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27.10.09

Keith Chegwin And Maggie Philbin

As health workers pelted Mrs Thatcher's car with eggs, Keith Chegwin ("Cheggers") and Maggie Philbin, the Posh and Becks of 1982, prepared for their wedding...

From the Daily Mirror, 3/9/1982:

For millions of youngsters, it will be the marriage of the year when their TV favourites Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin wed tomorrow.

The former "Swap Shop" assistants had only one worry about the great day... the smartness of the parish church in Little Stretton, Leicestershire, where Maggie grew up and was determined to marry.

But the villagers rallied round. "They have been fantastic," said Maggie.

"The church garden has been weeded, the grass cut, and even the old stone floor scrubbed."

Sweet!

I remember Keith on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Saturday Superstore. And then there was Cheggers Plays Pop - which ran all the way from 1978 to 1986...

Meanwhile...

Of the egg chuckers, who pelted the PM's car when she visited Aberdeen University medical school, Mrs T said: "It's a pity they have nothing better to do."

Like Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin?

From the Sunday People, 5/9/1982:

"Swap Shop" sweethearts Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin will soon be saying "I do" again.

For their wedding yesterday was recorded by a film crew for broadcast next month in a new children's TV show called "Saturday Superstore".

Maggie and Keith, who will both be on the new BBC show, fell for each other while presenting "Swap Shop".

And yesterday they were the stars in a white wedding at the tiny parish church in Little Stretton, Leicestershire, Maggie's home village.

DJ Tony Blackburn and TV personality John Craven turned up to join the hundreds of fans who beseiged the church.

The bride and groom even started the day by helping Tony Blackburn in an on-the-spot radio special.

Keith, who arrived at the church half an hour early, said: "It really got to me."

After the ceremony he admitted: "It was a tremendous emotional experience. I was so nervous that I even fluffed my lines towards the end."

Maggie, who turned up in a Rolls ten minutes late, said: "It was all right until I got into the car, then it really hit me. And I felt the tears coming when I entered the church and saw Keith standing there."

Mike Reid of Saturday Superstore - the start of a glittering new BBC Saturday morning children's telly era in 1982.


26.10.09

Do You Remember That Quirky September Of 1981? Willo The Wisp, Mavis Cruet, Evil Edna, The Beast, Car Wash The Cat - And Others Too...


1981: Detail from the original opening titles of Willo The Wisp. 

It wasn't in quite the same league as The Magic Roundabout, but in my humble opinion Willo The Wisp, a creation of one Nicholas Spargo and brought to us courtesy of the BBC in 1981, was the best piece of pre-Evening News whimsy since Florence and Dougal made their screen debuts in 1965! Here we see the Willo The Wisp characters displayed on the back cover of a book based on the series.

The show's star was the voice, or should that be voices, of the very excellent Kenneth Williams. 

Willo The Wisp, a floaty, smoggy little thing, popped up at the start of each programme to narrate the latest tale from Doyley Wood. The origins of this character can be traced back to a ten minute British Gas tuition film called Super Natural Gas, in 1975.

Nicholas Spargo, a highly experienced script writer and animator, who had set up his own company - Nicholas Cartoon Films - with his wife Mary in 1954,  thought that the British Gas character could be developed, but it was a long and arduous process. A new setting, new characters, financing, new animation and backgrounds - all had to be sorted.

But finally, in that quirky September of 1981, Willo debuted on our TV screens in the scenic setting of Doyley Wood. This is a real wood in Oxfordshire, England. Don't bother going there to seek out the Wisp and his friends though. They all keep well out of the way when the likes of us are around.

Sliding down a moonbeam with Willo The Wisp.

Willo the Wisp seemed to benefit from its lengthy gestation period, because what was launched upon us unsuspecting viewers in 1981 was rather brilliant, and earned huge ratings for a BBC teatime five minute show.

So, what was it all about?

We'll start with Willo himself. He was a bit of a gossip, giving us telly viewers a daily up-date on the doings of the local residents. But he seldom became involved in the happenings himself, and seldom interacted with the other characters. 

A teatime treat! Willo the Wisp appears to give us all the latest gossip.

In the decade when Frankie went to Hollywood, Car Wash went to Catford. I was so intrigued, I wrote a short story on the subject.

 Car Wash - the figurine!
 

