana Moran, the keep-fit instructor who will be putting viewers through their paces early each morning when BBC Breakfast TV starts on January 17.

Diana, who has hopped over to the Beeb from HTV, practices what she preaches. She is in her forties, but regular excercises keep her figure in splendid shape.

Her husband John, a wine merchant director in Bristol, said proudly yesterday: "She certainly doesn't look more than thirty. But the fact is, she has one son who will be 22 next week and another of 19."

An HTV spokesman said sadly: "She must be one of the most beautiful women in Britain and we are sorry to lose her.

"But obviously the BBC breakfast job was an offer she couldn't refuse."

TV-am soon came up with "Mad Lizzie" Webb, a rival for the Green Goddess.

From the Sunday Mirror, 9/1/1983

In eight days’ time, the BBC fire the first shot in the snap, crackle and pop battle of breakfast TV.

The commercial channel joins the fray on February 1.

The Beeb’s fight for breakfast audiences will be spearheaded by Frank Bough and Selina Scott, who has joined them from ITV.

In the BBC’s five days of broadcasting (ITV will be on the air every morning), they promise regular spots on astrology, cooking, gardening, health, reviews of the morning papers and “tasty bits of gossip”.

The attention to detail is shown best in their approach to gardening.

In Plymouth, the climate normally puts plant growth three weeks ahead of other parts of the country.

So, a special garden has been created there to give viewers time to plan their own strategy.

Jolly music, a logo of the rising sun, followed quickly by the genial face of Frank Bough announcing: “A very good morning to you,” will greet viewers at 6.30am.

But programme editor, Ron Neil, has given strict instructions that viewers must be treated gently at such a delicate hour. No boisterous rise and shine or exhortations to get up and going.

The two and a half hour programme will have no special item lasting longer than three minutes in case the bleary-eyed feel they’re getting a lecture with their cornflakes.

There will be no pinstripe suits for the men, who include David Icke on sport and Francis Wilson with the weather.

Pullovers, shirts and ties are more the order of the day.

Selina Scott has been “advised” to go for open neck blouses and a generally casual air.

Glamorous dresses and heavy jewellery are out.

The same goes for newsreader Debbie Rix, who will be giving news bulletins on the hour.

Viewers will also be shown how to keep fit by a lady named Diana Moran who will be dressed in green and nicknamed The Green Goddess!

All this has been noted by commercial TV-am where personalities are clearly going to be trump card. Their main star, David Frost, promises that we are all going to be riveted spell bound to our chairs, toast in hand and marmalade dripping down our cuffs, watching famous people reacting with one another like mad.

Backing him up will be Angela Rippon and Michael Parkinson.

Frost calls it “sexual chemistry”.

TV-am’s Anna Ford is complimentary about the Beeb’s approach.

“There are many things about the BBC that I admire,” she says.

“And they have the weight of the BBC machine behind their show. A lot of experience. But the trouble with experience is that it can turn into a rut if you’re not careful.

“Just look at our breakfasts compared to theirs. The guests on our show will get Bucks Fizz, kedgeree and proper ham and eggs.

“My memory of BBC breakfasts is that you’re landed with a pale half-cooked greasy sausage and thick, lukewarm tea!”

“What we’re doing is totally new,” trumpets Anna. “We’re out on our own.”

It won’t just be the breakfasts that surprise the interviewees when they arrive at TV-am’s headquarters in Camden, London. The entire place - which still resembles a building site at this late hour - has the air of a Hollywood film set.

There is a Chinese pagoda that doubles as a bar. A staircase designed after one leading to an Egyptian tomb.

Live trees will soon sprout from giant tubs in the foyer.

All this cuts no ice with Frank Bough who is more used to the BBC’s changeless corridors.

Frank’s team has a two week start on Anna’s - the BBC show goes on the air in just eight days time.

But with typical BBC meticulousness, since last Monday they have staged “real time pilots” every morning - meaning that the team have to turn up on time and go through the programme as if it were actually being transmitted.

The early hour will not deter MPs from plonking themselves in front of the camera. Ron Neil polled every MP about their willingness to appear and got a 95% response.

“Only three MPs said they would not wish to be disturbed at such an hour.”

They say that curiosity killed the cat. Both the BBC and ITV are praying that curiosity will be the making of them - that viewers who switch on to see what breakfast TV is all about will be hooked.

Meanwhile, just in case anyone at TV-am - where 70% of the staff are women and the average age is 29 - is under the illusion that Frank Bough, having achieved all he has in television, might be getting a little soft in his early middle age, here’s a warning from the man himself.

“When I first got this job,” he says, “one or two people said, ‘Frank, you’ll waltz it.’

“That’s not how I feel at all. It’s a challenge to me, a new adventure. I’ll be giving it every ounce of energy I have.

“For me, it’s like starting again.”


NAME OF SHOW: Breakfast Time


STARTING DATE: Monday, January 17 1983

RUNNING TIME: Two and a half hours (6.30am - 9 am Monday to Friday)

HIGHLIGHTS: Full news bulletins on the hour, summaries every fifteen minutes. Regional news and traffic every fifteen minutes. Guest newspaper reviewers. Resident doctor dealing with an ailment-a-day plus phone-in. Keep-fit with Diana Moran (nicknamed the Green Goddess because she will be dressed in green). Gossip column. Astrologer. Big U.S. coverage.

