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Archive for December, 2007

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Christmas TV Listing Magazines

Posted by Big Boo on December 19th, 2007

Radio TimesWith todays satellite and freeview TV we are overwhelmed with TV channels, but when I was young we considered ourselves lucky to have three! When I was growing up we had BBC1, BBC2 and ITV, and that was it. Channel 4 arrived in 1982 bring us to a whopping four channels.

In those days the lack of real competition between the channels meant that everyone really looked forward to the Christmas TV offerings. All year we had sat through repeats of TV series and films knowing that for two magical weeks at the end of December we would be treated to a cornucopia of things we had never seen before. Christmas specials of comedy shows were always popular (e.g. Morecambe and Wise, Only Fools and Horses etc.), soaps got shown in the middle of the afternoon and the evening (much to my personal annoyance it must be said) and a wide variety of films got their TV premiere.

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Bananaman

Posted by Big Boo on December 18th, 2007

BananamanBananaman started life as a cartoon strip in the first issue of Nutty comic in 1980. Nutty was an attempt to pull readership from the main three comics of the time, The Beano, The Dandy and Whizzer and Chips. The comic had a fresh feel with it’s more off the wall humour and Bananaman soon came to be it’s best known character.

Bananaman was really schoolboy Eric Wimp, resident of 29 Acacia Avenue, who transformed into the powerful Bananaman whenever he ate a banana. He could fly and had superhuman strength, which could be increased further by chomping more yellow curvy fruits. He had to be careful not too eat too many though and to avoid abnormal bananas, as they tended to affect him in a not altogether positive manner. Bananaman was normally pitted each week against some parody of a famous supervillain, with some of the more popular ones being Appleman (guess what he ate), General Blight and alien race the Nerks and their leader King Zorg.

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Evel Knievel Stunt Bike

Posted by Big Boo on December 18th, 2007

Evel KnievelI found out today and was saddened to hear that motorcycle stunt legend Evel Knievel had died at the end of November this year. He took the world by storm with his crazy stunts like jumping across Snake River Canyon or multiple double decker buses during the 1970’s, making his last jump in March 1981. Today it is rare to see anybody attempt such crazy feats, and mores the pity.

Anyway, hearing the news of his death reminded me of the Evel Knievel Stunt Bike which was still popular into the 1980’s. This was a plastic motorcycle that came with an Evel Knievel doll to ride upon it, dressed like the man himself in the white Elvis style jump suit with the star-spangled blue V mark on the front. Of course, having only two wheels, a motorcycle wasn’t the best vehicle to be turned into a toy, as it wouldn’t be able to stand up on it’s own like a car, unless it had stabilisers or something on the back.

Stabilisers aren’t exactly a good fit for a stunt bike, so the manufacturers came up with the idea of powering it somehow. Battery power wasn’t a great solution as when the bike inevitably fell over the wheels would still keep going, wasting the battery whilst the child ran to retrieve their toy. Instead they came up with the idea of a rather cunning friction drive system. The bike was slotted into a special ramped device with a handle on the side. Turning the handle got a series of gears within the bike turning faster and faster, and when enough power was built up the motorcycle could then be launched out at great speed towards a ramp or some other kind of obstacle.

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Primary School Tidy Trays

Posted by Big Boo on December 17th, 2007

Tidy TraysLet’s face it, kids are not naturally tidy people. So how do you solve the problem of keeping mess to a minimum when you have 20 or so of them together for long periods of time in a single room? When I was at Primary School this problem was solved by giving each child was issued their own “tidy tray”, as the teachers referred to them.

At my school the tidy tray was a sturdy plastic tray large enough to comfortably hold a couple of magazines placed side by side. It was about 10 centimetres or so deep, so you could put a fair amount of stuff in there, and that’s exactly what you did. The purpose of the tray was to store all your exercise books, pens, pencils and other stationary items, reading books, artwork and basically anything else that you might possibly need during an average day at school. The trays were all stored in a big cabinet with slots, and a sticker was put on the front with your name on it, written in thick black marker pen in that large loopy handwriting that only teachers seem to be able to write in.

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Stocking Fillers - Suppliers to Father Christmas
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Don’t Upset Me

Posted by Big Boo on December 14th, 2007

Don’t Upset MeI remember getting the game Don’t Upset Me for Christmas one year from my parents, and I’ll admit that when I first unwrapped the present I was a little disappointed. I had never heard of the game before, and the box that mine came in wasn’t quite as colourful as that shown here. However, you should never judge a game by it’s cover, as when I sat down later to play the game with my Dad and sister I soon realised it was a very good present after all, as it was a really fun game to play.

