The school book club was a powerful way of teasing money out of tiny hands sent dizzy by a pamphlet featuring a toothy critter extolling the virtues of Gyles Brandreth’s latest offering. It was through these means the Whizz Kids series cascaded across playgrounds, advising juveniles on how to ‘beat the experts at their own game’ on subjects such as bikes, kites, chess and – ambitiously – ‘how to be a detective’. However, if that smacked too much of ‘edutainment’, there were plenty of good old fashioned laughs on hand, thanks to the prolific work of Michael ‘Cyberman Controller’ Kilgarriff and his 1,000 Jokes series, which included 1,000 Jokes for Kids of all Ages, 1,000 Knock Knock Jokes for Kids and best of all, Oh no! Not Another 1,000 Jokes for Kids. Children were also lured by the glamour of the film and TV-tie in. In 1981, who in their right mind could have resisted the high adventure of Schoolastic’s Condorman novelisation or an extra portion of Irene Handl in Metal Mickey’s Boogie Book? The self-styled king of the book club publication was the aforementioned Gyles Daubeney Brandreth who honed in on the joke racket with several volumes (including The Biggest Kids Joke Book Ever!) as well as trying his hand at the ‘misc’ category with such tomes as Super Heroes: The Facts Behind the Legends (James Bond can ‘fly anything from a spacecraft to an umbrella’, apparently), Quick and Easy Magic Tricks, The Hiccups at No.13 and many, many more.
S is for…
In the sixties they were a chilling vision of things to come, dispassionately pulsing out messages of doom whilst Michael Caine struggled to deactivate the timer on a ‘doomsday’ weapon. In the seventies, they were the absolute height of international global current affairs-related excitement, with news roundups getting much mileage out of ‘Mr Ford and the Japanese president watching the latest estimates being relayed on the outside of the complex’. By the early eighties, they were yesterday’s news, overtaken by digital display technology and reduced to novelty-sized novelty-purposed novelty items, snapped up at a now-affordable price by shopkeepers keen to add that extra bit of Tomorrow’s World-esque pizzaz to their shelves full of Daily Telegraphs and Gloy. The cunning conceit was that as well as proclaiming discounted prices to any passing potential shopper, they could also bring in a bit of extra revenue with regular punters forking out for a surprise personal message to be relayed to loved ones (“HAPPY BIRTHDAY MITZI!”). Unfortunately, freestanding keyboard-based operation made them prone both to ridiculous uncorrected spelling mistakes, and the mischief-making capacity of the more errant paperboys, resulting in the odd mild profanity appearing in red illuminated form. Within a couple of years, widely adjudged to be ‘a bit Metal Mickey’, they had all but disappeared.
TV CREAM SAYS: "...ANSWER YOUR MOBY COCK PIECE..."
OK, so technically speaking it’s called Glass Houses, but the eyecatching, diagonally refracted, jittery typeface (never ‘font’ before 1985) in question was most famously seen proclaiming Helix rulers to be ‘Shatterproof’, which indeed they were (they were easily bent out of shape, though), so as well as being a design classic it held no small amount of authority. Said authority was later undermined by its employment on the boxes of numerous cheapo video nasties which promised the grisly world but delivered a big spine-tingling sod all, but what the hey.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALSO USED TO GIVE ELECTRICITY SUB-STATION WARNING NOTICES THAT EXTRA FRISSON OF DANGER
A giant white ‘SB’ in a black circle in Radio Times was the thing to look for: it meant it was time to start planning how best to re-arrange your front room to appreciate a perennial of the pre-Nicam age. The Old Grey Whistle Test was the first to try a simulcast, inviting viewers to defy common sense by switching on their radio at the same time as the TV. Sight and Sound in Concert followed, bringing many a ropey turn from a provincial corn exchange to serenade Radio One and BBC2 audiences simultaneously. Each time, Radio Times painstakingly guided your bewildered dad through the business of properly arranging breezeblock-size speakers on the correct sides of the telly – or, in the case of BBC in Quad in 1974, ask viewers to sit with their TV inside a ring of four speakers, two each tuned to Radio Two AND Radio Three. More conventional simulcasting found a home on Top of the Pops, which tested the water on its one-thousandth show in 1983 (a dinner jacketed-Richard Skinner greeting viewers from the Radio One studios) then from September 1988 did it every Thursday until 1991, when the Beeb went properly stereo and the age of the true simulcast was over.
