Monday, March 07, 2016

"Boom Boom Boom Boom - Esso Blue!" A Sign Of The Times

Unilluminated Esso Blue sign (left) and illuminated (right).

Dashing home from school on winter's evenings in the 1970s - eager for The Tomorrow People, The Kids From 47a, Robert's Robots or Josie and the Pussycats, I used to pass a sign like the one above. It was in the window of a local greengrocer, who also supplied Esso Blue paraffin for domestic heaters.

The little man with the bowler hat was Joe, from the Esso Blue TV commercials, and he'd been around since 1958, with the catchy "Boom Boom Boom Boom - Esso Blue!" jingle.

The sign was always illuminated during the dark evenings. When I was a little lad I thought the sign must have very sophisticated inner-workings. It never occurred to me until I was about eight that it was actually lit by a single 60W light bulb!

Joe disappeared from our TV screens around 1974/75, but the sign lived on for some time, and a metal sign outside another shop bearing the character's image survived for many years after that, ensuring that Joe was a presence in our neighbourhood long after his TV tenure had ended.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Our Favourite Review Of Back In Time For The Weekend...

Well, there's Rob Ashby Hawkins with his 1950s teddy boy haircut and home brew, Steph looking naff and the kids, Daisy and Seth (those names would not have gone down well in my neighbourhood in the 1970s) with the Frustration game. I had that game, circa 1974. I used to play it with my cousin Sue and once copped a serious strop because I lost. My parents did not look on with interest. They were glued to the telly and kept telling us to be quiet.

As regular readers will know, we didn't recognise the 1970s served up by Wall To Wall for the BBC in the series Back In Time For The Weekend. We would have loved to have recognised it, but it simply wasn't recognisable - a piece of rose-tinted nostalgia dedicated to a decade that actually did not exist in that form at all.

And we didn't warm to the Ashley Hawkins family, either. Why can't the BBC put some working class folk on these shows? And why do these BBC programmes always have an "I love the 1970s so much, I could pee myself!" agenda?

And as for Giles Coren - oh PLEASE RELEASE ME, LET ME GO! as somebody sang in some decade long ago.

We cited our reasons for disliking the show previously. Where was the rampant inflation, three day week, Winter of Discontent, etc, and who played indoor golf? And as for going camping... well, that wasn't invented in the 1970s, and it was so middle class, darling!

"Wall To Wall gave us such lovely things to do," trilled Mumsy Steph. Yes, they may have done, but ground down by the real 1970s you might not have been in the mood, dear.

And what about the 1950s Back In Time For The Weekend? Women didn't work? My great-great grandmother was born in 1860 and went into service in 1873. My great-grandmother was born in 1888 and went into service in the early 1900s. My grandmother was born in 1910 and went to work in a factory in 1924. My mother was born in 1945 and went to work in a laundrette in 1960.

Anyway, a review by John Woodhouse on the 1970s show has caught our eye. It says so much. And we reproduce it here. Thanks, John. We're glad we're not the only ones who remember the real 1970s.

The Sozzled Seventies

THIS week on BBC2's time-travelling social documentary they were heading back to the 1970s – or 'now' as it's known in Birmingham.

"It was," we heard, "a decade with something for everyone." The gravediggers' strike, for instance, was perfect for bodysnatchers.

"The Seventies," claimed the programme, "was the first decade where people spent a significant proportion of their income on fun." Although whether Swingball really counts as fun is open to question.

 "One survey," it added, "revealed Brits as among the happiest in the world." The majority of those surveyed were the criminally insane.

Kids, for instance, had far greater freedom to play and roam, "often in conditions that would be considered downright dangerous now." That's for sure. You'd be safer playing three-and-in at Windscale than you would on the average glass-strewn tarmacked playground.

This, we were reminded, was the decade when making your own beer really took off. "Home brewing required plenty of patience," stated presenter Giles Coren. "Fermentation lasted about three weeks." Roughly the same amount of time as the hangover.

"Over the course of the Seventies," Coren added, "alcohol consumption rose by more than 40 per cent." Most of the increase happened when Margaret Thatcher appeared in 1975.

Family of four the Ashby Hawkins had been despatched to a recreated Seventies to see what the decade was all about. "Did people actually think that moustaches were attractive and sexy?" pondered the daughter. It wasn't so much that – it was more they were insulation during a power cut.

As the Ashby Hawkins settled in for some family time, there was a knock at the door. It was Eric Bristow. Either he wanted a game of darts or he'd heard the home brew was ready.

"In the mid-70s," we heard, "darts was phenomenally popular." And indeed most football fans took a set to a local derby.

"Three times as many adults played darts as football," Coren continued. That's because football's quite difficult after 15 pints of lager.

"We played darts when you could have a pint and a smoke on TV," Eric recalled. Happy days - they used to cough up phlegm on the front row.

Soon the calendar had moved round to the heatwave of 1976. "Water was in such short supply," the programme reminded us, "we were encouraged to bath with a friend." Or on a friend if it was Giant Haystacks.

As the Ashby Hawkins danced to the sounds on the music centre, some party food arrived. "Paté in aspic with tinned mandarin segments in it," noted mum.

Suddenly fondue doesn't sound so bad.

See the review in its originl form here -

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Back In Time For The Weekend With The Ashby Hawkins - History Without Tears - Stretching A Concept...

The Ashby Hawkins family travel back to the 1970s (that looks like our lounge in the late 1960s - it's fabulous!), and do things like playing golf by candle light to show what fun power cuts were. We didn't. Nobody we knew did. This is sick! The BBC and Ma and Pa Ashby Hawkins want to hector us about how nasty modern gadgetry is when it comes to being together as a family. And, once again, the real 1970s vanishes into fiction. Heavens, isn't that Clint Eastwood in his heyday being macho man in the photograph there? Oh, no, sorry - it's only Giles Coren - old Mr "I Love Myself, Who Do You Love?" as we used to say about people like him back in the 1970s. All is well then. The show must be perfectly accurate. NOT. As we said in the 1980s.

Back In Time For Dinner was something we enjoyed. Back In Time For Christmas was... well... OK... but Back In Time For The Weekend is stretching a thin concept until it snaps.

A middle class London family, the Ashby Hawkins, have just spent their fake 1970s doing things that nobody in my neighbourhood ever did - going camping, playing golf indoors in a power cut, having space hopper races... um, just how prevelant were these things to your average family? And what seems "such fun" in the hi-tec 21st Century often seemed very naff and a way of simply being less bored even back in the 1970s.

Roller discos? They were a 1980s UK fad, dearies. They didn't even peak in their native America until the early 1980s.

And where was the misery of rampant inflation, spiralling unemployment and industrial strife? The IRA threat, increasing hooliganism and the continuing Cold War threat?

Apparently, the programme makers gave them "such enjoyable" things to do. But that's not to say real people were doing those things - or if they were, in any great numbers - back then. It's all out of context. You cannot judge a decade on a series of bits and bobs fished up by 21st Century TV luvvies.

And all "underpinned" by some survey or other from way back.

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Rob Ashby Hawkins states that many surveys have proved that the 1970s were the best time to live in. Really, Rob? Various surveys say various things, and who was answering those surveys? People who were there in the 1970s, or people brought up on early 21st Century skewed 1970s "nostalgia"? And where are those surveys?

Personally, I wouldn't swap my sh*t rough 1970s childhood and early teens for anything. But that's because they taught me what it's like to live through hard times and to appreciate the good.

And prevented me from being smug and totally 21st Century - like the Ashby Hawkins tribe.

After all, we don't even have a car or a washing machine, let alone an ipod or ipad. And because we were short on so much in the 1970s, we don't miss 'em.

