17 March 2013

Postbag - "Brookside" And "South"

Charlotte writes:

I admire your blog alot and luv spending time here. I was wondering about something a bit on the obscure side from the 1980's. The highly revolutionary BROOKSIDE soap did a couple of spin-offs late in the decade, and while most viewers remember DAMON AND DEBBIE, the other one, SOUTH, seems to have been forgotten. I remember it being about Tracy Corkhill, who was the daughter of Doreen and Billy, and the sister of Rod "The Plod". Do you have any material about this program?

Hi, Charlotte! Glad you like the blog. As far as this TV show is concerned, I only have the above TV Times page from March 1988, which details the start of South as part of the English Programme, an educational show for schools. It was the tale of Tracy (Justine Kerrigan) and Jamie (Sean McKee) trying their luck down South. I've also included another TV Times piccy for the Brookside episode that day, featuring the wonderful Ralph Hardwick (Ray Dunbobbin) and Harry Cross (Bill Dean) "ironing out problems" back in the Close!

Crossroads 1983 - Glenda's Test Tube Baby...

Glenda Banks (Lynette McMorrough) is thrilled to hear from the hospital that the time has come for her to try for a test tube baby. Her mother, Kath (Pamela Vezey), after initial doubts, shares Glenda's joy.

I watched Crossroads. I admit it. It's no use blaming my mother. Sure, she introduced me to the show when I was still in nappies, and as a child it became as much a fact of life as dawn and dusk. 

But when I left home in 1983, I continued to watch it. 

It was on at a handy time of night - 6.35 pm, and I'd view as I was getting my dinner if I'd had a late finish at work, or getting ready to go out. I'd be gelling my hair and pushing up my jacket sleeves whilst discovering that Mr Paul was a spy or that Valerie Pollard had sent her daughter a poison pen letter or that David Hunter had just fathered a love child or that Kate Hamilton couldn't remember whether she'd murdered her lover or not or that Benny had ESP, etc, etc, etc, and I could never leave my flat without seeing the final little cliffhanger scene after the closing credits. 

It's easy to slag off Crossroads, but I always found it homely and good hearted, daft or not, and I liked it - although I never discussed the fact that I watched it with anybody else. Towards the end, it became a well produced, brilliantly written social comedy, then ITV took it off. Go figure!

But back to 1983, and with the show still having five years to run, I was deeply involved in the lives of David and Barbara Hunter, slimy Mr Paul, the deliciously rich and bonkers Pollard family, Jill Harvey and Adam Chance, Miss Diane and Benny, Sharon Metcalfe, Sid Hooper and Joe MacDonald from the garage, and the Brownlow/Banks family.

The show had always featured topical and controversial story-lines (not in the Brookside/EastEnders league, but stirring for their times) right from its '60s beginnings. 1982 had featured a story about racism, then started a new and highly topical story which ran throughoout 1983.

After years developing the technique, the first test tube baby had been born four years previously, but in 1982 the concept still seemed startlingly new and perhaps rather odd to many of us plebs. But it was an ideal storyline for one Crossroads character.

Oh, how Glenda Banks wanted a baby!

But she couldn't have one.

Until the notion of having a test tube baby entered her head...

And then, despite her mother Kath's doubts about the method ("interfering with nature!"), husband Kevin's doubts about having a child at all, and her mother-in-law Sally Banks' horror at the social implications (Whatever would her friend Bunty say?!), Glenda became a woman with a mission. Her grumpy father, Arthur, surprisingly supported her, but as he was bumped off in a hit and run car accident in late 1982, Glenda was soon on her own again. But, having walked out on Kevin to get him to agree to becoming a test tube parent before her father's untimely demise, Glenda was now on the road to fulfilling her desperate need for a baby of her own.

It wasn't easy to raise the brass.

But finally she found herself in hospital, all systems go. And she was lucky - her very first attempt at conceiving via in vitro fertilisation was successful.

And then the real world objected...

Daily Mirror, October 24, 1983: 

Crossroads was attacked last night for giving TV viewers the idea that it is easy to have a test-tube baby.

Waitress Glenda Banks, played by actress Lynette McMorrough, is due to have a test-tube baby in January.

But a group representing couples who are desperate to have children claims the soap opera storyline is far from the truth.

Peter Houghton, director of the National association of Childless Couples, said: "It is totally unrealistic because it makes the whole question of test-tube babies seem easy."

Brenda Holliday, the association's administrator, has sent a letter of protest to the producers.

She said: "Our members are disgusted because they have been through the terrible heartache of waiting for a baby and then they see a show like Crossroads which makes it seem so easy.

"If the Crossroads team knew what many couples suffer through spending years on waiting lists and going through the anguish of not conceiving they might realise why so many people have been infuriated by Glenda's test-tube baby."

A spokesman for Central TV, which makes Crossroads, said: "Our scriptwriters carried out a great deal of research. They are making this part of the plot as authentic as possible." 

