23 July 2012

Choose Life

If you associate the 1980s CHOOSE LIFE T-shirt solely with Wham! prancing about on stage, then think again. Launched in 1983, it was part of a range of protest T-shirts by designer Katherine Hamnett.

Other slogans included WORLDWIDE NUCLEAR BAN NOW, PRESERVE THE RAINFORESTS, SAVE THE WORLD, STOP KILLING WHALES, and EDUCATION NOT MISSILES. The original T-shirts were sold with a percentage going to charity. The line was designed to be copied, with the sole aim of spreading the word.

Back in the day... Some 1983 people display Katherine Hamnett's new slogan t-shirts - including, of course, CHOOSE LIFE. 

In 1984, Ms Hamnett wore a '58% Don't Want Pershing' T-shirt when she met Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street.

Originally published 8 April 2009. UPDATED 23 JULY 2012

21 July 2012

The "Now That's What I Call Music" Pig

Ah, the Now That's What I Call Music pig! Here's the original version, lapping up melodies from his farmyard pal. This was how the Pig debuted on the first Now album sleeve in 1983.

Didn't really grip me. It seemed quirky to use a 1920s Danish Bacon advertising picture on the back of an album cover, but it was definitely a "hmmm..." moment rather than a "gasp-in-ecstasy-at-visual-delight" moment.

So, how had this quirky idea come about?

The story began in 1983 at the offices of Virgin Records, London, England. The people responsible for the basis of the NOW idea were the then Head of Licensing and Business Affairs Stephen Navin and General Manager Jon Webster. The idea was simple. A collection of unedited contemporary hits. In partnership with EMI, the idea took wing. Pigs might fly? Not in this case. Solid, long-running success was - and still is - the result.

And how did the pig come in? Well, this was down to Virgin Records supremo Richard Branson, who bought the old Danish Bacon factories poster, reproduced at the top of this blog post, from a bric-a-brac shop in Portobello Road. Framed, it made a perfect present for Richard's cousin, Virgin Records executive Simon Draper. Richard recalled years later:  “He was notoriously grumpy before breakfast and loved his eggs in the morning, so I bought him the poster, framed it and had it hung behind his desk !” 

Incidentally, Richard's main reason for visiting the bric-a-brac shop was the fact that he liked the woman who owned it. He later married her.

Back to the main story. The framed piggy poster soon caught EMI Managing Director Peter Jamieson's eye. He later said: “Seeing the poster with the same title on it that had become so familiar to me was serendipity, ‘fate’ even, and I knew then that this had to be the title of our series. It was a powerful and meaningful statement in its own right, and when abbreviated to ‘Now’, gave the ultimate contemporary message”.

And so, our porker pal was on the road to '80s stardom.

At first, the pig seemed set for just one NOW album cover - the very first. He took a break for Now 2.
For Now 3, the pig swept out of its '20s farmyard and into the 1980s by donning dark glasses.

Still a bit "hmmm..." really, I thought...

But for Now 4, in 1984, the album sleeve porker artwork became rather better, far more realistic, almost photographic, and the now thoroughly mid-1980s pig added personal stereo headphones to its trendy glasses and assumed a rather uglier facial expression.

Suddenly, t'was bliss.

I got heavily "into" The Pig.

Clever TV advertising helped.

 There were several telly ads for Now 4, and in the shortest Mr Posh-Geezer came across my piggy friend, listening to his personal stereo and minding his own business.

"This SWINE is looking very pleased with himself," said Mr Posh-Geezer, highly annoyed.

"That's 'cos I'm listenin' to 32 chart hoggin' hits and you're not!" said the pig, in a broad Yorkshire accent (Brian Glover provided the voice).

Mr Posh-Geezer said no more.

Pig it! Piggy gets his kit off for this stunning 1984 double page magazine ad.
Nows 1, 2 and 3 also had video compilations, but Now 4 was the first to also appear on new fangled campact discs.

On a million trillion T-shirts in the mid-1980s, Frankie said "Relax".

The Pig said "Oink".

I managed to persuade my local record shop to let me have the cardboard window display for Now 4, featuring the adored porker, and stuck it to my bedroom wall.

Whilst the most popular pin-ups of the mid-1980s included the likes of Madonna, Samantha (or "S'manfa") Fox and Linda Lusardi, I had the Now Pig.

Like all good things, my Now Pig fixation came to an end.


The cover of
Now 5 in 1985 featured the Pig, but the artwork lacked the realism of Now 4, and the Pig had, in my very humble opinion, quite lost it - sporting a colourful 1980s shirt (very nice!) and a lollipop behind its ear - looking every inch a cartoon.


I had high hopes for the future - surely Now 5 was just a glitch? But when Now 6 arrived, the Pig was absent.


The Now 4 pig remains one of my top favourite items of 1980s pop culture.


My bedroom in 1985 - complete with the Now Pig cardboard display and my Pye Tube Cube (read all about it here). My bedroom was often described by my friends as "The Pit" back in the day - and indeed I thought it was a bit of a dump myself. But hoovering was beyond me and, looking back now, from the vantage point of a tired, forty-something mortgage slave, my old bedroom and those irresponsible long ago days seem like Paradise Lost!


16 July 2012

Access - Your Flexible Friend

A newspaper advertisement for Bejam, December 1981. Nobody in my very working class neighbourhood even owned a freezer in 1981. Seems incredible now.

From the Sunday People, April 1985.

Here's Access and Money in another advertisement featured in the Radio Times, May 1985.

The blurb went: 

Go shopping without leaving home.