The other somewhat odd characters who lived in Doyley Wood in the '80s TV series included Mavis Cruet, a fat, good natured, but largely ineffectual fairy; Mavis's great friend and confidante, the gloriously down-to-earth Arthur the caterpillar; The Beast - previously Prince Humbert the Handsome; Car Wash (sometimes written Carwash) - the bespectacled, posh and slightly supercilious cat - who went on holiday, staying with a very dear friend in CATford; and the dog-like Moog, very good natured but not the brightest of sparks ("DON'T THINK, MOOG, DON'T THINK!").

 The adorable Moog, a loveable creature indeed. Well, he wasn't quite so loveable when he got a You-Know-What, but never mind.


Detail from the box cover of a 1980s Willo The Wisp jigsaw puzzle: the Astrognats blast off, watched by The Beast, Mavis Cruet, Willo, Evil Edna and Arthur the caterpillar. They boldly went where no gnat had gone before.

Dear old Arthur the caterpillar was such a good pal to Mave the fairy, but his dearest wish was to become a moth. Well, it takes all kinds to make a world. Sadly, when Arthur built a chrysalis,  squatters moved in.  He was quite proud of his appendages, and not pleased when they got singed off by a small but belligerent dragon.

Last, but by no means least on our list of 1981 Doyley Woodians is Evil Edna, a wicked witch who looked like a telly. Why? Ask me another! Edna performed her wicked spells by zapping people with her set-top aerial antennae. Mind you, she didn't have it easy. There was that dreadful time her feet went rusty at the seaside, and what about the time she went all the way to Cockfosters? I ask you!

I ate this programme with a big spoon! Glorious!

"Sucks boo to you!" She didn't mince her words didn't Edna.

Did Car Wash the cat go to a car wash when he wanted to clean himself up? Really, what an uncouth idea! No, he did not!

It's curtains! Willo The Wisp curtains, that is. 

A page from 'Holidays' - one of the series of books which accompanied the series. Arthur the caterpillar is enthusiastic at the prospect of climbing a tree for his holiday - after all, his father always went on climbing holidays, and if it was good enough for Dad... Car Wash, heading for Catford, decides tree climbing sounds dull. I wonder if Car Wash was an admirer of the Catford Centre Cat? Mind you, he might have thought it vulgar... he was a bit of a Noël Coward type, our Car Wash.

Twit was one of the local birds. When Mavis tried to make his pin-up bird reality, disaster followed...

Evil Edna - busy being evil to Car Wash the clever cat, the adorable (but never clever) Moog, Mavis Cruet - the fat fairy - and Arthur, the down-to-earth caterpillar.

Kenneth Williams, who gave voices to all the Doyley Wood characters so brilliantly, was a complex man, very much a creature of moods. He wrote of the series in preparation in April 1980:

Must say, I admire Nick Spargo's industry and inventiveness! His ideas are charming.

When Mr Williams performed the dialogue for the final episode on Thursday, 5 March, 1981, he wrote:

Met Nick Spargo and the rest and we did the last 'Willo' script; it was an amusing one too, apropos Christmas and Mavis Cruet hanging up BOTH her stockings. Nick produced a bottle of champagne and we all had a celebration drink for the occasion of the 26th and final script.

On viewing an episode on 23 September 1981, Mr Williams lamented:

Watched 'Willo The Wisp' and one's heart sank 'cos one realised that it's 1) technically indifferent with recording levels wrong 2) it lacks drive and energy 3) there's nothing with which the young can identify 4) the jokes aren't good enough. Oh! One could go on and on.

But the show was a tremendous success, with an appeal to both young and old which also crossed class barriers. Mr Williams was surprised on 5 November 1982:

When I was walking down Bolsover St some men were digging in the road and they cried out 'Here's old Willo The Wisp!' as I came along and shouted 'Hallo Kenny!' I'd never have thought navvies would watch 'Willo'! It's extraordinary the audience television attracts. 

Mr Williams also acquired at least one new fan through Willo The Wisp - me! I'd never liked the Carry On films, which had brought the man fame, but Willo The Wisp was so excellent and Mr Williams's character voices so wonderful that I joined his vast audience of admirers. 

Kenneth Williams with presenter Sarah Greene and Evil Edna, Arthur the caterpillar and Mavis Cruet on 'Blue Peter', circa 1982. 

Mavis Cruet - called "fat fairy person" by Evil Edna, Mave didn't like being called 'fat'. She preferred 'obese' because she didn't know what it meant. Mavis was too fat, er, sorry, I mean obese, to fly and her magic wasn't as powerful as Edna's, but she was very kind hearted and always meant well. Even if her magic didn't always turn out that way. Bless her. Mavis was a great romantic and wanted to be married, but sadly her Prince Charming never arrived.