Sorry, Back In Time For The Weekend, but "what a load of rubbish!" - as we so often chorused in my 1970s school playground. Next week, we get the Cold War threat with the 1980s, apparently. The decade when the Cold War ice melted good and proper. Whatever happened to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962?

Why is the 1980s the only decade to feature news-related fears?

As for us in the 1970s, my own (thoroughly working class) family that is - do you know what our main shared activity was during that decade?

Watching the telly. In  fact, my grandmother and many older people I knew back in the 1970s said that television had killed family life, "we used to make our own amusement," they said.

But me, my parents and siblings and our friends and neighbours still spent most of our leisure hours in front of the "goggle box". When there wasn't a power cut.

And then my parents lit candles and sat and smoked fags and moaned ("I'm missing Crossroads!", etc, etc) and I sat and read. Of course, Mr and Mrs Ashby Hawkins would never light up a ciggie. Back in the real 1970s, many kids as young as ten or eleven were doing it. A taste of the real 1970s for little Ms and Master Ashby Hawkins? My goodness, what an awful thought.

However, the Ashby Hawkins apparently think the 1970s lovely.

So, send 'em back. Let 'em experience the real thing.

If only we could.

But back to telly: the theme tune to Crossroads is etched on my mind forever thanks to my childhood and early teens.

As are so many other naff TV theme tunes and advert jingles.

Thank you, 1970s.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Dominic Sandbrook - Prat - The Unreal 1970s - Missing Punk, Inflation, Reality...

Dominic Sandbrook: Smirk. Oh, chortle, chortle! What did you mean you didn't have colour TV, foreign holidays and a credit card in the 1970s? What do you mean you lived in a council house which was falling apart and wasn't made liveable until 1987 - and you had to wait for the release of the first debit card that year before you had plastic? What do you mean, you had lots of toys in the 1960s? Don't talk silly, darling! I don't tell porkies! I write for the Daily Telegraph and the BBC!

I recall our council house falling slowly to pieces in the 1970s - the pre-fabricated kitchen moving gently away from the brickwork, and my mother worrying herself grey over inflation. Dominic Sandbrook doesn't. But as he is well-heeled, a '90s university type, and brought up on that decade's skewed "70s nostalgia", he wouldn't. What is it with that man that is so deperate to make the '70s out to be something it wasn't? And why, like so many so-called historians, does he skim over 1970s aspects like inflation and punk rock - which many would say were important? Try being in a freezing cold council house in winter, with no money for the gas meter, and not much on the table to eat, Dominic. And try writing about what you know for a change rather than your bizarre revisionist nonsense. Or doing proper research and quoting more sources.

That might make your work worthwhile.

And as for all those 1960s goodies coming home to roost, well, no, most of us didn't understand what all that had been about and the main themes of the 1970s seemed to be about anger at having the missed the 1960s  (and having them rammed down our throats) and a lot of very conservative attitudes meeting increasing "oh gawd, I fancy you, let's have a shag!" and "I'm gonna punch your ***kin' 'ead in attitudes" - none of which were actually born in the 1970s.

In the '70s, he would have been called a "prat". And that's the politest word we would have used.

Do take a look at this:

And, Dominic, to many of us who were actually there in the 1970s, your work is inaccurate, relies far too much on too few sources and your own personal "brilliance" (your word, I'm sure - if only in secret!). It's a total waste of space.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Top Of The Pops - An Audience Of 19 Million In 1979 - But Only Because Of The ITV Strike

I was reading the other day about how wonderful TOTP must have been in 1979 because it reached ratings of 19 million viewers. Oh yes, but only because the ITV Strike was on. The infamous strike which wiped ITV from our screens for so long, and left us with only BBC1 and "highbrow" BBC2. And as the video age had not kicked in, we were a bit stuck. Not that 1979 was a bad year for music, but it contained more than its fair share of turkeys - Lena Martell and Matchbox to name but two. So, don't be fooled!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Follyfoot and the Dreaded Sunday Afternoons...

The "Follyfoot "annual 1977. The series ended in 1973, but lived on in repeats and through the "Look-In" comic strip for some years afterwards. The cover shows Arthur English as Slugger, Christian Rodska as Stryker, Steve Hodson as Steve and Gillian Blake as Dora. A branch of the lightning tree can be seen. The tree was actually dead and planted there for effect. The cast and crew were apparently amazed when it sprouted leaves, but a gardener friend of mine tells me this is nothing unusual in a tree only recently judged to be dead and even when transplanted (legend has it the fake lightning tree was set in several tons of cement!) the 'dead' tree can go on showing signs of life for some time.

Oh crikey! I've been asked to write a blog post about Follyfoot, that much-loved TV series of the early 1970s, broadcast from 1971 to 1973 and in repeats from 1974-1975. And... oh dear... I didn't really like the show and haven't been able to face it since!

The show was repeated again about thirteen years later, but I still couldn't face it.

In the 1970s, morning children's TV in the school holidays abounded with glorious creaky old wonders like Champion The Wonder Horse and Casey Jones. They were in black and white, but that didn't matter because many of us were watching in black and white. In the 1980s, more repeats were wheeled out for morning viewing, and I was horrified when, circa 1988, I was settled in front of the box (with a throbbing hangover) one Sunday morning and the announcer told me the next programme was going to be Follyfoot.

"Not in this house it ain't!" I hissed, and switched off hastily.

What a git, you cry, Follyfoot was marvellous! It's what Sunday afternoons were made for, it's so beautiful, even in retrospect...

Well, let me rush to my own (and possible Follyfoot's) defence.

Back in the early 1970s I was impossibly young (oh yes I was!) and it's since been widely circulated that Follyfoot was aimed at an early teens audience. Golly, Steve! Gosh, Dora! I don't recall that being widely circulated or acknowledged at the time! That case for the show's defence isn't helped by the fact that my wife, who was an early teenager at the time and adored horses, hated Follyfoot, and two girls in my class at primary school loved it. I find the "early teens" audience tag even stranger as Steve and Dora looked to be in their early twenties anyway and none of the stories seemed particularly sophisticated - or even remotely resembled teen life in my neighbourhood. 

I was a precocious child, my sharp-end, lower-working-class early '70s childhood was seeing to that, and I don't think the show ever "went over my head", but I never liked the way Dora kept crying and thought it sad and boring. And I didn't like the Lightning Tree song either. I mean "dub-a-dah, ba-dub-a-dub-a-dah"? Oh, please! And as for "down in the meadow where the wind blows free"... well, certain coarse types, like wot I was, twisted the meaning of that and guffawed loudly. And the pigging tree wasn't even in a meadow anyway.

Apparently the lightning tree was a "symbol of hope", but the atmosphere of the series seemed so miserable it thoroughly chilled me. And the tree looked so grim!

Bah, humbug!

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the show was featured as a comic strip for years in my favourite children's weekly comic, Look-In, but I never read that particular strip.

Having said that, I watched Follyfoot. It used to come on at Sunday teatimes and we always had the telly on then. I remember Dora and Steve and Slugger and the Colonel and Stryker and the lightening tree so well. In fact, like so many things seen in my impressionable childhood years, the show almost feels like a part of me to this day.

 The "Look-In" "Follyfoot" comic strip ran for years.

Curiously, during the mid-1970s, I read the 1963 novel Cobbler's Dream, by Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter of the great English author Charles Dickens) , which inspired the Follyfoot TV series, but although Dora, Slugger, Stryker and the Colonel (then called the Captain) were all present as in a way was Steve (then called Paul), I enjoyed the book far more than I did Follyfoot. It was grittier, far less tearful and far less "arty-farty".

"Arty-farty"? Well, I think that the TV series was afflicted by a slight case of post-1960s "arty-fartiness" (as we called it round my way) - little tweaks and twiddlings - and the fanciful "symbolic" lightning tree, the name Follyfoot, the general wimpishness of Dora, and the notion that some romance might develop between her and Steve (all absent from the book) were perhaps at least partly responsible for my negative response to the show. The plot of the book which provided the inspiration was based at a rest home for horses, dealt with their often sad histories and the people who lived and worked there, but the sentimentality and what I thought of as the "girly" romantic crap of Follyfoot was missing.