NAME OF SHOW: Good Morning Britain (preceded by Daybreak)

COMPANY: TV-am (commercial)

STARTING DATE: Tuesday February 1 1983

RUNNING TIME: Three and a quarter hours (6 am - 9.15 am)

HIGHLIGHTS: Four summaries of morning papers. 20 minutes of weather reports. Arts reviews and previews. Travel guide. Keep fit. Cooking with the stars. Fashion and make-up spot. Special weekend programmes - Michael Parkinson hosting sport and leisure show (Saturday), “Rub-a-dub-Tub” children’s show (Sunday). 17 commercial breaks.

This screen capture shows the scene on BBC1 before Breakfast Time went on air for the very first time on 17 January, 1983.

ITV - the scene before TV-am's first broadcast on 1 February, 1983.

Unsettled times at fledgling breakfast television station TV-am. The "Mission To Explain" was aborted, Anne Diamond and Nick Owen took over the sofa, wine flew, and Wincey Willis, "Mad Lizzie" Webb and Roland Rat turned up.

Daily Mirror, 2/6/1983...

BBC news girl Anne Diamond is joining TV-am's troubled breakfast show "Good Morning Britain".

Anne quit "Nationwide" last week claiming they hadn't given her enough to do. She will take over from TV-am's Lynda Berry - who is going on holiday - and join Nick Owen.

Editor Greg Dyke said: "She has got lots of fun and sparkle about her in addition to a good track record as a journalist."

He revealed that they have until December to prove the show is a success.

But Anne isn't worried.

"I do not think it's too much of a gamble to leave the safety of the BBC for TV-am," she said. "I'm sure we've all got a great future."

Daily Mirror, 16/6/1983

Anna Ford took her revenge on the man who sacked her from TV-am by soaking him with wine at a posh party.

She spotted her former boss Jonathan Aitken among the scores of guests, calmly walked up to him and threw her glass of white wine in his face.

"It was a good shot - I hit him four square," 39-year-old Anna said yesterday. "And if I had been a man I would have punched him on the nose."

Mr Aitken, a Tory MP, retorted: "It was a surprise attack, but being the father of three young children I am quite used to dealing with nursery tantrums."

Back to Anna: "I am glad I did it and before Jonathan Aitken criticises my behaviour he should consider his own. He has treated me monsterously and ruined my life."

Mr Aitken and his cousin Timothy fired Anna and Angela Rippon in April. Anna was dismissed for breach of contract after publicly supporting sacked Peter Jay, the breakfast station's original boss.

Her revenge attack came at a post-election party at Lady Melchett's Chelsea home.

Amongst the guests were former Premier James Callaghan, Lord Hailsham, interviewer Sir Robin Day and senior diplomats and their wives. Mr Aitken said: "I was chatting to a former American diplomat and Lady Reay. The next thing I know, a glass of wine hit me in the face.

"Everybody was surprised, to say the least."

He said Anna "scuttled away" without saying a word. "Not true," replied Anna, saying she and her husband Marc Boxer simply decided to leave.

Still the war of words went on. Mr Aitken said Anna was probably upset at the good ratings new presenter Anne Diamond is winning for TV-am.

"Nonsense," replied Anna. And she said she had received "not a penny" of her reported £60,000 golden handshake, now the subject of a legal wrangle.

Any regrets about her attack?

"It was white wine," said Anna. "Now I wish it had been red."

From humble beginnings as TV-am weather girl to the dizzy heights of Treasure Hunt (all right, I know she never actually set foot in Keith's helicopter!), we liked Wincey.

Where has she gone? And was she really called Wincey?

Lizzie ready to exercise. I loved the fashions of the 1980s, the colours worn by women AND men. With the fitness craze raging, workout gear was also trendy and of its time...

Lizzie kept smiling as she showed us the route to fitness.

There was a vogue in the mid-to-late 1980s for women to wear stockbroker/skinhead red braces with their workout gear, as demonstrated by Lizzie here.

TV-am workout woman "Mad Lizzie" Webb was flying high in 1987, with the release of two workout videos. In a late 1980s interview, she recalled how she first came to TV-am...

"I'll never forget my first morning on TV-am in May 1983: I'd never done any television before. I'd taught in stage schools, and was at the Italia Conti school when Lena Zavaroni and Bonnie Langford were there - but I had no intention at that time of being on TV myself.

"Then Greg Dyke was brought in to save TV-am from closure, and he wanted a dance teacher to combat the BBC's Green Goddess, Diana Moran. His assistant mentioned she went to a class given by 'a mad girl called Lizzie'. He started calling me Mad Lizzie before we even met.

"The assistant rang me, but I said I was already happy with what I was doing. Then she rang again and said: 'He's pleading with me so at least meet him'. I agreed - and a week later I was on the air, live.

"We'd had no rehearsals. The stage manager was waving his hands about and I hadn't a clue what the signals meant. Then Nick Owen said: 'We have Mad Lizzie, doing some excercises,' and I was on.

