Friday 5 February 1988

…COMIC RELIEF DAY.
The entire country donned their red noses, all except me, who didn’t have a proper one.
Mum had tried to make me a homemade one, but it was absolutely rubbish and
kept falling off, so I quickly got rid of it.
[My form tutor] had also made one himself, out of an eggbox which he had then coloured red with a felt-tip pen, and which looked hilariously bad.
They had been selling them at school but there were none left.
There was a special assembly which was based around all the teachers having
to do forfeits if they didn’t know the answer to a general knowledge question.
They could either have a forfeit done to them or pay 10p to Comic Relief.
It was a bit of a flop because some of the teachers didn’t understand the rules and
the forfeits were hardly that bad: popping a balloon, for example.
All day people were wandering around in funny clothes and make-up, and they
all looked UTTERLY STUPID.
There was nothing funny about PE, which was football outside in the mud, and I
hated it from start to finish…

I was allowed to watch some, but nowhere near all, of the telethon on BBC1 later.

A good deal of it is currently on YouTube, from almost near the start. What a bizarre choice from “Radio One listeners” for the 10th best comedy sketch of all time.

And what a ponderously-paced, refreshingly low-key affair the whole programme now seems. The “here’s what this evening is all about” bits last a good 10 minutes or so. Look, there’s Jimmy Perry sitting in front of a black screen introducing AN ENTIRE EPISODE of Dad’s Army. At one point almost all of BT’s London exchanges fall over. Michael Palin does a great bit of Vercotti, which his diary suggests he only thought up a few hours earlier. Then you’ve all those mini-sketches, including Philip Schofield and Andy Crane acting (!) at a drinks party (!), plus Valerie Singleton and Geoffrey Palmer – together at last.

It all left a mighty impression on a jaded 11-year old. As it still does on a still jaded 36-year old.

Thursday 19 November 1987

…DISASTER!
This time it happened last night.
King’s Cross Undergrond station caught fire and 30 people were killed.
It began when an old wooden escalator was set ablaze and
everything went up in flames.
I have used this escalator when we have visited London!
This morning we began by looking at the Dewey Decimal system…

I think I already sensed that the theme of 1987’s end-of-year retrospectives on TV and in the papers was to be, as I put it, DISASTER!

And yet this latest tragedy didn’t leave that much of a mark on either me or my diary. The same went for the other calamities of the past 12 months, from Zeebrugge to the storm. I recorded them carefully, even coldly; noted a bit of reaction; then moved on – in this instance, to Melvil Dewey.

I’d definitely reached the “bottle it all up” phase.

Sunday 8 November 1987

…Remembrance Sunday was ruined by the IRA who planted a bomb in Northern Ireland
during a big remembrance service.
On a lighter note, we finished our tour of the Peak District…”

Ouch. What was I thinking? Not much, clearly. And certainly not: “I wonder how this will read in 25 years’ time?”

We’d spent the weekend in Buxton. The word “tour” makes it sound like some motoring holiday or a quasi-regal procession. In fact we’d spent one night in a hotel, had our lunches sitting in the car and our tea in a Little Chef.

It was a bit of novelty going away during term-time, even for one night. This might even have been the first occasion we’d ever done so. I found it incredibly daring and not a little risky. I actually wrote of how relieved I was at seeing the house “intact” on our return. What had I expected to find? That it had blown away?

Friday 16 October 1987

…DISASTER!
Hurricane winds have been battering London and the south-east, causing damage,
deaths and some injuries.
A trail of destruction has been left across the country.
But not here.
Although we did get to do PE inside instead of outside, because of the weather…

Truth be told, the hurricane barely grazed the east Midlands. There was a disappointing absence of carnage outside my bedroom window and certainly nowhere near enough disruption to mean a day off school. However I was up early enough to enjoy tour de forces from Anne Diamond (well-versed in hosting TV-am in besieged circumstances) and also from Nicholas Witchell, anchoring BBC1 from the only room in Television Centre with a light bulb that still worked:

NAMEDROP ALERT! Many years later I got to interview Nicholas Witchell about this very incident.

“It produced one of the most gratifying responses from people that I can remember in all my years of broadcasting,” he recalled. “I had dozens of letters from people, many of them elderly and on their own, who’d spent a very frightening night, and who had switched on in the morning and found a face which I hope was friendly, if a little bemused, and reassuring.

