16 December 2020

Merry Christmas!

Here's a Christmas card I received in 1988 - with our old feline pal Garfield offering some excellent seasonal advice. We wish you all the best for Christmas (remember, more is more!) and for 2021 (Hmmm... bizarre times indeed!). 

'80s Actual will be back after a bit of seasonal excess. xxxxx

14 November 2020

Terry And June

It's 1980, series two of "Terry & June", and the Medfords are worried about the household budget. Has the electricity board over charged them by 12p on the latest bill? Or is Terry pressing the wrong buttons on the calculator?

Terry's nephew offers a money saving solution - access to the local cash and carry. But Terry accidently gets carried away...

In the 1960s, some sitcoms were rather gritty.

Think Steptoe & Son.

And socially aware.

Think ranting bigot Alf Garnett in Till Death Us Do Part.

And saucy.

Think On The Buses.

But the suburban sitcom also thrived.

Think Marriage Lines.

In the 1970s, the saucy themes continued.

Think Man About The House.

As did the socially relevant stuff.

Think Mixed Blessings - I couldn't bear it, but it meant well.

Farce came back.

Think of the sublime Fawlty Towers.

But the good old suburban sitcom survived.

Think Rings On Their Fingers and Happy Ever After - both BBC productions.

The last mentioned series starred Terry Scott and June Whitfield as middle class, middle aged English couple Terry and June Fletcher. They had two grown-up daughters (if memory serves me right) and a funny old Aunt Lucy, who had a mynah bird. Aunt Lucy was very dithery and a bit of a pain in the neck to Terry.

After a behind-the-scenes legal wrangle, Happy Ever After ended, to be replaced, in October 1979, by a new series called Terry & June. The principle characters, played of course by Terry Scott and June Whitfield, were now called Terry and June Medford and they were minus Aunt Lucy, the mynah bird and the daughters.

This Terry and June had one married daughter, who turned up occasionally, and they were also sometimes visited by Terry's daft nephew, Alan.

Apart from this, Terry & June was very like Happy Ever After, although the mechanics of the show were somewhat altered by the absence of Aunt Lucy and the mynah bird!

Personally, I missed Aunt Lucy at first, but this new series caught light for me in 1980, after a tentative start in 1979. The playing of Terry Scott and June Whitfield, who had first worked together in the late 1960s, was always superb. The characters complemented each other perfectly: Terry bumptious and silly, June calm and common-sensical, often getting dragged into ridiculous situations entirely against her better judgement.

The Medfords' social circle included Terry's colleague, the oily and lecherous Malcolm, his long suffering wife, Beattie, snobbish neighbours Tarquin and Melinda Spry, and Austin, the local vicar. Terry's boss was played by the inimitable Reginald Marsh - also well known as Dave Smith, the Coronation Street bookie, "Sir" in The Good Life, and Reg Lamont in Crossroads.

Terry & June was attacked for being middle class and irrelevant in the alternative comedy era of the 1980s, this was a decade of radical change in TV comedy, but it was also the decade of choice, and there was something for everyone. There was definitely a place for Terry & June in the TV schedules - the show performed much better in the ratings than anything "alternative".

Still, as a trendy young geezer, whilst I was proud to declare my love of The Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents in 1982, my Terry & June habit was a sinful secret. And yet I would become totally engrossed in each episode, emerging from the experience feeling oddly refreshed. Terry & June was a great break from my woes of the moment - the lightweight suburban mayhem chez Medford was a joy to behold.

I loved the way that trends of the 1980s were sometimes featured in the programme - such as the CB radio craze. CB was legalised here in November 1981, and 1982 saw a brief but intense craze flare up. Terry joined in, of course, and ended up trapped in his car in the back of a lorry...

The then very new fangled satellite TV (pre-1989 Sky launch) cropped up in one story line in 1985, as did the very new and exciting first ever handheld mobile phone - the Motorola Dynatac 8000x in the 1987 episode Mole, and there was, of course, an episode dedicated to the complicated new world of video recorders. Remember, only 5% of UK households had videos in 1980. This was the decade when the vast majority of us got to grips with them. The Medfords were actually quite a trendy and 'up for it' middle aged 1980s couple - although Terry did throw a strop over Trivial Pursuit!

