31 March 2010

Neighbours: Helen Daniels, Frank Darcy And The Bungle Bungles

Frank Darcy, artist, played by Wyn Roberts, who arrived in Erinsborough from the Bungle Bungles in 1988. The actor's name is detailed as "Wynne Roberts" or "Wynn Roberts" elsewhere on the web, but the Neighbours closing credits of 1988 list him as Wyn.

My recent posts on the Australian soap Neighbours, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, prompted this anonymous comment:

I remember Helen Daniels, the Bungle Bungles and Frank Darcy too. He had an eye patch!

And since this comment I have recieved quite a large number of e-mails from others who remember Frank Darcy and the Bungle Bungles.

Have I any pictures of Mr Darcy?

I've uploaded a few screen caps here.

And what was the story about Helen Daniels (Anne Haddy) and Mr Darcy and The Bungle Bungles?

The Bungle Bungles are a prehistoric mountain range, shaped like "beehive domes" and discovered by chance by an Australian film crew flying over the area in 1983.

Australian - and then international - fame awaited them. In 1987, the Bungle Bungles or Purnululu National Park was established.

And here we leave the world of reality and enter the realm of soap fiction.

Helen Daniels, that well-known artist of Erinsborough, holidayed in the Bungle Bungles in 1987, and there she met fellow artist Frank Darcy.

Frank Darcy and Helen Daniels - brief happiness.

Frank was every inch the rugged bush man, but he and the urbane and sophisticated Helen were attracted to each other, and in 1988 he visited her in Erinsborough. Helen had organised an exhibition of his paintings, and was wildly enthusiastic about them.

Frank was unhappy at the prospect of his art work being exhibited, not desiring publicity and fame.

However, he went along with things for Helen, and the two became romantically involved.

Frank was unhappy in the city, and asked Helen to return to the Bungle Bungles with him.

But Helen could not face the prospect of uprooting and leaving her family in Ramsay Street behind.

And so the couple said a sad farewell.

Helen's involvement with the Bungle Bungles introduced many soap fans in Neighbours-watching countries to the fact that they existed, and several on-line mentions of the Bungle Bungles include the fact that Helen was there back in the 1980s.

Still on the subject of Neighbours, Francis writes:

I was surprised that the lyrics of the Neighbours theme tune include: "With a little understanding, you can find the perfect blend". I always heard it as "perfect plan" and it still sounds like that when I hear the original '80s theme tune. "Perfect blend" makes me think of coffee!

I was confused by that too, Francis, as I always thought it was "perfect plan" in the '80s. If anybody has any information on this (were the lyrics changed later, or is it just my hearing?!), I'd be glad to hear from them.

25 March 2010

Release Brookside On DVD Campaign

Brookside - life in a Liverpool Close in the 1980s. The Collins family, Annabelle, Paul, Gordon and Lucy had come down in the world from the leafy Wirral; Jimmy Corkhill's brother, Billy, had gone up in the world from the local council estate. Regular visitor Jimmy managed to upset life in the Close; Barry Grant was not really a bad lad... or was he? His mother, Sheila, faced a late-in-life pregnancy; Hard-bitten Marie Jackson took her campaign to get her wrongly imprisoned husband released all the way to Downing Street; Harry Cross and Ralph Hardwick got on each other's nerves; Heather Haversham was upwardly mobile; Pat, Sandra and Kate found themselves held at gunpoint by a madman...

When Brookside first hit our screens on Channel 4's opening night in November 1982, we were faced with a soap that was determinedly of the 1980s. Phil Redmond, the show's creator, wanted the new soap to be firmly anchored in the current day.

It was a fair point. Some felt that Coronation Street and Crossroads were lingering in the 1960s, and sometimes even venturing as far back as the 1950s in the attitudes displayed. Brookside was to be set in the here and now, on a new private housing estate which represented a move up in the world to some, a move down to others, and an acceptable place to live for young professional people.

No cosy local pub where all the adult characters assembled. No cosy shop on the corner.

The show went for social issues, examining them in an up-front manner and breaking taboos. Here on Brookside in the 1980s we found the first gay character in the UK TV soaps; we found thorny subjects like rape fearlessly confronted; and we found a soap that some considered too left wing, some considered too subversive to be a soap, but that nobody found boring.

Well, at least nobody I knew!

And certainly not cosy.

Brookside is, of course, now a thing of the past. But its influence is still felt in our modern soaps.

It was truly groundbreaking.

Here at '80s Actual, we'd love to see the 1980s episodes again, and a campaign is now underway to get classic episodes from the entire run of the show released on DVD.

Lee Brady, of the campaign, has written to us:

As the Brookside DVD Campaign grows larger, we would like to remind everyone about it.

The Brookside DVD Campaign aims to get the 'Classic' or 'Best Of' episodes released at some point in the future. We currently have over 4,400 signatures from Fans & Cast. We wil be in the next edition of Soaplife magazine, released 13th April. So, would you care to join our Website & sign our online petition?

Remember all those great storylines and characters in the 80's? Sheila Grant's rape storyline? Bobby Grant & Harry Cross? The very first episode where Damon Grant steals the Collinses' toilet with his mates? The highly innovative "soap bubble" about Damon & Debbie? The Corkhills - Billy, Jimmy & Jackie & Cracker the Dog? There was tons & tons of great characters & storylines. Class acting & brilliant realism. We would all love to sit on the sofa once again and remember all those great tv moments on DVD.....