TV CREAM SAYS: SEE ALSO: QUADRAPHONIC
As the millitantly brown ’70s slowly turned into the ill-advised free market lime green of the ’80s (and it was very much a faltering, whoops-back-again-forgot-my-hat kind of handover that took far longer than most period-recalling punters allow) those clunky GPO telephones with the big old dumbell handsets and dials began to look distinctly out of date.
Gradually, at first in an all-new, glossy opening section of your local phone book and then on TV, BT began advertising a bewildering range of stylish, hi-tech replacements for your trusty 700 series. For the businessman, there were the sturdy Statesman and the elegant Ambassador. For the wacky, you had the inevitable ’20s-style candlestick and Mickey Mouse novelty models, as well as the bright orange ‘Ericofon’ which, being the dead spit of the phones in The Prisoner, looked decidedly out of place in this context.
But more than any of these, the opening up of the phone market led to a slew of sleek-’n'-sexy designs that took up the futuristic baton from where the ’60s classic Trimphone left off. You had the swanky React, the minimalist Versatel, the chunky Astrofon and, head and shoulders above the rest, the Slimtel InPhone. Those two words alone, surely, mark the historical spot where the trusty, utilitarian telephone got those first awakenings of fashionability and gadgetdom which continue to blight All Bar One conversations to this day.
The InPhone boasted a ground-breaking all-in one handset with no base unit (but still a big hefty wire going into the wall of course, this ain’t Dan Dare or nothing), a self-adhesive ‘colour-matched wall hoister’ and, best of all, a cracking good tune in the ads. Admittedly, said tune was Dobie Gray’s ‘The “In” Crowd’, reworded with some phonewise banter (‘I go where the InPhone goes’ – which, due to that wire, meant an unimpressive maximum distance of eight yards from the nearest socket), but coming from the mouths of lycra-clad aerobicists and red-braced city types, it heralded a bright new age of the phone as no-holds barred style statement. Er, thanks for that.
TV CREAM SAYS: NOW, YOU'LL BE UNSTAGGERED TO LEARN, GOING FOR A BOMB ON EBAY
In the ’80s, competition was good and proper, in ever sphere of endeavour. Even, it seems, in education. Early in the decade, teachers were encouraged to fling aside those doughty old bastions of primary school numeracy training, the Fletcher Maths books, and crack open big green, orange and purple crates of wipe-kleen laminated cards with cryptic little serial numbers like ’151/7′ in the corner, and cheery diagrams of elephants counting in tens on the front. The Schools Maths Project simultaneously made things easier for teach (kids were expected to get a new card once they’d finished the sums on the present one) and kids (the whole thing was a damn sight dumber than the old school books, but don’t tell the inspectors). But in away, it was also harder, as the whole thing became a race. Gone were the days of having to make sure everyone turned to the same page and did the same work. Now the brighter (or, more likely, more over-eager and slapdash) kids raced ahead, finishing off the orange box and ploughing into the purple without so much as a by-your-leave, while the rest toiled with square numbers down the lower reaches of the green crate. Thus an area of scholastic activity which had previously, and quite rightly, been free from any form of aptitude envy was now the subject of jealous looks as variously-brained kids found themselves meeting at opposite ends of the SMP crates. It could have come to blows at some points, we swear. It would all be justified if the ’80s generation turned out to be collectively any better at maths than those who went under the Fletcher regime, but, er…
TV CREAM SAYS: REPLACED, IN ITS TURN, AT THE END OF THE '80S WITH SOMETHING DOUBTLESS EVEN MORE SINISTER
’Wow! You’ve got a Soda Stream?!’ Surely there was nothing quite like the do-it-yourself fizzy drink-maker (or ‘dispenser’ as they called it) to secure instant kudos with all your mates, and make school lunch-breaks round your house a dead cert.
Everything about the device screamed fun, from the distinctive whirly bottles, those cylinders of gas which were handled by dad with almost undue reverence, as he’d heard down the pub someone once dropped one and blew the roof of his house away, via the extraordinarily gloopy syrup (mmmm, Tizer!), to the fart sounds that emitted from the device when your drink was maxed-out with fizz – who would have thought carbonated water could be such fun? First launched in 1903, the shaker-maker hit critical mass in the 1970s when that ‘get busy’ advertising campaign did the rounds, cajoling people – big or small – to ‘create a fizzy flavour with water from the tap’. Soon own-brand coke, fizzy lime and non-copyright-baiting ‘iron brew’ flowed in abundance, demanding to be supped through one of those hilarious curly drinking-straws. Still in production today, for some reason Soda Stream no longer seems to be quite the party-starter. Who’s to say a later Tony Slattery-helmed advertising campaign wasn’t wholly responsible?