Despite all the alternative comedy, the suburban sitcom was still alive and well in the 1980s - with Terry & June being kept company by No Place Like Home and Fresh Fields.

The Medfords finally bowed out in August 1987, and Terry Scott has since died.

I have recently seen some episodes of Terry & June on DVD and I must say I enjoyed the shows just as much the second time round.

Classic 1980s comedy. Not alternative. Not socially relevant. Just funny. And more true to life. After all, how many people lived in a decrepit flat, with left-over chopped vegetables chatting to each other on the draining board? And how many middle class couples were there out there bearing some resemblance to Terry and June?

07 September 2020

Falcon Crest

Fabulous Jane Wyman donned a grey wig for the Vintage Years - the pilot of Falcon Crest - in 1981, but got rid of it for the series.

It always sounds really snobbish when you name something you like that is mass popular, and the person you are speaking to says: 'Oh, really? I prefer...' - and names something obscure.

But I'm afraid that's genuinely how I am about the big 1980s-era American soaps. Dallas? Nope. Dynasty? Nope. Knots Landing? Nope.

I'm a dedicated Falcon Crest man.

Now, in England, Falcon Crest, or 'Falky' as I fondly nicknamed it, was often broadcast on ITV regional stations in grotty afternoon slots, or at Sunday teatime - sometime naff. But, as a shift worker, I managed to sink a basinful of it and loved it.

I suppose it all began with an idea for a series pilot possibly set in America and France, or a series pilot called The Barclays, about an American urban family moving from New York to small town Kentucky or...

Series creator Earl Hamner jr, who had given us that loving 1930s family The Waltons (Spencer's Mountain with plenty of tears but without the grit), was just finishing work on that series when the idea for a try-out pilot came his way, and it took a lot of thinking out.

Filming of a drama called The Vintage Years took place in the spring of 1981. This was the pilot for what would become Falcon Crest and featured some of the ingredients - including the location, the Spring Mountain Winery in California's Napa Valley, which would be the location for Falcon Crest.

It also featured Jane Wyman as Angela Channing, the leading Mrs Nasty of Falcon Crest, in a grey wig - which Miss Wyman hated!

It was a tale of vineyards and a family divided, very much as the series would be, but it wasn't the finished product by any means.

As it was never screened, I never saw it - but I believe it's now available online.

Changes were made to cast and characters - and Jane Wyman pushed for changes to Angela.

'She's very much a 1981 kind of lady,' she said just before Falky's American debut in December 1981.

My goodness, she was. English TV critic Hilary Kingsley described her in 1988 as 'rotten to the pips', but there was more to Angela than that. Her main problem, as her daughter Emma pointed out, was that she loved the land more than she loved her family. And was prepared to use any trick in the book to keep it.

Angela's role as Queen Bee of the fictional Tuscany Valley took a severe knock when her nephew, Chase Gioberti, arrived in the early 1980s to claim his inheritance. Don't worry. She was up to the fight.

Had Miss Wyman been cast because of her ex-husband, Ronald Reagan's, recent elevation (in November 1980) to US President?  Jane Wyman said she had not. Rumours were later circulated that she had been offered a role in a future Earl Hamner production before the pilot was even in the pre-production planning stages (highly unlikely) and that she had banned mention of Ronald Reagan on the Falcon Crest set!

It all added to the interest - and Jane Wyman was quite capable of holding the viewer's interest long after the fascination of seeing Ronnie's ex-wife had faded.

What really attracted me to the show was its delicious sense of humour.

Hapless greedy and lustful Melissa Agretti telling her 'loving' husband Lance Cumson: 'Your whole family's weird. Your mother murdered my father...' for instance.

The characters actually stood back at times and saw the absurdity of the soapy plots.

It could be very droll - as Melissa said to Angela:

'Don't worry, Angela, I'll still be available for family occasions - weddings, funerals, and, of course, the occasional shooting.'

Ana Alicia was fabulous as 'that fiesty Melissa Agretti' - as Angela once called her.

It had all the prime time soap ingredients, of course, but I also thought it had more atmosphere and depth.

Angela's daughters, Emma and Julia, for instance - driven mad over a period of many years by their oppressive mother - and this madness manifesting itself in quite different ways. 