The characters in Cobbler's Dream were so much more compelling. And so much less posh in some cases. Dora, for instance, was not the daughter of a bigwig ambassador, her father was a grammar school teacher, she was not the niece of the Colonel (Captain in the book) and the farm was a very poor place, founded by a horse lover years before and run by a committee. Stryker was a bit shadier than in the TV series, and his heart of gold far less evident. And Slugger was also different, and his wife a former all-in wrestler. Beats having a lightning tree around the place any day.

I thoroughly enjoyed Cobbler's Dream, finding it truly to be a dream of a read, and I've re-read it several times since and still have it. Cobbler's Dream is one of my all time favourite books in fact. Follyfoot, despite it sharing the commendable pro-animal stance of the book, I found to be cobblers in comparison. 

Having said all that, there was nothing wrong with the acting in the show. Gillian Blake was superb as Dora - her misery was so real, it reached out from the screen and added to my own.

Our memories of past pop culture are usually coloured by the situations we were in at the time, and I have to say that when Follyfoot was broadcast I was not happy. I was living on a sink estate years before the term was coined, and life was very harsh indeed. That's probably another reason why Follyfoot didn't gel with me. Although upper-middle-class Dora's misery seemed very real, I could find no sympathy for her, shedding copious tears over some horse that had been mistreated or was heading for the knacker's yard. Just getting by from day-to-day was a struggle in my little world.

And Sunday tea times were particularly horrible occasions, with school looming the next day, and family tensions at their worst, especially if my dreadful step-granny was visiting.

As I wrote earlier, the memory of Follyfoot lives within me, so one day I might revisit the lightning tree. But don't hold your breath.

Monday, June 02, 2014

You're Only Young Twice - The Adventures of Flora, Cissie, Mildred, Dolly, Katy, Miss Milton, Finchy and Roger

A scene from the opening titles of "You're Only Young Twice" - Flora Petty enjoyed her "True Romances" in the Residents' Lounge at Paradise Lodge, collected elephant ornaments, and often wreaked havoc from September 1977 to August 1981.

I had an interesting e-mail last week:

Was the ITV sitcom You're Only Young Twice anything like Waiting For God?

Good heavens, apart from the setting, it was not! You're Only Young Twice, written by Pam Valentine and Michael Ashton and produced by Yorkshire TV, was a lovely old-style sitcom which ran from September 1977 to August 1981, with two Christmas specials (1979 and 1980). Waiting For God was screened in the early 1990s, and by then a great sea change had occurred in the world of TV sitcoms. They had moved on and matured, often mixing drama and issues with comedy in a way that was just not thought of in the 1970s and early 1980s. That's not to say '70s sitcoms couldn't be daring for their time - for instance, late in the decade we had Mixed Blessings, a show about a white man and a black woman getting married. That was pretty controversial at the time (although not as controversial as many might think today), but it was a show that I (and most of my friends) found lecturing and boring. The depth and drama incorporated into later efforts in the 1980s and 1990s was quite missing from Mixed Blessings.

Watching Waiting For God, I was deeply moved by leading character Diana's sadness about her infertility. Watching You're Only Young Twice, I laughed like a drain as Flora Petty wept over the latest issue of True Romances, Mildred Fanshaw thought her son had dumped a baby on her, and Cissie Lupin fed her green jelly babies to the birdies. Flora and co gave us first-class lighthearted fun.

I think a clue to the tremendous difference between the two series can be found in their respective titles: You're Only Young Twice - old age as fun, a second childhood; Waiting For God - well, it speaks for itself.

Big Chief Flora Petty turns Cissie Lupin into a Red Indian.

You're Only Young Twice is a huge favourite of mine. I think Peggy Mount, who had been playing TV battleaxes since The Larkins in the late 1950s, was absolutely wonderful as fiercesome dragon Flora Petty, Pat Coombs as the gloriously dippy Cissie Lupin, was terrific, and I loved the... I was going to write "supporting characters", but they were more than that. They all made excellent contributions to the Paradise Lodge brew.

Let's canter through them...

Mildred Fanshaw (Diana King), widow of Colonel Fanshaw, was beautifully vinegary. She had a "pretty" purple Honda and her unseen son Damien was a cause for concern; then there was past-it actress Dolly Love (Lally Bowers) - who lived on memories of former glories and a little too much alcohol at times; Katy O'Rourke (Peggy Ledger), she of the bizarre Quick Knit creations, was endearingly dotty in the first two series; Miss Milton (Charmian May), who owned the Paradise Lodge Superior Residence For Retired Gentlefolk, was terribly posh, well meaning and endlessly harassed by Mrs Petty; and the lovely Miss "Finchy" Finch (Georgina Moon) and poor old kindly-but-set-upon Roger (Johnny Wade) assisted at the home and provided those all-so-necessary sniggers about "slap and tickle" - usually present in any late '60s to early '80s sitcom.

And what about Gladys Smallwick? Don't mention that woman to Flora!

The cast were absolutely excellent.

 The ladies of Paradise Lodge. Who will meet the Queen? Vote for Flora!

As for the stories in You're Only Young Twice... well, there was that dreadful time when Cissie won a car in a competition (it wasn't what it seemed) and Mr Chatterbox interviewed her for the local paper; the awful situation when everybody got stuck to a draught excluder on Christmas Day; and who could forget the dinner in Mr Petty's memory - when Flora put laxative in the peas instead of salt and everybody ended up queuing for the loo? Mildred's "Wall of Death" stunt at the local church fete simply doesn't bear thinking about - in fact the whole day was a disaster, particularly as Cissie put Flora's winning raffle ticket in a teacup and Flora drank it. And what about the dark day when Dolly sang I Am Sixteen Going On Seventeen? Furthermore, to end this catalogue of unfortunate incidents at Paradise Lodge, do you recall Katy's baby rompers turning out a little unusually? Or dear Dolly nearly getting to star in a TV commercial, but being upstaged by Flora, who was then upstaged by a bullrush, slicing a sliced loaf?

I do.

"TV Times", September, 1977. The series begins. Writers Pam Valentine and Michael Ashton compare Peggy Mount and Pat Coombs's comic pairing to Laurel and Hardy. In the pic, Flora soaks her feet. Well, fake sleep walking through a goldfish pond can make that a great pleasure.

Early on, several of the supporting characters had catchphrases: Dolly Love's was: "Just a minute! Just a cotton picking minute!"; Mildred Fanshaw was oft-heard to squawk: "Hang on! Hang on!"; and a perplexed Miss Milton often demanded: "What are you telling me? What are you saying to me?" Once the characters were established, the catchphrases were dropped - although Mildred did occasionally give us hers. Well, "Hang on! Hang on!" suited her so well. Roger the handyman was often driven to say, "I dunno why I stick this job!" Poor geezer.

It could be said that Flora bullied Cissie. But Cissie sometimes got her own back when Flora was incapacitated, and Flora cared about her. Indeed, Flora even turned down a proposal of marriage because her fiance didn't like Cissie and did not want her living with them after they were wed.

Do watch it! If you love comic greats like Peggy Mount and Pat Coombs and the traditional English sitcom you will not be disappointed, I promise you. You're Only Young Twice is a thing of great beauty. But don't expect an early version of Waiting For God. Flora and company give us something very different, despite the similar setting. But just as good.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

I Like 'Lectric Motors

Loved this. Late 1979, kind of cusping 1980. At this point, we were all wondering what the 1980s were going to be like and eagerly looking out for clues to emerging trends. This wasn't quite how the '80s were to be, but I think it's brilliant, although it had no commercial success and was tucked away on John Peel.

