Bric-a-Brac

Active Learning

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The late 1960s were a time of cultural revolution in the classroom. The Nuffield Foundation, a group of academic liberals, took a look at the trad primary school setup – serried ranks of desks, big fat squeaky blackboard, largely pink globe, those long twiddly poles for opening the windows – and saw that it was bad.

Their remedy for this authoritarian stuffiness was to strip the place out and start again in a friendly way more suited to “active learning”. So out went the front-facing desks and in came clumps of tables for “group work”, little corrugated card partitions, nice brown rugs, and an almost pathological desire to free up as much “floorspace” as possible. The teacher’s desk was set at a jaunty angle. Comfy chairs cropped up in quiet corners. Formerly grey and peeling walls were plastered with cheery drawings and graphs on bits of stapled sugar paper. Oh, and don’t forget the obligatory chunky, sans serif alphabet running round the top of the wall.

Details mattered. Every bit of furniture fell under scrutiny. (“Does the teacher’s table have to be so big?”) Initially, conversions from the old “sit and write” regime to the brave new world of “topic work” were very much make do and mend: nice flat surfaces were made by sticking corks under the flaps of the old sloping desks, or by bunging an old blackboard over the lot (covered, of course, in Fablon). Later on, they were replaced by those grey tables with the rounded corners and the tubular metal legs which never quite fitted together properly. With penmanship out and plasticine in, the transformation was complete.

Of course, the teachers themselves were a different matter. The new breed of caring NUT candidates, all floaty skirts and kind looks, flourished in these new informal digs. The more old fashioned schoolmasters, rudely disinterred from their trusty old “point and shout” teaching methods, forced to wade through impenetrable reams of course modules and skillsets, and finding themselves all at sea with the necessary colour coded stickering systems, were less enthusiastic. Some of them smelt a Marxist rat among the pedagogic folderol, and stubbornly dug in their wrote-learning heels, amping up the crotchety disciplinarian shtick to almost cartoon levels in reactionary revolt. Stick that up your “circle time”, Harold Wilson!

TV CREAM SAYS: FIND A SPACE...

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Agitprop Theatre

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They may be full of identikit wisecracking unicyclists these days, but not so long ago the streets, precincts and school halls of the nation thrilled to the shoutily earnest strains of agitprop theatre. A spate of (relatively) massive Arts Council subsidy, a post-sixties revolutionary hangover and, most importantly, an abundance of out-of-work actors combined to produce a rich and decidedly nutty tradition of energetically hectoring, unashamedly didactic, and often willfully obscure “happenings” in public places orchestrated by a generation of young optimists who made it their mission to raise collective consciousness, spread the socialist gospel, agitate the complacent youth and – let’s face it, this was what it was mainly about – dress up stupidly and draw attention to themselves at the drop of a hat.

This wasn’t just some rarefied by-product of the nation’s underground arts labs. It’s instructive to note how many latterday stars of children’s telly began on the fringe. Colin Bennett, for instance, used the ’70s avant-garde circuit as the perfect training ground for playing accident-prone caretakers the following decade. Then there was Ken Campbell, the charismatic Dickensian uber-loon of the alternative fringe who, when he wasn’t staging seven-hour sci-fi epics in dingy rooms above pubs starring Bill Nighy and Chris Langham with sets painted by Bill Drummond, took his Roadshow around the country’s grottiest venues, combining re-enactments of unlikely urban myths with crowd-pleasing stunts, usually involving a hapless Sylvester ‘Sylveste’ McCoy (in the days when his hair, coincidentally, made him look a bit like Paul McGann) having ferrets stuffed down his trousers or a nine-inch nail hammered up his nose. And the number of mid-period Play School presenters who were strangers to a Brechtian matinee could be counted in the fingers of one hand. Agitprop was, in its own perverse way, the National Service of television presenting – the moment it was disbanded, you got the likes of Andi Peters clogging up the screen. Get some in!

This subsidised mucking about was a thing of infinite variety, but you could fairly reliably boil it down into four types.