TV CREAM SAYS: EARLY AD NOTABLE FOR THE MOST INACCURATE TOMMY COOPER IMPRESSION EVER HEARD. HE'S NOT FROM MACCLESFIELD, YOU KNOW!
The manned exploration of space is the zenith of human technological endeavour, a stirring quest for knowledge and achievement that has the potential to reach beyond petty nationalist politics and unite the entire world. More importantly, it’s a great way for weary primary school teachers to shut noisy classes up with an afternoon of ‘project work’. Looking back it’s easy to view those mighty Saturn V launches as little more than elaborate entertainment, but back then such blasé derision for all things orbital was far from the norm. Hours of telly were devoted to serious discussions of plans for asteroid mines, doughnut-shaped space cities and the like. People truly believed a new era was just around the corner. Some time towards the end of the 1970s, however, it became clear to even the most wide-eyed space cadet that a planet obsessed with cuts, strikes and of course ‘prices’ was not likely to be setting foot upon any new worlds in the foreseeable future, and Cape Canaveral reluctantly settled into its new, more humble role of enabling Adam Ant to bore half the western world with ‘Vive Le Rock’ at Live Aid.
TV CREAM SAYS: HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROJECT LESSON
RAW LIVER-ishly replusive to the touch and prone to attracting huge quantities of fluff from eight miles away they may have been, yet the strange invention of Dr Ken Hakuta became a short-lived early eighties playground sensation like few before or since. The long and short of it was that if these worryingly over-adhesive arachnidy cephalopods were affixed to the upper portion of a smooth glass surface, they would gradually roll down in a condensatory motion, before reaching the bottom and plummeting off into, you guessed it, yet more fluff. Their popularity was, however, terminally dented by rapid outlawing from the vicinity all self-respecting schools, due to their capacity for lesson-disruption and, in rare instances, failed experiments in seeing if they would also roll down an unwilling participant’s spectacles.
TV CREAM SAYS: USEFUL SECONDARY PURPOSE; EYE-MOUNTED PROP FOR IMPERSONATIONS OF STAR FLEET'S CAPTAIN ORION
Captain Birdseye’s ‘crew’ was the epitome of this advertising genre: the all-singing, all-dancing chorus of stage school children giving it full-on eyes-and-teeth enthusiasm in desperate hope of landing a starring role opposite Metal Mickey. Problem was, while the captain capably delivered his lines in piratical baritone (‘when I was a lad, this may seem odd/I dreamt of fish fingers, prime fillet of cod!’) the kids were handicapped by that dreadful squawky timbre that results whenever a large number of children of varying ages try to sing together. Yet advertisers persevered. Dungaree-clad imps pranced o’er hill and dale extolling the virtues of Dairylea (‘straight from the tub/our mums have found/there’s so much more to spread around!’) or confidently proclaimed: ‘we can tell it’s Tizer/when our eyes’re shut!’ Occasionally pop songs were rendered all shouty: Donovan for Bird’s custard (‘pour on mellow yellow!’) and Madness’ ‘Baggy Trousers’ for Colgate Blue Minty Gel (‘mum and dad use it as well!’) Towards the end of the decade, however, the link between processed foodstuffs and children leaping around bellowing inanities at each other became more a matter for medical concern than celebration, and the genre slid quietly into remission.
TV CREAM SAYS: HERE COME THE DAIRYLEA PUNCHABLES
Led by a jaunty insect of indeterminate species in union jack dungarees and Michael Bentine’s eager voice, the Stamp Bug Club was set up by the Post Office in the early 1980s in a bid to lure school kids into the sinister realm of mint gutter pairs and first-day covers, his antenna ever-poised to alert collectors to the imminent arrival of the British Engineering Achievements presentation pack. The philatelic industry had long waged a determined campaign to part kids from their pocket money. How many nascent collectors, tempted by the irresistible lure of the small ads in the back pages of Whizzer and Chips, flouted the instruction to ‘please tell your parents’ and sent off for 150 ‘triangular’ stamps ‘on approval’, a phrase that conjured up images of inspecting a priceless cache of rarities through a jeweller’s eyepiece? Meanwhile, the philatelic godfather that was Stanley Gibbons held dominion over an army of collectors from his lair at the plush address of 399, The Strand. The Stamp Bug Club existed to market new British commemorative issues, which sounded pretty exciting in theory, but in reality carried the damp whiff of the school project about them. Sets depicting ‘textiles’, ‘folklore’ and, most boring of all, ‘cattle’, hardly set the pulses racing. Daydreams of stumbling across an immaculate Penny Black were hastily ditched, in favour of a return to trading Panini football stickers in the playground.
