Never mind Internet ‘virals’ and crazes that get the drowsier variety of broadsheet hack hot under the collar, here was a pointless gimmick that came from nowhere, had no point to it and swept like wildfire through the heart of popular culture and out the other side in a matter of months. And to top it all, people actually paid money for the dubious privilege of being associated with it. Why kids and others old enough to know better would go down the youth club disco with a pair of silver balls on springs clipped to their head remains one of history’s great and tragic mysteries, but bop they did, in their thousands, albeit not for very long before hiding the bloody thing away in a drawer and hoping it was never mentioned again.
D is for…
Short of the 45p (plus bus fare into town) to buy the latest hit parade favourite? No matter, just phone up this service to hear a crackly version of it, for the price of a phone call! A tad more limited in scope than Spotify, perhaps, but a darn sight more rewarding. And for the youngsters, there was Dial-a-Bedtime-Story, wherein a celebrity (usually Johnny Morris) tell a five minute story on an infinite loop. The fact that you were almost certain to phone up in the middle of the story, thus having to listen to the end before you got the beginning, enhanced the experience tenfold.
TV CREAM SAYS: IN A SENSE, WE'RE ALL DIAL-A-DISCERS NOW
A speciality act beloved of Crackerjack and middleweight pantomimes, The Dingbats were a group of tumbling clowns in various vintage ‘comedy’ costumes (Superman, Keystone Cop, Groucho Marx, etc.) who perfected a mad little five-minute routine involving pratting about with a vaulting horse and a crash mat. All the gags were there: being ‘too scared’ to jump off the horse and causing a pile-up, sailing over the thing in a nonchalant ‘lying by a limpid stream’ pose, lifting up the mat so the next one missed it, landing astride the upended mat with a pained expression, and so on. They kept going for the best part of two decades, so a variety of line-up changes must have taken place, we assume.
TV CREAM SAYS: CRUELLY DENIED THEIR OWN TV SERIES WHILE THE VASTLY INFERIOR KRANKIES CLEANED UP
In the pantheon of moth-eaten feline puppet presenters in baseball caps, DJ Kat reigns supreme. His TV showcase, regarded by many as the finest programme Endemol ever produced, was a surprisingly long running Saturday morning effort for the late, lamented Sky Channel. Early doors satellite programming in excelsis (and, as such, the template for all 21st century children’s TV wherever it may be), it consisted of the usual ’80s cartoon capers (Jem, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, that sort of hand-me-down tackle) linked by Kat’s Netto Roland Rat banter with The Lovely Linda (and, latterly, Rod Hull’s daughter). Inevitably, Mr Kat contributed what the youngsters call a ‘rap’ for the theme tune. ‘This is the DJ Kat Show!/Who am I? DJ Kat!/I’m a star on the screen and a rapping machine/So what do you think about that?’ Cough.
TV CREAM SAYS: STUMBLED ON UNTIL 1995, AMAZINGLY
A grandiose scheme involving BBC Micro computers, laser videodisc players and Paul Coia. Surely nothing gets more 1980s than this? In 1983, BBC TV producer Peter Armstrong decided it would be a good idea to create a modern day version of the guide to Britain first compiled under the reign of William the Conqueror. With the publication’s nine-hundredth anniversary coming up in 1986, he swung into action. The new Domesday would contain text, diagrams and photographs, and – most importantly of all – it would all run on a micro computer. The country was divided up into twelve square-kilometre chunks, and schools were asked to send their pupils out and about taking photos of their designated area, writing about whatever aspects they fancied. With few guidelines laid down, the results were at times whimsical. Photos of York covered a street scene, a row of houses and someone’s mum doing the ironing – but didn’t even give a glimpse of the world famous cathedral. When assembled, the data – 40,000 pictures and more than 27 million words – was converted into two video discs, which allowed users to browse over maps, calling up photographic images from around the country at the twirl of a trackball. The future was here. Of course, some twenty years later, the irony is that while the original Domesday can still be read, nowadays no one has the appropriate BBC computer hardware knocking around with which to access its 1980s update. Still, it gave Paul Coia a nice little spin-off lunchtime quiz in the form of Domesday Detectives in 1986, so it had been time well spent.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALL OF BRITAIN, AT THE SPIN OF A TRACKBALL!
What do you get if you combine an ancient pub game, the law of gravity, a big old Japanese warehouse, blatant corporate sponsorship and Norris McWhirter? The most absurd craze of the absurd craze-saturated early 1980s, that’s what! The basic premise: bored US college kids amuse themselves by setting up long lines of dominoes on their ends, flicking one to start a collapsing chain reaction, then phoning up a large corporation to get some money to buy half a million more dominoes. And so the thing escalated, incorporating criss-crossing paths, dominoes going up and down little perspex ramps, dominoes falling into little electric cars, little rockets that were ‘launched’ by falling dominoes, a domino going over a mini Niagara Falls in a barrel, the inevitable Mona Lisa depicted in different coloured dominoes, and half the dominoes being set off by accident by earthquakes, interloping wildlife, or an over-eager press photographer dropping his lens bag over the crowd barrier. What this all added to the sum total of human existence is anyone’s guess, but a gold star for dedication, definitely.
TV CREAM SAYS: RECENTLY UNDERWENT SOMETHING OF A REVIVAL, BUT... IT'S JUST NOT THE SAME, SOMEHOW
Hey, science can be sexy, too! And the nightclub of the future wouldn’t be complete without a cloud of dry ice through which a flickering blue laser is shone, giving a sort of fluorescent ‘cloud tunnel effect which is rather impressive for about ten seconds after you see it, then hopelessly tacky for ever after. Naturally, Peter Stringfellow bought a dozen, and leftovers found their way into the special effects of rubbish time-travelling aircraft carrier saga The Final Countdown, posh kids’ sci-fi drama Chocky and hopeless summer morning ‘space quiz’ Starstrider.