I never saw the promo. Love the retro elements (especially those '60s style babes!) and I think this is horribly underrated, although the electric guitar is a teensy bit overdone.

But then it was 1979!

Patrick D. Martin, I salute you!

"Listen here, you great big t*at, don't you use a wrench on that..."

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Rings On their Fingers - And Anthony Hayward - Not An Overwhelming Hit...

Diane Keen as Sandy and Martin Jarvis as Oliver in "Rings On Their Fingers". Were there special circumstances surrounding its success?

Roz writes:

I've just read this by TV writer Anthony Hayward, regarding the sitcom "Rings On Their Fingers", starring Diane Keen and Martin Jarvis:

Feminists criticised the programme, written by Richard Waring, but failed to stop it becoming an overwhelming hit with viewers, attracting as many as 21 million during its three series.

Twenty-one million was a HUGE audience, even back then and I don't recall "Rings" being that big a deal. What goes on?

Anthony Hayward - silly-billy! First thing to do when writing about TV ratings covering 1979 is to check if the ITV Strike was on at that point! ITV was the only popular opposition to BBC 1 in those days, and with less than 5% of UK households having a video recorder, pretty much the only game in town.

So, when ITV disappeared during that long and torturous strike, most of us didn't switch to "posh", minority interest BBC 2, but good old Beeb 1 - and the results were spectacular. Even quite naff shows and repeats received mind boggling ratings, which is what happened with "Rings On Their Fingers", which suddenly sprouted an outrageous 21 million viewers in October 1979, the month the ITV Strike fortunately ended. "Rings" began in October 1978, but sadly didn't make the top twenty monthly ratings at all then.

Having said that, "Rings" was a success, scoring 15.6 million viewers in November 1980, probably helped by viewers who had become acquainted with the show during the ITV Strike.

Do check on the dates in future, Anthony Hayward, old bean - and BBC, take that advice too - see here.

Sheesh, and here's me, no training, no paid position in on-line or other journalism, running rings around some of those who have!

Thanks for querying this, Roz!

And stay tuned to The REAL 1970s for the facts as they actually happened!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The '70s - The Golden Age Of TV? I Think Not...

I find it fascinating that the 1970s are so widely vaunted as "The Golden Age Of Television". Can somebody please explain? For instance, the BBC's "I Love The 1970s" site places Monty Python in 1970.

It began in 1969.

"Ah," say '70s fans," but it was at its height in the early '70s!"

Oh, I see.

Not The Nine O'Clock News was "at its height", and indeed had the line-up we all remember, in the early 1980s.

But it appears on the BBC "I Love The 1970s" site on the 1979 page.

"Ah," say '70s fans, "But it BEGAN in 1979."

Um... er... does not compute.

Meanwhile, let's not forget the 1970s had its fair share of dross (Take The Wife or Rings On Their Fingers, anybody?).

And for every The Sweeney there was a few dozen flops.

And didn't the 1960s and 1980s also have lashings of memorable and innovative TV shows?

I think they did.

Do we reject the 1960s because the shows were largely in black and white?

Do we reject the 1980s because it was the era of Thatcher and Reagan?

The "Golden Age of Coronation Street" is also apparently the 1970s. But the show slipped catastrophically in the ratings in the early '70s! And I find many of those episodes unwatchable. Things perked up brilliantly when Bill Podmore became producer in 1976, but that hardly qualifies the WHOLE of the 1970s as being the "Golden Age" of Corrie, does it?

The '70s had some great TV.

It also had loads of trash.

Rather like the 1960s and 1980s.

So, people, please try and CONVINCE me otherwise, please! Try to make me see what you see.

And comments such as:

"70s woz great, wot are you talking about?" will not be published.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Views Of The '70s Part 2 - Klackers, Racism, The Cambridge Rapist, Frisbees, Digital Watches And Maxi Skirts...

No videos of TV series, but books based on them instead - Upstairs Downstairs, the '70s answer to the '60s Forsyte Saga, was hugely popular both on TV and in book form.

In the second part of our "Views Of The '70s" series, Christine, who is now fifty-one, looks at life in the decade for a young working class woman...

It's odd what's written about the '70s and I know a lot of it is not true. Firstly, the '70s were not a time of dazzling new technology, that was the '80s - and a lot of it was clunky and unaffordable even in the '80s!

The '70s, for me, was the last non-technological decade. We had the TV, of course, and although colour had come out in 1967, my family had black and white in the '70s. The licence was a lot cheaper, and we couldn't afford to buy or rent colour.

New technology in the 1970s was things like calculators and digital watches. I never had a calculator, I didn't know anybody who did, but digital watches from around the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s were objects of desire. There were several boys I knew flashing them around - it was hinted some of them had "fallen off the back of a lorry", and they weren't very reliable. I remember one lad showing me his digital watch, proud as punch, "Look at this!" and I looked, and the face was blank!

"Battery must've gone!" he said.

"But you've only just got it!" I laughed.

Nobody I knew could afford a video recorder - and we never dreamt of having one. They came home to roost in the 1980s.

TV games systems, computers, all that kind of thing did not get going until the 1980s.

But that's a reason why I have fond memories of the '70s - because we led much simpler lives. Mind you, I have fond memories of the '80s too, because technology from that decade now seems so funny.

I left school in 1974, and the sort of things I'd amused myself with as a kid were things like colouring books and Spirograph - a '60s game that was huge in the '70s. I loved it dearly.

And there were klackers - a huge craze in the early '70s. I don't know why now. As I say, simpler times!

Kids were not really innocent in the 1970s. I remember even little girls, under elevens, singing one of the favourite rhymes of the time: "Ooh, Ah, I Lost My Bra, I Left My Knickers In My Boyfriend's car!"


I didn't like pop groups like Led Zeppelin - they seemed a bit of a '60s hangover, and nobody round my way wanted to be thought a hippie. That was '60s - dead and gone, as far as we were concerned. We did wear flares, the bigger the better, but not because of their '60s hippie roots. They were just a great fashion. There was a lot of snobbery surrounding groups like Led Zeppelin. I knew a girl who was into them and she was really up herself - and lived in a nice, semi detached house in a nice avenue!

Listening to the charts on Radio 1 and watching Top Of The Pops were our weekly doses of the pop scene. And you could get pop magazines, Donny Osmond posters, etc. There was one magazine called 45 and it had all the words of the latest songs in it. I used to get that, because it was sometimes hard to hear what people were singing on our decrepit old record player and radio!

My favourite pop star was David Essex. He seemed gentle and had the most wonderful eyes. I also liked Gilbert O'Sullivan. I liked my pop to be fun and/or gentle. Noddy Holder had a mouth like a barn door, and seemed like an overgrown schoolboy. Little Willy won't go home! How I wished Noddy would bog off!

I think people were getting very cynical back then, they were hard times, and people talked about the '70s being a "hangover decade" - the '70s were paying for the '60s party. But, cynical or not, in the '70s, and in the '80s too, we'd still cry over schmaltzy rubbish. I wept buckets over Terry Jacks's Seasons In The Sun...

"It's hard to die when all the birds are singing in the sky..." Still makes me tearful!

There was well over a million unemployed, and when I left school I worried about getting work. My step-mother thought I should join up! She took me to the Army Centre in Cambridge - almost frog-marched me there! They had a chat, my step-mum was pretty determined, but I didn't want to go in and it didn't work out.

I had three crumby jobs - the first was making and packing hand-made jewelry - £10 a week - for a 40 hour week! You could not live on £10 a week even then, no way! I got laid off from there, and went to Cambridge to find work. It wasn't easy, even there. I went to the Citizens Advice Bureau, who gave me addresses to help find jobs and accommodation.