Please visit the website for more details:

As I wrote earlier, the Campaign aims to get episodes from across the show's entire run released.

And we wish it every success.

23 March 2010

Neighbours Poll - Who Is Your Favourite 1980s Character?

In the wake of the 25th anniversary of the Neighbours soap, we'd like to find our readers' favourite 1980s character from Ramsay Street. Was it good old Helen Daniels (Anne Haddy), a talented artist, businesswoman, homemaker and provider of good advice and a friendly ear for all those in trouble?

What about fussy Harold Bishop (Ian Smith) or his lovely wife Madge Mitchell/Ramsay/Bishop (Anne Charleston)? Poor Madge had certainly been through the mill with her awful first husband, Fred, and troubled off-spring, Charlene (Kylie Minogue) and Henry (Craig McLachlan). Perhaps young Henry or Charlene (she should be so lucky) was your '80s favourite Ramsay Street resident? Or what about Bouncer, the lovable Labrador, with his famous dream sequence?

Mrs Mangel (Vivean Gray), always ready to stick her beak in where it wasn't wanted, is fondly remembered, as is her gloriously batty pal, Eileen Clarke (Myra De Groot), mother of Des (Paul Keane).

Des, of course, was the local bank manager and husband of sensible and good-hearted ex-stripper Daphne (Elaine Smith).

All these and more were pure Neighbours gold in the mid-to-late 1980s.

So, eyes right to our poll and vote away - make sure that your Erinsborough '80s favourite gets the recognition he/she deserves...

22 March 2010

Angels (And A Bit About Casualty)

Angels 1981 opening titles.

Angels was a BBC series which changed track dramatically. Devised by Paula Milne, it began in 1975 as a seasonal drama series, thirteen fifty minute episodes per year, each episode focussing on a specific student nurse at the fictitious St Angela's Hospital in Battersea, London. One of the show's directors was Julia Smith, who would go on to create EastEnders with Tony Holland in the 1980s.

Early Angels producers included Morris Barry and Ron Craddock.

Firstly, lets dispel the myth that Angels was the first TV medical drama to illustrate that staff working in hospitals in the UK were NOT exclusively white. Emergency - Ward Ten had featured Joan Hooley as surgeon Louise Mahler, and General Hospital gave us Carmen Munroe as Sister Washington.

In 1979, big changes were afoot at St Angela's as Julia Smith became the producer of Angels, and the show switched to a twice weekly soap opera format - thirty-four thirty minute episodes per year. Julia had always felt that the serial format would suit the show.

It took some time, but Julia tracked down Tony Holland, with whom she had previously worked on the long-running Z-Cars series, and he became Script Editor on Angels.

The new soapy Angels moved into the 1980s by moving away from its original setting - St Angela's Hospital, Battersea, was replaced by another fictitious hospital, Heath Green, Birmingham - in reality a disused Coventry hospital.

The Angels were now not only women - Martin Barrass appeared as a token male nurse.

Nor were the new soapy Angels very angelic - they were on the Pill, having drink problems, and generally being young women of the early 1980s.

Some of the viewing audience did not like this, the alcoholism story-line was particularly unpopular, but Julia Smith said:

"There are a lot of tensions in a young nurse's life; it's no wonder some turn to drink. When you're just eighteen you've got a lot of growing up to do."

Some real life nurses were unhappy too - complaining that the sometimes slobby baggages on-screen were not like real nurses at all. Angels chief non-angel Rose Butchins (Kathryn Apanowicz) came in for particular criticism.

Soap historian Hilary Kingsley wrote about the end of the road for Angels in her 1988 book Soap Box:

Angels ended after nine series in the autumn of 1983, never having been granted the round-the-year status of a 'real' soap - perhaps because no group of characters was lovable enough or at least around long enough to become loved.

Angels definitely upped the "grit" rating in UK hospital soap drama a little, but it was not as influential as some history-rewriting modern day pundits claim. Casualty, which began in 1986 was breathtakingly political, gritty, and topical - a major departure.

Hilary Kingsley wrote of Casualty:

It was aggressively different from 'Angels' and closer to the American hospital-amid-chaos series 'St Elsewhere'...

Unlike 'Angels' too were the rude and rough language (aggressive patients were told to 'shut up'), the buckets of blood, gallons of tea brewed in the staffroom and healthy helpings of passion.

I preferred Casualty to Angels. The pronounced left wing bias of the Holby saga and fearlessly gritty portrayal of hospital life in the mid-1980s, cutbacks and all, left me gasping.

Casualty was truly groundbreaking.

Although Angels never struck me as being particularly fascinating, it was OK in its way - and does stir a few fond memories.

And the show featured future EastEnders stars Shirley Cheriton, Judith Jacob and Kathryn Apanowicz - who of course, was the disliked Rose Butchins.

Actually, out of all the characters, I fondly remember Rose, who slurped her food and was dead common.

But in the early 1980s I was dead common myself.

1985 - Live Aid, The Mobile Phone in England, The Beiderbecke Affair, Edge Of Darkness, Windows, EastEnders, Boris Becker, Comic Relief, The C5

The year of Live Aid!

On the 1st of January 1985, comedian Ernie Wise, he of the short, fat, hairy legs, started a revolution. Standing in the middle of St Katherine's Dock, he made the first mobile phone call in England, in fact in the whole of Britain, and a little piece of history was made. More here.

