30 April 2018

Mr Dog - Specially Prepared Because Some Dogs Are Called Cesar...

Anybody remember Mr Dog dog food? Well, if you remember the 1980s you probably do. The dear little tins were packed full of goodness your doggy couldn't get from fresh meat alone, and specially made to care for a small dog's needs. At first. Then Mr Dog was specially made because some dogs are special. Then out went Mr Dog in 1989 and it was suddenly made because some dogs are called Cesar. Apparently.

omedian Eddie Izzard posed the question 'why did Mr Dog change its name?' in recent years. Well, while the scenario he painted of a late night meeting at Mr Dog HQ with bonkers late night thought processes running rampant was quite amusing, the real reason was simply to bring it into line with its European brand name.

Anyway, for our screen caps we've picked some lovely pics from an early Mr Dog ad - from 1982 - and two later ads from 1985 and 1987.

Aw, cute, eh?

A new decade on the way and a new canine treat! 

And the first thing any self respecting seller must do is flog the goods to the punter. Pedigree Pet foods, purveyor of our canine culinary delight, knew this full well. The twee, posh dog nosh hit the supermarket shelves in 1978, and the first two Mr Dog TV ads on the BFI site date from 1980. They were 'King Charles Spaniel' and 'Poodle'. More ads then spanned the rest of the decade. 

A few years in, the ads gained a very twee... er... cute jingle, which is now etched on my brain.

Mr Dog was famous. Even if you didn't own a dog, you couldn't fail to be aware of the ads.

For myself and certain people I knew Mr Dog also achieved a certain sinister significance as the 1980s progressed.

I recall a friend's mother having a nervous breakdown in the mid-1980s. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she briefly believed that Mr Dog was spying on her and listening to every word she said.


My mate was visiting her at the hospital. Sitting in the day-room, he noticed she seemed a bit brighter, was talking far more logically, and he was feeling very relieved. They were chatting away ten-to-the-dozen, when suddenly she leaned forward:

'Ssh! He'll hear you!'

'Who'll hear me, Mum?' asked my mate.

'Mr Dog!' said mate's Mum.

Spied on by dog food? Or was there more to it? Just who was Mr Dog? I was twenty years old, with an over-active imagination, and although I appreciated the gravity of my friend's Mum's illness, on the quiet my thoughts conjured up visions of a sinister cigar smoking poodle, surrounded by yappy henchdogs. My fantasy poodle was the mutt who might be behind the Mr Dog empire, Mr Dog himself in fact, a mutt of immense power.

Don't mess with Mr Dog...

My friend's Mum made a full recovery and could only say afterwards that the Mr Dog delusion came about simply because she'd seen too many of the ads.

Advertising is a mighty powerful tool - sometimes with very unforeseen results...

Cute little tins, weren't they?

On to 1985 and yappie yuppie Mr Dog is having beef for din-dins.

And he loves you for it because it's so expensive and 'special'. Mercenary little git.

Mr Dog was, of course, mentioned in Domesday. No, not the 1086 version, but the 1986 BBC 'snapshot' of the UK - the BBC's very first digital project.

Eleven-year-old Joanna Hall had this to say:

My family and I own 2 cats and one dog. Our dog is a female, black and white Jack Russell terrior called Tinker. She is 13 years old, two years younger than my sister, Becky. 

Tinker gets fed "Mr. Dog" dog food at the time when I have my tea (6pm). She has a plentiful supply of water. 

I take her on walks as often as I can. I like taking her down the lane to Brompton on her lead, but she prefers going down the field behind our house. 

Tinker understands most commands, like "stay", "walkies" and sometimes "sit!" She usually sleeps on a chair in the kitchen. She is a lovable dog and doesn't bite. She is rarely naughty except when she eats the cats' food. 

The two cats are twins and can be told apart by their different coloured noses: one is black, the other pink.

Mr Dog wakes up from a nice snooze in 1987...

... and gets stuck in...

... and with Mr Dog then available in a new larger size, he could indulge in a little conspicuous consumption. Just watch out for your carpets and soft furnishings afterwards.

1989 - FAREWELL, MR DOG! BLUB!!! A transition ad. Even with fabulous Johnny Morris of 'Animal Magic' fame to do the voice-over, it was still a tremendous blow.