Workers’ Theatre: Troupe of bright young types roll up to a factory cafeteria, bash out a play about the dignity of labour for the edification of the workforce, often with someone in a cardboard top hat and pig mask playing “The Chairman” for a few easy cheers from the ranks (this sort of stuff worked on a level of subtlety and nuance that would make Steve Bell blush). Lots of characters carrying conveniently explanatory placards. No-one mislays their trousers,  unless it’s to make a point about the moral bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie.

Community theatre: As above but in a temporarily disused gas showroom plus stacking chairs, and with less fat cat baiting. Worthy explorations of pressing local matters with a Q&A group session afterwards. Weak tea on tap. No canapes.

Educational theatre: A Volkswagen bus full of extremely eager young folk arrives, Godspell-style, at the school gates to captivate the upper second with a riot of sub-panto songs and Why Don’t You..? method acting. Prepare for an enchanting afternoon as our merry band weave loud but reasonably straightforward stories with a vague and uncontentious moral (“don’t be racist”, “drugs: hmm”, etc). Or failing that, get the whole class involved in some group workshoppery (nine times out of ten this will involve the mass recreation of a Victorian coal mine). If you’re extremely lucky, you might get a visit from Ken Campbell in his Paraphernalia phase. If you’re not so lucky, it’ll be three sociology postgrads in head-to-toe denim who’ve read far too much Edward De Bono.

Performance art: Oh, here we go. Who’s the in the park/town square/bit of wasteground opposite the Co-op? Why, ’tis your friendly neighborhood performance art troupe, either calling themselves something earnestly descriptive like Inter-Action or summat zanily anarchic like John Bull Puncture Repair Kit, in their white boiler suits, army surplus gas masks, comedy rolled-up shirt fronts and rainbow braces, lugging their step-ladders/birdcages/megaphones into view for another post-literate assault on the daily grind of urban reality. There’ll be gibberish, mock violence and plenty of hand-held percussion. The best bit will come when some bemused old dear wanders obliviously through the action on her way back home with half a pound of brisket. You’re not shattering her entrenched preconceptions of bourgeois society that easily, sonny.

And then… yes, of course, Mrs Thatch went and took it all away again. After Mary Whitehouse got wind of what two skyclad actors were getting up to on stage in The Romans in Britain at the National Theatre in 1980, the harrumphing cry of “buggery on the rates!” went round the nation’s Con clubs, and subsidised theatre found itself exiting stage left, to make way for a resurgent West End courtesy of that nice Mr Lloyd Webber. While it’s easy to roll a retrospective eye at the self-absorbed optimism of it all from this distance (and, admittedly, a lot of this stuff caused eyes to roll en masse even back then), only the most hard-hearted We Will Rock You disciple can fail to shed a tear for the passing of the agit, and indeed the prop. Where today could you nip into a dingy basement in your lunch break, watch half an hour of a bloke in German army regalia with a toy pig on a skewer shout impenetrable stuff about the crimes of Rio Tinto while people dressed as chairs skip about in an endearingly uncoordinated manner, and come away with fifty pence change? Unless you’re in Edinburgh in August. And that doesn’t count.

TV CREAM SAYS: "THE DAY OF RECKONING IS UNDER YOUR KILT!" "THAT'S NICE, BUT I ONLY CAME OUT FOR 20 ROTHMANS"

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Angel Delight

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A nation long reconciled to spending just as many hours in the kitchen preparing pudding as the main course (it’s Thursday, so it must be jam roly-poly) was always going to need something immediately comprehensible to shake it out of its sweetmeat servitude. Bird’s Angel Delight was just the thing, and moreover offered an additional boon by using up those half-bottles of milk leftover from breakfast. It debuted in supermarkets in 1967 promising the taste of strawberries and cream from colourful pouches of microdust. The fact this luminous powder had to be vigorously whipped together with milk was the cue for dad to ‘take a turn’ with the mixing bowl, thereby proving that no-one could ever say he didn’t ‘do his bit around here’. While a panoply of flavours and spin-offs, including birthday-party favourite the milkshake and the sadly over-ambitious home-made ice lolly, ensured the brand lined your ‘afters’ cupboard through the 1970s, its ultra-functionalism lost favour in the fussy Ice Magic-ed 1980s.

