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Archive for November, 2011

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Synthesizers

Posted by Big Boo on November 30th, 2011

Synthesizer Yamaha DX7Whilst the origins of the Synthesizer Keyboard lie in the early to mid twentieth century, it wasn’t really until the Sixties and Seventies that they really started to become used by musicians, mainly due to the reasons of reliability and cost.

In 1964 that started to change, with the release of the Moog (named after its creator Robert Moog) which was the first commercially available instrument of its kind. The first band to release an album featuring Moog created music was The Monkees, but they were soon followed by other notables including The Rolling Stones, The Doors and The Beatles.

The Moog created its sound by allowing the user of it to layer together simple waveforms of different kinds, such as sine waves. In doing so the sound created by the instrument could be changed to achieve a wide number of different effects.

In 1979 the Synthesizer market was shaken up again with the release of the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) as it took a different approach. The advent of micro computers allowed the Fairlight to work by using sampled sounds of real instruments, meaning that in theory at least it could sound like any instrument you wanted it to.

However the Fairlight and similar synthesizers still cost a huge amount of money when they first appeared, so remained the preserve of professional musicians, with probably Jean Michel Jarre being the artist who is most often linked with the Fairlight.

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Skip-It

Posted by Big Boo on November 28th, 2011

Skip-ItYou have to admire the person who came up with the idea of turning a device for restraining prisoners into a child’s play thing? Taking an item like a heavy ball and chain and converting it into a keep fit toy was a stroke of genius!

I’m talking about the Skip-It, which basically consisted of a rotating plastic ball on a length of flexible plastic that was attached at the other end to a plastic ring. You placed one foot into the ring, then by skipping up and down you could get the ball rotating around your leg. You then had to skip over the long chain-like part of the toy whenever it came round by your other foot.

Whilst I can’t prove that the ball and chain was the inspiration behind this toy, it seems pretty likely given that it looks exactly like one and was worn in the same way!

The Skip-It first appeared in the Eighties and became one of those instant fad toys that everyone wanted to have, and before long there were many badly constructed but cheaper copies of it in the shops, and children up and down the country were tripping over themselves trying to master the action required to keep the ball in motion.

In the early Nineties the popularity of the Skip-It was on the wane, but the makers then had to great idea of adding a counter to the ball which kept track of how many times it had been swirled round your ankle. A great idea, assuming it was accurate of course, as it then meant you had the aim of trying to beat your highest score, and you could compete with your friends to be the playground Skip-It champion too!

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Big

Posted by Big Boo on November 25th, 2011

Big starring Tom HanksI believe it is fair to say that Big, starring Tom Hanks, is one of the better examples of the “age swap” genre of films. You know the ones, where a child ends up swapping bodies with a grown up, quite often their mother or father, after making a wish near some kind of magical artifact. Whilst these films can be fun, they are often quite formulaic.

Big was slightly different though, and all the better for it. It may still have featured a magical object (in this case a fairground fortune telling machine called Zoltar Speaks) and a child making a wish to be grown up, but in this case the child doesn’t swap bodies with anyone else. Instead, they wake up the next day to find themselves fully grown.

The child in question in Big was a lad named Josh, who suddenly becomes a 30 year old man with the mind of a 13 year old. Josh first runs away from home when his mother thinks he is a kidnapper who has taken her son, and having nowhere else to go ends up at his school where he manages to convince his best friend, Billy, that he actually is Josh.

Billy helps Josh to get a job at a toy company as a data entry clerk, but it isn’t long before he befriends Mr. MacMillan, the head of the company and gets promoted to an executive job as a toy designer! This all happens because Josh happens to be talking to the boss one day in a toy store, when he comes across a giant floor piano, and in a very memorable scene Josh and Mr. MacMillan play Chopsticks together on the keyboard. Apparently the pair really did play the tune for real, as is evidenced by the very occasional wrong note.

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Play Your Cards Right

Posted by Big Boo on November 23rd, 2011

Play Your Cards RightI admit when I was growing up that I probably watched to much telly. Obviously I watched a lot of children’s television, but another genre I was particularly a fan of was the game show, and one of my favourites was Play Your Cards Right.

Hosted by Bruce Forsyth, the show started airing in 1980 and ran through to 1987. It was based on a US TV game show called Card Sharks, although by layering on a great many catchphrases Bruce made the show his own (quite literally, as when the show returned in the mid Nineties it became known as Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Cards Right).

Two couples competed against each other to win the star prize of a new car, which was the defacto main prize back in the Eighties due to rules which limited the maximum value of prizes that could be given away on TV. To do this, they had to both answer questions and play a game of “higher or lower” with some playing cards.

The questions posed by Brucie all required a percentage as the answer, and were based on a survey of 100 people, normally of a particular career or persuasion, and often had a certain level of innuendo associated with them. An example would be something like “we asked 100 policemen, have you ever used your truncheon for something other than police work”. Not a real one (at least I don’t think it was as I just made it up) but you get the idea.

One couple were asked to give their answer as a numerical value, and their opponents were then allowed to say whether they thought the answer would be higher or lower than this value. The resultant winning couple then got to play with the cards.

