30 March 2012

Coronation Street: Percy Sugden

Eee, 1989 - what a year! The Berlin Wall came down, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, the Game Boy was released in America, and in Coronation Street Mrs Phyllis Pearce (Jill Summers) crept up on Mr Percy Sugden (Bill Waddington) in the Rovers Return and said, without any ado:


Percy (furious): "I wish you wouldn't do that! I'm a coiled spring, y'know! I act very quickly and very aggressively when startled!"

Phyllis: "Ooh, I wish you would!"

Introduced in 1983, the Coronation Street character Percy Sugden took over the role of community centre caretaker in the show, and rapidly proved himself to be a well-meaning pain in the neck. Whilst First World War veteran Albert Tatlock was happy to sit in the Rovers, cadging or perhaps nursing a rum (if he was lucky), Second World War veteran Percy charged around the neighbourhood, "organising" people and events, sticking his nose in left right and centre and generally getting people's backs up.

Percy was actually quite a lonely men, a widower, with only his budgie, Randy, for company. He was delighted when his favourite niece, Elaine Prior, visited him in 1984, but saddened to see her leave again - after her wedding to local man Bill Webster.

Percy did attract one admirer - Phyllis Pearce, she of the foghorn voice - but he would have cheerfully had his toe nails pulled out rather than marry her.

Forced to retire in 1988, Percy was miserable at leaving the Street, and was taken pity on by that fine Christian lady Emily Bishop, who invited him back to lodge with her.

The character of Percy was played with great zest by Bill Waddington.

Percy was always convinced that he was doing right, and acting for the best. His most famous comment was probably: "When you've made gravy under shell fire, you can do anything!"

According to Bill Waddington, some people on the Granada Studios Tour expressed fear that Percy might come out and tell them off whilst going around the outdoor set!

One of my favourite Sugden sagas took place in 1988.

A chance remark by Emily Bishop set the story rolling. Trying to sleep in the front bedroom of No 3, Coronation Street, she was sometimes disturbed by next door neighbour Don Brennan, arriving home in his taxi in the early hours of the morning. The sound of the car engine and the slamming of the car door often drew her from her slumbers.

It was never a good idea to say anything much at all about anything to Percy Sugden, Emily's new lodger at No 3. Especially when it came to problems. But when Emily let slip her night time difficulties in passing, he immediately set out to remedy the situation.

Percy had often noticed that Don's parked taxi overlapped from the space outside his own house into Emily's parking space, and so he immediately painted "NO PARKING" on the pavement, with two lines to mark out No 3's parking space.

On hearing of the problem he was causing, Don was sympathetic, and promised Emily he'd be quieter.

He and Ivy were, however, both annoyed and amused to see Percy's pavement etching, and Don said he'd get his own back...

The next morning, Emily emerged from No 3 to find a gaggle of factory girls outside, all laughing at the pavement! Percy's "NO PARKING" had been crudely altered to "NOSY PARKER". Emily was furious. She hadn't even been aware that Percy had daubed the pavement in the first place. She called him outside. "We've been vandalised!" squawked Percy.

Emily insisted that Percy removed the offensive lettering from her pavement immediately. Percy was, as always, sympathetic - and, in fact, quite outraged on Emily's behalf: "I can understand you being upset. There's no truth in this at all. You're no nosy parker, not in my book - and if anybody ever said you were..."

Emily could hardly believe her ears: "This is not aimed at me, Mr Sugden - it's aimed at you!"

Percy was deeply saddened. This wasn't the first time he'd encountered the bizarre female tendency to delude themselves when it came to any unpleasantness, but still, he'd thought better of Mrs Bishop.

However, he remained gallant: "I wouldn't think so, no, but if that's the way you want to think about it, Mrs Bishop, so be it."

Emily told Percy that she was going to work, that she wanted to see the pavement clean when she returned, and that she wanted no reprisals carried out against Don Brennan or anybody else Percy suspected of committing the deed. She would brook no argument!

As it happened, Don wasn't involved in the pavement daubing exercise. And if Percy had glanced down the street as Mrs Bishop stalked off across the road to Baldwin's factory, he might have gained more than a small clue as to who the miscreant actually was.

As Jack Duckworth later confessed to Gloria Todd, it was him.

He'd nipped out in his "jim jams" early that morning.

It had been too good to resist.

Percy never did catch the culprit.

And he was greatly disappointed to discover the attitude taken by Mavis Riley, apparently Mrs Bishop's best friend, who seemed completely unruffled and deluded regarding this outrageous slur against her.

Like Emily, Mavis told Percy that she believed the "NOSY PARKER" slogan referred to him!


You wouldn't credit it, would you?

28 March 2012

Readers - Please Note

The article on the personal stereo has now been updated with new material - a magazine advertisement for the Sony Stowaway, the UK's very first personal stereo, from its launch in 1980. The update can be found here -

27 March 2012

Pat Coombs - You're Only Young Twice, Ragdolly Anna And EastEnders...