"I stood in front of the sofa with Nick sitting right by me - he was in camera shot and desperately trying to edge out. I shook from head to toe. I could see my fingers shaking. That was four and a half years ago and I can still remember that feeling of not knowing what I was about.

"It was a magic moment, and unforgettable because the feelings inside me were so strong, but I couldn't show them. The slot only lasted about three minutes, but to me it seemed to go on and on. Afterwards, there was a great feeling of relief - and then I just collapsed in a heap."

I remember Lizzie being relentlessly bright eyed and bushy tailed at obscene hours of the morning as I readied myself for work. But I liked her. She seemed genuinely enthusiastic, friendly and jolly.

I particularly remember her catchphrase: "shake it out!"

But at that time of the morning I preferred to slouch.

Still, Lizzie was one of a number of factors in the fitness-mad 80s that set me thinking and, finally, ambling off to the gym. I'm thankful, because although in my early 40s, I still workout a little and feel pretty darned fit!

A 1988 magazine profile of Mr Mallett.

Before 1983, there was no television early in the morning. As kids in the 1970s, we used to make our own amusement. Times was 'ard.

I remember getting stuck in my wardrobe early one morning during the summer holidays, c. 1973...

I'd been pretending that the wardrobe was a Tardis, had gone inside, made a weird, wheezing groaning noise in imitation of the materialisation sound, and, on trying to step out on to the lush and probably hostile surface of the planet Zarkoff (or some such), found that the door was stuck and I was trapped. My terrified cries finally brought my parents from their bed.

1980s children were spared such traumas, and 1980s parents could snooze peacefully. Well, they could from 1983 onwards. Children could sit, square eyed, lost in the colourful world of TV-am's children's fare.

Rub-a-Dub-Tub, Roland Rat and The Wide Awake Club were amongst the pioneering shows in this brave new world of breakfast telly, and a much-loved hero of mid-to-late 80s children was one Timmy Mallett, who presented The Wide Awake Club and, in the school holidays from October 1985 onwards, Wacaday.

Wacaday featured pop (and other) guests, the lovely Michaela Strachan as a presenter (for a while, anyway), features from around the world, games, and several odds and ends like "Drop Your Toast".

"Drop Your Toast?!" I hear you cry. "Whatever's that?!" It was all quite simple. In this slot viewers' names would be read out in the hope that the shock would make them drop their toast!

In the summer of 1986, a word association game called Mallett's Mallet was added to the proceedings. It included the large pink and yellow mallet in the photograph - contestants going off the rails would be hit with it!

In 1990, a smaller mallet called Pinky Punky made his debut. Apparently he often wanted to go to the toilet.

Yes, really.

Inspired lunacy, great entertainment for kids of all ages and no need to go anywhere near the wardrobe.

Relive it all

23 February 2010

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾

"TV Times", 21-27 September 1985...

How did Sue Townsend become the best selling author of the 1980s? How did a spotty adolescent schoolboy from Leicester become a hero of page and screen?

Well, a character called Nigel Mole, a year older than Adrian, but also a teenage diary keeper and created by Ms Townsend, made his debut in July 1980 at a writers' group meeting at the Phoenix Arts Centre, Leicester.

The part of Nigel was played by actor Nigel Bennett, who had asked Sue Townsend if she had anything he could use for an audition for Huckleberry Finn.

Mr Bennett was impressed with the character of Nigel Mole, and and began work on adapting Ms Townsend's script for a one man show.

In October 1980, Nigel Mole made it into print for the very first time when a Leicester arts magazine, which was soon to fold, published extracts from Nigel's diary, freshly rewritten by Sue Townsend, using the title Excerpts from The Secret Diary of Nigel Mole Aged 14 ¾.

Janet Fillingham, Sue Townsend's theatrical agent, advised her to expand on the Mole theme, and sent a Nigel Mole monologue to BBC Birmingham. The BBC rejected the play but, unknown to Sue Townsend, Nigel Bennett had submitted his Mole audition piece to John Tydeman, Assistant Head of Radio Drama at Broadcasting House.

In March 1981, Mr Tydeman commissioned a thirty-minute radio script based on the diary of Nigel Mole. In September 1981, Janet Fillingham sent a copy of the completed radio script to Geoffrey Strachan, Managing Director of Methuen, suggesting that the script had the potential to be made into a book. Strachan agreed and during early 1982 Sue Townsend worked on the manuscript.

In November 1981, young actor Nicholas Barnes, exactly the same age as Nigel Mole (now a year younger at 13¾), recorded the Thirty Minute Theatre piece for BBC Radio 4.

Broadcast on 2 January 1982, The Diary of Nigel Mole Aged 13 ¾ proved to be a great success, prompting John Tydeman to commission a radio series adapted from the forthcoming book. However, Geoffrey Strachan was concerned that the name of Nigel Mole was too close to that of Geoffrey Willans' Down with Skool character, Nigel Molesworth. Nigel briefly became Malcolm Mole, but Sue Townsend, remembering the Vicks nasal spray TV ad, was not happy with the name. Darius and Marius were toyed with, then Adrian burst forth.