26 April 2018

Home Decor In The 1980s And Who painted Puss?

Back in the 1980s a change began to sweep over working class homes. Before that decade, we poor types had been happy to mix-and-match our furnishings and décor. There would be that old couch passed down by Aunt Lil - probably dating back to the 1950s (the springs were going but it still served), Great Nana's flying swallows from the 1940s, that nice bit of carpet Mr Sims had chucked out (quite new as well!), some out-of-date but still serviceable bright yellow 1960s curtains, Great Aunt Gemma's religious text - dating back to a 1920s seed catalogue, some garish modern wallpaper - dreamt up in a nightmare by some late 1960s hippie, and so on. It clashed. But we didn't see our rooms as a whole.

We loved Great Nana's swallows and they may not have gone with the modern smoked glass-topped coffee table (a Christmas present from Auntie Lizzie, who'd only had it three years) but then neither went with cousin Sue's cushion covers. In fact, nothing went with cousin Sue's cushion covers. Still, we didn't care. Our rooms often contained a 1950s or 1960s print on the wall too - sad eyed kiddies and clowns and so on by the likes of Barry Leighton Jones or Audrey Dallas Simpson. These were usually board prints with cheap plastic frames.

Stylistically, the rooms were often very discordant - but we didn't think like that.

Things were displayed or used because they were of sentimental value or because we thought they were 'real nice' or  because we couldn't afford new and somebody we knew was chucking something out that wasn't totally knackered. If only just.

But then came the 1980s.

The mid-1980s presented the working classes with a credit boom and LIFESTYLE choices. What sort of clothes best portrayed who YOU were? Were YOU trendy? Futuristic? Power dressing? Casual? Classic? What did your home say about YOU? Should your home be futuristic? Rustic? Trendy? Townie? Minimalist? Industrial?

And so out went out the strange assortment of furnishings we'd assembled over the previous decades and in came our very own distinctive 'look'. Yes, this was about YOU and who YOU were and about making a statement to the world about YOU.

The transition was slow and wasn't always in the best possible taste, particularly at first, but by the end of the 1980s my very working class family's homes were definitely becoming less of a hotchpotch and more black ash and vertical blinds (or country cottage or whatever) than they had been before.

1985, Argos catalogue... Graffiti your furniture... make it really YOU!

A study area? Darling, how could we do without one?

Index catalogue, only now it's 1989. OOOH!

I was an '80s trendy person and when, in 1987, I moved into a shared flat, I was eager to furnish the communal areas with my flatmate. I went to a nice posh shop and bought a nice posh (and very 1980s) clock for the kitchen and was stunned when my flatmate went out to a jumble sale at the local United Reformed Church and bought back the kitten picture pictured at the top of this post. She'd paid 10p.

My beautiful 1987 wall clock! Isn't it great? And still keeps perfect time!

Now, my flatmate seemed quite posh to me. Her parents had started buying their council house in the late 1960s (you could where I lived) when she was a tiny tot and she affected an air of languid middle classness. So, what the hell was she doing? Here was me, fresh off a council sink estate, living in the throes of the latter years of the Style Decade and very 'with it', and here she was, from a home owning family, doing a 'dead common' pick-n-mix job on our flat like it was 1983 or something.

My flatmate - I'll call her Sharon - hadn't bought the print because it was 1960s and she had enthusiasm for that era. Those sort of prints still adorned many a fogey relative's living room wall back in the 1980s and hadn't any appeal as retro pieces to trendy young people.

No, Sharon had bought it because she thought the kitten was 'sweet'.

The picture was one of those Audrey Dallas Simpson style things, delicately stained with nicotine, and the kitten portrayed looked as miserable as sin. And there was no way I wanted it rubbing shoulders with my dead posh modern clock in the kitchen/living room of the flat.

I thought quickly. I didn't want to offend Sharon by calling out her lousy taste, so I said: 'What a great picture! It will go great with the green wallpaper in the hall!' And so there it was hung.

And it stared. Miserably. Each day, its eyes clocking me out of the flat as I left for work and back in as I came home. Finally, when we left the flat, Sharon gave me the picture. I didn't want to offend, so cooed delightedly over it, and hung it in my new hall so that Sharon would see it when she visited.