Hmm... well, Glenda was only on the waiting list for a short time...

But in defence of Crossroads, upon her arrival at the hospital, Glenda met a woman called Rachel who had had several unsuccessful attempts at conceiving via in vitro fertilisation, and experienced another failure whilst Glenda was there.

There was at least some attempt to balance Glenda's good fortune. 

And it was nice to see the Brownlow/Banks family enjoying a happy storyline. They didn't have many.

15 March 2013

Red Nose Day - 25 Years - 1988-2013

 1988 - Griff Rhys Jones, Lenny Henry and Jonathan Ross take part in the very first Red Nose Day.

Did you wear your red nose today? '80s Actual Towers has been fair bristling with the things! Comic Relief was, of course, launched on Christmas Day 1985 with a live report from a refugee camp in Sudan, and the first Red Nose Day was held on 5 February 1988.

Recently, Lenny Henry wrote about the first Red Nose Day back in 1988, and how it has changed since then:

"Comic Relief these days is much more in line with shiny-floor shows like The X Factor – fast, zappy, presenter-led – but we were just asking everybody to be kind and help. We had live entertainment from comedians such as the Goodies and pre-recorded films from Africa, but lots of comedians discovered it was very difficult to do live comedy with an audience that has just watched somebody die. I went to Ethiopia for one section where we filmed a row of Ethiopian men in their tribal gowns. The camera panned along them and the voice-over said, 'Please give us some money; poverty can affect somebody you might know.’ The last person on the row was me, dressed in the same tribal gown. For the first time it wasn’t just an image of a starving child with a big belly and flies crawling all over their face – it was somebody that the audience knew. 

"There is a lot of fear bound up in comedy – 'How will I be funny? Am I going to be the funniest?’ – but since we were all aiming at the same target there was a bullish vibe. Everything went wrong, of course – the autocue stopped, someone tried to do some magic and it didn’t work, Frankie Howerd came on and wouldn’t stop talking – but people were really moved by the films. I thought that if I made people laugh, and donate, then maybe the kids I visited in the Kibera slum in Kenya wouldn’t have to live in a room with a sewer running down the middle of it. We raised £15 million that night, which was a big deal."

11 March 2013

Roland Rat - 30 Years - 1983-2013

Time to celebrate a very special birthday! Roland Rat was born in the sewer under King's Cross Station on 12 March, and made his TV debut on 1 April 1983. He freely admits to being a licensed character, and boasts that because of this he still looks the same as he did in the 1980s. Wish I did!

Makes me feel a tad old to realise it, but 1983 is now thirty years ago. It was a year like no other. In fact all '80s years were unlike no other. But 1983 is a truly stand-out twelve months. Why? Hip Hop bringing along a wave of new-fangled break dancing to the '80s party? The world's first hand-held cell phone, the Motorola 8000x, being unveiled in America? Shergar vanishing? Bonnie Tyler giving us Total Eclipse Of The Heart? Breakfast TV starting? New Order being brilliantly innovative with Blue Monday?

It can be said that all those things were important, but they pale into insignificance beside the arrival of a fabulous new superstar.


The posey young decade had already introduced us to many new stars by 1983: Depeche Mode and Eurythmics had both formed in 1980; Boy George had made his chart debut in 1982, and, as one of my aunties said, didn't seem to know whether he was Arthur or Martha; U2 had finished tuning up and were belting out some fabby rock tunes by 1983; the New Romantics had arrived in 1980 ("To cut a long story short, I lost my mind..."); Madness were in their golden era; Simple Minds had changed direction with their New Gold Dream and were really making the '80s grade; Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five had knocked our socks off with The Message; a Flock Of Seagulls had given great synth pop and hair inspiration; the Human League and Duran Duran had both formed their classic line-ups in 1980... but the decade still lacked a style icon. A superstar. Somebody who would lead the way.

Then HE came along, the one, the only Roland Rat, rescuing the ailing breakfast TV station TV-am in one fell swoop, and lighting up goggle boxes across the land...

Number 1 Ratfan Kevin the gerbil came scurrying down from Leeds to join his hero at the very beginning of Roland's fame in 1983, and has been there ever since. Kev loves the colour pink and is pictured here in a very 1980s pink and grey sporty outfit. He adores pink buckets, and hoards them obsessively. He was thrilled to dress up as Julie Andrews for a production of "The Sound Of Music".

Roland was the '80s celebrity to top all '80s celebrities - charismatic, justifiably egotistical, brash and gobby, er, I mean highly honest, he, like Elvis, had a hairy chest, and his presence on any TV show was likely to produce an hysterical response from viewers.

The increasingly sophisticated 1980s scene was no problem for Roland. As he rapped in Rat Rapping, "la de dah, la de dee". He took it all in his stride - truly a superstar par excellence. He said.

Roland also introduced us to his pals - including his No 1 fan, pink bucket-loving Kevin the gerbil.