I finally got a job with Cambridge University in the Metallurgy Department. The pay wasn't great, but it was liveable. The Cambridge Rapist was on the loose... Terrifying! This man wore a black balaclava-type mask, with "RAPIST" written on it when he was on the prowl... and he was absolutely for real.

I got a ground floor bedsit with mice in it and an old sash window without a lock! I was so frightened because of the rapist. I imagined waking up to find him in my room. I screwed the window frames together, and got into trouble with the landlord about it for damaging his property - he didn't seem to give a damn about my safety!

I loved the arrival of Disco music, but didn't like Punk. A friend of mine said she thought Johnny Rotten was sweet. That was the '70s!

Toys for kids were still things like colouring books and Plasticine, and, around 1976, the Frisbee came over from America and was a huge craze.

The '70s were not a decade to be timid in, and I think I was timid! I wore glasses and was picked on at school, and I remember in Cambridge one day during the heatwave of 1976, I was in the town centre when a gang of youths started following me, shouting terrible obscenities, and jostling me. It was a busy area of the town, but nobody came to my aid. In the end, I ran into the police station. The boys disappeared faster than light!

I got married in 1977 and, although it didn't last (I was divorced in the late 1980s), I was happy for some years.

Fashion in the '70s was funny. We were very influenced by the 1960s and it was a bit garish and yucky early on, but there were some nice things. I remember smock tops - which were lovely retro garments, and long dresses with puffed sleeves came back. Denim jean skirts were also popular. The mini and the maxi were both introduced in the '60s, of course, but after a while the maxi saw off the mini in the 1970s and maxis with black tights were very popular.

We didn't go abroad on holidays. I've read that foreign holidays became increasingly popular from the '60s onwards, but we couldn't afford that, and neither could anybody else we socialised with. And yet we had lovely holidays in England - and I still favour the South Downs or Yorkshire over any foreign destination I've visited.

With three TV channels, the box was far more of a shared experience and in the '60s, '70s and '80s, there were many fads and catchphrases. There was one ad, I think it was for Playtex, and it may have been late '60s, but in it a very posh woman said: "My girdle's killing me!" and we all went around saying it for ages. And the ad for Cadbury's fruit and nut chocolate, in the early '70s, "Everyone's a fruit and nut case", ended with a secretary saying: "Full stop, Sir?" and we all went round saying that, too...

Then there was Anchor Butter... the ad went: "If you want a better butter, there's no other name you'll utter, because Britain's better butter bears the Anchor sign!" Great. But we all ate margarine, because it was so much cheaper.

I remember the ad for McVities digestive biscuits - with a Welsh man being offered a cup of tea and saying: "It's too wet!" A drink was, apparently, too wet without a McVities digestive!

And the Muppet Show with the song "Ma Na A Na". Everybody was saying it. I remember saying to my insurance man when I opened the front door to him: "Ma Na A Na?" to which he replied: "Funny you should say that - Ma Na A Na!"

I don't think the '70s were really a golden age for TV. There was a lot of trash on, and I found the '80s rather better. More subversive. But Upstairs Downstairs was magic. When Lady Marjorie went down on the Titanic, I remember reading that one village went into mourning - although the action was set in 1912! Within These Walls was another classic and I adored George & Mildred.

I didn't like Love Thy Neighbour, because I found it crude and I did find the racist language hard to take. I know it was supposed to be designed to take the heat out of things, but I think it largely failed.

But I have to say that I don't think that the vast majority of English people were racists in the 1970s. In those days "English", "British", "Scottish" and "Welsh" may have meant white because, traditionally, that's what they were. Nowadays the traditional UK nationalities are not a colour, which is absolutely how it should be, because things have changed.

On the council estate where I lived, there were several black families in the 1960s, well before the '70s, and they were our friends and neighbours. There was racism, usually the odd bigoted white Alf Garnett type, or bored trouble making white youths, and occasionally trouble would come from a black person (I remember a black man calling a local woman "white trash" - there was a big uproar about it, but nobody lambasted him louder than his own wife, who was also black!), but in the main we all adapted and got on together.

We were all ground down - it was a sink estate before the phrase was coined - and in the '60s and '70s (when there was an influx of "Boat People" on to the estate) we had to get along. I think we were all basically united in poverty. It was a great bringer-together. Far better than the ridiculous PC moralising of the modern day.

And a lot of stuff on the Internet is so untrue.

People seemed a lot more honest in the '70s - a lot less hypocritical than today. I think the 1990s witnessed a huge rise in hypocrisy and people became smug and basically fooled themselves into thinking they were "nice" and "caring". In the '70s (and '80s, too, I believe) we didn't fool ourselves.

Given a choice between the 1990s and early 2000s and the '70s and '80s, I'd say, "give me the '70s and '80s any day!"

I miss the honesty.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Views Of The '70s - Part 1 - "I Hated The '70s - Until Punk!"

"We're so pretty..."

Being a grotty working class kid in the 1970s, who has not many fond memories of the decade, I asked two older acquaintances of mine for their opinions. Here's the first, from Martin, now aged 54...

I hated the 1970s for a lot of their run. I suppose I resented missing the 1960s, because although I remembered them, I wasn't really part of them. I'd been a kid. But that was the decade, we '70s youths were told, where it was all happening. The '60s, oh, and the 1950s, too. Our elders chortled smugly about Teddy Boys and the Summer Of Love, and it almost felt like they were trying to destroy us. They had had it all. We had a heap of crap.

Employment wasn't that easy to come by in the 1970s, and I spent a couple of lengthy spells on the dole. People like Noele Gordon in Crossroads were wearing the funky, cutting edge late 1960s fashions... it was awful.

There was a sense of school playground anger and boisterousness in some early '70s mainstream pop, like Slade, or it was back to the '50s with Alvin and Showaddywaddy.

And then there were Pink Floyd, and Led Zep. Like the 1960s never left

It's Yesterday Once More, sang The Carpenters, and there was lots of nostalgia around.

Some male pop stars wore eyeliner, but made it absolutely plain they weren't queer.

Danny La Rue had done the cross-dressing bit far better years earlier.

Disco music was naff - a synthetic dance formula - and UK discos were mostly naff dives. Nothing like those you see on the telly. We called our local disco "the meat market" - because you went there to "pull", and many times it closed early for the night because of blood on the dance floor.

And discos were a 1960s innovation in the UK, we were often reminded by our self-obsessed elders.

And then came Punk. John Lydon later said that he put a stop to the 1970s, because somebody had to, but that wasn't the case. Abba were also king.

But Punk gave us something real, something actually from the heart of the '70s, something that was not vapid pop. 1950s guitar riffs may have been featured in some Punk stuff, we may have worn torn old clothes, but Punk actually said something about the 1970s, it said things were shit. Things were hopeless. There was nothing good. No future!! And even Punk itself was a rip-off. Worthless.

Punk was energy, Punk horrified the older people, they couldn't claim it as '50s or '60s.

Flares were everywhere in the 1970s. I'm surprised our houses weren't flared. But it was made plain by the smug elders that the fashion for flares began in the 1960s. And Punk said: "You take your flares, and you take your 1960s and shove 'em where the sun doesn't shine!"

God Save The Queen was artificially kept off the No 1 spot for the Silver Jubilee week in 1977. It was really No 1. We knew that.

Punk was the real legacy of the 1970s. The really happening thing. Every time I see a '70s TV show where everybody looks 1960s and talks '60s jargon ("Groovy"! Well out of fashion in the '70s - and in fact did anybody ever say it?) I want to throw up.

"I did it my way!" said Sid Vicious. And then in early 1979, he was dead, along with Nancy Spungen.

Punk's Not Dead! we screamed.

But it was. It had been dying since it was born. It came suddenly. It thrashed in, ranting, ripped, wild-eyed, sniffin' glue...