The picture still has its original 1987 10p jumble sale price ticket on the back.

And so it continued to clock me out as I left my new house each day - and back in again. As at the flat, I found those solemn eyes meeting mine each time I left or entered.

In recent years, the picture has become increasingly shabby and faded. I took it down. And then began to feel a profound sense of unease each day as I left the house or entered.

Could it possibly be the lack of those solemn eyes, clocking me in and out?

After thirty years, had I become addicted to them?

The sense of something lacking continued and in the end I scanned and brightened the picture and put a copy up in the hall.

The eyes were back.

And so was my sense of wellbeing.

Kitty had entered the second of its nine lives.

The original board print with plastic frame originated from the 1960s, and lately I've wondered who painted it? It looks very Dallas Simpson to me, but does anybody know?

I call it the '51c Cat', because that was the number of our old flat.

Funnily enough, in my middle age, I've started mixing-n-matching again.

The 51c Cat happily resides in the same hallway as my 1980s wall clock...

And both go so well with my pink woodchip oh-so-1980s hall wallpaper...

Not to mention my Adam Ant mirror...

Back to 1987, and Sharon had really liked my ultra modern 1980s kitchen clock. So she went out and bought a chopping board with a 'country kitchen' design to display on the worktop - a past times greengrocer's shop complete with old money price tags and old style woman and boy. There was nothing wrong with the design. I quite liked it. But it clashed liked nobody's business with the clock. Despite Sharon's parents buying their council house and her refusal to drop her aitches, the woman was dead common. She had no sense of style and interior design coordination at all.

I despaired. 

And gave it all up as a hopeless job. Especially when another flatmate arrived and immediately made her contribution to the décor. She  blue-tacked a yucky brown and cream horse's head tea towel to the pantry door.

Sharon's chopping board. Of course, this was the 1980s, so it was being flogged as a 'very collectable chopping board' (sigh).

24 April 2018

Blind Date - Straight Talking, Non-PC - Beautiful '80s TV!

You know, nowadays we're scared of opening our mouths in case the words we're about to use aren't politically correct. You see, political correctness has become a very strange thing indeed since we first stumbled upon it circa 1987 - when it seemed somewhat droll.

I've never thought that over-analysing words is a good idea, because it doesn't really make people good or bad or indifferent. So easy to play the PC game while secretly being a nasty bit of work. In fact, being PC seems right priggish to us, love, and when it comes to earnest young girls or guys lecturing their grandparents and telling them not to use a particular word because it's not 'PC', we shudder to think what our grandparents would have thought if we'd tried it. And dread to think of what they'd have done even more. A good clump round the ear 'ole would have been the least of it.
So it's nice to watch good basic entertainment from the 1980s with clear communication.

We've been back in 1986, having a lorra lorra laffs with our Cilla and the Blind Date contestants. Remember Blind Date, which brightened up our early Saturday evenings before we went out to get... er... slightly inebriated?

It was a laff partly because a lot of the contestants had absolutely no fashion sense. Look at the three gents below. I mean, what do No 1 and No 3 look like? Number 1 looks all set to go out and trim his hedge and No 3 looks set for a naff day's junior clerking in the back office of Cloggins and Co, Boiler Specialists.

Only Contestant No 2 shows any sense of style and occasion. The shoulder pads. The bouffant mullet. The lovely shirt. The colourful shoes. The pushed up jacket sleeves.

The young lady's question for this gent was: ' 'ow would you react if I smashed your car on the first day you 'ad it?'

And the gent's reply?

'I'd kill yer.'

A simple, direct reply, and very amusing in the viewing and hearing.

The 21st Century equivalent (if the guy didn't want to leave himself open to ridiculous accusations of misogyny or anger management problems) would probably be 'I wouldn't be happy at all!'

Our verbalisations have become so deodorised it's hard to have a giggle any more. 

19 April 2018

Did Margaret Thatcher Influence The Shoulder Pads Trend? Er, No, Actually...

Phil writes to say:

I've been reading on line that Margaret Thatcher, UK Prime Minister from May 1979 to November 1990, influenced the trend for huge shoulder pads. Did she? Was she the original power dresser?

No, Phil. Piffle and bunk on-line we're afraid.