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Stocking Fillers - Suppliers to Father Christmas
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Mark Hall 1937-2011

Posted by Big Boo on November 21st, 2011

Mark HallMark Hall, one half of animation legends Cosgrove Hall, has died of cancer at the age of 74. If you do not immediately recognise his name, I have no doubt that you will have heard and have fond memories of one of the many animated characters he help developed.

If you ever enjoyed watching Chorlton and the Wheelies, Jamie and the Magic Torch, Count Duckula, Alias the Jester, Cockleshell Bay and of course, DangerMouse, then you have seen some of the output from Cosgrove Hall, the company formed by Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove.

Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove first joined forces in 1969 to create the company Stop Frame Productions, but when this company failed Cosgrove Hall was born from its ashes, with their first big hit programme being Chorlton and the Wheelies, one of my personal all time favourite shows from when I was very little.

Whilst they certainly enjoyed success with many of their early kids shows, arguably the most popular character they created was DangerMouse. The “greatest secret agent in the world” was an instant hint with kids and adults alike, and the cartoon has now been shown in more than 80 different countries, which must give a certain other famous cartoon mouse a good run for his money.

Sadly Cosgrove Hall went into liquidation in 2009, after the company had ended up becoming a part of ITV, who basically had very little interest in keeping the company alive it would seem. However, the company name doesn’t quite end there, as Mark and Brian recently joined forces with Francis Fitzpatrick, the creator of a more recent childrens TV hit called Jakers, to form Cosgrove Hall Fitzpatrick, who are in the process of creating new kids TV shows called Pip! and The Herogliffix.

Both Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove have more than made their mark in the world of animation, and their names more than deserve to be up there with the likes of Walt Disney, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

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Jumpsuits

Posted by Big Boo on November 18th, 2011

jumpsuitDuring the late Seventies and early Eighties the jump suit was a popular item of fashion clothing, though I personally have to wonder why. I guess some bright spark fashion designer must have been sat in a garage waiting for their car to be MOTed when they caught site of one of the mechanics, and inspiration suddenly hit them.

The phrase jumpsuit was first used to describe the one piece overall worn by skydivers and parachutists, but over the years it has become the term used to describe any item of clothing which has a one piece design for covering both arms and legs. They normally, though not exclusively, fasten up at the front of the body.

Whilst jumpsuits are worn by pilots and racing car drivers for safety reasons, the popularity of them as an item of clothing for every day wear can most likely be attributed to pop stars, starting back in the Fifties and Sixties with Elvis Presley of course, but other notable wearers of these clothes in the 1980’s include Freddie Mercury and Suzi Quatro.

It appears the popularity of the Jumpsuit was on the rise again earlier this year, and indeed many of the fashion websites are, at the time of writing this, still selling jumpsuits of various designs, including one off shoot known as the Playsuit. As far as I can tell this is a jump suit with the legs cut off. Fine, if you like that sort of thing, but I do think they could have come up with a better name for them. I can’t help feeling that Playsuit sounds distinctly seedy…

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Starbird

Posted by Big Boo on November 16th, 2011

StarbirdWhen I was growing up there were two big electronic toys that I really wanted to own. The first was the awesome programmable Big Trak, and the second was the slightly less educational, but just as fun, Starbird.

Starbird was a space ship toy which looked the business. It was sleek and groovy looking, just like one of the ships from Star Wars, and it could be pulled apart and converted into a smaller mini space ship as well. Best of all those was the fact that it made sound effects!

After switching Starbird on it would start to make a futuristic sounding engine noise. Tip the nose of the ship upwards though and the noise changed to sound like it was accelerating to climb higher, whilst tipping the nose down made it sound like it was decelerating. OK, this was all a bit nonsensical for a space ship, but it sounded cool.

Even better though was the little button on the top that fired the Starbird laser cannons. As well as playing a laser blast sound, some little lights under the lasers came on as well.

As if that wasn’t cool enough, the Starbird even went through a little revamp and was re-released as the Starbird Avenger. This had all the same functions as the original, but could also send and receive infra-red. It came with a reflective target which you could then practice shooting at, in a similar manner to the way Laser Tag worked.

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Yogi’s Treasure Hunt

Posted by Big Boo on November 14th, 2011

Yogi's Treasure HuntThe cartoons of Hanna Barbera had a distinct influence on me as I was growing up, though I have to say mainly through their older work. I loved Scooby Doo (before it was ruined by the addition of he-who-shall-not-be-named), Top Cat and The Flintstones, and I was also very keen on most of their shorter cartoons, featuring characters such as Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound.

Most of these cartoons had been made in the Sixties, but they were still regularly being shown on kids TV as I was growing up, such was their enduring appeal. What better then than a cartoon that brought many of these great characters together?

The result was Yogi’s Treasure Hunt, which featured Yogi, Boo Boo, Top Cat, Huckleberry Hound, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, Snagglepuss and more. It also featured my favourite ever cartoon villains Dastardly and Muttley from Wacky Races and Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines (better known, albeit wrongly, as Stop the Pigeon due to the theme song).

A quick aside about Wacky Races. Dastardly and Muttley always tried to prevent the other competitors in the race from winning by planting traps on the course for them. However, given that the courses didn’t appear to be lap based in any way, this meant Dastardly and Muttley always had to get in front of the pack to set their surprises. This being the case, and if they really wanted to win, they must have had the fastest car on the track, so why bother with the traps?

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