TV CREAM SAYS: ALWAYS TO BE SERVED IN A BRANDY BLOOMER-STYLE STEMMED BOWL... EXCEPT NO-ONE EVER HAD ANY

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Anti-Static Bumper Strips

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Useless!Possibly the nearest Halfords ever got to practising complementary medicine, these odd little rubber strips with arrows down the middle hung from the rear bumper of your average Volvo estate and dangled on the tarmac, ostensibly to keep junior in the back seat free from travel sickness by leaching out any static electricity from the car’s interior. Needless to say, this bout of holistic blokeishness was based on the same brand of opportunistic cobblers as copper bracelets for rheumatism. Soon after installing them, many a well-meaning but gullible dad was duly shamed by his slightly less daft mates over a swift half, and a mass outbreak of macho embarrassment practically killed off the anti-static strip overnight, although you still see the odd threadbare example clinging for dear life to the back of a decrepit 340E.

TV CREAM SAYS: SEE ALSO: KWELLS, THOSE LITTLE WRISTBANDS WITH A PLASTIC KNOBBLY BIT, 'JUST SIT UP AND ENJOY THE JOURNEY FOR GOD'S SAKE'

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Banda Duplicators

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Manpower!Sure, with modern technology even the most technophobic teacher can knock up a perfectly attractive handout in moments, and print out hundreds of copies at the click of a mouse – but they don’t have the special charm of the hand-cranked copiers that allowed for a smelly, feely, felt-tipped copy to be distributed around the class. The most obvious use of the duplicator was creating worksheets to ensure the latest school trip wasn’t just going to be an opportunity to mess about, but instead a spirit-crushing dreary traipse in search of boring facts about each exhibit. Back when graduating from a pencil to a pen was a major watershed, the excitement of the duplicator from a pupil’s point of view was possibly the first experience for many of the ‘forbidden’ adult stationary product Tipp-Ex covering up a slip of the pen. Truly the duplicator inspired a generation of temps.

TV CREAM SAYS: AS DEMONSTRATED HERE BY A VIGOROUSLY CRANKING MARTIN BRICE IN EVER DECREASING CIRCLES

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Barclaycard adverts with Whicker

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Whicker, about to avoid mentioning certain charge cardsCredit cards used to evoke an exotically luxuriant lifestyle. What orgies of epicurean excess, for example, carried on behind the doubtlessly imposing doors of the mysterious Diner’s Club? Cardholders were a breed apart, living a non-stop, well-groomed life of club class jet-setting in open-necked shirts, or storming into lush hotel lobbies and demanding ‘I’ve GOT to get back to Bahrain!’ During the 1980s, Barclaycard – after some relatively down-to-Earth ads featuring a punked-up Dudley Moore buying records – stepped up a social gear by drafting in the jet-setter’s jet-setter, Alan Whicker. He personified the trans-Atlantic lifestyle, his swooping tones firmly associated in the public mind with the moneyed world of film stars, monarchs, shahs and sheikhs. If a safari suit could talk, it’d talk like Whicker. The premise was simple: in a variety of exotic locations, Whicker extolled the globetrotting virtues of what he called ‘Bu-harclaycard’ by interrogating hapless fellow travellers over the worth of their inferior plastic in a series of awkward prose poems: ‘Will it let you sample the vintage vino?/will it help you look like Al Pacino?’ Local tradesmen answered with a curt, ‘non!’ leaving the Whickster to swoop languidly in and purloin the goods with ease using his superior door-jemmying rectangle, which he claimed, with gentlemanly discretion, was ‘accepted in more places than . . . CERTAIN charge cards I could mention.’ Despite Whicker’s best efforts, most future credit card ads took their cue from Access’s classless, chummy ‘flexible friend,’ heralding the modern era of APR rates and debt consolidation, where anyone with a fixed address and a clean shirt can acquire a brace of wallet stiffeners with ease.