One of the scenes which cemented the series in my affections was at the end of season one, in 1982. Angela, having been worsted in battle by her nephew Chase, smiled and said: 'He thinks he's won!' The smile was radiant - full of enjoyment at the thought of proving him wrong, and quite bereft of any malice. No JR crocodile grin there. Angela was simply delighted at the thought of future ferocities. And I was entranced.

Falky was enthralling - plane crashes, vicious business cartels, long lost relatives, earthquakes, shootings, fires, Nazis... it had the lot - and more!

Great cast, too. There were rumours of backstage hostilities. When veteran film actress Lana Turner appeared in one season, Jane Wyman reportedly refused to act with her - and some scenes had to be recorded separately. Finally, Miss Wyman was reported to have said that either she remained in the series, or Miss Turner - not both.

Lana Turner's character was killed off in a shooting at the Falcon Crest mansion.

As for the behind the scenes revelations - rumour or truth? The speculation all added to the fun of watching the series - and it was an immensely enjoyable series, made with great skill and gusto.

In 1981, the cast of Falcon Crest appeared to be quite dowdy, but, as the 1980s took wing, power dressing and glitz became the norm. Here's some of the regulars, circa 1987. The man in the middle is Lorenzo Lamas, Angela's grandson, Lance Cumson. He never quite outwitted his 'loving' granny.

I will never forget Jane Wyman as Angela, Margaret Ladd as her delightfully dotty daughter Emma, Abby Dalton as her other daughter - the driven-over-the-edge Julia Cumson, Chao Li Chi as Cha Li - the wise butler at the Falcon Crest mansion, David Selby as Richard Channing - the milk-drinking business mogul, Susan Sullivan as lovely Maggie Gioberti - persecuted in-law of Angela, Robert Foxworth as Chase Gioberti, Maggie's husband and Angela's goodly nephew, and Lorenzo Lamas and Ana Alicia as Lance and Melissa Cumson - wow, that couple had sparks!

Required viewing at the time - and on DVD now. It lifts any free afternoon way out of the mundane.

02 September 2020

Mel and Kim

Fun, love, money and hair. The 1980s loved them all. And the sparkling new hair products, mousse, gel and extensions. Kim recalls that Mel washed her extended hairdo and phoned her with an urgent warning: 'Kim! Don't wash it! It goes like a mattress!'

Mel and Kim Appleby were two young English sisters - cockneys to be precise. They scaled the heights of pop stardom in the late 1980s and we loved them. They were celebrated not just for their talent but for being two English black women (or women of colour or whatever the current politically correct saying is) who'd scaled those heights, but I'd long ago learned that English was not a colour, and I was simply bowled over by their music, dance moves and sparkling sense of fun.

I remember seeing them being interviewed by Andrea Arnold (Dawn of kids' show No 73) and they were so natural, down-to-earth and downright likeable I could have grabbed a mug of tea and joined them for a natter without feeling even remotely star-struck - not like when I met Percy Sugden from Coronation Street and was absolutely gobsmacked.

Mel and Kim made it big as part of the Stock/Aitken/Waterman starburst, although Mel was already a model.

The news that Mel had cancer was stunning. I associated the sisters with fun and dance and wonderful nights out, me splashing on the latest swanky aftershave, dolloping on mousse or hair gel, and my latest Miami Vice inspired finery.

And not tragedy.

The meeting of the two extremes seemed incomprehensible to me at the time. I struggled to get my head round it.

Now I still listen to their music at times, and dance and smile and remember the good times, but not without more than a hint of sadness. 

And I say...

God bless, Mel - and all the best, Kim. Thanks for providing the soundtrack to some lovely times. x

22 June 2020

The 1980s - What Did We Do Before Fact Checkers, The World Wide Web, Wikipedia, etc, etc.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989. When it celebrated 30 years in 2019, I began to take a look at what it had become.

Looking back at the 1980s is to peer into a different world. The computer revolution was beginning, but the World Wide Web wasn't even invented until 1989, and not up and running until the early '90s, so what did we do in place of the things so many modern day 'clever' folk take for granted?


Let's begin...

Wow, Christmas 1982 - and if you were terribly posh and a complete nerd you might have had a Christmas like this. But it's not likely.

