21 July 2014

30 Years Of The Mobile Phone

Nice brick, mateyboots! The DynaTAC 8000x - the very first hand-held cell phone on the market. The year? 1984!

Crikey! Go back thirty-one years to 1983 and you couldn't have owned a cell phone - and had probably never even dreamt of such a thing! Weird, eh?

Motorola unveiled the first hand-held cell phone, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x in '83, but it wasn't commercially available until 13 March 1984! And it was a brick. Cellular technology had taken decades of research, Motorola had been involved since 1968, but it wasn't until 1973 that a test call was made on an even larger prototype phone (nicknamed "the boot"!). The "boot" was not designed for marketing.

"The first [phones] we made were a research product," recalls Rudy Krollop, Motorola designer. "The [first prototype] DynaTAC wasn't designed to be manufactured and mass produced. Plus, the FCC was giving us all kinds of problems, so to design something we could manufacture sucked up 10 years. We were very busy."

Several prototypes were made between 1973 and 1983 and then... bingo! Of course, here in England, you couldn't have got involved in the fun of wielding a brick until 1985 - the first UK cellphone call was made on 1st January that year - by comedian Ernie Wise.

Mr Yuppie proudly wields his brick in 1985.

Expensive, hefty things ("yuppie toys"!) and horribly analogue, they were still the start of a revolution. Of course, analogue was rather naff when it came to reception at times, but fear not - the 1980s had things in hand. The GSM system we currently use had been in development since 1982, and received approval in 1987. It was implemented in the 1990s.

Love 'em or hate 'em? I'm not that mad on 'em myself, although they DO have their uses.

But sometimes I wish it was 1983.

Rucked-up shoulder pads and a lovely mobile - all the rage for the yuppie set of the mid-to-late 1980s.

06 July 2014

1982: Coronation Street Demolished!

Much changed in the 1980s. Contemplating the decade on New Year's Eve 1989, I found it hard to visualise the way life had been in 1980. But Coronation Street demolished?! Surely even the 1980s wouldn't have gone that far?!!!

Well, they certainly did, folks, in 1982 - the year of the Falklands War, deelyboppers, a strange man sitting on the Queen's bed, and the first appearance of body popping on Top Of The Pops. In the photograph above we see the Rovers Return, then home to Annie Walker, and Number 1, then home to Albert Tatlock and the Barlow family, coming down.

Mrs Walker would of course have flared her nostrils at the spectacle and probably developed a migraine. Mr Tatlock, no doubt, would have resorted to a good old grumble (no diversion from the norm there then), but what was happening? WHY was the Street being demolished? Well, if you launch a search of this blog you'll find the answer - complete with some newspaper coverage from the time!

In the meantime, we'd just like to say: "Eee, Mrs Walker, this beer's a bit dusty, ent it?"

Howard and Hilda talk '80s

Howard and Hilda Hughes in the 1980s.

We asked Howard and Hilda Hughes, two of the stars of that searing 1980s suburban life documentary series Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-1989) what they thought of the decade...

Hilda: "Well, I was in the Wrens back then (giggles). I think I quite liked Lonnie Donegan."

'80s Actual: "That was the 1950s, actually."

Howard: "Oh dear, Hilda (laughs), you got it a bit wrong there old girl!"

Hilda: "Yes, I did, Howard!" Laughs as well. "The 1980s... we decorated the Polly Wally Doodle room I seem to recall..."

Howard: "Yes, we did, Hilda. A lovely shade of pastel pink."

Hilda: "Yes! Oh, that was lovely, Howard. And we had all that trouble with the buddleia ."

Howard: "That's right, dear. It got a bit out of control, didn't it?" (Laughs)

Hilda: "It did, Howard!" (laughs too.) "Wasn't that when we made our basketwork Neddy?"

Howard: "It was Hilda. I think we should try working in basket again."

Hilda: "Yes, it was fun, wasn't it?"

'80s Actual: "That's all very interesting. But what did you think about the popular culture of the 1980s?"

Hilda: "The Shipping Forecast was very good back then."

Howard: "It was, Hilda."

Hilda: "And the rosehip syrup. I don't think it tastes the same these days."

'80s Actual: "Did you participate in the fashions of the decade? Deelyboppers? Power dressing? Shell suits?"

Hilda: "Well, I made some lovely jumpers and cardigans. Quite a lot of them were matching - Howard and I like to be matching sometimes, don't we, Howard?"

Howard: "We do, dear."

Hilda: "And I like knitwear - it keeps the draughts out. I've got a back, you see."