After weeks of "They Are Here" teasers, EastEnders arrived. Angie and Den had a lousy wedding anniversary and Lou had a right old go at Pauline. Oh, and Reg Cox had been murdered.

1985 also saw the start of shorter-lived soap Albion Market. Loads more here.

Longer-lived was the BBC's Howards' Way, first seen in 1985.The goings-on in Tarrant kept us glued to our telly screens until the final series in 1990.

Meanwhile, in the ITV ad breaks, Julie Walters watched footage of an old '50s trout making a pot of tea. "Ooh, worra palaver!" said Julie, opting for a new Typhoo One Cup.

Over on the BBC, Troy Kennedy Martin gave us Edge Of Darkness, the highly topical nuclear thriller serial. Kennedy Martin had been frustrated by the lack of political drama on TV in the early 1980s. With the Thatcher/Reagan era changing the political landscape, Kennedy Martin began to write - with little hope of ever seeing it televised. More here.

Alternative comedian Alexei Sayle's 1984 hit 'Ullo John, Gotta A New Motor? became 'Ullo Tosh, got a Toshiba? and the Holstein Pils commercials melded Griff Rhys Jones to a lot of old film footage, featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe.

Comic Relief was launched.

At 17, German Boris Becker was the youngest player ever to win the Men's Final at Wimbledon - and a thrilling final it was!

Everybody Wants To Rule The World, sang Tears For Fears. Perhaps not, but money was important. After the long recession, I didn't find it surprising, but I couldn't go along with the ethos. I was young and idealistic, and whilst I liked the OTT glitz and glamour of the mid-1980s (it felt like a huge relief to me after my grotty '70s childhood and the regimented fashions of that era), I couldn't stomach the Thatcher/Yuppie thing. I wanted to do something meaningful and gave up my office job to work as a care assistant in a Social Services home for the elderly.

It was demanding - the home catered for EMI (elderly mentally ill) people, and the physically frail and we often had to care for residents who were, basically, on their death beds, and make their end as comfortable as possible. It was hard work, the pay was lousy, but the sense of comradeship amongst the staff was great and I was happy.

Shoulder-padded jackets, stockbroker shirts, bizarre hair, a bop to the likes of Animotion's Obsession and a few pints of "Reassuringly Expensive" Stella Artois by night (I rarely stayed in) and comfortable running shoes, and a good supply of bed pan scrubbers and disposable plastic aprons by day. It was a good life.

The concept of advertising a drink as "Reassuringly Expensive" made sense back in the mid-to-late 1980s - "yer pays for quality, yer see!"

Controversy raged over Thatcher. She certainly wasn't loved by all and a night out at the local pub was often enlivened by a good old argument between her fans and ... er... non-fans. As you know I was very much a non-fan. I miss those days when politics were top of the agenda. If apathy didn't rule these days and people actually studied the actions of this current government a little more, Brown and co would have many difficult questions to answer...

Microsoft released Windows in 1985, another great leap forward for the world of computing.

New technology slamming into our lives was a theme throughout the 1980s. Some of it, like microwave ovens, wasn't so new - I have read that the first domestic microwave model came along in the 1960s. But it was all a matter of affordability. It was in the 1980s that these became common in England, and it was the same with video recorders.

Video taping techniques had been around for yonks, but it took time for the first domestic VCRs to make their debut. And even then, as mentioned elsewhere in this blog, who could afford them? 5% of households owned them in 1980, nearly 20% in 1983, and several more years rolled by before many of us could afford to get to grips with video recorders. And then there was the Betamax/Phillips/VHS battle to confuse us! By 1985 many of us had encountered a video. But did we know how to set it to tape programmes when we were out? Er...

The Scotch video Skeleton (first seen in 1983) gave us a new catchphrase in 1985 - "Re-Record, Not Fade Away" - more details here.

And talking of technology, there was Sir Clive Sinclair and his wonderful 1985 innovation, the C5.

Practical personal transport - powered by electricity, ran the advertising blurb.

Some original C5 newspaper advertisements can be found here.

Around this time, there were also those funny electronic key ring thingies - you remember - if you mislaid your keys, you whistled and the key ring would emit an electronic beep to inform you of its location. Good idea.

This was the year of Live Aid, the 12 hour charity pop marathon, held at Wembley Stadium in England and Philadelphia's JFK Stadium in the USA. It was watched by 1.5 billion people worldwide and millions of pounds were raised. Its instigator, Bob Geldof, was dubbed by some of us "St Bob of Geldof".

Many women and girls were favouring large hair ribbons. Worn with a shaggy or spiral perm, large T-shirt, lycra leggings and a pair of trainers, they produced an overall cartoon character effect. Very nice.

Ear rings were growing to resemble studded doughnuts, meat axes or door knockers. Just as popular were big black hoops, or cheap plastic ear rings in vile neon shades.

We met Trevor Chaplin and Jill Swinburne in the Beiderbecke Affair - the first series in Alan Plater's trilogy. More here.

Miami Vice began in the UK, having debuted in the USA in 1984, and its attendant chic quickly became trendy. More about the show and the chic

Stone washed jeans had been in fashion for a year or two, but, and perhaps my memory is playing me tricks, it is not until around the mid-1980s that I recall them taking on the distinctive stone washed effect we all remember. They often came with a plastic key ring to hang on them. The brand I usually bought was called Pepe!