TV CREAM SAYS: A TRIUMPH FOR FINANCIAL DEMOCRACY MAYBE, BUT WITH THOSE LOUNGE SUITS GONE, THE WORLD’S THAT BIT LESS GLAMOROUS

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Barratt Homes

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Building firms don’t tend to make memorable adverts, but Barratt’s long-lived 1970s campaign, in which a helicopter zoomed over the majestic expanses of link detached residences on Orchard Mews and Fairview Drive struck a chord. This was down to the none-more-actorly voice of the chopper’s passenger, Patrick Allen. His rich tones (even his voice seemed to wear a cravat) somehow imbued the mundane talk of double garages and double glazing with the stamp of fruity authority. Point of confusion: Allen also voiced the infamous Protect and Survive nuclear fallout films – did that mean a Barratt home could survive a ten megaton attack?

TV CREAM SAYS: MAGEE MAKES DEALS - BARRATT MAKE MOVES!

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Betamax

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Excellent choice!Of course, the picture’s better on Betamax – so claimed home hi-fi nutters in the mid-1980s unwilling to admit the entertainment system they’d spent hundreds on was minutes away from becoming obsolete. Sony’s also-ran of the video age launched in the UK in 1978, but had been plugging away in the US since 1975. A year later JVC had joined the fray with its VHS format and while Sony was slow to bring other manufacturers on board, the newcomer quickly jumped into bed with various Japanese electronic firms. Soon VHS was everywhere. Even though Beta led the way in innovations (it’s the system that brought us fast-forward and rewind!), VHS’s ubiquity and the tapes’ greater recording capacity swayed the public. By 1988, Sony threw in the towel, and got ready to launch their own VHS recorders.

TV CREAM SAYS: THE BRIDESMAID OF HOME ENTERTAINMENT

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Big D Nut Displays

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The British public house used to be an establishment of two halves. Turn right as you went in (or was it left?), and you hit the Saloon Bar: a suave, sophisticated, not to mention carpeted, area wherein soft music and plastic pineapples full of ice provided the perfect environment for giggly reps to be bought glasses of Babycham and Calviere by hopeful unemployed-yet-Datsun-owning lads in their best Burlington shirts. On the other side, however, you hit the resolutely all-male, fruit machines-’n’-Capstan-fog of the Public Bar, the chief signifier of which was an A3 card decorated with a topless Page Three Stunner, her ample charms obscured by twenty-odd packets of Big D (the nation’s number two nut, at least). In the days before Sky Sports, it was considered a prime source of entertainment for prannyish young shavers to ask the barman for two packets of nuts and giggle like idiots at the anticipated location of the subsequent comestible removal. Disappointment often came their way along with the bags of ready-salted, but then the Big D card was little more than a high-salt, high-testosterone advent calendar. Albeit one probably not endorsed by the General Synod.

TV CREAM SAYS: PORK SCRATCHINGS, FOR A MERCY, USUALLY WENT FOR A CARTOON BUTCHER ON THE CARD

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Bilton, Eileen

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biltonIn the race to engulf greensward at irresponsible speeds which was the 1970s New Town scheme, it was hard for a fledgling metropolis to stand out amid the clamour. If you were neither notorious like Milton Keynes, nor hideous like Cumbernauld, how to get people looking – however disgustedly – in your direction? For plucky little Lancashire conurbation Runcorn, the answer was twofold: piggyback on the more well-known nearby town of Warrington, and encourage anyone interested in moving to the exciting new hyphenated location of ‘Warrington-Runcorn’ to ‘Ring Eileen Bilton now’ for more details. To let daylight in on magic for a second, Eileen Bilton was no more a solitary secretary in a box-room with a Trimphone and a pile of brochures than Ken Morse was just one bloke with one very busy rostrum camera, but the name of a rapidly expanding real estate partnership. Still, that’s the new town all over – promises exotic intrigue, delivers the same old splother as usual.