The cover of a 1980s Willo The Wisp book - Evil Edna turned nasty with handsome Prince Humbert, and The Beast was born. Wugged Wocks? If only he could pronounce his r's! Here, he's about to become an ice lolly. Edna scared me a bit. Well, I was only sixteen at the time!

Evil Edna got her own storybook in 1984.

25.10.09

Mid-1980s Cellular Car Phones

"Philips - simply years ahead"!

From the Daily Mail, 13/8/1985:

THE CELLULAR CAR 'PHONE. AVOID THE CONS. READ THE PROSE.

Car 'phones. They're no longer the privilege of the chosen few.

The ranks of present users - politicians, play-boys, the Adnan Khashoggis of this world, are being swollen by those of us with more modest callings.

Plumbers, small company directors, travelling sales persons, farmers, builders, photographers, vets, drain cleaning operatives, Mr. Family Man and his wife. In fact, anyone who finds a stationary phone useful, finds a mobile one invaluable.

Why do I need one?
-
The personal benefits must be obvious, but what about business?

Well, that's where the mobile 'phone really starts to work for you.

It totally frees your telephone life. You can start the day's calls (and receive them) the moment you get into the car.

Sure, you may still get stuck in a jam but at least you won't be worrying about the people you should be speaking to.

You'll be in touch.

Which, with the Phillips M7000 series, is somehing of an understatement.

It operates on the Vodafone system, feeding directly into the public telephone network, so you're in touch with the whole country.

Or any other for that matter.

What price communication?

Although our competition often avoids the issue, we're very much in favour of spelling out the cost.

Because with the Phillips M7000, what you get for your £1,499* (you can lease it if you prefer) is quite remarkable.

Simply, you get a 'phone that's designed for the British network, with more features than any other similarly priced 'phone on the market.

Including a helpful 'one bill' payment system.
-
This ensures every single bill, from your subscription to your shortest call, comes from the same source.

But what of the features?

To start, it has one of the highest number storage facilities. Without lifting the 'phone, you can dial up to 40 previously programmed numbers. Unauthorised use is prevented by a clever locking mode.

There's a 'scratch pad' allowing you to store a number during your conversation, which is then available for dialling when you hang up.

How did we manage before?

(You're talking to John who asks you to call the Edinburgh office. You don't know the number of the Edinburgh office. He tells you. You tap it in as you're chatting. When you hang up, you can automatically dial it.)

And that number is visible on a 16 digit display.

Forgotten the Company Secretary's home number? Press the 'scroll facility', it will remind you.

Forgotten to turn the machine off? After six hours it will do that too. So no flat batteries.

Forgotten the name of the car 'phone that provides more features, has a better service back-up, a 'one bill' payment system and isn't afraid to print the prose and the price?

It's Philips.

*Recommended Selling Price. Price correct at time of going to press.
-
END OF BLURB!

"How did we manage before?"
-
Clever advertising! After Ernie Wise made that historic phone call on 1 January 1985 (details here), cellular phones were definitely on the way in.
-
But, for the vast majority of us poor peasants, the good old pay phone remained the only way to make telephonic contact on the hoof for some years to come.

The wonders of modern technology - a 1980s Motorola car phone.

A newspaper advertisement from March 1986.

Ford car phones - August 1986...

From the beginning of September, all Ford dealers in Britain will be able to supply and install the new Ford Telecommunications cellular in-car telephone in any of the company's new cars or commercial vehicles.

The system is operated in conjunction with Carphone Group. Users of Ford Telecommunications equipment will be linked to either of the two major cellular networks in Britain.

The Ford Telecommunications system, which is manufactured by NovAtel in the United States, is specially adapted for operation in Britain. It permits direct dial calls to or from any telephone subscriber anywhere in the world.

Additional features include a "hands free" call facility, with a microphone located close to the sun visor and a speaker located in the front compartment of the vehicle for safer and more convenient use by drivers.

Further built-in features include last number redial, a memory bank with a capacity for 50 frequently used numbers, an Alpha facility for permitting other subscribers to be identified by name, a volume control, an electronic lock to prevent misuse of the apparatus, a 3-way conference link and a mute device for enabling private conversations to be held in the car while a call is in progress.

Electronic data transmissions are also possible employing telex, facsimile, videotex or computer formats.

"This is a totally new venture for Ford in Britain," said Mr Derek Dawes, Ford Director responsible for Parts Sales.

He added: "In-car telephones are no longer associated with the jet setters of this world. It is an efficient tool of work and I predict that many of our future customers will be the drivers of commercial vehicles, for whom instant communication at all times is a vital necessity."