Magazine article from April 1981 - don't worry, Pat Coombs didn't usually look like that - she was in character as Cissie Lupin, a character from the TV comedy series "You're Only Young Twice", which she was appearing in at the time.

It saddens me to look back at the 1980s and to remember some of the great actors and actresses who were with us then but are no longer. One such is the comedy actress Pat Coombs, who began the 1980s in the role of the wonderfully loopy Cissie Lupin of the Paradise Lodge Home For Retired Gentlefolk in the Pam Valentine and Michael Ashton-penned TV series You're Only Young Twice. The show had begun in September 1977, and ended in August 1981. Playing opposite the wonderful Peggy Mount as the fiercesome Flora Petty, Pat, as Cissie, was a TV must-watch for me (as was Peggy as Flora!). Happy memories.

In the 1981 series, Paradise Lodge residents continued to experience hilarious traumas - often brought about by Flora's desire to dominate and Cissie's endearing - or at least enduring- dottiness. There was the awful time when Flora and Cissie spent the night in Peabody's Department Store and had to pretend to be mannequins; the unspeakable occasion when Flora sent everybody into a tizz after getting the idea that Cissie was dying of an incurable illness; the dark day when Flora was cursed by a gypsy (played by Gretchen Franklin, pre-EastEnders); and the horrible time when Flora lost her memory. The memory of that was surely enough to get Mildred Fanshaw ferociously inhaling the smelling salts and Dolly Love swigging large amounts straight from the gin bottle for at least the rest of the decade.

With You're Only Young Twice finishing, Pat went on to star as the dressmaker in the young children's series Ragdolly Anna. (remember the theme song "Ragdolly Anna's fine and brown, standing up or sitting down..."?)

The 1980s also saw Pat starring in the Channel 4 sitcom The Lady Is A Tramp with another now sadly departed actress, Patricia Hayes, plus the Alf Garnett saga continuation In Sickness And In Health, Mr Majeika, and a 1985 BBC TV adaptation of Charles Dickens's Bleak House.

In 1989, Pat was reportedly thrilled to be offered the new EastEnders role of down-trodden Marge Green, Walford Brownies' Brown Owl. The character was introduced to bring some comedy to EastEnders, which was reportedly Pat's favourite telly show at the time, so she ended the decade on a very happy note. Unfortunately, 1990 saw Pat and the character of Marge Green being dispatched as the new producer of the time saw no place in the show for a character whose "prime function was to be comic relief". Says it all for EastEnders really.

 1989 - Pat as Marge Green in EastEnders.

Anyway, I wanted to share the contents of an April 1981 magazine article about Pat which I found this morning (pictured at top of post). It provides an interesting snapshot of how Pat was at that time:

Pat plays a good Samaritan

Actress Pat Coombs has been playing a most demanding role... as a Good Samaritan. The 53-year old star of ITV's You're Only Young Twice has been working for the Samaritans, helping people in distress.

In addition, she's helped her own sister, whose marriage broke up.

Actress Peggy Mount, another star of You're Only Young Twice, is in no doubt about Pat's heart of gold.

"She really has been a Good Samaritan," says Peggy. "But I'm sure she would be the last to admit it."

Pat's sister, who had been living in Canada, returned to England with her four children... to be taken in by Pat, who has a small one-bedroom flat in Harrow, Middlesex.

Modestly, Pat takes up the story: "It was difficult fir everybody - getting six people into my flat.

"But eventually we were able to sort it all out. Now they live near by, and not actually with me any more."

Pat, who is unmarried, also does charity work for the Samaritans, answering phone calls from people in distress.

"I joined the Samaritans because I had time on my hands, not having a family of my own," said Pat. And since she has "enlisted", she has discovered just how lonely people can be.

"Some of the people you come across are the last people you would expect," said Pat. "Some are in our business."

But Pat's work with the Samaritans is confidential, and she won't discuss incidents or the advice she gives.

Formerly a kindergarten teacher before entering acting, Pat would have loved to have had a family of her own.

"I nearly married," said Pat. "But I suppose it wasn't to be."

Pat, star of other TV series such as Don't Drink The Water, Beggar My Neighbour and Lollipop Loves Mr Mole, loves cooking, reading and motoring.

When she's not helping other people.

They don't make 'em like Pat any more!

25 March 2012

Albion Market - The Story Continues...

Here at '80s Actual, we pride ourselves on the ACTUAL. No hyping of the decade, investing it with things that happened in other decades (which often happens with the 1970s), a serious attempt to reassemble all the things that went to make up the 1980s and present them accurately, spiced with material from the time, my own personal views as someone who was part of the era, and the views of others.