'80s Actual: "Er, yes... What about the political scene of the 1980s? What did you think about Reagan and Thatcher? The miners' strike? Clause 28? Perestroika and Glasnost? The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War?"

Hilda: "I never discuss politics. Nasty things. Cause a lot of disagreements. My father was always very strict about that. We never do, do we, Howard?"

Howard: "Do what, dear?"

Hilda: "Discuss politics."

Howard: "No, dear."

'80s Actual: "Oh. What about the sporting scene? Botham and Becker? Lineker and Steve Davis? Zola Budd?"

Hilda: "Well, I remember that little beast at the World Cup. That "hand of God" thing. Was that when you're talking about?"

'80s Actual: "Yes, 1986."

Hilda: "Oh, well, we remember that, don't we Howard?"

Howard: "We do, dear. And I played a lot of cricket of course. And tried my hand at snooker. You could say I was something of a sportsman back then."

Hilda: "Yes! And I knitted the jumpers for the cricket team! We had that lovely wool shop in the high street back then. It's closed now of course. It's one of those coffee places now."

Howard: "Yes, it is."

'80s Actual: "What about pop music back then? Do you remember Adam and the Ants? New Order? Pet Shop Boys? Erasure?"

Howard: "No, I don't think we do, old boy. We liked Sing Something Simple though."

Hilda: "Oh, yes! We used to sing along, didn't we, Howard? Every Sunday afternoon. We always looked forward to that."

Howard: "Yes, we did, dear."

Hilda: "The neighbours must have thought we were a bit of a rowdy house when that was on. We got quite carried away at times!" (giggles).

Howard laughs.

'80s Actual (sighing): "So, is there anything else you remember from the 1980s?"

Hilda: "Well, [lowers her voice] I attacted a poltergiest. I know it was then because I kept a diary. I bought it at WH Smith's - it had a lovely pink pelican on the front cover. Hardback. I bought it because I wanted to see if there was any pattern to the supernatural activity, you see. 1989 it was."

Howard: "I don't think it was really a poltergeist, Hilda."

Hilda (getting slightly indignant): "Then how do you explain my little wooden windmill? Me predicting the Red Devil? What happened at the supermarket?"

Howard: "Don't distress yourself, Hilda. That was a long time ago."

Hilda (calming): "Yes, you're quite right, Howard. And we have a guest. I'm sorry, Howard. I'm sorry, Mr Actual."

'80s Actual: "That's fine. I think I should be going now. Thanks for answering my questions - I'll definitely feature you on the blog."

Hilda: "Would you like a nice cup of tea before you go? Rosehip syrup? A nice muffin with zero cholesterol butter perhaps and some of my homemade jam?"

Howard: "I can really recommend Hilda's cherry."

'80s Actual: "No, no, thanks - I really must go. Thanks again. It's been really..." (leaves quickly). Standing on the garden path at the front of Howard and Hilda's house, our '80s Actual "journalist" hears a voice inside the house drifting out of the open window:

Howard: "Shame we unpicked Neddy's ears, wasn't it?"

Hilda: "That was nervous tension, that was, Howard Hughes."

Howard: "Yes, it was, dear. Still, we could always fetch him down from the attic and re-basket them, couldn't we?"

Hilda (enthusiastically): "Yes, we could, Howard. That would be wonderful. And we could put him in the Polly Wally Doodle Room with the gramophone."

Howard: "And people say retirement can be boring! We've never found that, have we, Hilda?"

Hilda (giggling): "No, we most certainly have not, Howard!"

They laugh together.

Pause. Then:

Hilda: "Howard, is there such a word as 're-basket'?"

'80s Actual hastens away.

02 July 2014

Soap Opera Heroines Of The 1980s - 1: Miss Babs Of Acorn Antiques

The wonderful Miss Babs (Celia Imrie). Answering the phone in the family antiques business seemed to suit her...

Women who endure great hardship (usually foisted on them by men - what a grotty lot we're made out to be!) have always been an essential ingredient of English soap operas. Look at Angie Watts of EastEnders. Boy, did she suffer! And then there was Sheila Grant of Brookside. My gawd! And Jill Chance of Crossroads. Didn't that lass go through it? Of course, my wife says it's all very true to life and that real men are a bunch of louses, just like soap men (although I hope she has a twinkle in her eye when she says it!) but the soap opera heroine to top ALL soap opera heroines has to be Miss Babs, of the '80s spoof soap Acorn Antiques, broadcast as part of the very wonderful Victoria Wood - As Seen On TV series from 1985 to 1987.