24.10.09

1983: Some Magazine Fashion And Food Ads For The Ladies...

It's 1983 and we're all getting into exercise and some of the girlies are also getting into aerobics. And it's time to get into deodorant. And wear legwarmers when you work out. They're no longer just practical articles for draughty places. No, they're an essential fashion item. And you can always put deodorant on your shins and ankles to stop 'em getting all hot and niffy.

Don't imbibe loads of sugar - drink fizzy diet drinks in your leg warmers. And then do some aerobics.

This is 1983, we have new hair styling products, so ditch the hairspray (you'll ruin the ozone layer) and scrunch in the gel or the mousse instead.

Enjoy a drop of alcohol (as part of a calorie controlled diet, of course) and get some trendy gear to advertise your favourite tipple. It saves people asking what you're having down at the local boozer. The outfit in this picture is
sooo 1980s. Off the shoulder. Grey, with red piping and matching sports bag.

A pal of mine had a grey sofa with red piping in the mid-to-late '80s. I wanted one, but people kept spilling things like baked beans and Stella Artois at my flat. So there was no point. The effect would have been quite ruined.

L'ORÉAL FREE STYLE MOUSSE.

Because today's hairstyles need hold and a natural touch.

And when you've got loads of gunk - gel or mousse - in your hair, worry not. Timotei shampoo has just arrived so you can wash your hair as often as you like.

Exotic perfumes like Choc de Cardin could suddenly waft you away to a foreign beach. Hopefully, it would also bring you home again.

Eat sensibly. Keep an eye on your waistline with Waistline chicken and celery soup. Because you and Crosse & Blackwell make tastier meals.

This is 1983, so the big booming doshy '80s are not properly underway yet, but if your old man or latest squeeze does have a bit of dosh around you might get lucky. If you can keep him out of the bookies, that is.

More 1980s magazine ads soon.

22.10.09

1980: Pam St Clement, Pat Of EastEnders, Cuts Her Soap Teeth In Emmerdale Farm...

Pam St Clement, the wonderful Pat Wicks/Butcher/Evans in EastEnders since 1986, once played a Mrs Eckersley in Emmerdale Farm. Making her debut in episode 561 on 10 March 1980, she appeared in the Yorkshire farming saga for five episodes, bowing out in episode 565 on 25 March 1980.

Mrs Eckersley was a Beckindale local, and was called into help at Emmerdale Farm when Annie Sugden (Sheila Mercier) and her father, Sam Pearson (Toke Townley), went on a competition-won holiday to Ireland.

She was a capable woman, well able to step into Annie's shoes at the Aga.

Mrs Eckersley's family consisted of her husband, Harold (Roger Hammond), and teenage daughter, Esmarelda (Debbie Farrington). Esmarelda had written a book and was distressed when her manuscript was rejected by the publishers she'd sent it to.

The newly returned (and recast) Jack Sugden (Clive Hornby), himself a published author, helped Esmarelda through her disappointment.

Locals though they were supposed to be, once this story-line was complete, the Eckersleys were never seen or heard of in the show again.

21.10.09

Thora Hird - The 1980s: Never Too Late, Praise Be! A Cream Cracker Under The Settee, Hallelujah!

It wasn't alternative, but it was realistic and optimistic - it was Never Too Late, a 1980-1981 BBC Radio 4 comedy by Terry Gregson, starring the brilliant English character actors Thora Hird, Megs Jenkins, Avis Bunnage and Joe Gladwin.

Thora, who was a member of my own wonderful grandmother's generation and shared many of her qualities, played the highly capable Hilda Springett - a pensioner organising a holiday for her friends and neighbours, including man-mad Mildred Emmett, played by Avis Bunnage. Of Mildred, Hilda said: "Anybody who thinks promiscuity started in the 'sixties should have known Mildred in her twenties!"

Megs Jenkins was feather-headed Emily Holroyd (Mildred: "Remember when they dropped that bomb on the gasworks?" Emily: "That'd be during the war.")

Joe Gladwin was the oft morose Tommy Preston, who discovered that even the marmalade wasn't as good as it was when he was a lad.


Oddly enough, the show had the same theme tune as Terry & June!

A second series followed late in 1981, running into 1982, with Hilda and her pals raising funds to keep the local day centre for the elderly open.

Never Too Late = fondly remembered.


Thora Hird kept a very special appointment in 1983 - to collect her OBE. In the early 1990s, she became a Dame of the British Empire. We were pleased for her, my family, friends and I, but she was always just "Thora" to us. Not that we'd ever met her, but we felt as if we had. Thora had such a natural way about her on-screen, she seemed like one of us.