For one of my next posts I'm asking you to let me indulge myself in a bit of fantasy. It has always been my dream to write TV drama, I'm a particular fan of pre-1990s soaps, and the 1980s presents me with a great opportunity to run my own soap on this blog.In August 1986, the Granada Television soap Albion Market ended after exactly one hundred episodes. Having fared badly in the ratings originally, Granada had tweaked the show more than somewhat, injecting a bit of glitz and glamour, a slimy new boss man set to cause endless trouble, and a much more upbeat approach. Unfortunately, the show had been dropped into very un-advantageous time slots in some ITV regions, and the programme was given the chop just as the changes had begun.

The production team gave us viewers an ending - the slimy new boss man was dispatched, and the original honest and kind boss came back. The final episode featured what could only be described as the wedding from hell, and most loose ends were tied up.

Now, let us imagine that, just as the Albion Market cast and crew were wrapping up the show in July 1986, ITV had a change of heart and decided it should continue. Having got rid of their dreadful new boss man character, who simply oozed fascinating story-line possibilities, and brought back Mr Nice to round the show off, the production team would probably have been grunting in frustration, but the show must go on and so they set to work on episode 101...

Albion Market Episode 101 will take us back to the market in 1986 and is my interpretation of what would have happened next. Expect plenty of pop culture references, and remember that mobile phones had just arrived in the UK the year before and were wildly expensive to most people in 1986 - and that the World Wide Web wouldn't even be invented until 1989! Life was very different.

For those not interested - the vast majority of my readers I'm sure - just skip it - normal service will also be continuing, but for those who ARE interested take a look at our original Albion Market post to help familiarise yourself with the location and characters.

Here's a brief "story so far":

Albion Market is a large covered market standing by the River Irwell, somewhere in the Manchester area.

Stall holder Lynne Harrison has slept with ex-market boss Alan Curtis whilst he was seeing her daughter, Lisa O'Shea. Lisa is upset and confused by the situation, Lynne regretful.

Lisa's two classic clothes stalls are doing well.

Market superintendent Derek Owen has resumed his adulterous relationship with Ly Nhu Chan.

Derek's young assistant, Keith Naylor, has married stroppy teen and ex-prostitute Louise Todd and taken on responsibility for her baby, Jenny. How will the couple fare living with Keith's mother, who doesn't get on with Louise?

Jaz Sharma can't get over the death of racist stallholder Oliver Shawcross, for which he was charged for murder. He continues working with brother Raju on the fashion stall.

Barmaid Colette Johnson at the local pub, The Waterman's Arms, has put her relationship with Phil Smith, the father of her child, Gregory, behind her and has been seeing hairdresser Sean.

Flower stall holder Geoff Travis has faced facts - his marriage is at an end. But is it?

At the cafe, Peggy Sagar continues to run the business, with chef Paul and waitress Louise - Keith's wife. Former waitress Carol Broadbent, sacked from her post, is fast receding from Peggy's mind. But has the market seen the last of Carol?

Hairdresser Viv Harker has made her mark on the market with her posh hairdressing salon, Viva. She's fallen out with Lynne, and befriended Keith and Lynne's daughter, Lisa. She has also taken on staff - temperamental Sean and trainee Debbie. Will her business succeed?

Albion Market, Episode 101, coming soon...

The 1980s And Revivals...

Carrying the 1970s love of the 1950s into the 1980s, Mr Shakin' Stevens! The TV Times article featured above dates from 1979.

Kelly asks:

We seem to have nothing but revivals of recent decades now. I know the 1970s revived Rockabilly, the 1950s later on the 1960s, and had many other influences, but what about the 1980s?

When it came to revivals of then recent decades, Kelly, the 1980s continued the love affair with the 1950s which I believe began towards the end of the 1960s, and the 1960s popped in and out. A half-hearted and very tongue-in-cheek '70s revival kicked in circa 1988, but it lacked the fervour and hype of the 1990s/2000s version and was rather droll. It was so half-hearted, I wasn't even aware of it at the time.

In 1989, the revivals scene seemed to be turning back to the 1960s again with Tears For Tears
Sowing The Seeds of Love and the Stone Roses blasting onto the scene with their '60s-influenced first album. I'll be featuring some material on what was nostalgic and what was revived in the '80s soon.

1985: No Honorary Degree For Margaret Thatcher...

A 1980s signed Maggie pic. In 1985, Mrs T was in her second term as Prime Minister, having won the 1983 General Election with a landslide.

Profs Say No to an honour for Maggie

From the Sun, 30/1/1985

Top academics at Oxford University yesterday voted against awarding Premier Margaret Thatcher an honorary degree.

The dons voted by 733 to 319 not to grant the traditional acolade to their most famous "old girl" as a protest against education cuts.

It is the first time since the Second World War that an Oxford-educated Prime Minister has been denied the distinction of an honorary degree in civil law.