The narrow-legged trend had grown ridiculous by this time - it was hell getting those jeans on. Whoever designed them had obviously never heard of feet.

The growing popularity of the new hair mousse meant we could continue our evil experiments with our crowning glories.

The Goth scene had been quietly developing and was noticeable in 1985.

Power Dressing was THE thing. Could those shoulder pads possibly get any larger? we wondered. "YES!!" screamed the 1980s in reply.


20 March 2010

Neighbours - 25th Anniversary

Neighbours 1980s - Charlene Mitchell/Robinson (Kylie Minogue) smiles out from the opening titles; caring Helen Daniels (Anne Haddy) gives good advice; Des Clarke (Paul Keane) makes it to the altar with Daphne Lawrence (Elaine Smith); Jane Harris - "Plain Jane Super Brain" (Annie Jones) - looks on as her grandmother, Nell Mangel (Vivean Gray), sticks her oar in; Katy and Todd Landers (Sally Jenson and Kristian Schmidt) arrive in the Robinson household; the original Scott Robinson (Darius Perkins) seeks advice from his father, Jim (Alan Dale); Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis) ties the knot with female plumber Terri Inglis (Maxine Klibingaitis) - the relationship will end with a bang; Harold Bishop (Ian Smith) goes in for karate; Shane Ramsay (Peter O'Brien) wields a spade, his aunt Madge Mitchell/Ramsay (Anne Charleston) wields two massive shoulder pads; Scott Robinson (Jason Donovan) has his first on-screen encounter with Charlene Mitchell; Lou Carpenter (Tom Oliver) meets up with Madge and "jelly belly" Harold; Daphne grins out from the opening titles; Scott and Charlene become Mr and Mrs Robinson; Hilary Robinson (Anne Scott-Pendlebury) pokes her nose in - Gail Robinson (Fiona Corke) is not amused; Eileen Clarke (Myra De Groot) and Mrs Mangel join the bowling club; Mrs Mangel keeps an eye on Ramsay Street in the opening titles; Eileen passes on some hot gossip on the phone at Daphne's Coffee Shop; marriage number two for Paul Robinson - this time to Gail Lewis; Paul Robinson amuses dad Jim in a nappy in the first episode - neighbour Max Ramsay (Francis Bell) is not amused; Clive Gibbons (Geoff Paine), Ramsay Street's resident doctor, delivered chicken-grams; Mike Young (Guy Pearce) was a troubled youngster who found sanctuary and a future in Ramsay Street; the original Julie Robinson (Vikki Blanche) always had right on her side - or so she thought; Charlene looked stunning on the morning of her wedding; the original Lucy Robinson (Kylie Flinker) with the second Scott.

Neighbours celebrated the 25th anniversary of its first broadcast in Australia on 18 March.

1985... it seems all of ten years ago to me. How time flies!

Here in England, we weren't introduced to the residents of Ramsay Street until October 1986, with the arrival of the BBC's new daytime service. Shown initially in the early afternoon, with a repeat the following morning, the show hit all the right notes with me immediately.

The show was the brainchild of Reg Watson, who was producer of English soap Crossroads from its inception in 1964. Mr Watson based the idea for Neighbours on Coronation Street, but the large number of child and teen characters, and their sunny outlook on life (so different from the moaning teens of the '80s English soaps) ensured that the show was something in its own right - and influential. Young characters in English soaps were soon rising in number (although the early-to-mid 1980s had already seen an increase), and Australia introduced another high youth content soap in 1988 - Home And Away.

Golden telly memories of Mrs Mangel, Eileen Clarke, Helen Daniels, Jim Robinson, Madge Ramsay, Des and Daphne Clarke, Scott and Charlene, Bouncer, Harold Bishop and so on still remain with me from those heady days of '80s Ramsay Street...

I must admit I stopped watching Neighbours after the first four or five years, but I thoroughly enjoyed those years.

Happy 25th anniversary to the show.

Click here for lots and lots more '80s Actual Erinsborough info.

A selection of "Topps" Neighbours collectors' cards from 1988.

1980s Yo-Yo Revolution - Ball Bearings And The Yomega Brain...

A fascinating e-mail from Tom:

Hi! Love your blog! The '80s was such a "move on" decade.

Did you know that even the humble yo-yo was transformed during the 1980s?

On October 27 1980, Michael Caffrey applied for a US patent for what would become the Yomega Brain - "the yo-yo with a brain".

He received the patent on June 1 1982.

The Yomega company was formed in 1983 and began production in 1984. The Yomega Brain uses a patented centrifugal clutch through which it releases the axle for long spin times when thrown. When the yo yo slows down, the clutch grabs on to the axle as the yoyo begins to climb the string and thus returns to your hand automatically.

Svenska Kullagerfabriken AB or SKF, are a Swedish company, manufacturing ball bearings. In 1984, they released the world's first yo yos with a ball bearing axle as promotions for their products. This would prove a massive influence in later years - enabling enthusiasts to create new and more complex tricks.

1985 was the year of the first yo-yo in space - as part of an experiment called "Toys In Space", studying the effects of weightlessness on toys.

Are you a yo-yo fan?

Well, yo-yos were never really my thing, Tom - I lack the necessary dexterity - but thanks for the information. We try to cover a broad range of subjects here, so insights like yours are always welcome.

19 March 2010

The 1980s: Fashion Freedom For The Working Class Male (And Men In General!)

'80s fashion revolution for men...