My gran never referred to Thora's Sunday evening hymn request show by its titles; when it began in 1977 it was a studio-based show called Your Songs of Praise Choice. In 1984 it became Praise Be! But Gran simply called the show "Thora":

"Thora's on tonight, so we'll make a cuppa beforehand, and then we can settle down."

I often used to visit Gran on Sundays (I was usually nursing a hangover!), so often saw Thora then. In the '80s there was some wonderful location filming with ducks, dogs and glorious countryside.

In 1983, Thora starred in the Dick Sharples telly comedy Hallelujah!

She was, of course, already appearing in Mr Sharples' other telly comedy, In Loving Memory, which had premiered (with a different cast) in 1969 and became a series from 1979 to 1986.

In Hallelujah! Thora played disaster-prone Captain Emily Ridley of the Salvation Army, trying to make a success of running a citadel in a small northern town, and avoid being put out to grass. She was assisted by her widowed niece Alice Meredith (Patsy Rowlands), who would much rather have found a nice man and settled down again.

A serial bigamist, who had only done it because he couldn't face "living in sin", formed one of the storylines in the first series. A young Richard Whiteley turned up, playing himself, in another episode in which Captain Emily nearly fell off the roof at Yorkshire Television, trying to prevent a stoat keeper from committing suicide!

A second series followed in 1984.

The 1980s were truly a wondrous time for Thora fans. Remember her in Last Of The Summer Wine, and Alan Bennett's absolutely brilliant Talking Heads instalment A Cream Cracker Under The Settee?

No offence meant, but I was never a great fan of Last Of The Summer Wine. However, when Thora Hird arrived as Edie Pegden (she joined the cast in 1985, and made her screen debut on New Year's Day, 1986, in an episode entitled Uncle Of The Bride), I had a lot more time for the show - even began to enjoy it. The character, complete with Thora's tried and trusted "phone voice" routine ("Hoh how har you?"), was a delight, bolstering the monstrous regiment of women with her coffee mornings - and balancing out the men (with their long-running juvenile antics) a little more.

1980s newcomer Edie Pegden (Thora Hird) with Last Of The Summer Wine stalwarts Nora Batty (Kathy Staff) and Ivy (Jane Freeman).

Thora wasn't only like a favourite relative or good friend visiting us via the telly screen - she was an absolutely top-notch actress.

And that didn't just mean comedy, either.

1987's A Cream Cracker Under The Settee was a tremendous revelation to me - it was the first time a performance by Thora ever made me cry. I was working as a care assistant at a Social Services home for the elderly at the time, so thought that the show would be of interest. But I was completely bowled over. I wept, and wept - and wept some more. And thoughts of the show kept me awake well into the early hours.

I don't ever recall reacting to a dramatic performance like that - before or since.

And at other times during this era, when Thora was making me laugh and making me cry as various fictitious characters, I was glad to see her, via the tube, popping in for a natter as herself.


There was a wonderful simplicity and integrity about "our Thora".

She was utterly convincing when acting a role. And always seemed utterly genuine when appearing as herself.

In fact, she was a bit of a one-off.

And she's sadly missed.

In 1987, Doris took a tumble and discovered that Zulema had left a cream cracker under the settee. Thora Hird's portrayal of Doris earned her a BAFTA award for best actress.

1980: The Axing Of Waggoners' Walk...

Walking the walk... Mike and Claire Nash (Edward Cast and Ellen McIntosh) owned No 1, Waggoners' Walk, centre of a lot of the serial's action, from 1969 to 1980.

BBC Radio 2's sometimes controversial soap opera Waggoners' Walk, which had been on air since April 1969, was last broadcast in 1980 - it ended as part of the BBC's economy cutbacks. Bizarrely, Waggoners' Walk was, at the time of its enforced demise, the highest rated show of BBC Radio's drama output - this was pointed out back then. I couldn't help wondering just what the logic was in cutting this particular show, and wondered if the BBC, piqued at being made to pull in its belt, had decided to take it out on the audience?

And "Auntie" was very snobbish about soap opera at that time anyway. EastEnders was still years away.

The Beeb firmly turned down Capital Radio's request to take over Waggoners' Walk. Boo to the BBC!

Waggoners' Walk had often been fearless and controversial, covering story-lines like cancer, hypothermia and homosexuality.

The first homosexuality story-line had actually been a bit of a cop-out, with the gay man being a peripheral character who later "reformed", married and lived happily ever after. But never mind.