Following the controversial vote by Oxford's "parliament" of professors, a Downing Street spokesman announced briefly:

"If they do not wish to confer the honour, she is the last person to wish to receive it."

Mrs Thatcher won a degree in chemistry at Oxford's Somerville College.

The only other person to have been refused the extra award was former Pakistani President Ali Bhutto - vetoed because of involvement in massacres.

Last night Tory MP Harry Greenway branded Mrs Thatcher's snub as the "grossest discourtesy."

1982: Shop Into Boots - Deodorants For Men

A lovely array of deodorants for men - an advertisement for Boots, May, 1982. Included are Pagan Man, Tabac, Turbo, Brut 33 and Denim. A little later, my own favourite was Mandate.

22 March 2012

The Simpsons

Look kind of familiar? The Simpsons as they appeared in 1987. The characters soon morphed into the more familiar images we still see today.

Over in America in early 1987, Matt Groening created The Simpsons.

The USA's favourite dysfunctional family first appeared in Mr Groening's mind whilst he was sitting in the lobby of James L. Brooks's office, producer of The Tracey Ullman Show for the Fox Network.

Tracey was already a celebrity here in England. Think of Three Of A Kind. Think of those wacky pop hits.

I can't break away, though you make me cry...

But they don't know about us - and they've never heard of love...

And so on.

Back to the USA and 1987.

Mr Groening had originally intended to pitch for a series of cartoon shorts for Tracey's series based on his Life in Hell series. However, he quickly realised that animating Life in Hell for television would require the rescinding of publication rights for his life's work. And so his fertile mind, working on absolute overdrive in Mr Brooks' lobby, came up with Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa and Maggie.

The Simpsons debuted as a series of cartoon shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show on April 19, 1987.

According to legend, the show's producer was concerned about the ugly appearance of these new creations, and our very own Tracey reportedly reassured him: "Relax! It's an '80s show!"

And so popular were The Simpsons cartoon shorts that, in 1989, work began on a half hour series of Simpsons shows, with the first, a "holiday special", being broadcast on December 17, 1989.

And the rest is history!

An American TV guide from December 1989...

To some viewers one of the best parts of Fox's "The Tracey Ullman Show" was the commercial breaks.

That's no knock on the talented Ullman. It's just that each set of commercials was preceeded by the antics of the Simpsons, the animated family created by cartoonist Matt Groening whose playlets were hilarious dispatches from the front lines of the ongoing war between parents and their children.

We haven't seen much of the Simpsons lately. The quiet is due not to a truce, but to the preparation of a new offensive. The Simpsons will soon debut in their own Fox series, probably next month. And on Sunday, December 17, Fox will air "Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire", a holiday special starring dad Homer, mom Marge, brother Bart, sister Lisa and baby Maggie...

The Simpsons are a family as families really are. Homer is in a continual state of low level exasperation, with the threat of an eruption always lurking. Marge is the jumpy peacemaker, bearing a quivering white flag back and forth between the battle lines of Homer and the children. And the kids are like the first mammals in the age of the dinosaurs, peeping from the underbrush at a world of behemoths, pausing in their torture of each other only to unite against the threat of its interruption by lumbering adults whose seeming soul purpose in life is to ruin any hope of having fun.

"The most common thing people tell me," says Simpsons creator Matt Groening in a soft, friendly voice, "is that I've been spying on them."

17/12/1989 - an historic telly event for America. The first full-length episode of The Simpsons, a seasonal tale entitled Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire, was broadcast.

19 March 2012

The New Man

The Eighties Man: Day Two of a fascinating Sun series.


They'll chip in on the chores.

The Sun, January, 1983.

Today's man does not mind a bit if he is left holding the baby - in fact he quite enjoys it.

He sees nothing odd in pushing a trolley around the supermarket, running around with the vacuum cleaner, or cooking the supper.

He believes - and his wife agrees - that looking after the children and doing the household chores should be shared equally between men and women.

When it comes to getting up to feed the baby 65 per cent of men and 71 per cent of women think that, where possible, they should take turns.

Almost as many men - 62 per cent - think shopping for groceries is a task that should be shared. And more than half - 58 per cent - say that the burden of housework should be split.

Yet a decade ago a real man would not have been caught dead with a dirty nappy and would never be seen with his hands in the sink, let alone flitting around with a duster.

What has caused this major shift of attitudes?

Partly the fact that more and more women have jobs outside the home.

In our survey almost half the women - 43 per cent - worked and four per cent were the main wage earners.

Housework HAS to be shared if it is to get done at all.

But Women's Lib was, in some ways, People's Lib. Men who felt they were missing something by leaving child-care to their wives were encouraged to lend a hand.

Yet there is still some way to go before everyone rejects the old idea that a man's place is at work and a woman's place is in the home.

And the men and women who do not believe that housework and childcare should be shared equally stick to the old patterns.

Of these, 46 per cent believe that cooking the meals is woman's work.