Fact Checkers - they check the facts so you don't have to. They back their own viewpoints and often the Establishment, pouring ridicule on anything outside of that. Say anything outside of the narrative? You're a conspiracy theorist - and all right-minded folk must shun you. You're 'far right' and, no doubt, your bum smells. Your accuser's, of course, does not.

In the 1980s: You formed your own opinions. You read various things. You might have been absolutely hidebound in your opinions, but many people were less comfortable, more investigative, more opinionated. In the main, we didn't want people to tell us what to think. We wanted to find out for ourselves. And we didn't just trust governments or organisations like the UN - which is a lot of the problem now. People can read absolutely irrefutable facts, but there seems to be some sort of cognitive dissonance in applying them when 'experts' say something else. The official narrative has to be adhered to.

Rating (in my opinion): 1980s: 10, 21st Century: 0.

Usenet began in 1980 as a tiny concern for university geeks and professors. It can't really be called a forerunner to the Web, but it did have newsgroups which exchanged fascinating information. Read the above. See what I mean? Most of the world was blissfully unaware. We took a look here.

Wikipedia: What an odd idea! Anybody can write anything? But editors are on hand to correct false information? Um, usually only if it fits their own agenda. A lot of Wikipedia is unreadable. The SJWs rule it and it's propaganda writ large. And 1980s = BAD! Very bad! It's rather like a schoolkid's effort at an encyclopedia. 

Now, I know the arguments: 'Oh, yes, but Wikipedia contains links to dependable information!' Does it? Not in a lot of my experiences with the site it doesn't! It cherry-picks and blocks dissenting voices and there is nothing balanced about it when it comes to issues like Feminism at all. In fact, the article on Feminism is like a brain washing lesson in the ideology. And, guess what? Google and the like include a little panel on searches with Wikipedia articles linked! So, many people will be innocently drawn to the site. BONKERS!

Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia at all. And the lame brained-ness of people who use it at all is one of the most worrying early 21st Century online trends - in my opinion.

In the 1980s: People read things in encyclopedias, and read other books. People agreed or disagreed with the authors. People asked questions. People didn't tell other people to 'stand away from their rage totems' if they disliked their discussion of misandry or whatever. People discussed, they argued, they sometimes had a punch-up. But they didn't face a bunch of sheeple bleating at them and blocking them, sheeple fully convinced of their own goodness, and making sure other views don't get a hearing, whilst theirs - often highly flawed and even bigoted - do, and become the narrative.

Rating: 1980s: 10, 21st Century: 0.

I'll return to this theme at some point, 'cos it's dead interesting, don't you think? No? Oh well, we're glad you have your own views on the subject!

See you soon. xxx

06 June 2020

The McVitie's Hobnob Biscuit - 1985 - 2020 - 35th Anniversary

From the McVitie's website - the launch of the mighty Hobnob biscuit in 1985 was quickly followed by others, like the chocolate variety, launched in 1987. Rolled oats and crunch and - YUM!

Just a quick shout-out to one of the very best biscuits of all time - and one, of course, launched in the 1980s - the McVitie's Hobnob. No biscuit since the Jaffa Cake (all right that's a cake, I know!) have ever made such a big splash with me. I loved 'em from the first - dunking 'em wildly in my tea and getting through a whole packet per mug, and I still love 'em to this day.

I particularly liked them for night shifts when I was working at the local psychiatric hospital - they were very fortifying and cheering on my tea break.

The Hobnob was launched in 1985, and the '85 original TV advert contained the slogan 'One Nibble and You're Nobbled'. Beautiful.

Oatey and crunchie and mind-numblingly beautiful when dunked in a cuppa, I can still scoff my way through loads. A true quality product. 

Very like the 1980s themselves, of course (ahem).

Of course, I'm against advertising here, but you must give some products their due.

And if McVitie's would care to slip me some Hobnobs as a thank you, I won't say no.

Just remember, 'More Is More' - as we used to say back in the day!

Read some McVitie's history, including the launch of the Hobnob, here:

07 May 2020

Rubik's Cube, 7 May 1980 - An Important Anniversary...

I'm writing and posting this article on the seventh of May 2020, and it is a very important anniversary. On this day, the 'Rubik's Cube' trademark was registered in the UK back in 1980. Not that we were suddenly flooded with Cubes - no, there was a shortage and that is the reason 1981 was The Year of the Cube rather than 1980, but it's still an important date.