Sunday Mirror, January 15 1984:

Boy George may be the High Priest of High Camp, but the 1984 fashion revolution extends far beyond Gorgeous George and the pop world.

You'd be amazed at the extraordinary extravagances very masculine young men are indulging in all over Britain.

And what the girls in their lives think about it...

I have few fond memories of my childhood in the 1970s. I hated that decade and I hated the way that I, as a male, was expected to dress, speak and even move in certain ways.

The dress was boring - flares, which had been around since the late 1960s - and some gawd awful acrylic tank top or jumper - if you didn't dress like everybody else, you got picked on; you had to speak macho round my way, and boys didn't cry; you even had to move in a rigidly masculine way.

I remember a New Year's party my parents threw in the late '70s. Then in my early teens, I was allowed downstairs to take part a bit - even have a "proper drink". There I sat, bemused by it all as my family bellowed at each other and shrieked with laughter over the din of 1950s music. I had my drink in one hand, one hand on my knee, when my step-father approached:

"Don't sit like that, son," he said. "It looks queer!"


And my mother was just as bad. She liked "boys to be boys" - they didn't cry, and they played with toy guns and got into fights.

Now, looking back from the vantage point of my current situation, happily married and unhappily mortgaged for the last fifteen years, with a large circle of friends from many different backgrounds, I find it hard to believe that things were so rigid in the 1970s.

But they were.

The 1980s were like a huge gale of fresh air.

Firstly, there was the New Man or Eighties Man - I've written more about that here but, briefly, this was a move towards a new breed of men - sensitive, not afraid of emotions, housework or childcare. They were hot news from around 1982 onwards.

And the 1980s also saw great strides forward in male fashion. Before the 1980s, it was OK for drag artists like Danny La Rue or male pop stars to wear make-up and/or take trouble with their grooming.

In the 1980s, it became OK for even working class ordinary geezers like me to do so. Early in the decade, nothing changed. If you'd dressed like Adam Ant on our council estate in 1981 you'd probably have got your head kicked in.

But when my tough, macho mate Pete started wearing white leg warmers and pixie boots, had his hair streaked and developed a very becoming Princess Diana fringe around 1983, I wondered what on earth was going on.

Particularly as in 1980 and 1981 his favourite fashion accessory was a Punk-style dog collar.

As the decade moved beyond its first few years, I was thrilled by the range of male fashions to buy - and the colours - glaring neons or "feminine" pastels.

And it was all so dressy!

Those linen jackets, with massive shoulder pads, looked tremendous with a cerise mesh vest and skin-tight yellow trousers.

Push up those jacket sleeves, or turn them back to reveal colourful contrasting material...

And then there was hair styling.

In the 1980s, I had my hair streaked blonde, bought gel and mousse, and had a variety of styles, ranging from bouffant mullet to glorious blonde tinged flat-top.

In 1984, I became the first man in my family ever to own a hairdryer.

Whilst I was happy simply being colourful and dressy, the influence of pop stars like Boy George and Marilyn prompted some men to go further...

The Sun, October 26, 1983:

Disco bosses have barred dance floor show-offs who wear too much make-up and revealing dresses... and that's just the lads!

Fashion-conscious fellas - who mimic chart-topping Boy George - have been blamed for falling attendances at the trendy over 18s club.

Now the "in-crowd" - who have been turning up in off-the-shoulder gowns, high heels and ostrich feathers - have been told: "Butch up or stay out."

Adam ____, manager of the Summerhill Club at Kingswinford, West Midlands, says their antics were putting the girls in the shade - and frightening away the regular guys.

One of the banned lads is Gary ____, 21, of Dudley, West Midlands.

"I was wearing my full make-up and all my best gear," said platinum blonde Gary.

Magazine advertisement from September 1985. "Looks even better on a girl"? I think he looks pretty darned striking myself!

So, what caused this sudden softening and colouring up of male dress sense in the 1980s?

The influence of Boy George cannot be underestimated. He was a real person, he didn't just dress for the stage. He sought to express himself through his varying looks.

It can be argued that there had been heavily individualistic people like the Boy around for a very long time, but his success on the pop scene and the tremendous interest he aroused says a lot about the 1980s.

Then there was the New/Eighties Man thing, a reply to the revival of the feminist movement which had come bursting out of the 1960s.

There was also the growing "swankiness" of the mid-1980s as money began to swirl around and style became oh so important. It was such a contrast to the early '80s, when donkey jackets had been one of the main fashion must-haves for both boys and girls.

Why the '80s male fashion revolution happened I'm not sure. I've expressed my ideas on the subject, but I'm really not sure.

But I'm very glad it did!

Two '80s popstrels, Nik Kershaw and Paul Young, on the cover of the very wonderful Smash Hits in September 1985. Nice hair! Read our hymn of praise to Black Type here.

Fashion trend leader Boy George - a sticker from the mid-1980s. Princess Margaret refused to be photographed with him at an awards ceremony in 1984, saying: "I don't know who he is, but he looks like an over made-up tart."

Marilyn had his handbag stolen in 1984.

18 March 2010

The 1980s Microwave Oven Revolution

From the Brian Mills Spring/Summer 1983 mail order catalogue - priced from just under £200 to just under £450, microwave ovens were not cheap by early 1980s standards. "High speed cooking" proclaims Brian Mills. It really did seem a tremendous novelty back in those days.