Forty-one per cent think the same about housework and one in three say women should do the food shopping.

But 48 per cent of all men say that painting and decorating are their work and 40 per cent feel the same about gardening.

The American "Eighties Man"/"New Man" - was a similar concept, which rose into the public consciousness c. 1982, although with more emphasis on men being allowed to develop and display emotional sensitivity then is illustrated in the article above.

20th Century Words by John Ayto (Oxford, 1999), traces the "New Man" to 1982 -

"a man who aims to be sensitive, caring, and non-aggressive and to take a substantial role in his household's domestic routine..."

Apparently, as the decade went on, the New Man began to be regarded as a bit of a wimp in some quarters:

1985, Chicago Tribune:

Does the New Woman really want the New Man?... The answer, as you might guess, is a frustrated no.

Sadly, the 1990s regressed, giving us the "New Lad".

I thought the 1980s were great from a male viewpoint. In my neighbourhood, back in the 70s/early 80s, boys who liked soap operas were considered... well... strange. But in the 80s, with the arrival of trendy soaps like Brookside and teenage soaps like Home and Away, it was OK for us to join in.

And to get emotional.

As a kid in the '70s, I always felt as though I was in an emotional straitjacket.

Also, grooming. No man in my family ever owned a hairdryer before the 1980s. It would have been unthinkable. In 1984, I became the first!

The "old Man" was often not very keen on the "New Man", as this comic strip from the Sun newspaper's women's section, September 15 1988, shows!

Toys: Back To 1984 - Transformers, The A Team, My Little Pony, Postman Pat, Roland Rat and Knight Rider...

A skim through the toy selection in the Janet Frazer autumn and winter 1984/5 mail order catalogue - starting with some robots! Remember those "Transformers - Robots In Disguise" on telly - robots that turned into boats and things? Weird, eh? And what about the toys? Genius, or TV merchandising overkill? In my day, we were lucky if Mum had a spare spud for a Mr Potato Head...

Mind you, that's not to say there wasn't loads of TV-related merchandising in the 1960s and 1970s. I loved the Magic Roundabout, and you could buy Dougal house slippers, Magic Roundabout lampshades, Magic Roundabout biscuits, Magic Roundabout wallpaper, Magic Roundabout figurines, Magic Roundabout clocks, Magic Roundabout tea towels, Magic Roundabout curtains, Magic Roundabout mattresses, Magic Roundabout cuddly toys, Magic Roundabout annuals, Magic Roundabout storybooks, Magic Roundabout colouring books, Magic Roundabout dot-to-dots, a grand Corgi miniature Magic Garden, Magic Roundabout crockery, Magic Roundabout tablecloths, Magic Roundabout soap, Magic Roundabout bubble bath, Magic Roundabout umbrellas...

Most of these things I desired but couldn't have because my parents couldn't afford them. But certainly the concept of children as consumers was not invented in the 1980s.

A whole range of A-Team merchandise, including a toy "Mr T" - "HE'S BIG AND BOLD! HE'S THE BOSS!"

A My Little Pony baby walker - the little girl in the illustration looks thrilled with it, doesn't she?

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe - an animated TV series featuring the likes of the goodly Prince Adam and the evil Skeletor. Lots of viewers. Lots of associated merchandise - including here your very own Castle Grayskull - "fortress of mystery and power".


The battle between good and evil rages fiercely.

First appearing in 1981, Postman Pat was a tremendous success, earning many fans beyond the target audience of tiny tots. All together now: "Postman Pat, Postman Pat, Postman Pat and his black and white cat"!

Roland Rat - the ultimate '80s superstar. Look at all this - Roland Rat and Kevin the gerbil jigsaws, a stencilling kit, Roland, Errol the hamster and Kevin the gerbil toys and your very own RATMOBILE!

Knight Rider - a highly popular American children's series starring David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight and a very sophisticated car called KITT - had some very snazzy associated merchandise. Also in the picture is a battery operated Knight Rider push button intercom set that: "really works from room to room. Includes 30ft cable, buzzer sound and working light."

1987: The Great Gale And The Stock Market Crash...

Much is made of Michael Fish's reassurances that all was well on the night of the gale, but apparently he simply reassured viewers, after a telephoned query to the BBC, that there wasn't going to be a hurricane that night. The wind never reached hurricane force, so perhaps we should let him off? Mind you, I can't help thinking that Auntie Beeb and co should have been aware that something was brewing!

From The Times, 17/10/1987...

Eighteen people died and hundreds were injured as yesterday's storms, the worst in memory, left a trail of destruction as they cut across southern England.

The Government demanded an urgent report from the Meteorological Office into its failure to alert the nation to the impending storms.

The Met Office was warned of the risk of very high winds four days ago by the most sophisticated weather forecasting computer in the world.