The show had its roots in a one-off radio play broadcast in early 1969, called The Ropewalk. It featured a lonely young woman - newly arrived in the capital from the north of England - prepared to offer her virginity to a stranger in a squalid bedsit, an anti-Vietnam demo, and a bouncer from a Soho clip-joint - where a young prostitute died of a heroin overdose.

And yes, this was in 1969.

Major characters in the Waggoners' saga included Mike and Claire Nash (Edward Cast and Ellen McIntosh) - he the editor of the Hampstead Herald, she a former model. Mike and Claire owned No 1 Waggoners' Walk; Lynn and Matt Prior (Judy Franklin and Michael Spice) - lady-like southerner Lynn and fiery northerner Matt were my two favourite characters. "Bloody wars, Lynn!" Matt would cry as news of the latest sophisticated goings-on in Hampstead reached him. "Matt! Behave yourself!" Lynn would reply. Matt and Lynn owned a restaurant and lived at the Old Bakery in Haverstock Hill. And then there was Liz and Peter Tyson (Ann Morrish and Basil Moss) - Peter was Lynn Prior's first husband. He and Liz lived in Minden Road and Liz worked on the Women's Page at the Hampstead Herald.

To end our round-up of memorable Walk characters, I'm sure fellow fans will remember Peter's father, the horribly grumpy Arthur Tyson (Lockwood West), and his genial friend George Underdown (Alan Dudley), who seemed to have found happiness with a late-in-life marriage, only to have that happiness cruelly snatched from him.

In 1980, Waggoners' Walk got an omnibus edition at last - beginning on Sunday, 20 January. Also in early 1980, the show opted to go down the gay route again, this time properly it seemed, when one of the characters - a restaurant waiter by the name of Rob Pengelly - announced: "Girls don't turn me on at all."

Cynical teen that I was, brought up on a '70s diet of The Sweeney, The Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club, Bernard Manning and George And Mildred, I muttered, "The BBC won't stand for this. They'll have this programme off in quick sticks."

"Queers", "benders", "poofs" or "woolly-woofters" as gay men were called around my district in the 1970s (not that any actually lived there as far as I knew but everybody had an opinion on them and, it seemed, everybody was a bigot) were definitely not the sort of thing you expected to hear about at tea time on Radio 2 - not even in 1980.

I've no idea if the gay story-line actually did have any bearing on the matter, but, very shortly after it began, the axing was announced.

There was uproar, including a debate in Parliament, but the BBC was having none of it.

A friend of mine suggested that Margaret Thatcher's Government was responsible for the show's demise, as the BBC was being forced to make cutbacks. But this simply made me laugh. What company in its right mind decides to ditch one of its most successful products when looking at areas where savings can be made?

The show's forthcoming demise was actually mentioned in the plot by a character called Jessie Brewer to an aforementioned character called George Underdown some time before the final episode. Jessie was having a moan and ended a list of woes with: "BBC cutbacks - have you heard about them taking off Waggoners' Walk?"

"Um, yes," said George, who actually wasn't paying much attention as his mind was occupied by other problems. But George was a character in Waggoners' Walk, and his problems were simply Waggoners' Walk story-lines!

Highly weird.

The scene fused my brain for weeks afterwards.

TV soap opera moved on in the 1980s, gritty social issues were examined, some soaps developed a hefty left-wing subtext, and, in 1987, BBC Radio Four produced a brand new soap called Citizens, revolving around a group of friends sharing a house in London.

I tuned in eagerly, but quickly tuned out again. The show seemed, to my mind, almost desperately topical, and I felt it was tarnished by the then emerging political correctness.

Citizens soon went down the dumper.

What a shame Auntie hadn't stuck with Waggoners' Walk, I thought at the time.

And it was a shame.

The BBC had two widely differing serials on radio - Waggoners' Walk, set in 'appy 'ampstead, and The Archers, set in sleepy Ambridge. Both worked beautifully. One complemented the other. And I loved the way these serials spurred my imagination to form pictures of characters and settings.

I still listen to and enjoy The Archers.

And I still bemoan the loss of Waggoners' Walk, nearly thirty years on. When nostalgia takes me, I have several episodes I taped from the radio back then that I can listen to.

Oh well. The 1980s took away but they also gave us soaps - Brookside, EastEnders, Take The High Road and, of course, the brilliant spoof Acorn Antiques.

Here's what Victoria Wood had to say about her most celebrated creation:

"It was a homage to Crossroads but also to a terrible radio series called Waggoners' Walk which was on then."

"Terrible"? Flippin' 'eck!

Still, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

And I loved Acorn Antiques, too!