TV CREAM SAYS: BUT WITH SLIGHTLY FLASHIER BUSES

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Bio-Tex

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Funny how advertising can alter the associations of a song forever. The Stylistics’ You Make Me Feel Brand New, a keening tract of close harmony disco schmaltz from 1974, should by rights conjure up images of the last couple dancing on a rapidly-clearing disco floor at the end of the evening, glitter balls going slowly out of focus, lonely men in polo shirts dejectedly draining the last of their lukewarm pint, and other provincial night out cliches of a certain vintage. Instead it stands for a blonde housewife flapping a white cotton sheet around an overlit bedroom, and a baby drooling mashed banana onto its bib. This misattribution is all the fault of Bio-Tex, ‘the only specialist soaker and pre-washer’, and its long-running ad campaign which famously identified, in the forthright manner of the ancient Greek philosophers, the four basic elements of dirt as blood, sweat, gravy and egg. Precisely what reasoning led to the isolation of this seemigly random quartet we’d have loved to know, but no working was ever shown.

TV CREAM SAYS: YOU HAD TO TAKE AN AWFUL LOT ON TRUST IN THOSE DAYS

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Birdseye Steakhouse Grills

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You remember the one. It featured a load of hungry builders in the back of a van, singing the immortal lines, to the tune of ‘Que Sera Sera’, ‘will it be chips or jacket spuds/will it be salad or frozen peas/will it be mushrooms/fried onion rings/you’ll have to wait and see/hope it’s chips it’s chips/we hope it’s chips.’ Yes, what a great advert for McCain Oven Chips that was. except, in a baffling case of mass delusion, everyone’s now forgotten that the commercial was, in fact, for Steakhouse Grills, presumably on the basis that seeing as they were singing about chips, they must have been advertising chips.

TV CREAM SAYS: CONTENTIOUS 'CHIPS' LINE LATER CHANGED TO 'NOTHING ELSE WILL DO!' M0RE LOGICAL, BUT WHO SANG ALONG TO THAT?

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Bottle of Guinness Supporter’s Club, The

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Wrigley's gums (about to start swimming along with his back teeth)The 1980s “sophisticated” advertising revolution didn’t happen overnight. Far from it. So entrenched, for example, was the good, honest, no-nonsense tradition of earthy advertising for the Emerald Isle’s bestselling meal in a glass that, even while square-spectacled tastemakers were upping the cultural ante to flog everything from unit trusts to liquid Gumption to the newly-moneyed chuntering classes, the harp-embossed stumbling syrup was still being aimed four square at your old school jobbing masses.

Our hero was Bernard Wrigley, comedian, folk singer, bit part telly mainstay and physical missing link between Bernard Hill and Bobby Ball, as a building site foreman telling his crew of a moment of stout-based epiphany via a quasi-rap reworking of When I Was a Lad from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, backed by a parping brass band. The content was classic ‘alcohol as fuel for the workers’ fare:

“I’ll tell you blokes, nothing tastes so good,
Real full-bodied like a man’s drink should.
From that day on, we worked at such a rate,
By six each night we’d built a housing estate!”

A series of variations on the theme followed, along with badges, tie-pins and eventually, in a sure indication the zeitgeist was being surfed, a Tiswas parody in the shape of The Bucket of Water Supporter’s Club.

This was, however, the last oompah-led hurrah for traditional Guinness advertising. Demographics were in amongst marketing men, which meant builders were out, as campaign after campaign sought to get more upwardly mobile lips clamped to pints of the black stuff. After a few misfires such as the unfathomably feeble Friends of the Guinless campaign, someone got Blade Runner out on video, noticed Rutger Hauer’s rough physical resemblance to a glass of stout, cooked up some Superdrug surrealism about dolphins while en route to Quaglino’s, and two decades of prestige twaddle were thrust at a thirsty but bewildered public.

TV CREAM SAYS: ALSO RIPPING OFF G&S WAS CAPTAIN BIRDSEYE, IN HIS "REAL COD FILLET, NEVER FULL OF GREY BITS" POMP

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Brian Rogers Connection, The

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Shut up! I can't hear myself pondering!A well-drilled team of young men and women performing an intricately choreographed burlesque version of Tropical Heatwave while three middle aged couples ponder what exactly Bertice Reading meant by leaving them a scale model of a Routemaster bus? It can only be 321, and the capable hoofers under the aegis of a former member of The Young Generation, Brian Rogers. Note for pedants: they’re only the Brian Rogers Connection when they’re doing a full-on cabaret routine – when they’re just prancing about to the latest waxing (eg. on Live at Her Majesty’s) they’re simply The Brian Rogers Dancers. Very important, that. Rogers, incidentally, now runs his own performing arts college in Essex, along with his wife Jan, herself former member of the Connection, as well as ‘vocal group Champagne’.

