25 September 2010

The Early 1980s - Fads And Toys...

The Rubik's Cube dominated 1981.

Christine has written to ask me about the early 1980s:

You seem to have a great deal of knowledge, and I enjoy this blog, although I didn't experience the 1980's decade, in fact I was born in 1990! I'm currently studying early 1980s pop culture and fads and I wonder if you would list the toys and fads of that time - 1980 to 1983 - in chronological order. It was a fast-moving time, and I'd be grateful if you could give me a "feel" of how it all began?

I'll do my best, Christine!

BBC Radio 1 magazine, summer, 1980.

The first major craze I recollect from the 1980s in the UK was Space Invaders. Invented in Japan in 1978, the first arcade machines were exhibited at UK trade shows in 1979 and the little beasties were attracting attention before the end of that year. In the early 1980s, the craze took off and 1980 and 1981 and 1982 - and beyond - rang to the sound of the machines . In 1981, handheld versions of the game were arriving in the UK.

We have a Space Invaders feature here.

Chronologically speaking, the second major 1980s craze was the Rubik's Cube. Exhibited as the "Magic Cube" at the toy fairs of London, Paris, Nuremberg and New York in January/February 1980, this Hungarian creation was then re-manufactured (made lighter and easier to manipulate) and re-named. Ideal Toys, trusted purveyors of family favourite games for years, toyed with 'The Gordian Knot' and 'Inca Gold' but finally settled on 'Rubik's Cube'.

There had been a small seepage of Magic Cubes beyond its native Hungarian borders since the first test batches had been released there just before Christmas 1977, but most people in the UK and elsewhere were unaware of its existence.

The Rubik's Cube trademark was registered in the UK in May 1980, but due to a tremendous shortage, the first Cubes did not begin arriving until just before Christmas.

The shortage stretched on into the spring of 1981, but from then on it was Cube mania! Noting interest in the puzzle, the British Association of Toy Retailers named it Toy of the Year in 1980, when the Cubes were in very short supply, and it won the title again in 1981 as the craze raged. The reason why the Cube is such an icon of the decade's popular culture is because the craze was so intense.

Our Rubik's Cube material is here.

In 1980, the Sony Stowaway, the UK's first personal stereo, arrived. In 1981, it was patented under its original name - Sony Walkman - and as prices fell, these became must-haves. By about 1983, they were everywhere.

Daily Mirror, July, 1981.

'80s Actual Walkman mania here.

Daily Mirror, December, 1981.

Next on our list is CB radio. CB radio had first been used (illegally) in the UK in the 1960s, but successive governments seemed loath to legalise. In 1980, a huge illegal craze sprouted. There were news stories about CB radios intefering with other equipment - including fire and police communications and hospital equipment. CB was finally legalised in November 1981, and became wildly popular - even featuring in story-lines in Coronation Street and Terry And June in 1982.

Read our CB radio post

Sunday People, November 1981.

The next biggie was Frogger - appearing on arcade machines in late 1981, and touted as a peaceful alternative to the warring Space Invaders and the like.

From a spring/summer 1983 mail order catalogue. "Everyone's gone Atari..." Not in my district, they hadn't!

The Atari games system was also climbing into the ascendancy in the early 1980s, but I can state, with all honesty, that being bog standard working class and poor, I never saw one at that time.

A magazine advertisement from December 1982. Mr and Mrs Middle-Class and their kids experience the joys of modern technology.

1982 saw the arrival of deely-bobbers or deelyboppers (the deely-bobbers name was patented in 1982 - with claim of usage since 1981, and had previously been applied to a children's toy - interconnecting building blocks - bearing no relation). The boppers were originally an American craze, but came over here very quickly, arriving in the summer of 1982. Boing! Boing!

See how it all began here.

I'm not sure when Pac-Man first made his UK debut. The first arcade games (then called Puck Man) were released in Japan in May 1980, but it took a year or two for him to appear here. Once again, an absolutely mega craze! WACCA - WACCA - WACCA!

Shake hands with the little fella here.

From the complete non-sophistication of deelyboppers to something quite different - the ZX Spectrum was released in 1982. The computers were coming!

1983 saw the Hip Hop era beginning and boomboxes or ghetto blasters swept in. For many, they soon became a must-have.

