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Archive for March, 2008

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Willo The Wisp

Posted by Big Boo on March 20th, 2008

Willo The WispIf you were to venture deep within the trees of Doyley Wood, it’s possible you might just bump into Willo the Wisp, or one of his friends. That’s if you’re watching cult 1980’s cartoon Willo the Wisp of course, rather than the real Doyley Wood which is somewhere in Oxfordshire, apparently.

The cartoon was voiced by Kenneth Williams, who brought to life all the inhabitants in a way only he could. In fact, the cartoon representation of Willo the Wisp was even drawn to look a bit like Kenneth. A real Will o’ the Wisp is a strange quirk of nature, also given the latin name ignis fatuus, which appears over bogs and looks like a flickering lamp. Superstitious folk thought they were spirits, and they have also been called Jack o’ Lanterns and Spooklights!

Anyway, back to the cartoon series. Here Willo the Wisp was the narrator of the stories that took place between the trees. The main two characters to feature in each episode were Mavis Cruet, a rather overweight fairy who had trouble flying and even more trouble casting spells, but saw the good in everyone, and Arthur, an orange caterpillar who was probably the most practical inhabitant of the woods. The average episode saw Mavis and Arthur helping one of the other characters out, whilst avoiding the plans of Evil Edna – a spooky witch who was actually a television set. Edna was nasty to everyone, calling people names and zapping them with magic spells from her antenna.

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Open All Hours

Posted by Big Boo on March 19th, 2008

Open All Hours - Ronnie Barker, David Jason, Lynda BaronIn terms of repeat viewings on TV, The sitcom Open All Hours is probably second only to Dad’s Army. Personally, I prefer Open All Hours to Dad’s Army, if only because I have more memories of watching it the first time around.

Open All Hours was created by Roy Clarke, who was also responsible for the long running Last of the Summer Wine (longest running sitcom in the world no less, about to enter it’s 29th series!). It is set in a corner shop in Yorkshire that is run by Albert Arkwright (played by the late great Ronnie Barker). Arkwright is a bit of a penny pincher, and is immediately recognisable by his trademark brown shop keeper’s coat, and his comedy stutter.

Whilst some people did find his stammering a bit insulting, it was never done maliciously and was purely there to add comedy to the show. I especially liked the times where Arkwright would continuously trip over his words to the extent that even he got fed up and then said whatever he was trying to say in a completely different way. I recall an episode where he tried to sell a “Jamaican Ginger Cake” to a wary customer which came out as something like “Ja-ja-ja-ja-ja-jamaican ger-ger-ger-ger Jamaican ger-ger-ger-ger Ja-ja-jamaican ger-ger… oh, just take it”, Arkwright then stuffing the cake into the customers hand and ushering them away.

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Peanut Treats

Posted by Big Boo on March 18th, 2008

Chocolate PeanutsTo start with let us clear up some things. The picture illustrating this post is not one of actual Peanut Treats, it is just your common or garden chocolate peanut. Secondly, Peanut Treats are not the same thing as Peanut M&M’s. Granted they are very similar, almost identical, but to a lover of Treats they are not the same. Thirdly, and I’m less sure of this one, I don’t think they were actually called Peanut Treats – I’m fairly sure they were just called Treats. At any rate, I shall refer to them as such from now on.

As the M&M reference might suggest, Treats were peanuts coated in chocolate which was then in turn surrounded by a crispy outer shell. I have no idea who the manufacturer of these sweets actually was. I’m certain it wasn’t Cadbury’s, and I don’t think it was Mars or Rowntrees either. If anyone out there knows for certain I’d love to know! Please add a comment to this post to put us all out of our misery.

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Mail Order Catalogues

Posted by Big Boo on March 17th, 2008

1980’s Littlewoods CatalogueThe 1980’s was a very popular decade for the mail order catalogue, and whilst many of these old catalogues still exist today they are not what they used to be in terms of size and range of goods. This can probably be attributed to two main causes – one being the Internet (and indeed most of these catalogues have an Internet presence too) the other being the fact that people are now much more able to get to the shops, now that we have Sunday shopping and more people have access to cars and other forms of transport than ever before.

Some of the best known catalogues available were Littlewoods (presumably the same Littlewoods as the high street shop and the football pools), Kays, Empire Stores and Marshall Ward. The interesting thing about the way the catalogues worked was that they were normally commission based. Once you signed up for a particular catalogue you became an “agent” for that catalogue, and would receive a percentage back on all the things that were bought by you. To make the most of this it was therefore important that you persuaded as many friends and relations as possible to flick through the book and order something.

Most of these mail order catalogues allowed you to buy just about anything you could think of, from electronics to toys to garden furniture to clothes. In fact, clothes was where the catalogues were predominantly focused, with probably most of the book devoted to womens, mens and childrens outfits. One area where they excelled over shops was with the range available for a particular item of clothing. Quite often the catalogues carried clothes in the harder to buy sizes, and each item would normally be available in a number of different colours. Presumably in an attempt to appear more up-market, the colours were never black, white, grey, green and beige but black, white, charcoal, olive and stone.

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Stocking Fillers - Suppliers to Father Christmas
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Star Trekkin’

Posted by Big Boo on March 14th, 2008

Star Trekkin’ across the universe!June 1987, and the UK goes barmy for Star Trekkin’, a single celebrating all that was great (and stereotypical) about the classic Star Trek series – i.e. the series with Captain Kirk and Spock. No Trek cliche was left unused, except perhaps the one about Kirk always kissing the pretty female guest character. The song knocked Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody off the top of the charts (thank God) although it was only at number one for two weeks (also thank God!).