Sue Townsend found the adjustment difficult. She wrote to Geoffrey Strachan: “Are you absolutely dead set against 'Nigel Mole'? I am suffering severe withdrawal symptoms. I have lived closely with Nigel for a couple of years and Adrian can’t take his place. I've tried to accommodate him but failed.”

But the fates positively beamed upon Ms Townsend, despite her trauma over the name change. The book - The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ - was sent to Methuen in instalments in the April and May of 1982 and published in the October.

And it went straight into The Sunday Times best sellers list.

This book and its sequel, The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, earned Sue Townsend the truly glittering prize of becoming best selling author of the 1980s.

Midway through the decade, the telly beckoned...

Mountains Out Of Mole Hills

TV Times, 31 Aug - 6 Sep 1985:

The laughter continues on ITV with the "The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole", Aged 13 ¾, which begins in two weeks. The series is based on the gloriously funny book by Sue Townsend, which has already been translated into 17 languages, including Japanese, Russian and Serbo-Croat, and is now selling by the million. So its popularity with viewers seems certain.

Adrian Mole is a worrier. He worries about his mother (is SHE worrying too much about Mr Lucas next door?). He worries about his diet (is he getting enough vitamin C?). He worries about his acne (or maybe it's lassa fever), about the girl he worships (Pandora), about how he's going to pay protection money, and about sex. It is his age, probably.

Thames Television auditioned over a hundred boys for the part of A Mole (13 3/4) before choosing 14-year-old Gian Sammarco, a Northampton schoolboy. In contrast, over 500 girls were tried out for Pandora. Young Lindsey Stagg, also from Northampton, won the role.

As for the adults, they are some of the finest names in British comedy acting, including Beryl Reid and Julie Walters.

A great feature of the series was Ian Dury singing the theme tune - Profoundly In Love With Pandora.

The "Sun", 1986 - Julie Walters has vacated the role of Pauline Mole, so Lulu steps in...
The '80s adolescent (and beyond) agonies of Adrian were greatly appreciated, both on page and screen. And several follow-ups since have ensured that we have been able to follow his progress from lad to man. I was slightly older than Adrian, but still very much of the same era and found a lot of Ms Townsend's insights into how some of us young lads were back then rather uncanny.

Here's a choice snippet from True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole (1989), which could almost (but not quite, thank God) be an extract from one of my own early diaries - poetic, angst-ridden little... er... soul that I was:

In my desperation I went to the Lake District on the train. I was struck down by the beauty of the place, although saddened to find that there were no daffodils flashing in my outer eye as in William Wordsworth the old Lake poet. I asked an ancient country yokel why there were no daffodils about. He said, "It's July, lad". I repeated loudly and clearly, (because he was obviously a halfwit) "Yes I know that, but why are there no daffodils about?"

"It's July," he roared. At that point I left the poor deranged soul. It's sad that nothing can be done for such pathetic geriatric cases...

And to end on, this heart-rending poem for Pandora Braithwaite, the great love of Adrian's life:


I am but young

I am but small

(with cratered skin)


hear my call


If you haven't met Adrian yet, hurry along there...

And read about my horrific experiences as an unwitting Mole clone here...

20 February 2010

EastEnders 25th Anniversary - Post 4

The original Beale family in 1985 - Pete (Peter Dean), Kathy (Gillian Taylforth), Lou (Anna Wing) and Ian (Adam Woodyatt).

So, EastEnders 25th anniversary has come and gone.

I never usually watch modern soaps, but last night I tuned in, out of curiosity, to see how the occasion would be marked. This was a live episode, the action centred on the resolution of a murder mystery, and I was impressed. Featuring lots of heavy emotional scenes - and a live stunt where a character fell off the roof of The Queen Victoria pub - I thought that the cast and production team had no reason to reproach themselves by the episode's end.

Well done to all concerned!

I had read that the 25th anniversary episode was going to be firmly rooted in the present - it was pointed out that the show's characters had no idea that this was the 25th anniversary, so lots of references to the past would seem highly contrived.

But there was a small nod towards those of us who desired a link to the show's beginning: Ian Beale produced a "time capsule" that he and some of the other teenage characters had made back then. Amongst the contents were a Madonna vinyl single and a video tape - a home video Ian had made in 1985.

Dot Branning (June Brown) (always "Dot Cotton" to me!) insisted he played it, and there, between fuzz, crackles and picture break-ups, were glimpses of some of the Square folk of 1985 - Arthur and Pauline Fowler (Bill Treacher and Wendy Richard), Ethel Skinner (Gretchen Franklin), Den and Angie Watts (Leslie Grantham and Anita Dobson) and Michelle Fowler (Susan Tully), amongst others.

The footage was, of course, actually taken from early episodes, but I still enjoyed the gesture and empathised with Dot and Ian who were both moved by glimpses of old friends and family.

Then the tape broke. And the link to 1985 was also broken.

The Queen Vic in the mid-1980s.

Following-up the 25th anniversary live episode was a glimpse behind the scenes - The Aftermath - which featured Leslie Grantham, the original Albert Square bad boy, "Dirty" Den Watts.

Mr G was on fine form - asked what he thought made Den such an iconic character, he gave his considered opinion that it was his "charm and good looks"!