As did Cabbage Dolls late in the year.

Take a stroll through the Cabbage Patch here.

What wasn't in...

VCRs: only 5% of UK households had them in 1980, around 25% in 1985.

Microwave ovens - released in the 1960s, became prevalent in the mid-to-late 1980s.

Compact discs: in the shops from 1982/83, the price of a player was prohibitive.

Cell-phones: the first was unveiled in America in 1983. The first UK mobile phone call was on 1 January, 1985, with comedian Ernie Wise doing the honours.

My young nephew read this post through yesterday, and said:

"Uncle Andy, the early '80s were medieval!"

Though they weren't quite that, it's true that many youngsters sent back there would experience a severe shock!

"Where's my mobile?" "Where's my ipod?" "Where's my DVD?" "Where's my PC?"

"Wot you on about?" would be the reply...

14 September 2010

Steve Wright On BBC Radio One

He joined Radio 1 in January 1980 to do a Saturday night show. After a spot of hopping around the schedules, in 1981 he got the weekday afternoon slot and so Steve Wright In The Afternoon was born. By 1989, he was flying high - having introduced us to the likes of Sid the Manager, Damien the social worker and, of course, Mr Angry of Purley.

Yep, it's another true story on '80s Actual - we take a look back at Mr Wright's arrival and early years on the BBC here soon.

03 September 2010

Alexei Sayle: 'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor? And Toshiba: 'Ullo Tosh, Gotta Toshiba?

Alternative comedian Alexei Sayle gave us novelty chart hit 'Ullo John! Gotta A New Motor? in 1984. Apparently originally released in 1982, the song bombed - Mr S. was simply not famous enough, it seemed. But, re-released a year or so later, it was a different story.

It sounded bloomin' awful and I loved it to bits.

Mr Sayle also had an album released in 1984 - The Fish People Tapes, based on a series called Alexei Sayle And The Fish People, broadcast on London-based Capital Radio in 1981. Both the radio series and record apparently featured a few digs at the Government.

Good job, eh?

One of the tracks included - That's Milton Springsteen - was a parody of the Jam's early 1980s song That's Entertainment.

'Ullo John was included on the album and was soon tweaked for a fondly remembered 1985 TV ad - "Hello Tosh Gotta Toshiba?"... or should that be "'Ullo Tosh..."?

Ian Dury provided the main voice over for the ad...

"'Ullo - ullo - ullo Tosh gotta Toshiba?
'Ullo Tosh gotta Toshiba?"

"That's an FST."


"That's an FST."


"It's the flattest squarest tube.
It's the flattest squarest tube."

And what did the flattest squarest tube give you? A flatter screen and sharper picture. It was a good development.

Return to the mid-1980s with the 'Ullo John! video and the Toshiba ad below...

02 September 2010

Some 1980s Television Sets...

Let's take a look at some 1980s televisions. Forget those silly programmes you've watched which infer that we were all watching funky, late '60s designed space-age tellies in the '70s and early '80s. I've never clapped eyes on one and I was born in 1965. For yonks, most people watched bog-standard tellies with plastic wood effect surrounds or, when it came to portables, white plastic surrounds were popular. The tellies above were featured in the Brian Mills spring and summer 1983 catalogue. It was during the 1980s that remote control tellies became prevalent, but the prices listed above were certainly not cheap in those days.

And what's all that What Is Teletext? stuff at the top of the catalogue page? Surely Teletext had been around for years? Well, yes, it had, but it had never really caught on. Cost again, I suppose. According to 40 Years of British Television, by Jane Harbord and Jeff Wright (Boxtree, 1995), only six per cent of UK homes were receiving Teletext in 1984. Hence all the exciting catalogue hype.

I was less of a technophobe than I am now (well, there wasn't half as much technology about back then!), but decided there was nothing on Teletext I couldn't get from the daily paper, ordinary TV broadcasts, or the radio. However, taking a close look at the catalogue page above, I see that Teletext listed materials needed for each day's activities in Play School - which, on the two days featured, included "materials for doctors and nurses game" and pipe cleaners. Fascinating. I don't think you could get that information elsewhere.