"Prepare food in a matter of minutes" - this Brian Mills Spring/Summer 1983 mail order catalogue page points out the benefits of the Phillips compact microwave oven.

Arriving in a kitchen near you in the 1980s would probably have been a microwave oven. These wonderful contraptions had actually existed since the 1960s, but it was all a matter of cost, often prohibitive with new technological arrivals. So, microwave ovens remained the preserve of those with dosh-to-spare until the 1980s. I never even saw one!

But then, in the early 1980s, ping!, a cafe in my local city centre suddenly installed a microwave. Panic! "Microwaves use radiation! They'll kill you!" some of us heathens cried.

And many of us believed it.

In the mid-'80s, microwave ovens were becoming cheap enough and common enough for my mother to actually consider buying one from a mail order catalogue. I was fascinated to see an episode of failed mid-'80s soap Albion Market the other day, featuring two of the female characters discussing the miracle of microwaves.

I first encountered one (in my workplace) in 1987 and was still a little suspicious of them. Did they leak? Did they ruin your fertility? Did they slowly cook you from inside? What a twit!

By the end of the decade, I was growing used to microwave ovens and my dear old mum had one installed at home and absolutely swore by it!
Kill you? Nah, they helped you get dinner more quickly so you didn't have to miss that new Aussie soap, Home And Away...
Mind you, some thought that was a fate worse than death...

The guests are clearly absolutely delighted at the wondrously quick jacket potatoes in this ad from Cosmopolitan magazine, July 1983. The '80s went a bundle on fancy baked spuds. See here for some F-Plan Diet recipes.

Una Stubbs gets very excited about the miracle of microwaves in this 1985 TV ad for the Toshiba Deltawave.

The 1980s: BT Phones For Sale, Plug And Socket Home Phones And Card Phones Arrive...

A Rhapsody table telephone in tan leather from BT, released in 1981. Why? I dunno.

In 1981, BT began to sell telephones for the first time.

So, perhaps the 1981 leather job happened in a fit of excitement as the BT designers sought to capture the imaginations (and cash) of those looking to buy a phone?


Ken Masters (Stephen Yardley), the medallion man of Howards' Way, had one of these phones (or something very similar) beside his bed in early episodes of the series, which began in 1985. And that absolute charmer Polly Urquhart (Patricia Shakesby) was also seen brandishing something very like it for several seasons.


With phones on sale for the very first time in the early 1980s, that terrific 1960s innovation, the trimphone suddenly went colourful!

Read all about it here.

The new BT phone sockets arrived on the 19th of November 1981, and this advertisement from The Sun dates from 23/11:

At British Telecom, we're rather proud of ourselves.

Our new plug and socket is going to revolutionise the way you use the phone.

No longer will it be fixed in one place. Thanks to our little device, you'll be able to make and take calls wherever you want.

From now on, it'll be the standard fitting with all new extensions we install in the home.

Whilst they're doing that job, our engineers will convert any existing instruments free.

And they'll be happy to put extra sockets in any other rooms you like for a small charge.

Apart from making it possible to move phones around, the new plug and socket makes it easier and cheaper to replace one phone with another.

Eventually all new phones will use the system, which has been developed exclusively by British Telecom.

It's the beginning of our great plan for the 80s.

Londoners were introduced to another BT innovation in 1981, as the Times, 28/7, reported...

Plastic Money for Phones

Public telephones which use pre-paid plastic cards, are now in operation in London. (Bill Johnstone writes). They will soon appear in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester.

The telephones, called Cardphones, take cards of the same shape and size as a credit card. Each represents so many 5p call units. Two types are available: 40 units (value £2) or 200 units (£10).

Callers insert the card instead of coins and a digital readout on the telephone gives the value still left on the card as the call progresses.

The cards are available in London from Post Offices and some John Menzies and Travellers Fare kiosks at railway stations.

They can be used for inland and international calls. About 200 Cardphones will be in use for the trial and if they are successful more will be introduced.

Radio Times, November 1985.

Coronation Street: The Complicated Love Life Of Miss Mavis Riley

Rivalry at The Rovers and consternation at The Kabin in 1984... Victor Pendlebury (Christopher Coll), Derek Wilton (Peter Baldwin), Mavis Riley (Thelma Barlow) and Rita Fairclough (Barbara Knox).

1984 always sounds ominous to me - also being the title of George Orwell's famous novel. Did you know that Mr Orwell took several years to write the book back in the 1940s, and that it was originally to be set in 1980, and then in 1982?

The real 1984 didn't see the arrival of Big Brother - I think that today is far more like that, with the various databases (established and planned) and security cameras logging our every move - but it did see the arrival of the Apple Mac - complete with affordable computer mouse. A revolution was beginning...

The UK edition of Trivial Pursuit arrived and we went trivia bonkers. Sir Alec Jeffreys accidentally discovered DNA fingerprinting, at the University Of Leicester, England (More here). The miners fought a bitter, losing battle; Frankie Goes To Hollywood shocked the charts; the yuppie era was drawing in; V was on the telly and Do They Know It's Christmas? hit the No 1 spot. Agadoo was another chart favourite. Push pineapple, grind coffee? Hmm...

In the world of fashion, shoulder pads were getting bigger and bigger, people were streaking their hair blonde and using hair gel to very striking (or ugly, depending on your viewpoint) effect and moon boots were a must-have, as were Frankie Say T-shirts.

And, in Weatherfield, one woman agonised over the attentions of two very different men...