TV CREAM SAYS: PROOF THAT PHILATELY WILL GET YOU NOWHERE
In between doling out the Crackerjack cabbages and soliciting estimates on a Mini Metro from The Price is Right’s baying mob, Leslie Crowther buttonholed housewives from behind his supermarket bunco booth, demanding to know if they, ‘could tell Stork SB from butter’ in a blind taste test that involved scoffing scones in front of a horde of chattering pensioners. Fortunately, they could never tell the difference, and once Les had turned over the mystery plates and confirmed Stork’s triumph, they vowed to spread the yellow gloop on their husband’s meat paste sarnies forthwith. Such was the fame of the Stork commercials at their height that Nookie Bear once responded to a scolding from Roger De Courcey for mumbling with the majestic line, ‘can’t you tell talk from mutter?’
TV CREAM SAYS: CROWTHER WASN'T KNOWN AS 'THE FACE OF MARGARINE' FOR NOTHING
While adults stuck with their dull muesli and bran-based cereals in the morning, kids wanted something more interesting. For parents, the only way to stop them demanding chocolate bars at seven o’clock was to buy a sugar-based cereal. Sugar Puffs emphasised their child appeal by an ad campaign starring the Honey Monster, a sucrose-addicted, hyperactive behemoth who seemed to be in a flat share with Benny Hill stooge and Puffs ‘mummy’ Henry McGee. Numerous slapstick antics prevailed, with collapsing shelves and the like leaving a gurning McGee permanently ruffled. In time the Monster was joined by mate Oggi, a lime-green extrusion of fun fur with a hippyish flower in his gob and an uncanny resemblance to the assorted furries who would later be plugging Monster Munch. In 1988 HMr was paired with punk poet John Cooper Clarke to front a series of TISWAS-inspired adverts featuring plenty of gunging and shouting, and Clarke’s specially composed Snappy Badges Song, a paean to the rubbish free gift then floating around in boxes of the cereal; something of a change from the nice kids who previously colonised these sorts of ads.
TV CREAM SAYS: STICK 'EM ON YOUR EAR'OLE, STICK 'EM ON YOUR BOOT!
Gardening in the 1970s was all about bringing the indoors outdoors. Inspired by jaunts to exotic (ie mainly dry) foreign climes, suburban stay-at-homes sought to replicate that carefree sense of sunlit spaciousness by turning their back garden into an extra front room.
Sadly the great British sky had other ideas, and no symbol of this brave new herbacious internationalism suffered more at the hands of our sarcastic climate than the swingseat. It seemed like such a winner: goodbye to mossy benches, soggy linen deckchairs and those folding metal mantraps that did for Terry Scott on a weekly basis. Now you could bring your sofa outdoors, lounge on it in the blazing noonday sun while sipping a very tall drink through a very curly straw, and rock, rock, ROCK yourself onto a state of blissful unity with nature.
Inevitably, damp reality meant any moments of swinging relaxation were hard won. Those lovely, floppy, comfy, betasselled cushions didn’t come cheap, so the gently oscillating sun worshipper was always minded to keep one eye open, scanning the horizon for signs of the approaching cloud bank, lest a freak downpour reduce their deep-pile polyester snugness to a sodden, shapeless, mould incubating mass. The first raindrop on the end of the nose triggered a lightning reflex action to leave any passing SAS officers gaping in awe. The recumbent guardian of the seat transformed instantly into a mobile mound of orange and brown foam, capering wildly towards the garage like Lichtenstein’s contender in a Quatermass-themed round of Jeux Sans Frontieres.
The cushions may have been rescued, but the frame was doomed to stay out there, slowly turning from bright white to a rust-mottled desert camouflage, which would have matched the cushions perfectly if that one weekend of nice weather hadn’t faded the buggers to a delicate shade of pink. Let’s face it, nice soft cushions belong firmly under a roof. Perhaps the best way to experience the swingseat was by snatching a quick forty winks on the demonstration model on the homes and gardens floor of a big branch of Woolworths, gazing idly across the thirty square feet of butcher’s grass dotted with examples of Qualcast’s finest, until the security man yells at you to clear off out of it. That’s your British indoor garden paradise, right there.