So, obviously Teletext did have its uses. I stand corrected. Youthful arrogance, that's all it was.

From the Brian Mills Spring & Summer 1983 mail order catalogue.

The Pye Tube Cube radio/black and white TV/cassette/digital clock combination - an exciting new piece of technology, launched circa 1982. These were great - CONSUME, CONSUME! Nah, t'weren't like that in early 1983 when I bought mine. The big booming bit of the '80s was yet to arrive. The simple fact was that my seriously old telly (I was still a black and white guy in the early 1980s) had a horizontal hold so "gone" people on screen looked like eggs on legs, and the wood effect plastic surround was peeling off.

So, I put it out of its misery and bought a Tube Cube (again black and white) from my aunt's mail order catalogue, paying for it in minute weekly amounts.

Captures from an advertisement for the Tube Cube featured on TV-am's first broadcast in 1983.

"Wake up to what Pye is doing. The Tube Cube - your next clock radio, cassette recorder and breakfast TV all in one."

I got on very well with mine and had it until the early '90s - when I sold it.

The 1983 Tube Cube ad.

A Teeny TV That Suits Your Pocket

Britain launches an £80 mini-marvel

Daily Mirror, September 17 1983.

A tiny TV with a big future went on show for the first time yesterday.

It's the size of a paperback book - and at £79.95 its price will also fit most people's pockets.

What's more the TV is British - the invention of electronics wizard, Sir Clive Sinclair. It has a revolutionary flat screen and measures only 5 1/2 in long, 3 1/2 in high and 1 1/4 in deep. It will run for 15 hours on a special £3 battery.

The set, which is black-and-white, has only two controls and will automatically adjust to any TV system in the world except the French.

Multi-millionaire Sir Clive told a London news conference: "This represents a number of firsts. It is a major breakthrough."

He said the launch was partly held up by a strike at the Dundee factory where the TV tubes are made.

This allowed Japanese rivals to win the race to the shops with their own mini-sets - but at far higher prices.

Sir Clive said that his set would be the best, the brightest, the easiest to use and the cheapest.

"We had the flat tube long before anyone else in the world and the only way the Japanese can match our price is by selling at a loss," he said.

Sir Clive, who is already working on a colour version, hopes to sell up to a million of the new sets each year.

1984: here's that "Wake Up To What Pye Is Doing" slogan again - this time being used to plug a 22" Teletext TV which apparently put manual tuning "firmly in the past":

Teletext information is received as clearly as it can be. You see your favourite programmes spot on the signal every time...

André Previn plugging the Ferguson TX "Best picture of all time" in the Janet Frazer mail order catalogue, autumn and winter 1984/5.

Nice Pye Red Box portable - went very well with black ash furniture! It was first on sale c. 1984.

A mid-1980s black ash telly cabinet. Ooh, lovely! Note the snazzy colourful 1980s specs, too!

The Tatung Designer series, 1986. In the mid-1980s, we began to move away from wood surround effect TVs or the white plastic surround portables. These portables are colour sets, some with that marvel of 1980s TV technology, the FST (flattest squarest tube). Remote control 21 inch models would set you back £379.90 and the 20 inch standard TT £279.90.

There was a choice of five designer colours - electric blue, jade green, laser red, artic white and ebony black. Black became a highly popular colour for TV surrounds in the late 1980s, a trend which lasted throughout the 1990s.

The 22 inch Teletext TV costs £429.90, the 26 inch Teletext £549.90 and the 20 inch Teletext £389.90.

A range of tellies featured in the Argos spring and summer 1985 catalogue.

Great ad from the mid-1980s featuring the voice of Ian Dury...

... and based on Alexei Sayle's 1984 hit 'Ullo John Gotta New Motor?

'Ullo, Tosh, Gotta Toshiba? They ain't 'arf built well! It was the FST - flattest, squarest tube - sharper picture, know wot I mean, it was the dog's... er, pyjamas! See the ad below.

From the spring/summer 1986 Argos catalogue.

1987 - the Sony Watchman - two or four inch pocket TVs.

Argos, autumn and winter 1987. TVs with black plastic casings - like the Pye and Phillips models featured, were becoming popular. Black was the colour most associated with sets in the late '80s and throughout the '90s.