After Waggoners' Walk ended, a novel was published, Waggoners Walk - The Story Continues..., written by Terry James, one of the show's scriptwriters.

The final episode was heard at the end of May 1980, and it went out with a cliffhanger: middle-aged George Underdown, whose wife had died of a heart attack the year before, asked a girl thirty years younger than himself to marry him - Sophie Richmond, victim of a rape in 1979.

In the final scene, a shocked Sophie told George she needed time to think about it.

The novel took the saga on to September 1980, when Sophie married George. Sophie had decided that marriage to middle-aged George was right for her. The rape had left her afraid of sex, and George had told her that a "platonic marriage", based on companionship, would be all right with him. Sex had never played a large part in his life anyway.

On the last page of the book, Sophie discovered George crying over a photograph of his dead wife and telling it that he'd only married Sophie because he missed her so much.


"I think I may have made the biggest mistake of my life," Sophie told herself.

The End.


Another cliffhanger, this time never to be resolved!

Readers of the "Story Continues..." left Waggoners' Walk for the very last time in September 1980.

And this particular reader was tearing his hair out!

18.10.09

1986: Anti-Thatcher Propaganda In Coronation Street...

Bet looks bilious and talks baloney in 1986.

Eee, the 1980s! The decade when we split into two camps - LOVE THATCHER or HATE THATCHER and our soaps developed a Left Wing bias. I fell into the "HATE" camp, very firmly, and a glimpse of Margaret on my TV screen would have me screeching for the remote control.

Brookside bravely showed us its views on what a rotten country it was under Thatcher, and EastEnders followed suit.

The realities were far more jumbled (I hope one day somebody writes an unbiased study of the turbulent, multi-faceted '80s) but it was a shame when Corrie stooped to silly anti-Thatcher propaganda, and put absolute nonsense into the mouth of Rovers Return landlady Bet Lynch (Julie Goodyear), briefly making a mockery of the character.

It happened in 1986. The legendary Hilda Ogden (Jean Alexander) asked Bet to reinstate Sally Seddon (Sally Whittaker) to her full-time post as Rovers barmaid, as Bet had just employed Betty Turpin (Betty Driver) to make the pub food, and cut Sally's hours.

Said Bet: "We're not living in the '60s and '70s now, Hilda, when the problem weren't getting the jobs, it were persuading folk to turn up and do them. Nobody were a bigger skiver than me - never worked Mondays and Fridays for years. But them days have gone, Hilda - and nobody can fetch them back..."

Say WHAT?

Firstly, whilst Bet was known to skive off under Annie Walker's regime at times, she didn't often get away with it, often ended up shouldering more work than she thought she should, and sometimes worked when she wasn't scheduled to - to suit Lady Walker's whims.

So, it seemed the scriptwriter didn't know Bet's history very well.

But worse was the absurd notion that the 1970s were a time of full employment.

Let's trek back briefly. In the 1970s, unemployment passed the million mark before we were midway through the decade, and stood at around one-and-a-half million by the end of the decade.

And Coronation Street fully reflected the fact. The thorny issue of unemployment visited The Street a number of times.

In the mid-1970s, there was much publicity about graduates leaving universities and being unable to find work. Coronation Street featured this issue in 1975, when Annie Walker (Doris Speed) was threatened by two young men in her bedroom, seeking to rob her. She was informed by one of them that he had been through college, but there was no job for him.

In 1976, teenagers Gail Potter (Helen Worth) and Tricia Hopkins (Kathy Jones) faced losing their jobs at the Corner Shop. They tossed a coin for the chance of a job at Sylvia's Separates clothes shop, and Gail won. Trisha could not find employment, and left the Street to live with her parents.

Also that year, Alf Roberts (Bryan Mosley) was terrified at the possibility of redundancy at the sorting office where he worked.

And 1976 brought us the grim tale of local pillar of the community Ernest Bishop's photographic business going bankrupt and his and wife Emily's desperate searches for work. Emily was forced to take a job as an orderly at the infirmary, Ernest spent several months in the wilderness before being employed by Mike Baldwin.

Another epic tale from '76 involved a dastardly plan devised by Annie Walker to cut Betty Turpin (Betty Driver) and Bet Lynch's wages, rather than give them a pay rise! Both walked out, but walked back in again, glad to have their jobs back, when Annie dropped her plan. The pay cut would not go ahead, but they wouldn't get any pay rise that year either, Annie decided!

Betty Turpin was surprised in 1976 when the local factory girls went on strike. With a million and a half unemployed, she couldn't understand the girls walking out of their workplace for any reason, she said.