Nowadays you can pick up a phone and a bargain from the comfort of your own armchair. And using Access makes it even easier.Book your holiday over the phone with Access. Everything from rail and air tickets, to hotel bookings and car hire.

Many theatres, cinemas, pop concerts and sporting events accept Access over the phone, too - quote your name, number and address and that's it. What could be simpler? Or more convenient.

Credit cards seemed like something from the Planet Zog to me and my pals and family back then. You paid cash or bought from a mail order catalogue. There was no other way in our world.

I used to feel sorry for Money in the ads - he always seemed to end up flustered and out of sorts - he had an irritating voice, too.

Poor little git.

I never even used a cash point machine until some time after the UK's first debit card, Barclays Connect, was issued on June 3 1987. That sparked a revolution. Suddenly, plastic money and cash point machines were not just for those well off enough to own a credit card. Within nine months, Barclays was issuing its one millionth Connect Card.

I was a Barclays Connect man from around 1988 onwards.

Sorry, Access.

Break Dancing, Off-The-Shoulder, and The Boy...

The soundtrack album to Breakdance, the motion picture. Could I break dance? Um...

1984 magazine ad for the "Panasonic RXC39 portable hi-fi. Part of the new RX range, it comes complete with separate automatic turntable, detachable speakers and rack. Also available without turntable."

Colourful mid-1980s Toshiba ghetto blaster/boombox. Cover it with stickers and take it to the streets!

These pictures are from the Sunday Express Magazine - 1984 - The Pictures of the Year. The blurb for the top picture reads: 

Take A Break: Take A Dance. Girls wore bulldog clips in their hair, preferably fluorescent. T-shirts bore instructions from Frankie. Leisuretime pursuits were essentially trivial. But the biggest fad of 1984 was break dancing - the latest, most violent offspring of the cha-cha-cha, the twist and rock 'n' roll. In its home, California, there were serious injuries and even one death. This expert practitioner seems simply to let it all go to his head...
Trendy girls watch the break dancer. Note the off-the-shoulder-showing-strap-under-dress-look of the girl on the right, which has reappeared in recent years.

Boy George was a 1984 hair-o.

15 July 2012

Now That's What I Call Music Arrives...

Illustration from the first Now That's What I Call Music cassette, which contained such goodies as Will Powers Kissing With Confidence and Tracey Ullman's They Don't Know.
  From the Now cassette sleeve. Do you remember Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack singing Tonight I Celebrate My Love? I liked, and still like, that song, but me and my mate Neal used to sing along to it: "Tonight, I sellotape my glove to you. It seems the natural thing to do..." 


'Cos we woz wallies.

Read more about the Now That's What I Call Music pig and how it evolved here.

Outspan - Small Ones Are More Juicy & Batchelors Savoury Rice...

Outspan oranges - advertisement from Woman's Weekly, August, 1985.

A 1985 Batchelors Savoury Rice ad from the TV Times.

This product was a major part of my diet at that time. With Bernard Matthews turkey sausages or Bejam mini-pizzas it truly was "tantalizingly tasty".

Remember the TV ads starring the voice of Frank Muir?

13 July 2012

John Michie As Tony Fraser In Albion Market...

Rachel has written:

Do you have any other pics of the delectable John Michie as Tony Fraser in Albion Market? I note your interest in this 1980's soap and would be interested (very interested!) to see more of Mr Michie back in that decade. These days, of course, he's far better known for Taggart and Coronation Street!

I do have a few pics, Rachel, and have managed to locate the one above - which features Tony Fraser, cake and biscuit stallholder of Albion Market, in hot pursuit of Colette Johnson (Nimmy March), the barmaid at the market's local pub, The Waterman's Arms. Tony was not acting in the best interests of his girlfriend, Lisa O'Shea, nor his pal, Phil Smith, Colette's partner and the father of her child! This scenario was the beginning of Tony's exit story-line from the show in 1986. Hope you like the pic and many thanks for writing.

03 July 2012

George Orwell - 1980, 1982 - 1984... 2012...

A friend of mine said the other day: "Things seem increasingly like 1984..."

"What, big hair, shoulder pads, shaggy perms, leggings..." I began, having noted the huge revival in 1980s fashion over the last seven years or so.

My friend looked at me, witheringly: "No, I mean George Orwell's version, you twit! Look at CCTV, DNA sampling - you can easily end up on the national database even if you're not charged with anything, the centralising of power to the EU in Brussels, the Nanny State, the refusal of successive UK governments to allow a referendum on EU membership, the West Lothian Question, the Barnett Formula... all the new laws passed in the last fifteen years empowering the police - we don't live in a democracy..."

I must admit to having entertained similar thoughts myself at times, and shuddered.

One of the things which concerns me the most is the disinterest most young people I speak to have in politics. And many older people. If I mention the real 1980s political scene and Reagan or Thatcher opinions for and against usually come thick and fast... but if I mention today's politics I'm usually greeted with a shrug or a blank stare.

Anyway, if you haven't read George Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four, I advise you to take a look. No Marilyn having his handbag nicked, no Apple Mac, no big hair, no shoulder pads, no Trivial Pursuit, I promise!

He was alone. The past was dead, the future was unimaginable. What certainty had he that a single human creature now living was on his side?

He took a twenty-five cent piece out of his pocket. There, too, in tiny clear lettering, the same slogans were inscribed, and on the other face of the coin the head of Big Brother. Even from the coin the eyes pursued you. On coins, on stamps, on the covers of books, on banners, on posters, and on the wrappings of a cigarette packet — everywhere. Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed — no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.

TRIVIA SPOT: Did you know that Orwell's original title back in the 1940s was 1980? He then changed it to 1982 before moving on to 1984.