Screen capture from a trailer for EastEnders, aired before the show began in early 1985.

Leslie Grantham said of his time in the show:

"... to work with Anita Dobson, who played Angie, was just phenomenal. We just bounced off each other. So, it was great - I could abuse her one week, she could abuse me the next..."

I found Den and Angie's relationship completely electrifying!

Ali Osman (Nejdet Salih) has been in a scrap - the make-up lady paints in the damage.

Fierce old battle axe Lou Beale prepares a Christmas stocking in 1985. Anna Wing only appeared as Lou from 1985 to 1988, but the character really made her mark. Miss Wing was awarded the MBE in 2009, aged 94. She said: “As a child, I’d cling to the railings of Buckingham Palace, never thinking one day I’d be decorated by the Queen.”

This is the site of Albert Square in early 1984 - the "Lot" at the back of the Elstree Studios, then most recently used for Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. The layout of the Square was influenced by the presence of the tower block of flats. It was decided that if the flats could be clearly seen from the Albert Square exterior set, it would add to the show's inner city "feel". The flats' on-screen name was "Walford Towers" and Pete, Kathy and Ian Beale lived in one of them in the 1980s.

Later in 1984, and Albert Square is really taking shape.

Hugh Miller wrote a series of books based on EastEnders in the mid-1980s. Each one was set in the Square, pre-1985, so we could find out about some of the past goings-on - during the Second World War or in the "swinging '60s" for instance.

Or, in the case of the book pictured above, a far more recent time...

As she left Angie gazed at the empty doorway for a moment, then glanced at the brewery calendar on the wall. 10th October, 1981. Her mind shifted abruptly. 10th October. That made it a week now since she had found out. She had looked at the calender every morning since she discovered the little note on the floor beside Den's bed. She felt in the pocket of her robe and took it out again. The handwriting was firm, with bold forward-slanting strokes that denoted a lot of confidence.

Den -

I haven't run away. Make yourself a cup of coffee. I'll be back in about half an hour.

There was no signature, just one big cross. A kiss that wounded Angie's heart every time she looked at it...

Members of the Beale and Fowler clan in the mid-1980s. Michelle brought shame on the family when she became pregnant in 1985. She kept the name of the father - one Dennis Watts of The Queen Victoria public house - very quiet indeed. And she also kept the baby.

Paul McCartney And The Pipes Of Peace, The Smiths, Tears For Fears, Wham!, Boy George And Other Pop Gossip Of 1983...

From the Daily Mirror, Saturday, December 17, 1983:

Paul McCartney has gone to war - with a message of peace.

The rock star appears on both sides - as a British soldier and a German adversary in World War 1.

And, thanks to the magic of videotape, he ends up shaking hands with himself.

Paul acted the parts for a movie made to promote his record Pipes of Peace.

The song is based on a legendary Christmas incident in which the two sides downed arms and played football together.

Elsewhere in the Mirror, David Jenson brought us all the latest pop gossip...


Just in case you were wondering why Tamla Motown have re-released Stevie Wonder's "Happy Birthday", it is to celebrate Martin Luther King Day on January 15.

Stevie, who wrote the song about the assassinated civil rights leader, refused to allow its release in the States until King's birthday was declared a national holiday.

Included on the B side are four of Dr King's speeches, including the famous "I have a dream..."

The Cure are looking for two young musicians to join them for live work starting in January. The "live work", incidentally, includes a world tour!


Sell-out pair who are stage-struck

What do top stars Wham! worry about on a sell-out tour? "We're always bumping into each other on stage," says George Michael.

"One night we ran so hard into each other we both went flying. Another time I slipped on a bra that had been thrown on stage! We always have to look out of the corner of our eyes."

Now the tour is over, George and his buddy Andrew Ridgeley are looking forward to recording some new material - although a dispute with their record company which ended up in court recently may prevent its release for some time.

"We're a bit in limbo really. Because of our case we really can't afford to bring out a new album. But when we do get into the studio it will be good.

"We're writing in bits and pieces like we always do. For the next album we're going to try to diversify - combining all our influences."


The boys in Tears For Fears have been having a tough time on their British tour, which winds up in Poole on Thursday.

Both have been struck down by flu, but being the troupers they are, they have soldiered on.

Curt Smith has been having vocal training lately and he's been able to cope with the strain much better.

Fellow singer Roland Orzabal has a trained voice. It is so powerful that he blew up a £400 microphone the other night.

What a funny bunny Boy...

Boy George tells me he plans to spend Christmas "Lying on my back, covered in tin foil and hibernating for a week."

Talking about the video for Culture Club's "Victims", George added: "I really think I look like a rabbit. I see it and expect a pair of big white ears to come out of my hat.

"My father said I look like an undertaker. I suppose it has got a certain Hammer horror element to it."

And the hottest new star in pop is still surprised at the huge success of "Karma Chameleon". He didn't want the biggest-selling single of the year released. He thought it would be a flop!


Bananarama's Keren Woodward - she's the cutie with the dark hair - has been telling me how close the trio really are. For the past several months they've shared a flat together and now they've bought themselves houses next door to each other in North London.

1983 has been a tough year for the girls, with management hassles which led to them looking after themselves.

