Thursday 28 February 1986

…Last day of February.
Tuff [sic] luck for the people who have their birthdays on February 29th.
You haven’t got one this year.
Did two cards today, nearly three, in SMP.
Got another How We Used To Live book from the library…

My interest in the TV series was clearly not waning. This must have been a tie-in book that was available for pupils to borrow from the school library – a room that doubled as a classroom and which also housed, tantalisingly, the music trolley. Many’s the time I went into the library ostensibly to find a book but in reality to scrape a guiro.

Saturday 22 February 1986

…Recorded two theme tunes today: Bananaman and Grandstand…

I started taping theme tunes off the television in early 1985.

I would go to compile three volumes of cassettes, spanning the years 1985-87 and a total of 94 programmes.

I’ve still got all three tapes. Here’s the first volume, on to which I put the two themes I recorded this day 25 years ago:

Reeling in the years

I’m not sure what prompted me to start. Perhaps I heard somebody talking about it at school. Perhaps the family had just invested in a portable tape recorder (this is more likely). Either way, I loved doing it and always loved listening to the end result.

Side one track one of this first volume is the BBC children’s comedy drama Who Sir? Me Sir?, which I’m sure is barely remembered by even those who appeared in the cast.

More kids’ fare follows: Fraggle Rock, The Family Ness and Dogtanian.

But then it gets interesting, in the shape of Treasure Hunt (still one of the greatest TV themes ever) and Fireball XL5, which I probably captured during the school holidays when the series was being flung out disinterestedly by Central.

Here’s the reverse of the inlay card (the ink on the other side has faded to near-invisibility):

Adam Heath?

What riches!

I’m listening to this tape as I type, and I’m struck not just by how great most of the themes are, but also by how well the cassette has weathered the decades. The sound quality is pretty good – damn good, actually.

I think I had fairly decent taste back then. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at many of those shows today, save perhaps Brat Farrar and (on the other side of the tape) Zorro and Son. “Soppy Music” sounds today like something that must have accompanied a testcard or Pages From Ceefax. Adam Heath is a misspelling/mishearing of Adam Faith, which I must taped off the radio to fill up the end of the side (ditto A-Ha).

Extra Time, meanwhile, was a Saturday teatime show on BBC Radio Leicester, hosted by John Rawling.

As you can see, I didn’t discriminate. Flagships shows and humdrum efforts alike were recorded. Elsewhere Stilgoe’s On is next to Duty Free, and Bergerac is sequenced after Food and Drink.

The fact these tapes still exist at all is as much to do with my own archival instincts as the longevity of WHSmith-branded cassettes. Whatever went in to the manufacture of these pocket money treats has weathered the passing of time with hat-doffing aplomb.

Friday 21 February 1986

…In Art I did a Mother’s Day card which I think looks rubbish. I am hiding it under my bed…

I’m puzzled by this, as Mother’s Day in 1986 wasn’t until 9 March. Perhaps what was originally planned for this particular Art lesson had to be scrapped for some reason – a shortage of crepe paper, not enough Copydex – and a substitute had to be found.

Thursday 20 February 1986

…Got a Puzzle Trail book…

I still have this:

A dose of Doig

It was published in 1984, so was already two years old by the time it came into my possession (either bought for me, or at my request).

I always enjoyed Puzzle Trail. I would have been four when the first series was shown, yet I must have seen some repeats for I remember the hosts of the second series (from 1981) Tommy Boyd and Sally Grace fairly well.

I also remember not being convinced by Davy Jones (“of The Monkees fame” as the book puts it) who helmed the 1984 series. He didn’t know how to do funny voices.

The book uses each of the series as the basis for a sequence of puzzles and riddles, and also throws in a few one-page quizzers for luck. “Some of them are dead easy,” writes Clive Doig in the introduction, “the others are excruciatingly difficult”. I didn’t seem to have much trouble with this one:

A double dose of Doig

…though on closer glance it appears I have crossed out every single square. Oops. Either I lost patience or got angry. I don’t know why; I could easily have cheated, as all the answers are listed in the back.

Thinking back, geographical-based quizzing of a more elaborate kind must also have been gaining my attention at this time, in the shape of Treasure Hunt. I was certainly watching it in 1985, when I recorded the theme tune off the television and on to cassette. More of which anon…

Wednesday 19 February 1986

…In PE we did non-stop cricket.
Didn’t hit the ball once but I got two people out…

I’ve had to look this one up, as I had no idea what non-stop cricket was.

Turns out it is a demented incarnation of the titular original, requiring the batsman to run regardless of whether they’ve hit the ball or not, and for the bowler to bowl as soon as they are thrown the ball.

We would have played this on the council fields across the road, behind the police station.

Why were ten-year-olds being made to participate in such maniacal business? I never enjoyed school sports, whatever my age, but I probably tolerated this more than, say, a normal game of cricket, by virtue of it being such a legitimised shambles.

Monday 17 February 1986

…Started a How We Used To Live project today…

I loved this series. It was my favourite ever schools programme.

In retrospect, it was probably responsible for getting me hooked on history and thereby planting the seed of a lifelong obsession.

Even though I’d only just turned 10, I think there was something about the programme’s conceit that made a deep impression on me. The scope of the series, coupled with that haunting theme tune, touched a nerve. I’m still moved by that music today:

I even drew the image at 0.43 in this clip on the front cover of the aforementioned project:

How We Used To Live crops up a few times in diary entries during February. It would not be the last television programme with which I would develop a fascination so pronounced that I felt the need to commemorate it in writing.