And suddenly it was dead.

You saw a lot of people in Punk gear from 1979 until about 1982. But it was just wearing the clobber. Empty.

In mid-1979, the mainstream music scene was focusing on a '60s Mods/Ska revival and what the 1980s were going to be like. Better get ready. Gary Numan started cranking up his synthesiser.

Oh, God, no!! I screamed.

Lyrics you'd need a psychiatrist to work out, and a monotonous sound which took us into the next decade.

There'll never be anything as real as Punk again, ever. The posturing hippies of the '60s were not as real as Punk (Peace and Love? Drugs and shagging, more like!). The terrible '80s posers with their god-awful dress-sense and hair-dos were never as real as Punk (although they were real, just vapid).

Punk was so real it hurt.

Three years of the 1970s amounted to something as far as I was concerned. The rest was tedium. And that's now been rewritten for today's kids so it's not real.

But Punk was real.

And I'm so glad I was there.

It was worth the waiting.

People need to stop pretending the '70s were the '60s.

Punk's worth more than fantasy.

But then people are so pathetic nowadays. And John Lydon's been advertising Country Life English butter.

Pretty vacant...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

1972 - Donny Osmond: "Help Me, Help Me Please!"

"Someone help me, help me, please!" was the impassioned plea from Donny Osmond in his teenybopper hit Puppy Love. And that just about summed up my feelings whenever I heard it. The worst times were rainy Sunday afternoons, when I sat in my older cousin Sue's bedroom and was forced to listen to this drivel, which she played on her Mum's '60s box record player. Over and over again.

We were two grotty early '70s primary school kids, but Sue had been bitten by the pop bug early. And, as we spent lots of time together (my mum was always visiting her sister, Sue's mum, and dragged me along) I suffered a lot.

In those days, there were two camps amongst pop-obsessed schoolgirls: either you liked Donny Osmond, or you liked David Cassidy - not both. Kids enjoyed (and still do enjoy) being in opposing camps - it's all part of human nature.

And whenever Donny and his brothers appeared in public, it was like '60s Beatlemania all over again - with hordes of screeching girlies turning out to... er... screech and faint and things.

From the Daily Mirror, November 14, 1972:

The Osmonds bowed out of Britain yesterday with the screams of 500 frenzied fans ringing in their ears.

It was a remarkable farewell for the pop world's newest heart-throbs.

For many of the young girls lining the roof of the Queen's Building at London Heathrow Airport should really have been at school.

The truants began arriving before dawn, and when The Osmonds waved goodbye the screams of the girls drowned the noise of revving aircraft engines.

The Osmonds, whose ages range from nine to twenty-three, signed autographs. And the fans waved banners proclaiming: "Come back soon, we love you."

Fourteen-year-old Donny Osmond, currently the family's star turn, stared at the crowd and said: "It's fantastic! The British fans are wonderful."

The girls clearly felt the same way about their idols.

One eleven-year-old admitted: "I'm really meant to be at school today. But I'm only missing history and maths - and they aren't nearly as good as The Osmonds."

Another, from Hertfordshire, said: "My parents think I'm at school. I arrived at the airport very early to get a good place. It has been well worth it."

So there you have it. Yuck I said, Yuck I still say. Mind you, there were worse Osmonds than Donny. Remember little Jimmy being a Long Haired Lover From Liverpool?

Useless information: did you know that Donny's Puppy Love was a cover version of a 1960s Paul Anka song?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Happy Days - Back To The 50s - America Went Retro, Too!

A 1977 UK Happy Days novel.

So, as the '70s flopped, overshadowed by the '60s, pummelled by financial angst, anger and violence, the UK was not the only nation to seek refuge in the 1950s. Yep, the USA was well and truly in there - putting out Happy Days from 1974 until 1984.

And of course those glorious Happy Days weren't long in coming to England. We already had '50s nostalgia aplenty, of course - remember Wizzard, Showaddywaddy, Alvin Stardust, etc? But now we had the American angle and we found Fonzie just so great.

Fonzie's '50s style became much imitated - and this became even more pronounced with the release of Grease in 1978 - in which John Travolta played a be-quiffed Fonzie-style dude.

The absolute star of Happy Days was Henry Winkler as one Arthur Fonzarelli - AKA "The Fonz" - the coolest '50s dude in Milwaukee. He "hung out" with the likes of Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) - who was not very cool really. So that made Fonzie seem even cooler.

Only Richie's mother, Marion (Marion Ross) called "The Fonz" any thing other than "The Fonz" or "Fonzie": she called him Arthur.

Which did not seem terribly cool at all.

I remember that, back in the '70s and '80s, if the word "cool" was used as slang it was always used derisively - we regarded it as outdated '50s/'60s nonsense. "Oh, that's so cool," we'd sneer - meaning that whatever it was was actually fogey - out of date.

Now, when I hear twitty young things using the "cool" tag in all seriousness, I often snigger. Particularly as they often look like they've just stepped out of the '60s or the '70s or the '80s. So fogey.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Give The Old Western Format A Tweak And You Get "Grasshopper"!

From the Sun, November 15, 1973:

"Kung Fu" and its star, David Carradine, have already proved a big hit with TV viewers - showing there is life in the old Western format if you give it an Eastern twist.

"Ah, Grasshopper!" we rasped in playgrounds across the land.

Unusual Ways Of Trying To Make Money Part 1

From the Sun, 1973. The '70s were a cash strapped time. My family had never been wealthy but in the '70s we really felt the pinch. And it wasn't that we were selfless, loving individuals - no, we dismissed all that hippie stuff spouted about the '70s nowadays as "'60s trash" back then, and even in the '60s you needed dosh to drop out. In the '70s, we wanted money, we lusted after money. But we never had any.

The ad above is one of my favourite '70s artificates. "Hair rental. You Know It Makes Sense". You could have comprehensive regular service, no costly repair bills and a free replacement service. Rent your hair! Wot a spiffing gimmick.

Wonder if "Ambassador" made money on it? Doubt it. Still, nice to see some people were trying...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rewriting And Hyping The 70s Wasteland...

I was talking to a friend of mine last night, and we spoke about the subject of "70s hype" - the way the decade has been rewritten by everything from the BBC to Wikipedia, pinching 60s and 80s pop culture to make it a very different beast from the often grey drudge of a decade so many of us remember.

My friend pointed me in the direction of this YouTube goody - I've already covered this subject on the blog here, but it's good to know I'm not alone in spotting some of the 70s loving nonsense going on!

Monday, May 05, 2008

1979 - A "Watershed Year"?

We're going back to 1979. Not the BBC's I Love 1979, bolstered with early 1980s pop culture, but the real thing. And we start with Margaret Hilda Thatcher. The 3rd of May 1979 saw her becoming Britain's first female Prime Minister. All right she was a Tory, and my family were vehemently anti-Tory, but would a woman be different? More sensitive? I remember seeing footage of her washing up and saying how she understood the concerns of the everyday housewife. Hmm. And then there was the fact that Labour Isn't Working. Double hmm.

Did the big booming 1980s start prematurely as soon as Maggie was in place? I can honestly say NO. The big booming bit of the 1980s did not get started until c. 1983 - and Maggie was not the only cause.

Much is written about 1979 being a "watershed year" - with the election of Mrs Thatcher being a decisive vote by the electorate for a long-term free market economy. Actually, at the time, it seemed more like a "The Tories can't possibly be worse than this current lot," vote. And our fate was not sealed. It was events of the 1980s which had Thatcher re-elected twice. The election of Ronald Reagan in America in 1980 had great impact (more about that here) - as did the "Falklands Factor".

Thatcher's long reign was far too turbulent and far too influenced by outside events to be called "cut and dried" in 1979!

Reports about the Yorkshire Ripper make horrific reading...