The game consisted of two large plastic pieces which sat one on top of the other. The bottom section consisted of eight chutes, whilst the top half looked like a cross between a roulette wheel and an octopus, with a channel for a ball bearing to roll around in, and eight holes for it to drop through into one of the bottom section chutes. Each hole covered the end of a freely moving arm, which would be fired up when the ball bearing dropped through.

The rules of the game were based loosely on Ludo, that being each player had a number of cone shaped counters (five if memory serves) that they had to move from a starting position unique to each player, round all the arms and back to the start position. At least, those were the rules we played to! The cunning part of the game, and what made it so thrilling, was that instead of rolling a die, you rolled a ball bearing around the top section. Eventually it would drop through one of the holes, pushing the relevant arm up to reveal it’s underneath, which showed how many spaces you were allowed to move one of your counters. Of course, this meant that any counters sat on one of the arms risked being shot into the bowl in the centre of the game, sending them back to the starting position.

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Blue Peter

Posted by Big Boo on December 13th, 2007

Blue PeterIt’s funny how some shows just seem to run and run, and Blue Peter is one such show.  It must have been watched by at least three generations of kids by now, possibly even four, but for each generation there will doubtless be a particular set of presenters who stick in your memory as being “The Blue Peter Team”.

The show was devised by the humorously named Biddy Baxter, and the presenters I remember most are the trio of Janet Ellis, Peter Duncan and Simon Groom.  You could also add Yvette Fielding (better known now for Most Haunted), Mark Curry, the now late Caron Keeting (daughter of Gloria Hunniford, she sadly died in 2004 from breast cancer) and Sarah Greene to that list, but those first three are the embodiment of Blue Peter for me.

Janet Ellis (mother of pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor) was a favourite of mine because I used to love watching puzzle show Jigsaw, which she was also presenter on.  She most famously broke her pelvis whilst sky diving as part of one of her challenges.

Peter Duncan was also a bit of a daredevil, eventually getting his own spin off show Duncan Dares.  He ran in several London Marathons I believe, and also had the misfortune of having to wear a green and white checkered suit that made him look like a clown.  The suit was designed by one of the viewers in a competition, so he didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter!  Peter is currently the leader of the UK’s Scouts organisation, and I must say I think he’s an excellent choice.

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Atari ST

Posted by Big Boo on December 12th, 2007

Atari STAs already mentioned in an earlier post on this site, the late 1980’s home computer war was thought between the Commodore Amiga and the subject of this post, the Atari ST, or more completely the Atari 520ST. At a base level the two machines were incredibly similar, both having 512K of RAM and containing a Motorola 68000 CPU, but it was the extra graphical grunt that gave the Amiga a slight edge in the technology stakes.

The Atari ST was limited to just 16 colours, whilst the Amiga was able to display twice that number. However, given that many games were developed initially on the Atari ST and then ported to the Amiga, this was not really much of a restriction, at least until later in the machines life.

It’s audio facilities were also not quite on a par with the Amiga, but it made up for this by having a built in MIDI interface, allowing the machine to be connected to MIDI capable instruments such as keyboards out of the box. For this reason the Atari ST made a niche for itself in the role of music sequencing and production, and indeed many Atari ST’s were (and probably still are) used for this purpose long after the machine had been relegated to the back of a cupboard in favour of a shiny new Pentium PC.

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Mr. Benn

Posted by Big Boo on December 11th, 2007

Mr. BennIt’s surprising how many TV shows that were created in the 1970’s were still being continuously repeated during the 1980’s. I’ve mentioned classics such as Bagpuss and Bod already, and another such example was the barely animated adventures of Mr. Benn.

Mr. Benn, who lived at number 52 Festive Road, was a London city gent, smartly attired in his pinstripe suit and bowler hat. Every episode Mr. Benn would find himself at the local fancy dress shop, run by a strange little man in a fez. Mr. Benn would choose an outfit, and step into the changing room to try it on. Upon removing his bowler hat (one of the few parts of the cartoon that was properly animated, albeit only with about 6 frames of animation) the fancy dress outfit would crossfade on to him, and he would leave the changing room via a second door.

This door would take Mr. Benn to a different place and time, dependant upon the clothes he was wearing. When wearing an explorer’s khaki suit and pith helmet he would appear in a jungle, whilst a red suit or armour took him to a medieval castle. Wherever he ended up though, there was always some kind of problem occuring, which Mr. Benn would then endeavour to set right.

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