The love life complications of Miss Mavis Riley, reported in the News Of The World, September 16, 1984

Having met meek-and-mild mother's boy Derek Wilton way back in 1976, Mavis Riley had developed a very diffident, on-off relationship with him. Well, when I say "relationship", I don't mean that anything improper took place, goodness me, no!

But it was more of a (kind of) romance than just a friendship.

And the Derek and Mavis "romance" flickered on, and off, until 1982. In the October of that year, Mavis met one Victor Pendlebury at an evening class, and together they penned a story which was broadcast on local radio. Of course, Mavis was nerve-stricken on the day - was the story too... er... well... earthy? she wondered. But, apart from one or two adverse comments, the local branch of civilised society did not collapse in a heap.

And then, in 1983, Victor, every inch the poetic wanderer of moor and heath, the weaver of words, the potter of pots, asked Mavis to join him in a trial marriage.

Mavis, whatever you may think, wasn't really a fuddy-duddy, despite her dithery ways. Our Miss Riley wasn't totally out of touch with the racy realities of 1980s living, wasn't a total prude - in fact, later in the decade, she was accused of being a "Jezebel" (though only by Derek). But this sort of behaviour, living with a man outside of wedlock, was certainly not for her.

Then, in 1984, Mr Wilton and Mr Pendlebury suddenly made plain their desires to make Mavis their Mrs. And Mavis was left in a hopeless state of dither. Which should she choose?

Finally, she plumped for Derek. The wedding was arranged, the church and the reception were both booked...

But on the big day the indecisive couple suddenly chickened out. Neither turned up at the church. Their feelings for each other were simply not strong enough.

We, the folks sat at home in front of the "one-eyed monster" (as my granny called the telly), were absolutely agog.

The News Of The World had leaked the non-wedding story-line, and, in September 1984, contained an interview with Thelma Barlow.

She worked in an office for years, devoting her spare time to amateur theatre.

"Then I decided the time had come to make a break and really do something about acting," she says.

"So I went off to London, as green as a cabbage."

She got a job with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, and then appeared in plays all over the country.

Thema has been a Street regular for the last 11 years.

She confesses: "I'm not at all like Mavis in real life. Someone like that would drive me mad. I admire strong, positive people, and she's the essence of indecision.

"Unlike Mavis I've long since lost my shyness.

"When you're up there on the tele in front of millions of people, you're bound to meet some of them off screen.

"If you can't stand to be hailed by total strangers you shouldn't be in the Street.

"We're friends of a huge family of viewers and we've got to accept it."

The Street's scriptwriters originally did not plan Mavis as one of the series' main characters.

"I was only supposed to be in one episode, but the character clicked and I've been fluttering over medium sherries ever since," says Thelma.

"There are some good qualities in Mavis. She sticks to her principles at all times and is starting to develop a little bit of steel...

"I can imagine masses of spinsters all over Britain watching me in the midst of all this wedding drama.

"They all obviously picture themselves in Mavis's situation and identify with her like mad.

"That's what makes the whole character of Mavis so very interesting.

"I've got a special picture in my mind of who Mavis is, and I play to it."

And she adds: "I can see me playing Mavis for a long time to come."

This was very good news because I loved Mavis myself - stand aside, Wilton and Pendelebury! And it wasn't the end of Derek and Victor as far as the story-lines were concerned either.

And when Derek proposed to Mavis again, in 1988, through the letterbox of the Kabin door, things turned out very differently...

And Mavis was a "Miss" no longer!

17 March 2010

Cabbage Patch Kids

Who could forget the Cabbage Patch Kids? They were dolls which came with their own "adoption papers" and were the subject of a ferocious craze in 1983 and 1984.

The dolls from which the Cabbage Patch Kids evolved were all cloth and called "Little People" - the creation of one Xavier Roberts in the USA in 1978, and originally sold at local craft fairs. In 1982 came mass production, vinyl heads and the "Cabbage Patch Kids" name.

From the Sunday People, 4/12/1983:

Cabbage-Patch fever swept into London yesterday as jostling shoppers cleared out the entire stock of London's top toy shop.

It took only 90 minutes for a clamouring queue to snap up 400 of the cute Cabbage-Patch dolls which have caused near riots in America.

And five Americans paid a lot more than the £24.99 asking price - they flew in by Concorde at £2,000 each to buy a doll.

"They are like gold dust in the States," said New York accountant Garry Le Duc. "When we saw on TV that British shops still had supplies, there was only one thing to do."

They found plenty of competition for the cuddly Cabbage-Patch kids. The queue outside Hamleys started at 2am and by opening time it stretched right around the block.

Also from the Sunday People...

The Sunday People strikes again!

Evidence of rather less cynical times? I think so. Evidence of good taste? I would say not.

My local rag took a rather more down-to-earth line.

From the spring/summer 1986 Argos catalogue: The Cabbage Patch dolls have developed friends and relatives - Cabbage Patch Koosas and Cabbage Patch Preemies.

E-Mails: Trevor And Simon - Swing Your Pants

Trevor and Simon were sometimes the late 1960s-style hippie folk duo of "Singing Corner"- swing your pants!