TV CREAM SAYS: WE'RE HAVIN' A HEATWAAAAVE...

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British Rail’s ‘Age of the Train’ ads

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That Subterranean Homesick Blues homage in fullBrainchild of boss Peter ‘Mitsubishi’ Parker, British Rail’s first proper TV ad campaign was a whistles-and-bells extravaganza of cut-price offers and posh cinematic entreaties. Dozens of Inter-City fleets, bodywork glistening in a perpetual rainstorm, plied forever-rolling countryside. Their cargo: the honourable Sir Jim’ll Savile. His armoury: a dark suit, a Maxpax coffee, shockingly sensible hair and an endless amount of paperwork that had to be done before that pressing engagement with the man who makes the machines for the hospitals. Wine-bar funk played while the kid who sang ‘Walking in the Air’ (Not Aled Jones, The Other One) belted out, ‘this is the age of the train.’ From a time when audiences were impressed by extended sequences of carriage exteriors, the ads did their job in leaving the slogan – somewhat meaningless out of context – in everyone’s heads.

TV CREAM SAYS: "1982 WAS THE AGE OF THE TRAIN. AND SOME OF THEM WERE EVEN OLDER." (TRAD. ARR. CARROTT)

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British Wine

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pomagneNowadays even the Daily Star has a resident wineologist , but until relatively recently the majority of British folk existed in a wine-free world, weddings and Christmases excepted. The holy trinity of Blue Nun, Black Tower and table-lamp-in-waiting favourite Mateus were as posh as it got, but slightly further downmarket were the British wines, or ‘wine-style drinks’ as they were often known, brewed in the UK from – shock horror – imported grape concentrate. Perhaps feeling slightly guilty over this deception, marketing departments poured on the terribly English heritage. Rougemont Castle advertised itself with that old standby, a suit of armour. Country Manor cooked up possibly the worst slogan ever written: ‘So light. So subtle. So buy some’. Playing to a slightly more continentally aware crowd, Concorde promised a bottleful of fun for under a pound. At rock bottom, however, was the grape-free plastic-corked sparkling concoction known as Pomagne, the nine percent proof prize in many a ‘spin the arrow’ local fete tombola which inspired countless teenagers to re-examine their breakfast.

TV CREAM SAYS: LONG LIFE LAGER (‘SPECIALLY BREWED FOR THE CAN!’) WAS THE SOPHISTICATED CHOICE BY COMPARISON

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BSB squarial

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A rare survivor in the wildSatellite telly in Britain has been around since 1978, however Sky Channel broadcasting Australian Rules football and looped episodes of The Untouchables to a few enthusiasts with giant dishes in their back garden doesn’t really count.  The satellite age didn’t really kick-off here until 1989 when a Rupert Murdoch-injected Sky Television went head-to-head against BSB. The stark difference between the two services was perhaps best symbolised by their radically different satellite dish designs: Sky’s was an ugly, wire-meshy, nobbly affair made by the bloke who ran Amstrad, whereas the BSB squarial was of a majestic white, adhering to that aesthetic so beloved of home make-over programmes – clean, sleek lines. Undoubtedly the squarial was the more elegant of the two but whose carried the most popular service? Well BSB offered state-of-the art D-MAC satellite technology and an eclectic mix of arts, sport and entertainment programming, but for those who chose Sky there was unlimited ALF, 21 Jump Street and The Price is Right .

TV CREAM SAYS: WAS IT REALLY A SURPRISE WHEN MURDOCH’S GANG WON OUT IN THE END?