Although they were in very short supply when they started arriving here, just before Christmas 1980, the British Association of Toy Retailers noted the interest shown and declared it 'Toy of the Year'. As the craze raged after we were fully stocked in the spring of 1981, the association named it 'Toy of the Year' for 1981 too!

The Rubik's Cube made it on to the front cover of the Sunday Times Magazine's review of 1981 - and is listed just below the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. A special Cube depicting the union flag and the faces of the Royal couple, was produced to commemorate the occasion in July 1981.

The Cube was such a craze - it made a legend of its creator, Erno Rubik of Hungary, and saturated popular culture from late 1980 to 1982.

From the invention of the Magic Cube prototype in 1974, to a change of name and mass manufacture to Western World safety and packaging specifications in 1980, seems a short leap. Many inventions take much longer to come to prominence. But the world was very different back then. Hungary was very much 'Behind The Iron Curtain' - and the Cube's penetration of that Curtain was very noteworthy indeed - particularly in such a short amount of time. When you consider that the first test batches of the Magic Cube were not even released in Hungary until late 1977, its progress to the West seems even more remarkable.

There had been a small seepage of  Magic Cubes from Hungary to the West, but in minute numbers (there weren't that many to begin with), and without any major backing to provide publicity. The 1980 Rubik's Cube was a remanufactured version of the Magic Cube, lighter and easier to manipulate (allowing for speed-cubing), and with Ideal Toys behind it, trusted purveyor of many previous toys and games, couldn't fail to become a hit.

The remanufactured and renamed Rubik's Cube was a huge success. Perhaps its launch at the start of the new decade helped with that - new decades are eager for new fads - but the Cube was entrancing in its own right. It was aesthetically pleasing, bright primary colours with black edgings, it looked like a child's toy - surely easy to complete? (HUH!) - and it took over many lives.

Daily Mirror, 12 August, 1981: The craze was raging. Cube mania was rampant!

Ours sat on the sofa and we twirled it whilst watching the telly. We couldn't leave it alone!

Now it's as much a part of early 1980s memories as Duran Duran, synth pop, hair gel and the ZX Spectrum.

In fact, it has become an icon of the entire decade.

Happy anniversary, Rubik's Cube! Read all our Cube data by clicking on the 'Rubik's Cube' label below.

07 April 2020

Some 1980s Vibes: When Corona Was Fizzy Drinks, Frankie Wanted To Arm The Unemployed And West End Girls Prowled...

'West End Girl' - a 1987 poster by Athena. The spiky-haired foxtress has obviously been surprised on the fire escape. Wonder what she's been up to? Eurythmics's Annie Lennox, in the guise of her horrid middle class housewife in the 1987 'Beethoven (I love to listen to)' video, would no doubt, have been fascinated!

So, the 1980s.

BOOM! BANG! KER-BLAM! Love Thatcher/Reagan? Hate Thatcher/Reagan? Wanna be a yuppie? Wanna join Red Wedge and tear down the whole capitalist system? Wanna eat Nouvelle Cuisine? Wanna eat bubble and squeak portions from Bejam? Love the brand new House Music sensation? Prefer the brand new indie sensation that was The Smiths? Love to power dress? Love to wear deelyboppers and jelly shoes?

The 1980s seemed full to bursting with contrasting thingies. And now it all looks like a different planet. How things have changed! Take Covid-19. Back in the 1980s if you mentioned 'Corona' in England and Wales, a range of fizzy drinks immediately sprang to the forefront of most minds - not lockdowns and social distancing.

This Corona bottle dates from 1982, as indicated by the date on the promotional blurb on the back of the label. The label features the little bubbly thingie from the early 1980s 'Every bubble's passed its fizzical' TV ad, which was then current.

Environmentally friendly? 'Course we were - 10p deposit charged on the bottle. My favourite Corona drinks were orangeade and cherryade. Every Christmas we used to order a crate of assorted Corona drinks from the milkman.

Daily Mirror, 27 February, 1985:

Frankie goes to Downing Street
Leading pop stars have signed a "celebrity petition" to be handed in at 10 Downing Street tomorrow. It opposes Government plans to axe supplementary benefit for school leavers if they do not take part in the Youth Training Scheme. Holly Johnson and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Paul Weller, Madness, Smiley Culture, the Flying Pickets and Alison Moyet are among the entertainers whose names will be handed in. The Downing Street visit is part of a national rally and lobby of Parliament organised by the Youth Trade Union Rights Campaign.