“It was certainly one of the oddest situations I’ve found myself in, but also – looking back – one of the most satisfying because it was a moment when people wanted and needed information, and we were able to give some of it, even if it was from the ‘Broom Cupboard’!”

Friday 12 June 1987

…Mrs Thatcher is back in office for another five years.
She won with an overall majority of 102.
Nobody expected it to be quite so big.
Labour are the opposition along with the Alliance, the Scottish Nationalists,
Plaid Cymru and various Irish parties.
I stayed up until 1.30am watching the BBC’s coverage.
It was great – I had my map and my list of marginal seats, plus a cold flannel
to help me stay awake.
Dad stayed up a bit later than me I think, but not much.
I wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be this morning.
At school nobody else had stayed up to watch the election.
Instead we had to write a story about a slime monster.
There was a Rounders tournament but I didn’t go as I was
reading in the classroom, and then had to help Mrs Emmett [the art teacher]
with a delivery of paper.
Finally had the hospital appointment about my ears – more antibiotics…

Many years later I would finally get to see, write about, and then try to sound witty about, the whole of the BBC’s 1987 election results coverage.

But for now I had to make do with three hours or so on Thursday night, then half an hour during Breakfast Time, and finally the very last 10 minutes of the Friday afternoon programme, thanks to me getting home promptly from my hospital appointment. I was particularly thrilled to see Philip Schofield and Gordon the Gopher both sporting nicely-pressed suits when they followed on from David Dimbleby to introduce Children’s BBC.

As I mentioned before, I didn’t really have any appreciation of what Mrs Thatcher’s victory might mean for the country in a literal sense. I had only a kind of abstract grasp of the details of her party’s policies. But this was a damn sight more than my fellow pupils, some of whom didn’t even know who the prime minister was.

I know this for a fact because I tried to ask some of them about it in the playground when I arrived this morning. To be fair, I suppose their blank looks might have been a sort of affected indifference. Or maybe they’d decided to always react like that whenever I started talking to them.

The election had undoubtedly proved to be a useful distraction from my continuing partial deafness. Today’s appointment with a consultant at Loughborough General Hospital would turn out to be the breakthrough and lead, within a few weeks, to my hearing problems disappearing for the rest of the century.

Which was a relief, as I’d come to believe they would, like Mrs T vowed of herself, go on and on and on.

Evil Edna stages a political comeback

Wednesday 10 June 1987

…In 24 hours from the time I am writing this, the polling booths will have closed and
Election 87 on the BBC will have begun.
Opinion polls show another Tory government with another Labour opposition
but who knows?
That may not be right.
You can’t judge the opinion polls, and the biggest and most important opinion poll
is the one taking place tomorrow from 7am to 10pm when the nation will be able to exercise their vote…

I sound so pompous here. Yes, more than usual.

This was one of those occasions where I was using my diary to hold forth on something I couldn’t do in public. I’ve already mentioned that nobody at school was interested in the election, neither teachers nor pupils. At home my dad helped me with my list of marginal seats and had chipped in to help buy me the ITN Election 87 Factbook. But that was about it. I knew of no kindred spirits for my interest in and obsession with the election. Naturally, therefore, I kept quiet. Very very quiet.

Yet despite fussing persistently over the mechanics of the election and the practicalities of polling day, I didn’t have any sort of opinion over who ought to win. I wasn’t supporting anybody. Sure, I knew what all the main parties stood for, but I didn’t have any real awareness of what their policies meant, or could mean, for the country.

I did not grow up in, to use a phrase so beloved of the statesman’s memoir, a “political household”. We did not discuss privatisation and trade union reform over the kitchen table – not least because we didn’t have a table in the kitchen. I think one of my parents voted Conservative right through the 1980s. But they certainly never broadcast the fact, and I can’t recall any sort of political discussion, never mind argument, taking place until the end of the decade, when Thatcher was on the ropes, our neighbours had announced they were refusing to pay the poll tax, and I first nailed my colours to a mast.

But that’s not for now.

All I was bothered about on this day in 1987 was whether I’d be able to stay up late on a school night to see a few results. Who’d be first to declare: Cheltenham, Guildford or Torbay?

Maggie serves up a pasting"I warn you not to get stuck in mile-long tailbacks..."