As a sign of their determination to stick together the girls, impressed by the film "The Day After", plan to build themselves an underground nuclear shelter.


Chart newcomers The Smiths can now add the name of Sandie Shaw to their ever growing list of admirers. So struck by their music is the Sixties star that she has recorded a Smiths tune for her next single.

And I'm pleased to announce the Smiths follow up to "This Charming Man", "What Difference Does It Make", comes out in mid-January.

1980s Food - Posh Nosh For The Masses...

From an August 1986 ITV ad break - talk about conspicuous consumption! A witty salad cream ad (many of us were experiencing mayo for the very first time), posh potatoes (baked, of course!) and very posh biscuits with yogurt and muesli in them...

What was it with baked spuds? Perhaps the
F-Plan Diet had a lot to answer for, as spud fever gripped the nation in the mid-1980s. There was a very fancy potato cafe near me, decorated with old fashioned advertisements from the early 20th Century, where you could go and eat spuds filled with wonderful things. Now, who's for a nice jacket with prawn mayo, sliced hard boiled egg and grated cheese? Baked beans on top? Well, OK, if you insist...

In the early 1980s I was happy to simply give a baked spud a quick dollop of marge and a bit of grated cheese before wolfing it down. Not any more. In the mid-'80s I began scooping out the potato and mashing it up with butter and chopped chives, before replacing it in the jacket, placing grated cheese on top and then browning it under the grill. Or the potato might be mixed with tuna, chopped peppers and mayonnaise (I didn't meet peppers or mayo until the 1980s - before that I was only acquainted with salad cream and spring onions!).

Me, a humble working class lad, was suddenly scoffing posh nosh. I was eating food I'd never even laid eyes on back in 1982.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, supermarkets had reflected our thrifty (and ignorant of posh nosh) ways. Food ranges on offer increased - they always had - and there was a move in the early 1980s away from processed, tasteless products (more further on) - but there was still a rigid class thing when it came to food.

There was what "posh" people ate and what we ate.

And never the twain shall meet.

And there wasn't much point in supermarkets offering food that customers could not afford or were going to reject out of hand.

Remember the wide range of "Basics" and "Economy" products on sale at supermarkets in the early 1980s? These were dead cheap versions of everyday necessities to help us through the ravages of the recession. They started a trend, and you can still buy similar "cheap-as-can-be" supermarket items today.

Back then, Sainsbury's and Tesco's were different planets compared to the supermarkets of today. There simply wasn't the range of foods on sale we take for granted today.

My wife recalls a flatmate of hers making her own pasta from scratch in the '70s - the dried varieties were not available on supermarket shelves. The only dried pasta I saw back then in the supermarkets was of the long spaghetti or macaroni varieties.

The early '80s were hard times. There were, of course, the (then) super doopah out-of-town hypermarkets of the late '70s and early '80s, but you needed a car to get to them, and decent nosh didn't come cheap.
And even then, the food ranges couldn't hold a candle to the posh nosh explosion hitting even humble, everyday supermarkets in the mid-1980s.

But the 1981 newspaper article
below reveals some hopeful trends...

The '80s saw us cheap and common chaps and chapesses turning away from tasteless, processed foods and towards tasty, quality nosh. Even in the recession-ridden early 1980s, the move was back towards food that you could taste!

From the Daily Mirror, January 2, 1981:

Do yourself a flavour for 1981

Mmm! Delicious, that smell of fresh-baked bread!

And it's an aroma you're likely to savour more this year as shoppers elbow aside bland, over-processed foods in favour of good old-fashioned flavours.

Natural foods, till now a speciality of health food shops, will be popping up on supermarket shelves and - costing less.

We are already drinking more natural fruit juices - stand by for the "long life" type that don't need to be kept refrigerated.

We'll also be brewing more of our own money-saving beer and wine.

Tastier non-alcoholic drinks are on the way. And there will be more flavoured pintas to boost sales of ordinary milk.

Look out too, for new varieties of yogurts and cheese.

There will be no let-up in the High Street price war. Sales will run and run.

Retailers will be enticing customers with ever-more ingenious promotions. Tesco, for instance, are tying up with Heinz in a scheme based on prices 50 years ago when the supermarket group was founded.

Coupons will be a real snip - manufacturers make those offers on the basis that not everyone will take them up so there are some good bargains to be collected.

Watch out for new money-saving offers arranged between British Rail and the Post Office.

More stores will switch to electronic check-outs where prices are "read" by a laser beam and customers get itemised bills [Andy's note: Sainsbury's began the switch in 1982].

Food labels will be fuller. For instance, added water in products like tinned ham will have to be listed. You'll be told exactly what variety of potatoes and melons you are buying. And claims that products provide special benefits will have to be explained on the label.

Turkey will gobble up more of our money in unexpected ways - turkey bacon, burgers and bangers.

Fewer vegetables and more Continental made-up dishes and gooey gateaux will fill frozen food cabinets.

Personally I thought some of those new turkey products were "Bootiful!" - more here.

Supermarkets truly underwent a revolution during the mid '80s boom period, introducing many shocked shoppers to such oddities as avocados, peppers, olive oil and courgettes for the first time ever. The working classes would never be the same again.