What Miss Babs went through really doesn't bear thinking about, but we're going to think about it, just to illustrate our point about how wonderful soap women in the 1980s (forget Alexis Carrington and Angela Channing) were. Whatever life threw at her, Miss Babs carried on. And life threw a lot!

As the serial began, we found Miss Babs working in the family business, Acorn Antiques, on the outskirts of Manchesterford.

The return of her ex-love, Clifford, stunned her. He'd left her by the handbags in a well-known store. His unexpected return drew from her icy contempt: "Bored with Zurich? Or did Zurich get bored with you?" she asked. He declared his love for her, but she told him she'd changed - she had triplets now. Clifford had a startling confession to make - he went bell ringing on Wednesday nights.

Miss Babs's marriage to Mr Kenneth was unhappy. Who was the mysterious Rowena, who phoned from Kuwait? Why was he booking into the Formica Motel with Trixie ("Trixie Trouble they call me!") from the antique packing department? Trixie truly was trouble. She discovered that Miss Babs had booked into the Formica Motel nine months to the day before the triplets were born with Derek, the large, bumbling, handyman from Acorn Antiques. And then Trixie discovered some photographs, in a waterproof bag, tied to the lavatory ballcock, which revealed that she wasn't the only one with a birthmark shaped like a moped. Miss Babs was her mother.

Miss Babs kept her stiff upper lip and adjusted accordingly. Trixie stopped being Trixie Trouble and took holy orders, becoming a nun.

It seemed there HAD been some hanky-panky between Miss Babs and Derek - in one scene their passion seemed set to erupt anew. He told her he always thought of her when he was watching the show jumping or grilling a tomato. So, who WAS the father of the triplets? Or the mother, for that matter. As Miss Babs confided to her faithful char Mrs Overall, she didn't know if they were really hers - she'd only gone into hospital to have her ears pierced.

Kenneth caused further heartache for Miss Babs when he tried to commit suicide, attempting to slash his wrists with an electric razor, but Miss Babs was so used to (her) life's never ending shocks and surprises that she was completely unfazed when he phoned up, not dead at all, and told her to put the triplets in their body warmers - he was taking them to Manchesterford Zoo.

Miss Babs was a kind and considerate employer. When Mrs Overall's husband died and Mrs O asked for time off for the funeral, Miss Babs said, in a voice throbbing with sympathy: "Of course. Just pop back at five for the hoovering." So, it came as a terrible shock when Mrs Overall laced her coffee with poison in an attempt to kill her. Miss Babs bought Mrs O a new blouse, and the old charlady was soon back to her old devoted (in fact positively fawning) self.

Mr Kenneth ran off with a weird religious sect, and Miss Babs failed to get custody of the triplets - although she did get a deep fat fryer and a weekend for two in the Peak District.

Acorn Antiques appeared to have had its day when Miss Babs's wicked Spanish cousin Jerez turned up. He had been masquerading as the postman to intercept letters to Miss Babs about a new motorway which would mean curtains for the business. This did not go ahead (I forget why) but Jerez did turn out to have his uses. With Acorn Antiques facing bankruptcy and about to go up for sale, Jerez asked Miss Babs to marry him, but when Miss Babs said no (her first marriage had been nothing but trauma, from the moment two of the triplets had been born with dangerously straight hair and had to be whisked straight off to the hairdressers's), Jerez turned nasty. He stormed out of the shop, passing Clifford on the way in, who whisked the fat cheque intended to sweeten Miss Babs towards the prospect of marriage from Jerez's jacket pocket.

The show was updated during its run, with a lovely opening sequence of Miss Babs driving to Acorn Antiques and the title displayed on a set of vertical window blinds. Sounds familiar?  

Also like Crossroads in the mid-1980s, Acorn Antiques gained a new leisure centre - with sunbeds.

There was so much more the stately Miss Babs had to face - Miss Berta's marriage to Mr Clifford, for example (Miss Berta was suffering from amnesia at the time), and the death of Miss Berta's father, who got himself shot in Dakar, but was then spotted buying a padded envelope and a TV licence stamp in the local post office. And what about the time Mrs Overall was revealed as being the mother of Miss Berta and Derek the handyman, who were apparently twins? And what about the time Mr Clifford was killed by a faulty plug (never mind, he went nice and stiff and was propped up by the ironing board) and Mrs Overall choked to death on one of her own delicious homemade macaroons? Miss Babs murmured words of comfort to her faithful employee as she lay dying - assuring her that she was going to send the macaroon recipe to the Weekly News

Truly the soap heroine to top all soap heroines - not just of the 1980s, but of all time

Miss Babs, we salute you!

But don't eat any of Mrs Overall's macaroons, will you?