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Butler, Neil

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A number of flushes? You'll be lucky!By the end of the ’80s, the old ‘ask the nice scientist man in the white coat about what low-fat toilet washing-up liquid powder is kind to your skin without static cling’ rigmarole was as old as the hills. If that wasn’t stifling enough, in the world of thick, gloopy bleaches, Domestos reigned supreme with its iconic bog pan cross-section ‘all known germs (thump) dead’ campaign. So when saucy green-jacketed lavatorial upstart Vortex crashed the under-rim scene, re-inventing the wheel was clearly not an option, and back to the lab went the ad men. But wait! There’s more!

It looks like a textbook seventies throwback. Kindly yet authoritative-looking independent microbiologist Neil Butler MSc, FI Biol, is approached by an off-the-peg investigative non-reporter, very much The Poor Man’s Sue Cook. She quizzes our learned prof about the results of his painstaking surveys of the germ-killing power of various bleaches ‘after a number of flushes’. Neil calmly reveals that, yes, one bleach did outperform those other well-known leading brands.

So far, so happy-with-your-wash. but then TPMSC throws a curveball. Instead of demanding Butler relinquish the victor’s name in terse, urgent tones, she cocks her head, raises a quizzical eyebrow, and idly inquires, ‘Care to name it for us?’ Now, this may not seem like a seismic shift in the grand cultural scheme of things, but in the heavily regimented world of scientifically-verified bleach advertising, this casual, almost coquettish request is something of a horse-frightener. ‘Care to name it for us?’ She might as well have grabbed Neil by the lapels of his lab-coat, removed his glasses, mussed his hair up, said ‘oh, sod the fucking bleach’ and demanded he take her out to the theatre, a little dinner, maybe afterwards to The Poor Man’s Stringfellow’s for a heavily disinfected floor show. This is racy stuff indeed.

But what does our man of science do? Less than a second after this leading question to end all leading questions is out of her mouth, he slams down the lid with a terse, ‘it’s Vortex’. There’s your answer. Sorry, TPMSC, very flattered and all that, but I’m a man of science, irrevocably wedded to the petri-dish (and Doris, 49, keen Rotarian, likes Battenburg and David Jacobs). You’ve got what you came for lady, now leave me be.

And that was it. Neil Butler remained very much an independent microbiologist, Vortex went down the pan in the sense the manufacturers hadn’t intended, and Lord knows what happened to TPMSC. And to cap it all, the tagline ‘Vortex kills germs longer – that’s scientific fact’ had to be amended later on to ‘that’s a scientist’s verdict’ in a rather cruel depreciation of Neil’s microbiological clout. Soon after that, even Domestos lost it, ditching the solemn u-bend cutaways for some ‘let’s get silly’ folderol to the tune of Big Bad Dom. The world, it’s tempting to muse, went singularly mad thereafter.

TV CREAM SAYS: SERIOUSLY, WHAT DID HAPPEN TO THAT 'REPORTER'?

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Button B

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Where do I stick my Phonecard?What to press in event of an unanswered call in those phoneboxes that you now only see in very exclusive neighbourhoods, or the back gardens of very rich Americans. Look closely and you may also spot the dots-and-dashes ‘telephone wire’ British Telecom logo, a loose telephone directory on a little shelf, a smiling police constable, and a whole street of people with keys to each other’s houses.

TV CREAM SAYS: THAT NUMBER AGAIN: WALMINGTON-ON-SEA 333

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Buzby

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All hail the feathered Cribbins!When Bernard Cribbins, the voice of Buzby – a straggly, phone pole-dwelling cartoon canary in personalised vest – phoned his mum to tell her she was on telly, a nationalised industry dipped its toe into the heady world of merchandise. plush toys, stickers, combs, necklaces and badges sprang up. Buses and Commer vans carried his image everywhere. Buzby’s adventures appeared in TV Comic and picture books detailing his laddish antics (‘Buzby’s Rock Group‘, ‘Buzby’s Girlfriend’). There was even an abortive attempt to privatise the company with the issue of ‘Buzby Bonds’. It all got a bit much, and he was eventually replaced with the less omnipresent (though more annoying) ‘It’s for you-hoo!’ campaign.

TV CREAM SAYS: DOUBTLESS COULD HAVE 'HAD' STAMP BUG ANY DAY

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