These things were suddenly available in large numbers, were affordable, and there was a brash spirit of adventure in the air.

Yes, we were going to eat classy nosh!

There were even posh new potato crisps ranges - cheese and onion? No, ta, cream cheese and chive, please!

I giggled when I first heard of carrot cake. Carrot cake?!! Oh please - surely it was a joke? But it wasn't. And it was delicious.

As Andrew Marr, referring to the mid-1980s, said recently: "This is the moment when British shopping goes turbo charged."

And our supermarkets reflected that.
Sainsbury's started to seem quite classy back then - I'm sure I was rubbing shoulders with vicars and school teachers whenever I nipped in - and more than a few yuppie types. It all seemed very strange.

Cosmopolitan magazine, July 1983: "Good Food Costs Less At Sainsbury's" - and don't forget the fancy water to go with it! Sainsbury's had its own varieties in 1983 - from Shropshire and Perthshire.

As affordable posh nosh trickled down to the working classes, we also loved prawn cocktail - which was being slagged off by Fanny Cradock as long ago as 1967! But Nouvelle Cuisine was really "it". I could probably have eaten about nine Nouvelle sized portions in one sitting, and wouldn't give it house room.

My own personal favourite was all those fancy salad dressings suddenly so widely and cheaply available. When I was a kid, and indeed into the early '80s, salad to me meant cold meat or a wedge of pork pie, cheese, some limp lettuce, a few spuds, maybe a few spring onions, and a dollop of salad cream. Eating salad was a chore. Not any more!

The supermarket revolution wasn't just confined to expanding ranges of food. A female friend of mine was working at our local branch of Sainsbury's in the mid-'80s, and witnessed the arrival of bar code scanner tills there.

The beeping sound was dreadful, she told me.
Completely unused to it, the awful repetitive sound echoed in her head when she got home, and many of her colleagues experienced similar difficulties. On her honeymoon in 1986, my friend halted things at a very romantically-charged moment to ask: "Was that a beep?" Fortunately, her new husband also worked at Sainsbury's and was entirely sympathetic!

A Tesco magazine advertisement from December 1984. Pasta was just becoming exciting in the UK. Before the 1980s, my only experience of pasta was confined to tinned spaghetti - and the only dried ranges I ever saw in Sainsbury's and Tesco's were of the spaghetti and macaroni varieties. But in the 1980s, we truly woke up to culinary pasta possibilities as new dried pasta ranges burst onto UK supermarket shelves.


While Italian restaurants have been popular for years, we're just beginning to recognise how versatile pasta can be in our home cooking.

It comes in so many different forms, it can be used for main meals, snacks, soups or salads.

In creating the Tesco pasta range we use Durum wheat, which is the finest quality you can buy.

Then in some cases we addd eggs to give a richer taste and spinach to make our distinctive pasta verde.

Our range includes spaghetti, tagliatelle, lasagna, macoroni, shells, vermicelli, quills, conches, wheels and bows.

Whichever you choose, you can be sure the Italians can't buy better...

To anybody who doesn't know/remember what it was like to be working class and the food we ate before the 1980s, I'm sure all this must seem bizarre.

Mind you, it wasn't all posh nosh once the mid-'80s had arrived - I also ate TONS of Batchelors Savoury Rice, and Bejam "bubble and squeak" portions and mini pizzas were a wow!

More about 1980s food soon...

Some jacket potato recipes from The F-Plan Diet. I can personally recommend the sausage and mustard pickle.

13 February 2010

Together (Southern Television, 1980 - 1981)

Karen has written: 

I notice you've mentioned the early '80s afternoon soap, Together. I remember it vaguely. Can you jog my memory? 

Not very much I'm afraid, Karen!

was produced by Southern Television and first hit our screens in late January 1980.

It was set in a modern purpose built block of housing association flats called Rutherford Court, in reality a bunch of studio sets. I'm not sure if there was ever any location filming. I don't recall any.

Sarah Greene, later of
Blue Peter and Saturday Superstore, was Tricia Webber, one of the show's early characters. Sheila Fay (formerly Beryl's Mum in The Liver Birds) was the warden of a small housing association block of flats. Her husband was played by John Burgess, later "Bing" Crosby of Brookside fame. Annie Leake, formerly Wully Harris of Beryl's Lot, also had a role in the series.

I recall thinking that the show was originally slightly dowdy. The opening titles were later revamped and a theme tune with lyrics, sung I believe by Cleo Laine, was added.

Living side by side

Our lives are waves in a tide

And just as the tide flows

Our fortunes may come and then go

But with our friends we can survive

If we can keep alive

The art of living


Together was originally filmed three days before transmission, allowing for some topicality in characters' comments, but the second series went out live, and this allowed even more. Apparently, the studio canteen used to empty at 1.30 on transmission days as staff clustered around the Together studio sets, eager for cock-ups.

Together introduced a gay character called Peter Hunt in March 1981, who lived with a man called Trevor. Perhaps this sudden brave gay awareness theme from staid old Southern was inspired by the 1980
Waggoners' Walk Rob Pengelly story-line? Who knows? The writing was on the wall for Southern by March 1981 anyway, so perhaps it was just a case of "what the heck?!"