There is no doubt the quietly spoken Yorkshireman hated streetwalkers, probably stemming from an incident when he was ripped off by one in Bradford's notorious Manningham Lane red light district. He began attacking women in the summer of 1975: two in Keighley and one in Halifax. All three survived and police did not notice the similarities between the attacks.

The first fatality ...

In the early hours of 30 October 1975 Sutcliffe's attacks turned fatal. Wilma McCann, a 28-year-old prostitute from the run-down Chapeltown district of Leeds, kissed her four young children goodnight and went out for a night on the town. She spent the night drinking in various Leeds pubs and clubs and by 1 am was touting for business not far from her Chapeltown home.

Sutcliffe picked her up in his lime green Ford Capri and took her to the nearby Prince Phillip playing fields. He suggested they have sex on the grass. Sutcliffe stated in his confession that she got out, unfastened her trousers and snapped: "Come on, get it over with." "Don't worry, I will," Sutcliffe mumbled as he reached for his hidden hammer...

The poster above refers to leads that the police were following in 1979 - involving somebody they had dubbed "Wearside Jack". This man had sent anonymous letters and an audio tape to the police.

But "Wearside Jack" was not the Yorkshire Ripper. The hoaxer's identity was finally discovered in 2005. He was one John Humble, a former builder.

Humble's hoaxes had great impact on the police back in 1979. Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield believed that the letters and tape were from the Ripper. Dial-the-Ripper phonelines were set up so that the public could ring in and listen to the tape. It was drilled into detectives that they could discount suspects if they did not have a Wearside accent.

The real Ripper had been interviewed by the police several times. From October 1975 to September 1979 he killed eleven women. As we headed into the 1980s, he remained at large...

Portslade, Dorset, in February 1979: storms caused great damage in many places.

A few headlines from early 1979:













And from August...

More from 1979 soon...

Monday, March 24, 2008

"I Know What I Like And I Like What I Know..."

"I know what I like and I like what I know..."

Was that phrase originally coined by Genesis on their 1973 album Selling England By The Pound?


My old Uncle Ern used to come out with it on a regular basis way before the '70s to defend his "stick-in-the-mud" ways to my go-ahead Auntie Vera and soap characters like Amos Brearly in Emmerdale Farm (not exactly a pop person) were sometimes heard to utter it.

And a mate of mine had a granny who regularly used it to describe "stick-in-the-mud" types she encountered.

It seems to have been in fairly widespread circulation.

Why has this come up? Well, basically, me and a few of the lads were talking about it last night in the pub...

Moving on, and in a packed post tonight we'll take a look at Rex King's Teletopics from the Weekly News, October 19, 1974...

Too many birthdays on the Golden Shot, Hughie Green on the Morecombe & Wise Show, the wonderful Sykes (the Bogsea episode was another brilliant retelling of a story from the original 1960s run of the series), Warship and a brand new series, Sweeney, being filmed in London. But would it challenge Kojak?

Meanwhile, big change for afternoon telly, with Marked Personal being replaced by new serial Rooms...

I remember both, particularly Marked Personal, which featured Stephanie Beacham. MP revolved around a company called "The BYA". But does anybody remember what those initials stood for? And what the company actually did? If so, please drop me a line!

I'd certainly sleep a lot easier...

Monday, February 25, 2008

1970s Food: Bread 'N' Dripping, Cereal Sausages, White Bread and Meaty Margarine...

Michael Barratt, BBC "Nationwide" presenter from 1969 to 1977, wonders how youngsters will survive without dripping in his "Weekly News" column, October 1974.

What did we eat in the '70s? Well, me and my very working class family tucked into such delicious delights as white bread, crispy pancakes, and cereal sausages...

Cereal sausages? Yes, this is what we now call the type of sausage my financially hard-pressed mother used to buy in the '70s. They were chipolatas, thin, tasted of nothing much except a hint of salt, and were quite dry. They weren't made of cereal officially. It was probably sawdust. They were horrible. Once on the plate, they'd quickly go all wrinkled - like fingers that had been submerged in water for a length of time.

Other treats included savoury pancakes. These really were a treat. When we could afford them, it was a sign of a financially sound period in that worrying era of galloping inflation.

We didn't eat pasta (apart from tinned spaghetti), courgettes, peppers, aubergines, nothing like that. In fact, I don't even recall seeing such things in the supermarket.

The only dried pasta available at the supermarkets was of the long, spaghetti variety.

We ate spuds - boiled, fried, chipped or mashed. We ate baked beans. We ate tinned processed peas. We ate lettuce, spring onions, cucumber and tomato as salad - and never had mayonnaise or salad dressing. It was always salad cream.

There was what "posh" people ate and what we ate in the '70s. And the two were very different things. And to be honest we didn't know much about how the other half ate.

Back then, I remember our margarine sometimes tasted meaty. I can't explain why, but it was sometimes quite strong. "You're bonkers!" children of the '80s and '90s tell me. But it's true. "It's whale," my mother used to say.

Bread was white. Cake was shop-bought for Sunday tea. Usually a Soreen malt loaf or dry madeira, but occasionally an artic roll! Real treat, that. The Sunday tea "savoury" was usually sandwiches. Paste. Or spam. Or corned beef.

We ate SO MUCH paste!

People try to make out now that we were all eating prawn cocktails and Black Forest Gateau in the '70s. I'm not quite sure when the prawn cocktail actually arrived. As far back as 1962, posh Annie Walker was talking about them in Coronation Street and Fanny Cradock wrote about the "ubiquitous prawn cocktail" in 1967 (more here). "Ubiquitous" in some circles. The Black Forest Gateau was a 1960s incomer. But my family had never heard of them in the '70s as far as I remember. Both were rampant in the 1980s when there was a bit of dosh around.

Soup was never tinned, it was too expensive unless you were ill, when tinned soup (particularly chicken) was considered to have great restorative powers. We had powdered packet soup, which was like dish water. However long you cooked and stirred, the bits of "pea" and "carrot" (ahem!) were hard and sometimes powdery inside.

Foreign food? Curry was a great fave round our way. The local takeaway served up awesome curries, swimming in yellow fat and in the case of chicken, containing nasty flabby pieces of chicken skin.

Mum fried in lard. We'd heard of cooking oil, but it was "dear" and an unknown quantity. Stick with what's cheap. Stick with what you know. A great favourite family filler was the traditional bread 'n'dripping. Actually, it had been falling out of favour for a decade or two and had always been a peasant food anyway. In the 1970s, it was still common amongst us commonest-of-the-common-commoners. When my step-granny used to bring round a pudding bowl containing cold meat juices and fat with the jelly on top, it was a tremendous culinary treat.

Spread it on your bread - LUVLEY! Fry the sausages in lard - LUVLEY!

Until around 1981, when I suddenly turned to my mother and said: "'Ere, Mum, don't you think cooking oil might be healthier?"

But that was around 1981.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Back to 1974...

It was a funny year. Except it wasn't, if you see what I mean. We had "streaking" coming across from America and hitting the pop charts ("Here he comes! There he goes! And he ain't wearin' no clothes!"). What was it all about? Search me. It probably came about because of all that 1960s “Be free, Man!” stuff - although people had run amok in public naked for kicks before that. 20th Century Words by John Ayto (Oxford, 1999) records this quote from a 1974 American Runner’s World magazine: “During the winter of 1958-9 a group of us ‘streaked’ all over Berkeley.”

So perhaps it was the rockin’ rollin’ 50s that set the trend in motion?

In 1982, we got our best remembered streaker - remember Erika here.

In April the shopping centre of Armagh was devastated in a fire bomb attack.

Clearing up after the bomb explosions in two Guildford pubs in October which killed five and injured sixty people.

Enoch Powell (of all people!) won South Down for the United Ulster Unionists.