Fred Gee (Fred Feast) told Annie Walker that he was well aware he was lucky having two jobs when a lot of folk didn't have one!

Not long before Christmas 1976, Terry Bradshaw (Bob Mason), brother of Corner Shop owner Renee (Madge Hindle) lost his job with Fairclough and Langton, builders and plumbers. Despairing of finding another job in the district, and romantically rebuffed by Gail Potter, he went back into the Army.

In 1977, Steve Fisher (Lawrence Mullin) decided to go abroad to find work when he was sacked by Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs), saying he was going "because there's no jobs here." Fortunately, Mike reinstated him.

In early 1978, Ernest Bishop (Stephen Hancock) was accidentally shot and killed by two unemployed young men in a wages snatch at the denim factory.

In late 1978, unemployed Gail Potter and Suzie Birchall (Cheryl Murray) decided to seek work in London, although they were warned that it might not be easy. In the end, Gail chickened out, and Suzie set off for the bright lights alone, only to return in early 1979, disillusioned. Her failure to find permanent work, and her drift into a tacky relationship with a wealthy older man, note wealthy (Suzie did!), made fascinating viewing.

If Bet Lynch had been a real person she would have never have made such a barmy comment about full-employment in the '70s. The Bet we saw on-screen in '70s Corrie knew the realities.

But there she was, in 1986, basically stating: before Margaret Thatcher, we had full employment!

Maggie was obviously to blame. Before her, everything in the UK employment garden was peachy.

It was a shame. The illusion briefly fizzled. It wasn't Bet speaking, it was some well paid scriptwriter, spouting Left Wing propaganda on his/her soapbox.

Now, if Bet had said: "Things haven't been easy for a long time, but they've got a damn sight worse since Thatcher came to power - unemployment's more than doubled!" I'd have risen from my armchair and cheered.

But in 1986, when the grim realities of the '70s were far too recent in memory to have been hyped and rewritten, her comment simply brought a puzzled "EH?!!" from yours truly.

I well remembered my step-father's time on the dole back in the '70s. And still do.

Bet's boob qualifies as one of the battiest comments in Corrie history.

But it's an interesting manifestation of the "EVERYTHING WAS FINE BEFORE THATCHER" propaganda churned out by many TV scriptwriters in the soaps and drama series of the 1980s.

Below are some screen captures (courtesy of the Back On The Street blog) from just a few of the 1970s Coronation Street story-lines which reflected the difficult times when it came to seeking employment...

Intruder: "I've worked very hard, been to college, but there's no job for me, nowhere. So I've decided that what I can't get legally, I'm prepared to take.."

Emily: "What's wrong with us, Ernest, why CAN'T we find work? I mean we're reasonably well-educated, responsible adults..."

Tricia: "I've 'ad a sickener round 'ere just lately - no money, no job..."

Alf: " 'New Staffing Levels', they called it. I never thought it'd work out like this."

1978 - Ernie was accidentally shot and killed when two unemployed youths tried to snatch the wages at the denim factory.

16.10.09

1983 Fashion: Pink And Grey, Stonewashed, Bespectacled, With Pushed-Up Sleeves...

From the John Myers autumn and winter catalogue, 1983: "Just like the Kids from Fame!"

The little girl on the far left is wearing leg warmers on her arms. Oh, silly me, they're elbow warmers. How daft am I?

From the spring and summer 1983 Brian Mills catalogue. I always liked a girl in a ra ra. But, with the mini ra ra skirts which were so popular in 1982 and '83, the effect was often ruined by black lycra leggings, ending at the knee, worn under the skirt. These longer ra ra's gave room for extra flounces. And no need for leggings. Not that this fact halted the trend for leggings. But then '80s fashion was usually anything but logical.

Nice.

I wish these colourful styles would come back into fashion, don't you?

Never in a million years?!

Oh well, suit yourself...

Let's have another quick look at the John Myers Autumn & Winter 1983 mail order catalogue... Nice jackets. What does the blurb say?

Our linen look jackets give you the texture and comfort of linen without the creasing and crumpling you get with the real thing. £1.06 a week is all we're asking. Dry clean. 85% viscose, 15% nylon.

Grey Light blue Burgundy

Half a doz, please - three in blue, three in burgundy. Ta.


What a cool dude! Those "mirror" glasses were popular with robotic dancers and body poppers. I remember wearing denim with a far more pronounced stonewashed effect a year or two later.

Pink and grey stripes... hmmm...

The '80s thought that mixing grey and bright colours was a very lovely thing to do.