The devastation left by the gales could cost up to £300 million in insurance claims, although earlier estimates put the figure at around £100 million.

Government ministers demanded an urgent report last night from the Meteorological Office in to why it failed to alert the nation to the worst storms in living memory.

The almost hurricane-force winds claimed at least 18 lives, cut electricity to millions of homes, and caused £100 million of damage early yesterday.

After a meeting of senior ministers, Mr Douglas Hurd, the Home Secretary, said the storms had caused "the most widespread night of disaster in the south-east of England since 1945"...

Extract from Peacetime Echo of the Blitz, The Times, 17/10/1987:

When future generations crowd at the knee to ask: "What did you do in the Great Wind, Daddy?" the boldest will answer for sure: "I walked." As London awoke yesterday from a night when even its bravest buildings seemed to be howling, it was to darkness and to stillness.

Then the first humans came into view. They looked footsore but triumphant, coming together in twos and threes to walk together in streets without traffic to destinations in office blocks without lights. "How's your house?" was an invariable greeting, uttered with an almost superstitious awe.

As they walked, they talked with stoic modesty: "Well, I was lucky. Got a lift in a bread van to Kingston. Then the bus came. Never been to the Elephant before, but I thought it would save me a mile or so, I thought 'here goes'. Only took me an hour after that."

They walked looking about them at the bizarre. The pot plants standing on a traffic island. The traffic cone in the window of a sandwich bar. The deckchair atop a bush in St James's Park; the racing skiff from the Serpentine, now embedded in the branches of a tree. A man in the electricity showroom pumping at a gas burner to brew tea...

Whatever next? We didn't have long to wait to find out...

The Yuppie Millionaire's Guide To The Good Life, an article published in The Times on 19th October 1987, featured news of the arrival of a new American magazine simply called Millionaire, which bore the subtitle "Lifestyles of the working rich".

To quote the article:

Even the advertisements appeal to raw indulgence. "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" goes the pitch in the full page [advertisement] for Maserati.

The publisher of "Millionaire" is Mr Douglas Lambert, the Florida millionaire who started "Playgirl". He says he is not aiming at the older, idle variety of rich, but at the younger battalions who have emerged from the business boom of the Reagan years, "the person who is out there earning money and wants to spend it on nice things".

He says: "I have no problem with that. I think the attitudes of the 1960s are gone." A brief excursion in Manhattan is enough to convince anyone that Mr Lambert is understating it. Eavesdrop on any gathering of under-35-year-olds and the topic is almost always related to money.

But the article also recorded the fact that more and more Americans felt the boom era was drawing to a close as the stock market suffered "daily jitters".

Ironically, the 19th October 1987, the very day that the yuppie millionaire's guide to the good life article appeared in The Times, will forever be remembered as "Black Monday"...

1987, which had started out as such a sleek, shoulder-padded, money-worshipping beast, had suddenly gone completely off its rocker...

From The Times, October 20th 1987.

Crowds of dazed young brokers milled around Wall Street yesterday evening trying to come to terms with the unthinkable - the roaring Eighties, the years of easy prosperity, could be over.

As Mr John Phelan, chairman of the Stock Exchange, sat in the ornate boardroom putting a brave face on the day's massacre, tireless young operators stood in the street and agreed: "Maybe this is the big melt-down."

"I've lost my shirt today as well as the money of a lot of other guys," said one stereotype of the Yuppies who swarmed to the financial world to reap the benefits of the Reagan boom.

"We knew this was coming one day," said another, equipped with the red braces and horn-rim glasses that are the badge of office for the generation who came straight from college and have never seen a bear market.

A few streets away, in Harry's Bar, crowds of young brokers swilled their beer from the bottle, their hands trembling from the day's havoc but still cracking nervous jokes. "Maybe we should call it Fall Street," said one, glancing at The New York Post with its banner headline "Wall Street Goes Mad".

"Tomorrow's another day. Perhaps we'll see it go up another three hundred again when it opens tomorrow," one hopeful operator said. Jokes about leaping from windows abounded, but there was a feeling that the country was not in such bad shape as it was in 1929.

Older hands said they saw an end to the collapse provided the market came to its senses within the next few days. They pointed to the continuing strength of the economy, still growing after the longest post-war expansion.

But it was obvious nothing would be the same again after Black Monday. A black man on a bicycle seized the mood when he shouted at the brokers: "Freedom! The Reagan revolution is over. Death to Yuppies."

A tubby broker bellowed back at him: "Whoever dies with the most toys wins. We start over again tomorrow."

1985: Live Aid

After Band Aid in 1984, 1985 gave us Live Aid - the Global Juke Box - the 12 hour pop marathon, watched by an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide...

The events took place at Wembley Stadium, England, and the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, USA, on 13 July 1985. It was a massive event, unparalleled in rock history.

You'd got your ticket...

You'd got your T-shirt...

And suddenly you were there...