Kimberley writes:

I must take you to task for not mentioning those late '80s genius comedians of "Going Live", Trevor and Simon. Surely you remember them? The World Of The Strange? Ken and Eddie Kennedy - barbers ("We don't do perms!")? The late 1960s-style folk duo of Singing Corner ("Swing your pants!"). What a mickey take! They were brilliant! I've just read that they actually recorded a comedy version of 1968 hippie classic Jennifer Juniper with Donovan in 1990. Do you know where I can find it?

Kimberley - I agree with you, Trevor and Simon were fabulous.

I remember all you mention, plus their skit on Erasure:

"You are on one side."

"I am on the other."

Sorry I haven't mentioned them before, but the 1980s is a very full decade to cover.

As for their 1990 Donovan collaboration, you might find something on YouTube.

Thanks for writing!

16 March 2010

1981: The First London Marathon

The idea was inspired by the annual New York City Marathon. Athelete and journalist Chris Brasher, who ran in the event in 1979, was so impressed, he wondered aloud, in an article he wrote for The Observer newspaper, if a similar event could be staged in the UK?

Brasher joined forces with his old friend and fellow runne
r John Disley, and the two set out to find out what the possibilities were.

In early 1980, Donald Trelford, then editor of The Observer, hosted a lunch so that Brasher and Disley could meet the authorities who would be involved in organising a marathon, including the Greater London Council (GLC), the police, the Amateur Athletics Association and the London Tourist Board.

After some discussion, it was agreed that a London Marathon was possible - and that the idea was worth pursuing.

Chris Brasher revisited America to gain further marathon knowledge.

Many details needed to be ironed out. As 1980 went on, charitable status was established for the event, and the following aims were established:

* To improve the overall standard and status of British marathon running by providing a fast course and strong international competition.

* To show mankind that, on occasions, they can be united.

* To raise money for sporting and recreational facilities in London.

* To help boost London’s tourism.

* To prove that ‘Britain is best’ when it comes to organising major events.

* To have fun, and provide some happiness and sense of achievement in a troubled world.
On 29 March, 1981, the first London Marathon was run. It was a colourful occasion with some fancy dress present...

Did I dream it, or did I see a chicken on the run? There was certainly a waiter who ran the course with a tray and bottle - which weren't stuck together...

Here's a report from the Daily Mail, March 30, 1981...


One million people turn out to watch Britain's biggest-ever sporting event

The most amazing sporting event Britain has ever seen turned out to have 5,300 winners yesterday.
Around that number finished out of 6,700 who officially started in the first London Marathon and were cheered by a million people as they ran through the streets of the capital.

The first and last to complete the 26 miles and 385 yards symbolised in their different ways the spirit of the occasion.

At the front Dick Beardsley from the United States and Inge Simonsen from Norway linked hands to run the last few yards and stayed a dead heat for the first place.

"What does it matter who wins?" said 24-year-old
Beardsley."Every runner who finishes this race is a winner."

Some four hours later, last man home was the oldest competitor 78-year-old Bob
Wiseman. "I feel good. It's great to be alive," he said.

The leaders made it an event of the highest athletic quality. At 2 hours, 11 minutes, 48 seconds, the joint winners ran the fastest marathon ever in Britain - and 142 runners finished under 2 hours 30 minutes.

Among them: The first Briton, 34-year-old Trevor Wright, who was third, and the first woman, 43-year-old Joyce Smith.

Personalities in the field included disc jockey Jimmy
Savile in a gold lame track suit, whose run raised £50,000 from sponsors for Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and race director Chris Brasher, who said: "It went like a dream."

He is already talking about holding the second London Marathon - on April 4, 1982.

St John Ambulance crews stationed along the route treated hundreds of runners for exhaustion, but the worst damage reported was a broken leg.
"We are surprised there weren't more casualties - everyone was very fit," an ambulance spokesman said.

The drizzly conditions were ideal for marathon running - and competitors praised the
camaraderie of those taking part and the encouragement given them by spectators.

This aspect was summed up by 29-year-old jogger Ron Crowley, from Liverpool. Four miles from the finish, he was on the point of quitting after stumbling to a halt.

Then, he said, he heard the crowd yelling out his number.

"No one has ever cheered like that for me before," he said.
"They gave me heart to go on." 

The Daily Mail "COMMENT" section commented:

It's popular. It's freaky. It's here to stay.

The first London marathon was a blistering success. Didn't matter that some top runners chose snootily to stay away. The time was a cracking one anyway.

But, as if to point up the frolicsome gutsiness of this unprecedented happening in Britain, the Norwegian and the American, who won, deliberately crossed the line together holding hands.

And what crowds there were lining the 26-mile route that wound its way back and forth along banks of the Thames from Greenwich to Westminster.

Neither the drizzle nor the loss of an hour's sleep could keep them away.

The atmosphere was peculiarly British... a strange mixture of waiting for the royal procession to go by and egging on a competitor at a father's race in a school sports.

For, with close to 7,000 entrants, almost every family watching knew somebody taking part.

All credit to Chris Brasher for doing so much to promote this American-style folk sport here in Britain.

Catch on?

Nobody will be able to stop it now.

Slight, unassuming middle-aged women shaming thousands of would-be iron men. Balding, bespectacled bobbing chaps, doing every bit as well as athletic-looking bounders. The streets of a big city given over for a few hours at least to a challenge that is human in scale and classless in appeal.

This show will run and run.

All those who took part yesterday - whether they finished or whether they didn't - can reckon themselves pioneers in the making of a grand new British sporting tradition. In years to come, Marathon Day will eclipse Boat Race Day and could even upstage Derby Day.