The Youth Opportunities scheme had been introduced by the Callaghan Labour Government in 1978, in response to rapidly rising youth unemployment. A YOP provided work experience only, although in 1982 a training element was added. In 1983, it was replaced by the Youth Training Scheme (YTS), which, as the scheme's name suggests, was centred around training for skills.

So, what was the beef with school leavers having to go on a YTS scheme to qualify for Government money? Did they not want training? Well, looking back, the reasons I heard bandied about were that the Government was simply using the scheme to make the unemployment figures look smaller, and that minimum age school leavers had a right to expect a proper job.

This interested me as, as far back as the mid-1970s, the fact that graduates with degrees were finding it impossible to find work was being widely reported.

But in the 1980s, any initiative on the part of the Thatcher Governments was seen by many of us as a plot to do us down. Her first government's concentration on inflation rather than unemployment early in the decade had cast her out forever as far as I was concerned.

And, although I had a job and was completely unaffected, I still ranted my disapproval.

Maggie Thatcher would probably have dearly loved to give Frankie a spanky in the mid-1980s.

18 February 2020

The '80s Archers Part Two: The Creation Of Lynda Snell

The 1980s saw Ambridge bidding farewell to several legendary old favourites - Doris Archer (1980), Aunt Laura (1985), Dan Archer (1986) and Walter Gabriel (1988) - but the decade saw the arrival of some new favourites, one of these being a certain Mrs Lynda Snell. Snobby Lynda was, at first sight (or rather on first hearing!) frankly quite unbearable - she would interfere! - but over the years moments of kindness and sensitivity and the enjoyability of her being a character we could at times love to hate, saw us listeners taking Lynda to our hearts.

Actress Carole Boyd was no stranger to BBC radio soap, having been in the Radio 2 saga Waggoners' Walk, as miserable Shirley Edwards, wife of the fiery Cliff. But Lynda was absolutely nothing like Shirley (she was rather common, old Shirl!) and I was very impressed at Miss Boyd's acting skills in playing two such widely differing characters so convincingly.

Interviewed a few years ago by the BBC, Miss Boyd revealed the origins of Mrs Snell...

'It was back in the mid-'80s, 1986, and the producer then was Liz Rigbey... she was new to the programme and she wanted, I think, to reflect the mid-'80s, the time of yuppies going off into the country and teaching people - TRYING to teach people - how to run their lives, etc. So, she invented this couple called the Snells and not a lot was known about them. I mean, we all auditioned, there was myself and probably about a dozen other actresses and the letter that came to say "This is what we want to do, this is the sort of people they are," was very uninformative really. It just said in the letter Robert is a thrusting computer whizz kid and Lynda's probably a doormat. And I thought, hmm, I don't want to be a doormat! But at the same time, of course, everyone was watching the television soaps, so we were all watching Dallas and Dynasty and Neighbours, I think, had come in, so suddenly there was a frenzy in the nation for more and more soap operas and I think people suddenly realised that we had our own home-grown one ticking away for years-  and the publicity that went with that - suddenly the interest rocketed as a spin-off from the television interest. 

'So I went into the audition thinking "I'm going to make her unpleasant" and the audition scene was between Eddie Grundy and this woman, unknown at the time, who pops up from behind a hedge to see Eddie doing something disgusting to a small furry creature, you know, disembowelling, something really countryish, and is horrified and takes him to task. And so I did it like that, bearing in mind that there was JR, who everyone loved to hate, and there was Alexis Carrington in Dynasty, who everyone loved to hate, and I thought "that's what we need in Ambridge", and they said, "Oh, you've made her unpleasant," and I said "Yes," and they said, "Oh, we quite like that," so that's how it happened. 

'And then her voice. Well obviously it's radio so there were no shoulder pads or big hair to reflect the period so I thought "Well, I'm going to make her really obnoxious-sounding and irritating," and I just feel that you only have to hear her voice and you just want to run a mile which is rather nice for the character.' 

And WHAT a character! Lynda Snell - Ambridge legend!