Princess Anne was almost kidnapped on Wednesday, 20 March 1974. She and her husband, Captain Mark Phillips, were being driven to Buckingham Palace. In the Mall, a white car swerved in front of theirs and forced it to stop. 26-year-old Ian Ball, the driver of the white car, shot Inspector Jim Beaton, the Princess' personal detective, in the shoulder. The wounded Beaton managed to fire back, but missed. Then his gun jammed.

Ian Ball tried to drag the Princess from her car, whilst Mark Phillips held her around the waist to prevent it. A police constable happening upon the scene was shot in the stomach, but managed to alert other officers via his personal radio.

Ian Ball was finally apprehended by the police. In court, the man was described as "potentially suicidal and homicidal" and in need of treatment. He had sought to gain a ransome of £3 million, and to draw attention to the "lack of facilities for treating mental illness under the National Health Service".

In the photograph above, Anne is visiting her injured personal detective, Inspector Jim Beaton, in hospital.

Two General Elections this year. Ted Heath, he of the "jolly" laugh and accompanying bouncing shoulders so beloved of impressionist Mike Yarwood, stood down amidst a declared State of Emergency, which included a three day week. The results of the first General Election, held on 28 February, returned no overall majority - Labour 301, Conservatives 296, Liberals 14, and others 24. Mr Heath resigned on Monday, 4 March and Harold Wilson became Prime Minister again. Labour were back in No 10.

The country had its second General Election on 10th October - and this time Labour was returned with a majority of three. The photograph above shows election night in Trafalgar Square, with thousands watching the BBC's coverage on a giant screen.

Rising soccer hooliganism and violence amongst supporters saw clubs like Manchester United penning in their fans.

Here's Uncle Bulgaria meeting fans in 1974. The first Wombles book by Elizabeth Beresford was published in 1968, and the TV series and pop group which it inspired were major successes. The TV series began in 1973 after the book had been read on Jackanory and proved to be highly popular with viewers.

Remember key rubbing, spoon rubbing, and the weird and wonderful world of Uri Gellar? He had us all rubbing away and absolutely delighted if we managed to bend a Yale key or a spoon. Silly sods.

The photographs for this post come from Britain In The Seventies, by Ronald Allison (1980). As far as books go, it's pretty darned good. No '60s or '80s pop culture being shoe-horned in. Just the '70s. You know, the real ones!

Keep an eye on eBay for it...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Bleak 1970s - But Not For MPs!

From the Sun, November 5, 1975. The Sun and the Mirror were respectively supporters of the Right (Conservative Party) and the Left (Labour Party) of the political spectrum. The old Liberal Party seemed nowhere as far as the tabloids or my family was concerned. "Tories in disguise!" was all my mother would say about them.

Here, the Sun was taking great pleasure from three facts:

1) The Labour Government had been informed by a treasury consultant that spending was out of control.

2) The National Union of Teachers had warned that there wasn't enough money to buy sufficient books for the nation's schoolchildren.

3) Spending was looking rather extravagant as far as our MPs were concerned.

Click on article for readable view.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The '70s Love Retro!

As if it wasn't enough to be overshadowed by the 1960s, the dear old '70s sought out retro style at every opportunity. Think Laura Ashley. Think smock tops. Think of those revolting, to the floor dresses with puffed sleeves. Think of the '50s look. Think of the '60s look. Think of the '40s look. Think of those 1930s platform shoes.

But it wasn't enough to buy new clothes made in a retro style - the adorable '70s also decided that genuine old clothes were a WOW, as this newspaper article from April 1976 shows.

Not keen on the pearly king, but the Pre-Raphaelite maiden looks like a bit of all right.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pan's People

Pan's People - did they borrow those hats from "Upstairs, Downstairs"?

"Phwoar" was the barely suppressed word on my stepfather's lips whenever Pan's People flitted across our TV screen. He never actually uttered the word because my mother's gimlet eyes would be fixed on him. Don't get me wrong, Pan's People weren't always "indecently dressed", but they were enough of the time for my mum's exclamation "Look at that! They might as well be naked!" to be etched on my memory.

Pan's People had been making men go "Phwoar!" since their Top Of The Pops debut back in the late 1960s.

When I was a little lad, they didn't interest me. But when I reached the age of ten or eleven I started feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed when they were on. I didn't want to be watching this sort of thing with my parents, and back then neither I nor anybody I knew had a telly in their bedroom. And we had to watch Top Of The Pops. It was the MTV/VH1 of its day! That half-an-hour per week was absolute required viewing.

Ah, you say, couldn't you have video recorded it for viewing at another time, when the terrible "olds" were out of the way? The short answer is "We should have been so lucky!" Although video technology had been around for yonks, home VCRs hadn't and they were wildly expensive - and those were hard times financially. As I'm always pointing out on here and on the '80s blogs, only 5% of UK households had a VCR in 1980!

The mid-'70s Pan's line-up included Dee Dee Wilde, Babs Lord, Ruth Pearson, Susan Menhenick and Cherry Gillespie. The choreographer was Flick Colby.

"It's very hard work being one of Pan's People," said Susan Menhenick in 1975. "A lot of people think we only work one night a week, when we do the TV show. This isn't so, of course.

It was reported in the 1976 Top Of The Pops annual that Pan's People worked a six day week.
The day after their onscreen performance, rehearsals began for the following week.

Babs Lord said: "Sunday is usually our only day off. Then we usually just flop down, almost dead, and try to catch up on some sleep."

The Sun, 5/11/1975 - the Pan's People "PHWOAR!" factor gets an innocent young lad into bother.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jilted John Meets Gail Potter...

Simply one of the best pop records. Not just of 1978. Not even just of the '70s. But EVER.

Jilted John hit the charts just as I was on the very brink of teenagehood in August 1978 and it fitted my mood exactly. My hormones hadn't waited for the magic "13", due in October, and my body and moods were already undergoing thoroughly grotty changes. And had been since I was eleven.

So John's rantings suited me perfectly. John was really one Graham Fellows, and this record was a spoof of the Punk/New Wave songs around at the time - a tremendously clever one which had enormous appeal to us comp school kids. John was a bit of a retard, and, it seemed, also a bit of a "girly" (fancy crying all the way to the chip shop!) but somehow he struck a chord with me and a lot of "der lads" I knew back then.

As was the fashion in the Punk era, the song had a great 1950s guitar riff, and the "in" way to dance to it was with a 1950s hand jive. But you had to wear a thoroughly bored, pissed off expression whilst you did it. "Postmodern irony" some call it. Back in 1978, I had no idea what "postmodern" meant (it was just something the likes of Melvin Bragg liked to waffle about) and, despite studying theories of post modernity in the '90s, I remain unconvinced that it's not just a load of written and verbal diarrhoea, fresh from the bowels of academia.

Whenever I hear Jilted John, I'm instantly reminded of the grotty, greasy, zit-ridden little geezer I was back in 1978. Miserable little sod I was. And I had a hair cut just like Terry Wogan's.

I'm also reminded of the mates I had, some of whom are still mates of mine today. And standing in the local shopping centre during the evenings with said mates, "gobbing off" at passers by. And picking my zits. And being bored a lot of the time. And hating everything.

They were good days.

And by the way: Gordon is a moron.

Coronation Street, New Year's Day 1979, and Gail Potter (Helen Worth) is waiting for Brian Tilsley at the pictures. But who is the dashing fellow beside her?

Yep, it's Graham Fellows, AKA Jilted John, making a cameo appearance in The Street as a young lad who, like Gail, has been "stood up". He offered to go into the flicks with her, but Gail was not impressed. She never did know what was good for her that girl - remember how her life turned out with Brian, and think just how different things could have been had she settled down with Jilted John...

Mind you, she was a funny lass even back then. I mean, just LOOK at the gloves she's wearing...