The song can be credited to a group called The Firm, though confusingly there have been three bands with the same name including a rock band formed in 1984 and a hip hop group – well, sort of, the full band name appears to have been Nas, Foxy Brown, AZ, and Nature Present The Firm: The Album. Anyway, the “The Firm” that was responsible for Star Trekkin’ were also responsible for another TV programme related novelty song, Arthur Daley E’s Alright, based of course on Minder.

Star Trekkin’ is a song in the mould of “The Music Man” or “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”, with each new verse added to the last so that by the end of the song it consists of five lines instead of the original one. Each new line was delivered by a different Star Trek character, the basics of which were as follows:-

Uhura: There’s Klingons on the starboard bow!
Spock: It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.
Dr. McCoy: It’s worse than that he’s dead Jim.
Kirk: We come in peace, shoot to kill.
Scotty: Ye cannae change the laws ae physics.

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The Weetabix Gang

Posted by Big Boo on March 13th, 2008

The Weetabix Gang BadgesUnsurprisingly advertising the very same breakfast cereal they were named after, the Weetabix Gang was an immensely popular ad campaign that ran during the 1980’s. The first tv advert starring them aired in 1982, and they proved popular enough that they managed to remain the official Weetabix mascots until 1989.

The gang were of course Weetabix themselves, and were represented as a gang of skinheaded bovver boys, with white shirts, drainpipe jeans and braces. Not exactly the kind of image you would expect a major breakfast cereal manufacturer to want to be associated with perhaps, but it was a decision that worked very well indeed.

The gang comprised of five members. Dunk was the leader, Brains was (unsurprisingly) the intelligent Weetabix who of course wore glasses, and Crunch was the muscle. Bixie was the token female member of the group (who wore yellow bows in her “hair”) but most peoples favourite Weetabix was Brian, who came across as being a little bit simple, and did very little except shout “OK!” in a quavery kind of voice.

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Flash Gordon

Posted by Big Boo on March 12th, 2008

Flash Gordon MovieFlash Gordon has just reappeared on our screens with a new series on the Sci-Fi channel, which reminded me of all the fun to be had from a viewing of the 1980’s Flash Gordon film.

Flash Gordon was originally created way back in 1934 by Alex Raymond, and in it’s first form was as a comic strip syndicated in newspapers. He was created in answer to another famous Sci-Fi character, that of Buck Rogers, and over the years has been immortalised in both print, film and cartoon. Aside from the 1980’s film probably the best known version of Flash Gordon is that of the old serialised versions originally shown in cinemas, with Flash portrayed by swimmer turned actor Buster Crabbe (who interestingly also played Buck Rogers in another serialisation).

Anyway, back to the film version. Here, Flash Gordon was played by Sam J. Jones (an ex-US Marine). The film didn’t do well at release, but is now looked back on fondly as being cheesey no-nonsense fun. In the film Flash is an American Football player who ends up accompanying mad scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol), who has detected a strange planet having entered the solar system and believes it spells the end of life on Earth. Luckily Dr. Zarkov just so happens to have his own space ship, so takes Flash, and Flash’s love interest Dale Arden, off into space to investigate.

The planet turns out to be called Mongo, and is ruled over by the crazily named (and even more crazy looking) Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow). Ming is hell bent on destroying the Earth by causing “natural disasters” such as earthquakes and storms of fire. Flash goes about putting an end to Ming’s plan, and does so by enlisting the help of the leaders of the various other civilisations that also live on Mongo, getting Prince Barin (Timother Dalton) and Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed) on his side.

Barin is the leader of a people who live in treehouses and have something of the Robin Hood air about them. One particularly memorable scene involves Flash proving his bravery by putting his hand in a giant nest belonging to a weird beetley thing. This creature has a deadly sting, and indeed Barin’s own son is used to demonstrate this (Barin’s son was played by Blue Peter’s Peter Duncan, in one of his few acting roles!).

Vultan is leaded of the Hawkmen, who are a viking like race who just so happen to have wings and can fly about. Brian Blessed was born to play this role, as he hams it up bashing people over the head with his club and uttering his two most famous lines, which can only be said by shouting at the top of your voice. The first is “Gordon’s Allliiiivveee!”, and the other is the repeatedly issued command to his fellow Hawkmen to “Diiiiiiiivvvvvveeeeee!”.

The film was also accompanied by an impressive soundtrack provided by no less than Queen. Whenever you hear the distinctive “dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum” beat of the title song you can’t help joining in by shouting “Flash! Aaaaa-aaahh! He’ll save every one of us”. Certain quotes from the film are dropped in here and there, including “Flash, I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth” and “Dispatch War Rocket Ajax to bring back his body”. Check it out below and I defy you not to get your foot tapping…

Search for Flash Gordon items on

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The Home Computer Course

Posted by Big Boo on March 11th, 2008

The Home Computer Course by OrbisThe Home Computer Course was one of those “part-work” magazines that you collected up every week and filed in the supplied hard backed binder to eventually build up into a useful reference library – or at least that was the idea. The Home Computer Course, by Orbis Publishing, was one such example of such a publication. It aimed to teach you everything you needed to know about computers from playing games, to home accounts, to programming in BASIC (Leading to many annoyed Dixons staff when some kid came in and entered the classic 10 PRINT “BIG BOO IS COOL!” 20 GOTO 10 on all the demo machines). In reality of course it was never going to make you a computer expert, but it had fun trying.

The biggest problem with it was it’s Jack of All Trades approach. Not only did it try to teach you everything from programming to accounts to word processing to games, but it attempted to do it no matter which computer you owned. Back in 1983, when the magazine first appeared, this was a pretty tall order, given that you had the Commodore Vic 20, Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX81, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Oric 1, Dragon 32, Jupiter Ace, MSX and a great deal more to choose from – not just the rather simpler PC or Apple Mac choice we are faced with today.

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