He delighted '80s children (and some discerning souls like me who were slightly older!) with his TV-am and BBC shows - including Rat On The Road and Roland Rat - The Series.

 An all-rounder, Roland turned his hand to TV and music. Remember "Rat Rapping"? Remember "Love Me Tender"? Remember Kevin the gerbil's version of "Summer Holiday"? Mmmmm... glory days, when music really WAS music! This is a publicity poster for Roland's 1980s classic "Cassette Of The Album". In the pic are Roland, Kevin,  Roland's little brother, Reggie, and Errol the hamster. No sign of Glenis the adorable guinea pig. I'll have to find some pics of her to up-load!

Roland loved his rat fans. As he said, they recognised his talent and the void he filled in their lives, and he respected them for that. He still does.

And, also respecting his fans' desire to buy Roland-related merchandising, he quickly launched Roland Rat Enterprises, unleashing a tidal wave of cuddly toys, jigsaws, spaghetti shapes and other goodies, all snapped up by the adoring millions.

From his humble TV beginnings in "The Spectacular ShedVision Show", broadcast from a shed on the roof of the TV-am building in 1983, Roland quickly scaled the heights of superstardom.  Here he is with Kevin on the cover of "Look-In", the junior TV Times, embarking on a new series of "Rat On The Road". This was, in Roland's own words, a "rodent travelogue" and featured Roland and Kevin visiting various cities around the UK. The old  Ford Anglia car they travelled in, dubbed the Ratmobile,  cost £85 and Kevin chose the bright pink colour scheme. Roland thought it was rubbish.

And what has become of the mighty rodent since the 1980s? Well, there's been no descending into a decrepit old age for Roland. These days, he spends much of his time in the USA, and he and his friends all have their own Facebook pages (where we recently learned, via Kevin the gerbil, that Errol the hamster had returned some leeks to the supermarket  as they were "substandard"). 

This year, Roland made a triumphant return to England and breakfast TV.

Roland's comments and observations in more recent years have, as always, been priceless nuggets of wisdom. He told Anne Robinson, horrid person of The Weakest Link, that, being a licensed character, he still looked the same as he did in the 1980s - which was more than she did! And, after all the naff (and often highly inaccurate) TV nostalgia shows in the BBC's I Love... vein, Roland appeared on Trisha and commented that people were just desperate to feel nostalgic about "any old rubbish".

As Roland himself might say, he's a true geni-arse. 

And we love him.

See our first Roland Rat feature here.

04 March 2013

More About The Weetabix ("OK?!")

Time warpin' back to 1982... Remember Dunk, Crunch, Bixie, Brian and Brains?

"OK?!" squawks Brian, whilst Dunk glowers...

Brains and Bixie are horrified by a "titchy" breakfast...

One of the fondest remembered TV ad campaigns of the 1980s has to be the Weetabix bovver... er... bix, railing against "tichy" breakfasts and telling us in no uncertain terms that you make it "neet wheat, mate!" Well, if you know what's good for you, you do...

These memorable characters, created by Trevor Beattie (now also known for fcuck, amongst other things), stomped into our lives via the "goggle box" (telly!) in March 1982, and the ads then swept through the rest of the 1980s, finally ceasing in November 1989.

I became aware of them when my little sister became a fan. When she was ill in 1984, I wrote to the "Weetabix gang" at Weetabix HQ for her, and the company sent her a huge package of Weetabix gang posters, felt tips, pictures to colour and other goodies - all free, gratis and for nothing.

It was a much appreciated act of kindness on the part of the company - my sister was quite seriously unwell at the time, and anything that brought a smile to her face was very welcome indeed.

And soon little sis was happily enrolled in the Weetabix Club!

"Computers are OK once you show them who's BOSS!" I never thought that computers would be a part of my life back in the 1980s - although the home computer era was beginning, I preferred Stella Artois and plenty of Nite Spots.

The ad on the right reflects the roller disco fad of the 1980s...

Crocodile Dunkdee... love it! And Choose Your Own Adventure books - popular with many 1980s children. Notice the kids fleeing from the dragon in the illustration are riding BMX bikes!

A word about the WeetOlympix stickers on the right... these have a copyright year of 1984, but this does not refer to the actual year of the stickers themselves - or perhaps they were issued twice! I have reason to remember that they were issued in the run-up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics simply because me and a group of friends, sharing a flat from 1987-1988, collected the stickers and stuck them to the inside of the food cupboard door. We had terrible trouble completing the collection - Bixie was simply not to be found for ages!

Two of the WeetOlympix stickers - Brains Throwing A Mile and Dunk Clearing The Stadium Wall.

More fun and games...

"Are you Robin Hood?" "No, I'm Robbin' your Breakfast!" Brilliant! And energy for BMX riding comes from a WBX start!

Many thanks to Peter Gray's Cartoons And Comics blog for providing the comic ads!