Monday 31 March 1986 (Easter Monday)

…Listened to first Cat’s Whiskers programme.
Watched Condorman starring Michael Crawford…

What’s the consensus on Condorman nowadays?

I would have watched this in 1986 hoping to see lots of pratfalls and mind-boggling stunts. Heavens, they even put Crawford in a Frank Spencer mac.

But I know I was disappointed then and I feel the same today. I look at clips online and see only Mike battling a bonkers accent and creaky (literally, in the case of his wings) special effects, very occasionally interspersed with a decent gag:

Waiter: Your order, sir?
Crawford: I’ll have one of those.
Waiter: One Istanbul Express?
Crawford: Yes. A double.
Waiter: A double? Nobody orders the double, sir.
Crawford: OK. Make it a triple!

Well, it makes me chuckle.

"Betty" not pictured
As for Cat’s Whiskers, this was a magazine programme that was flung out during the school holidays in the mid-1980s to try and get more kids listening to Radio 4.

It succeeded in my case, but I can’t remember anything else about it, other than it was presented by Paul Nicholas, then at the peak of his Penny-pinching powers.

It was also somewhat overshadowed by Pirate Radio 4, which hailed from the same era, was inspired by the same purpose and which was home to, among others, all-new Adrian Mole (hooray!) but also all-new Dr Who Colin Baker (boo!).

Saturday 29 March 1986

…Today I started doing a trace of a Leicester map.
Went to East Midlands Airport this afternoon and bought a map and a timetable.
Watched The Tale of the Bunnies [sic] Picnic today, a programme featuring Jim Henson bunnies, which are all new.
Putting the clocks forward one hour tonight…

OK, three things to make clear about this extract.

1) Hooray! I had found something to do to stop me getting bored! Erm, a trace of a map of my county town!

2) Back then it was enough to merely visit an airport, marvel at the cavernous interiors, stand on the balcony to watch a plane take off, then purchase a map and timetable, in order to have a good time.

I know this sounds more like 1956 than 1986, but honestly, East Midlands Airport used to be something of a tourist attraction in its own right. And it was the second largest building I’d been inside during my life to date (the first being St Pancras station), so my mum and dad were right to think I would be impressed.

I’d also never been on a plane and hence had yet to discover I was terrified of flying. But that’s another story…

3) I was a big fan of The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock, so anything new by Jim Henson would have been required viewing, even if it was probably pitched for an audience a bit younger than 10. I’m not sure where The Tale of the Bunny Picnic now stands in the perceived pantheon of Henson puppetry, but I bet it outranks Muppets Tonight.

Friday 28 March 1986 (Good Friday)

…Stayed in bed this morning till about 8.45am.
Watched Roland Rat and got bored.
Climbed our tree this afternoon and hanged [sic] from a tough branch…

That’s the second entry in four days in which I mention I’m bored. I clearly wasn’t having a very stimulating Easter holiday.

I had also yet to grow out of my interest in Roland Rat Superstar, though I’m pretty sure this obsession was now (thankfully) in its twilight phase.

Nowadays I can’t remember what it’s like to get bored while having time off from something. The 10-year-old me didn’t know quite how lucky he was. Or how irritating.

But help was at hand. A thrillsome day out was in the pipeline. Tomorrow I would be off to see one of the jewels of the East Midlands.

Wednesday 26 March 1986

…This morning we went with Granny to the library.
We had a quick lunch and dashed off to see Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear at the cinema…

This film gave me nightmares.

It was probably, at that point in my life, the scariest thing I had ever seen (closely followed by that TV adaptation of the Body in the Library).

It wasn’t anything in general that was to blame. It wasn’t the tone of the film, or the characters, or even the plot.

Rather, it was one scene. One solitary scene.

It terrified me.

It terrified me then, and it still leaves me a little unsettled today.

Here it is:

24 hours earlier I had sat through, and been mildly distracted by, Peter Pan – a film I’d all but forgotten about when it was time to go to bed.

But Young Sherlock Holmes was not a film I had forgotten about when it was time to go to bed today. Nor would I forget about it that night, or many more nights for quite a while.

I don’t remember it keeping me awake. Instead it coloured my dreams with concepts and images I wasn’t yet old enough to handle. Typically, I mentioned none of this in my diary.