...with Charles and Diana, Bob Geldof, U2, Spandau Ballet, Nik Kershaw, Sade...

... Freddie Mercury and Queen... and oodles of other notables.

Yes, it had been a pain queuing for the loo; yes, it had been grotty when the girl in front of you had stepped back on to your big toe... but you still went home in a blissful daze...

It had been a day of colour, light, sound, energy... a day that made rock and pop history... a day that saved lives...

And if you were at home, watching the spectacle on the telly, it was still a fantastic experience...

Even via the small screen, Live Aid was pure magic.

Bob Geldof (referred to as "Sir Bob of Geldof" in certain quarters) had been driven, a man possessed by his dream right up to and, indeed, throughout the concert (remember his cussin' and blindin'?).

The 1980s - the decade of greed?

With the launch of the Children In Need telethon on the BBC in 1980, the Band Aid single in 1984, Live Aid in 1985 and Comic Relief - which was launched in late 1985 - that cannot be correct.

Greed unlimited is far from being the true picture.

The 1980s was the decade of contrasts.

Madonna on-stage in Philadelphia, experiencing rucked-up shoulder pad syndrome.

How the Sunday People reported events - 14/7/1985:

A thunderous roar erupted when the Greatest Rock Show on Earth got under way yesterday with the arrival of Prince Charles and Princess Di.

And the Royals raved it up with the rest.

Princess Di was clearly thrilled to meet her pop idols as the couple were introduced backstage to 60 of the stars.

And as Prince Charles watched the jean-clad rock fans enjoying the party, he said:

"I'll have to buy myself a pair of denims."

Part of the show at the preliminaries was stolen by two-year-old Fifi Trixie-Belle Geldof, daughter of Boomtown Rats star Bob, who masterminded the event.

She was supposed to present Di with a bouquet, but fled, overcome by shyness.

The royal couple clapped and tapped their feet along to the music.

Nearly two billion people were estimated to have tuned into the extravaganza.

The £10 million target for the twin Live Aid concerts at Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia could eventually be trebled when the cash is totted up from donations, TV rights and souvenir sales.

Geldof summed it up: "To me it is not a pop concert. To me it is not a TV show. To me it is simply a means of keeping people alive."

Quotes from the day:

Gary Kemp, of Spandau Ballet, who arrived by helicopter: "It was the most incredible sight from the air. Quite wonderful. This is going to be the greatest audience in history. It won't happen again, ever, at least not with this generation of performers."

U2 vocalist Bono: "The money spent on defence could turn the deserts of Africa into fertile land. The technology is with us... but the technocrats are not."

18 March 2012

Space Invaders

From the BBC Radio 1 On Show magazine, summer, 1980. Space Invaders were sweeping into our lives and heartily endorsed by the likes of Hot Gossip, The Who and Dave Lee Travis!

The Invaders were first released in Japan in June 1978, and first exhibited at a trade show in this country in 1979. "Hmm," we said, our interest aroused. The little alien thingies then invaded the early 1980s as machines started cropping up everywhere. Mind you, this really was a case of Loving The Alien - we adored 'em!

From the Sun, February 28 1981 - a hand-held Space Invaders game has arrived in the UK, and is apparently highly sought after, but in short supply!

From the Cambridge Evening News, 1981: concerns are raised by NUPE (the National Union of Public Employees) about children spending dinner money playing Space Invaders on a machine installed at a local school.

Sunday People, November 15, 1981 - and Frogger (or "Froger" as it's spelt in the article!) threatens Space Invaders throne at the local boozer! At this point, there is no mention of Pac-Man impacting on the UK. I wonder when he arrived here?

From the Janet Frazer autumn/winter 1984/85 mail order catalogue. A hand-held Frogger game is featured.

17 March 2012


It's been a fascinating experience to relive the 1980s through the newspapers of the decade - brilliant to escape from the BBC and Wikipedia's "We Glorify The '70s" nonsense, and to see the '80s as they really were again. Brash. Noisy. Violent. Glamorous. Technological. Outrageous. "Stylish" (note the speechmarks). Contrasting. Money loving. Caring. Fast moving...

But sometimes the newspapers rose above the roar and clatter of the decade and contained unquestionably wonderful things like the photograph of the two monkeys above, featured in the Daily Mirror in February 1984...

Hugging each other and clinging on to life, these monkeys are a real handful.

Since they were born three weeks ago, they've left their best friend Molly Badham with scarcely any spare time. Molly, who named the inseparable pair Peter and Pop, has bottle-fed them every three hours at her zoo in Twycross, Leics, because their mother rejected them.

Happily, Peter and Pop are doing fine.

I was, for some reason, deeply moved by the photograph... those adorable little faces, those intelligent eyes, the way they were hugging each other for comfort. Just like humans...

I felt tears pricking into my eyes and began to ponder the mysteries of life...