I thought Together was a good serial, but the only story-line I remember now was one involving the flats' communal TV aerial going wrong and Sheila Fay's character being concerned as the residents like
d Play Your Cards Right - which had begun in 1980 - and were in danger of missing an instalment!
Martha Finch (Kathleen Byron) endures a nasty moment on a disgusting green telephone in 1981.

Southern Television lost its franchise in late 1980, and its last day of broadcasting was 31 December 1981. Together had ended earlier that year.

I'm trying to get more Together info and will post it on '80s Actual if I'm successful.

Scottish Television soap Take The High Road's debut followed hard on the heels of Together, being broadcast from February 1980. That show was, of course, rather longer lasting!

Another afternoon soap of the 1980s was the English-speaking Welsh serial Taff Acre from HTV, which debuted in 1981. And quickly ended. Amongst its stars was Richard Davies, formerly of Please, Sir! Mr Davies had had previous soap experience as Idris Hopkins, corner shop keeper of Coronation Street.

And then there was Thames Television's Miracles Take Longer in 1984, set in an advice centre, and running to just one series. 

Gems (1985, Thames) had a rag trade setting and ran for three series.

There were only ever two series of "Together". The show made its debut in January 1980 and a year later the second series was on-air. But unfortunately Southern Television had lost its franchise in late 1980, so the writing was on the wall. On January 9, 1981, the "Daily Mirror" Viewing Guide synopsis for "Together" reveals that: 'Martha Finch hopes to get some decorating done'. 

Also on screen was Johnny Ball - launching a new show called "Think Again" - and those were the wondrous days of the first showings of "Monkey" on BBC 2 - 'Adventure with Tripitaka and his companions'. Sheer bliss!

I hope Martha (whoever she was) got her decorating done before the plug was pulled on "Together"!
According to legend, during the second series of "Together", which went out live, studio hands wallpapered a whole set during the commercial break. Perhaps it was Martha's?!

12 February 2010

1981: Margaret Thatcher Says "Yes" To "Yes Minister"...

The comedy series Yes, Minister began in 1980, and had soon attracted friends in high places...

From the Daily Mirror, 30/3/1981:

It's party time at the House of Commons tonight.

And it's not a political one, either.

The Speaker, the Rt. Hon. Mr George Thomas MP, is having a dinner and his guests of honour are the gang of three from "Yes, Minister" (BBC2, 9pm).

Jim Hacker MP (Paul Eddington), Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) and Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds) will all be sipping cocktails in a state room directly below Big Ben.

The Speaker is a fan of the show and so, too, is Mrs Thatcher, who likes to record it on video to watch in the small hours of the morning.

In tonight's episode the Minister decides to curry favour with the electorate by going on a publicity tour of a farm run for children. Chaos results.

The dinner date was arranged when the three stars of the show went to watch a parliamentary session in the public gallery at the Commons recently.

Their appearance almost brought the business of the House to a halt, with MPs and actors gawping at each other.

Paul Eddington says: "We went to the Commons to get the flavour of the place, and I must say we had a very enjoyable time. There was a lot of sniggering and nudging when we were spotted."

Although "Yes, Minister" has received the best TV comedy award, there will not be a new series for some time.

The writers, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, are too busy working on other projects to get together before the summer of 1982.

So it looks as if Mrs Thatcher will have to be satisfied with repeats.

08 February 2010

Readers' Enquiries... Albion Market On DVD? GSM Mobile Phone Technology, For Maddie With Love, And The Launch Of The Space Shuttle...

Cheers! Lisa O'Shea (Sally Baxter) and Lynne Harrison (Noreen Kershaw) enjoy a cuppa at Albion Market in 1985.

Kathy has written:

I love your features on Albion Market and thought the show was ace. Do you know if there is any chance of the 100 episodes being released on DVD?

Sorry, Kathy, I don't think it's very likely. I liked Albion Market too, but I know of no plans to bring the show to DVD. If I hear anything on the subject, I'll post it on this blog.

Still on the subject of '80s drama series, Jon asks:

Do you remember anything about an 80's telly show called For Maddie With Love? Are you planning an '80s Actual article about the show, and did it make it onto video?

Hi, Jon - yes, I do remember For Maddie With Love (1980-1981), an ATV series which starred Nyree Dawn Porter and Ian Hendry. It was the story of a woman who only had months left to live. Very few people had a VCR in 1980-1981, so there was no video release of the series, but there was a novelisation, by Sheila Yegar, published by New English Library in 1980. When I last checked on eBay, there were several copies on sale.

And finally Graham P says:

I love your blog, it's the absolute best when it comes to 80's facts. Could you please post more about technology - like the development of the GSM system for mobile phones, which is the system we use today, and the launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981? Also, please, PLEASE more 1980s computer pics!

Thanks for your compliments and enthusiasm, Graham. We do have a small post about the first Space Shuttle launch - it's here - and I'm hoping to revamp it soon as I now have more material. The GSM subject is fascinating and I have chalked it in as a future possible '80s Actual article - the beginning was in 1982 when Groupe Speciale Mobile (GSM) was formed to design a pan-European mobile technology.

And there will be more computer pics soon!