I think I also found Holmes a bit of an annoying posh twerp. Plus the bit where he kissed Elizabeth seemed terribly out of place.

Anyway, this sequence from Young Sherlock Holmes would remain the scariest thing I’d ever seen until the AIDS public information film arrived 12 months later.

Tuesday 25 March 1986

…Had the morning in and got very bored.
In the afternoon we went to see Peter Pan at the cinema. It was good…

This must have been the 1953 Disney version of Peter Pan, which would have been showing at my local cinema as a Easter holiday matinee.

The cinema had existed in one form or another since 1914, when it opened as the grandly named Empire Cinema, with a thousand seats, gold ornamentation and electric lighting. Down the decades it was known as the New Empire, the Essoldo and most recently the Curzon, ballooning in the process from one to four screens.

Just the year before, in 1985, a fifth screen had been added, no doubt to reflect the then-boom in cinema-going. A sixth would follow in 1991.

There was a fancy dress shop in the foyer called Antics, which I used to find fascinating if a little unsettling. I never saw anyone go in or come out.

Smoking was allowed in all screens well into the 1980s, so long as you sat on the left hand side of the auditorium.

Then there were the same adverts for local businesses and services that were shown at every single screening for at least 25 years: a plug for a “family-run” painting and decorating store; a promotion for an Indian restaurant “not 100 yards from this cinema” (cue juvenile gag about it being “not 100 yards – but a million!”); and one for the town’s only music shop, from where, years later, I would buy The Complete Beatles Songbook and a TV Themes collection with the cast of Open All Hours on the cover.

Anyway, I loved going to the cinema when I was a child, but did not always make this sentiment clear. My 1986 diary occasionally gives the impression I was not particularly forthcoming or articulate, and today’s entry is one such example.

“It was good” could have been a tactful way of avoiding lingering on something I actually thought was nothing of the sort. It was more likely a concise way of dealing with something with which I’d already become disinterested.

By contrast, the film that I would see tomorrow would have a very different impact on me, turning out to be something in which it was impossible to feign disinterest.

Monday 24 March 1986

…First day of our Easter Holidays and we had to go to Grannys in the morning because mum was at work.
Bought three books with my [WH]Smiths tokens.
Apart from that it was a normal day apart from the fact that there were hurricane winds sweeping across Britain…

I’ve had to search online to find out more about these “hurricane winds”. I didn’t have any memory of them at all.

Fortunately I found this clip of a few minutes from Tyne Tees on the day in question. It features an ad break, a public service announcement for the North East Morris Minor Club, and then Lookaround, during which the announcer apologises for having to tell us about “things you can’t go to, because of the dreadful weather”.

I’m afraid it’s bad news for, among others, the Darby and Joan Club at Blue House Lane, the West Allotment Over-60s and the proposed meeting between the Community Health Council and the Family Practioner Council at Aden House, Gateshead.

“Settle back now, for the Monday Matinee!”

Saturday 22 March 1986

…Bought Cliff Richard and The Young Ones today.
Made a dog puppet as well…

I absolutely loved this record when it came out. I thought it was utterly hilarious.

I played it over and over again on the tiny, battery-powered portable record player I had in my bedroom, which had been bought for me as a birthday present a couple of years earlier.

Yet, being barely 10 years old, I’m sure I can’t have had the faintest idea who The Young Ones were. I’d certainly never seen them on television.

I’m trying to imagine how I must have rationalised their involvement in a duet with Cliff (of whom I certainly was aware).

Perhaps I thought they were a sort of novelty pop group. Or a troupe of performers like the Grumbleweeds. I’m sure they would’ve been talked about at school.

Anyway, I would have purchased the record from either Woolworths or WHSmiths in the town centre. And, like every record I ever bought, I’ve still got it:

"Great, Cliff! Which instruments do you want us to break?!"
I would’ve read the sleeve notes and been none the wiser as to the identity of Ben Elton and Richard Curtis (for I would not have been allowed to watch Blackadder yet), never mind Lionel Bart or Mariella Frostrup.

"Coming soon: the Book, the LP, the Chocolates..."
But I would have played the B-side (“It’s on the tip of my tongue!” “What a STUPID place to keep your guitar!”) just as much as the A-side and relished them both. I still do. I’m afraid/unashamed to admit that “What does this button do? [EXPLOSION]” cracks me up even now.

Ditto “Can I go now? [WHACK].”