Then my eyes moved briefly to the right:

Marilyn has his handbag pinched

Only in the '80s!

My reflective mood trailed off into a very un-high minded explosion of raucous laughter...

Pop star Marilyn had his handbag, containing £500 in cash, snatched last night as he sat in a London restaurant.

And the singer, who wears outrageous clothes and make-up on and off the stage, is offering a reward for its return.

"It's awful," he said. "It had my address and my diary in as well as my wallet and all my keys.

"It had every appointment for the next six months in. I just don't know what I'm going to do.

Two men lifted the black rubber bag with grey trimmings from a seat as Marilyn sat with a woman friend in a restaurant near Oxford Circus.

"The fact that someone can actually do that is beyond me," he said. "I know the money's gone but I'm desperate to get the address book and diary back."

Poor Marilyn. Did he get his things back? If you know, drop me a line...

From the Daily Star, October 2, 1984:

Breakfast TV beauty Selina Scott was faced with her spitting image when she ran into chart-topper Marilyn yesterday.

The look-alike couple were among the celebrities at the Variety Club banquet in honour of Radio One.

And even guests who could tell one from the other were stumped when it came to deciding who looked prettier.

However everyone agreed they made an incredible double act.

1980s Shoulder Pads

Jason Donovan of Neighbours and Stock, Aitken and Waterman fame sports some very big and lovely shoulder pads. And a mullet.

Ah, shoulder pads! Ah, the 1980s! So where's the link? As if we didn't know! Studying fashion via vintage mail order catalogues and fashion shop ads in my local newspaper archive is where I began my work of learning the realities about popular clothing of various decades.

By this, I don't mean the ultra sophisticated garb of the super rich, as seen on the posh fashion show catwalks (very Jan Howard!).

No, I mean what Sharon and Gary (or you and me) were wearing down at the "local", and which pop or TV stars they (or us) had been inspired by.

So, what about those shoulder pads? Well, '80s shoulder pads actually began as a chic retro revival. They were first around in the 1930s and 1940s. 

Of course, the 1980s had bigger ones!

If you watch a TV programme from 1980, you will note the very ordinary-looking shoulders of the good folk on-screen. Shortly after this, small shoulder pads became prevalent. But, by the mid-1980s, COLOSSAL shoulder pads were everywhere. Nowadays, they make very amusing viewing.

It's tremendous fun to view several seasons of an '80s era American soap and watch those shoulders grow over the years!

Joan Collins of Dynasty fame was partly responsible, and where Dynasty flew, the rival American soaps followed as the female cast members howled for higher costume budgets and more "stylish" gear!

Shoulder pads became a required part of the power dressing image for women, and men also cottoned on to the trend. Well, those kindly pads tended to detract from a beer belly!

1940s shoulder pads had often been big. 1980s shoulder pads were usually bigger.

Sometimes absurdly so.

The era of the truly massive shoulder pad began around 1982/1983 and stretched on into the early 1990s.

Personally, I used to like them in a nice pastel linen jacket, with the sleeves pushed up.

Unashamedly an '80s fashion victim!

And why not?

The '80s are sometimes called "The Style Decade". But the trouble was the styles were often too brash, too "in your face". A lot of us were "dead common" back then. And a lot of the styles - like those oh-so-stylish shoulder pads were horrendously OTT!

Fun, though...

Kate (Susan St James) of the American sit com Kate And Allie wears very clearly defined and MASSIVE shoulder pads. Very smart indeed!

Nik Kershaw

Nik Kershaw in 1985, sporting that popular mid-'80s look probably best labelled "I-was-going-somewhere-posh-but-got-dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards-on-the-way".

After a brief school days dalliance in a band called Half Pint Hog, Nik Kershaw went to work as a clerk at the DHSS in Ipswich from 1975 to 1978 ("I spent all day handing out Giro cheques to people on the dole, it was really depressing. You'd see the same people every week, and you'd watch them going slowly downhill, yet all I could do was fob them off with a cheque.").

He later worked at his local Co-op hardware store.

Nik was also a member of a band simply called Hog - a spin-off from Half Pint Hog. He then joined an Essex jazz-funk band called Fusion, which split up in 1982.

Deciding to concentrate on song writing, Nik borrowed a friend's Portastudio cassette machine, and began writing and recording at home.

He was getting nowhere - rejection followed rejection, so he advertised for a manager in Melody Maker, got himself a gent called Mickey Modern, and a record deal soon followed.

Wouldn't It Be Good entered the Top Forty at Number 38 in February 1984 and Nik briefly knew tremendous success - becoming a pop idol.

This down-to-earth bloke actually wrote terrific pop songs - and they weren't just "pop pap" (I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me had wonderful anti-nuke lyrics).

Excellent. Whenever I hear one of Nik's 80s hits on the radio, a big daft grin spreads right across my face - from ear to ear.

Happy memories!