Power dressing was a trend Margaret Thatcher followed in the 1980s, but did not help to create. The jacket she wore after her first general election win in May 1979 illustrates this. It is simply a neatly tailored blue jacket, with totally non-excessive shoulders. It was a boring garment in 1979 - and would even have been boring in 1969. As the 1980s wore on, Thatcher simply adopted the fashion of that time. Compare her neatly tailored and somewhat timeless look of 1979 (top) and her whopper shoulders of 1987 (bottom) for details.

Cynthia Crawford, Thatcher's personal assistant who was responsible for seeing she was smartly dressed and groomed, stated in 2013:

'In 1987 she was going to Russia for the first time and I had seen a wonderful coat in Aquascutum's window and I went to get it. A lot of her clothes up until that time had been homemade by a lady. She made all those dresses and blouses with bows and things. Mrs Thatcher went to Russia and she looked absolutely fabulous. I said to her: "If you are going to fight an election in June, why don't we ask Aquascutum to make you up some working suits." She agreed, so we ordered these suits. It was when the power shoulders were in and it just revolutionised her. She looked fantastic. She enjoyed all the new outfits and got away from the dresses. She never wears trousers, not even today. She always likes formal clothes, even at home. She hasn't got a lot of casual clothes.'

Thatcher was a follower, not an innovator, as far as fashion was concerned. I don't recall anybody wanting to look like her. The handbag, for a start, was so naff!

03 April 2018

"Plain Jane Superbrain" - Annie Jones Returns To Neighbours...

Annie Jones as Jane Harris in an Australian 1989 preview of an upcoming Neighbours episode. Wow! Those shoulder pads!

We don't have a TV service. Having decided that the BBC wasn't worth the licence fee years ago and that we resented being forced to pay for it, we gave up the telly. Well, not exactly. We watch DVDs. Seldom do we feel the need to venture beyond the early 1990s with our choice of viewing though.

As Big Brother and Beavis and Butthead came in, we went out.

Not that we're snobs. No, lovey, not us. We just thought that '90s TV grew more and more boring. Our TV tastes were wide and varied in the 1980s. Film on 4? Yum! The Beiderbecke Trilogy? Oh yes! Edge of Darkness? Ooh!

But we liked the soapy side too - we watched Crossroads to the end. And something else we enjoyed greatly was Neighbours, the Australian soap featuring Des, Daphne, Mrs Mangel, Scott and Charlene, Mike Young, Harold Bishop, Madge Ramsay, and 'Plain Jane Superbrain' - AKA Jane Harris, granddaughter of Mrs M.

Jane could easily have been a makeweight character - she had the old chestnut storyline of the ugly duckling becoming a swan bestowed on her - but Annie Jones invested Jane with a likeable warmth and sincerity. And we took the character to our hearts. She wasn't feisty and fascinating like Charlene. She was simply a nice young woman. But it was niceness without being boring.

Of course, Jane suffered heartache. Her on-off relationship with Mike Young was doomed, and a brief romance with an older man was even shorter. Then Jane fell for widower Des Clarke. And that wasn't to be either.

Finally, in 1989, Jane left for England, where newly-married Mrs Mangel had gone to live. Mrs M was ill. Jane went to be with her.

Intriguingly, Annie Jones suggested some of the storyline ideas for Jane's return to the Neighbours production team.

Jane, gifted academically and a sought after fashion model for a time, has spent the last twenty-nine years looking after Mrs Mangel. And some of Nan's ways have rubbed off on her.

We saw some Neighbours last year while on holiday in Cromer and were delighted to see Mrs Mangel's portrait, painted by Helen Daniels in 1987, featured in the plot.

Caused a lot of trouble did that portrait.

We wonder if its re-emergence could have something to do with Jane's return to Erinsborough? After all, Mrs Mangel would hardly be pleased to have discovered it was now on display at Lassiter's...

Whatever the reason for Jane's Ramsay Street comeback, our best wishes to Annie Jones. The goings-on in mid-to-late 1980s Erinsborough gave us much viewing pleasure, and Jane Harris was an essential part of the Neighbours brew. Our feelings towards the character are wrapped in great swathes of warmth and nostalgia.

We'll definitely be popping round to OUR neighbours' to see Annie's return episode.