Before Alton Towers, before EuroDisney, there was the granddaddy of all theme parks, Wicksteed Park. Or, to give it its official title, Wicksteed Park Just Off the A14 Near Kettering. School coach trips would be organised from several miles around to ferry expectant kids to this Northamptonshire fun palace, wherein they could spend a merry day on: a playground (just like any other playground, but a bit bigger); a big dipper which dipped all of twice on the way round; a model steam train which chuffed round the grounds as sedately as you might expect, and a boating lake which was out of bounds. On the plus side, most of the stuff was free once you were in the place, and the epic queueing associated with modern day theme parks was unheard of. On the minus side, you were stuck there until the bus went back home.
W is for…
A child of that weird part of the 1950s when Britain was obsessed with all things American but, in trying to slavishly replicate US culture, ended up with something more tyically British than ever by accident. Hence Cliff Richard, hence the Austin Princess, and hence the Wimpy bar. Strangely named after a fat, dishonest mate of Popeye, the Wimpy bar began life as a little nugget of American fast food vending within that most British of instituons, the Lyons Corner House. They got the whole ‘burger in a bap’ concept, but fatally added such unmistakably Imperial elements as waitress service, cutlery, their own patented beefy brunch bender and Brown Derby dessert, and jaundiced cartoon beefeater mascot Mr Wimpy, as impersonated by many a cash-strapped teenager reluctantly trudging up the High Street in a big sweaty costume. Rumours that the whole enterprise was concocted by MacDonalds all along to make their own salty invasion seem like a blessed relief remain the stuff of sesame-seeded rumour.
TV CREAM SAYS: LATE-'80S 'COME ON OVER TO MY PLACE' AD CAMPAIGN VERY MUCH THE LAST MEATY HURRAH
The big massive all-singing all-dancing Woolworths spectacular was every bit a part of the countdown to the festive season as calls to Dial-a-Santa and pencil-sucking deliberation over your Christmas list. Taking up – gasp! – an entire commercial break, the mighty Winfield empire recruited a cavalcade of stars to endorse their glittering array of yuletide delights. Like Anita Harris, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor, inviting us to ‘have a cracker of a Christmas shopping spree’ to the strains of a ‘Super Trooper’-esque soundtrack, as a load of Cossack dancers and a Lady Di lookalike paraded round promoting bargains such as Matchbox Race and Chase (£29.99), John Bull Beer Kits (£1.99) and the Bontempi B225 organ (£199.95). In 1982, the ads boasted an Alice in Wonderland theme, with John Inman as the March Hare, while Tweedledum and Tweedledee, AKA Clegg and Compo off of Last of the Summer Wine, duelled over Galaxy Twinvader (£24.99, batteries extra), King of Hearts Windsor Davies looked impressed at his Bostik Glue Gun (£9.95) and Kid Jensen dressed up as a giant playing card to endorse Sony blank tapes (£2.49). The following year Joe Brown rolled up as the top-hatted ringmaster of, ‘the latest, greatest, ever more spectacular Woolworths Christmas show!’ DLT parped a trombone and promoted Price Blitz records, although the rationale behind hiring Lennie Bennett to dress up as a strongman to extol the virtues of the Old Spice Gift Set remains unclear to this day. But that’s the wonder of Woolies!