Monday, 29 February 2016

The Goggle Box

 I can't help thinkin' this piccy of me on an Esso Blue can looks a bit fey. I look like a real telly-type, don't I?

It awes me, lookin' back, how the telly has taken over our lives. That's not recent, of course. What was a rarity in the early '50s was in just about every front room by the late '60s. And we were all square-eyed.

I remember my dear old Gran, God rest 'er, saying: "Television 'as killed the art of conversation!" way back in the early '70s. And she weren't the only one sayin' it - far from it.

We called it "The Goggle Box" or "The One-Eyed Monster" - and there was so much that we just had too see, although there was only one channel, then two, then three, then four.

Do you remember Michael Miles on Take Your Pick? "Open the money! Take the box!" and Charlie Drake - The Worker - " 'Allo, my darlin'!"

Michael Miles was the presenter of "Take Your Pick" - one of our top telly faves in the '50s and '60s. We'd get real excited and join in shouting with the audience in the studio: "Open the box!" or "Take the money!"

It probably seems funny to younger folks that so few telly channels could attract such huge audiences. But we didn't really 'ave anything better to do with our leisure time. Even before telly. People said "Oh, we made our own entertainment before the telly, got the family all together, songs round the piano," - and we did. But if you'd ever 'eard my Auntie Doreen and Auntie Gladys sing, you'd understand why you couldn't really call it "entertainment".

You were much better off with Dick Barton on the wireless.

Or even Mrs Dale's Diary.

Me and my Missus didn't get telly til 1956, but we saw the Queen's coronation in 1953. Mr and Mrs Potter next door had a set, and they invited us all in. We all took some food along and we had a bit of a party. There was fruit cake, sandwiches, little three corned ones with the crusts off, 'genteel', my Missus called 'em, and flies' cemeteries.The weather was terrible in London - it was pourin' with rain, and my Auntie Doreen said: "Bad omen that. She'll 'ave a short reign, you mark my words."

ITV started in 1955, and, of course, I started my career in telly adverts three years later.

One of the things we loved was Dixon of Dock Green. It was magic - all about a policeman and the crimes in his area. It went on for donkeys' years and it had a beautiful catch phrase: " 'Evenin' All!" We were all goin' round sayin' it. Those were the days!

In fact, I'll say it again:

" 'Evenin' All!"

Brings it all back!

The late great Jack Warner. He was PC George Dixon. That was in the days when the police were portrayed as friends of the people - before they took your DNA even when you hadn't done anything, which is what 'appened to Mrs Potter's great-nephew a few years back.

The 1960s were great years for telly. I never missed The Avengers. That Mrs Peel was really something. And Dr Who started. He was a really old man then. Got younger as the years went on. Probably end up in rompers one day. And then there was Simon Dee, who used to interview people. I never liked that much, but my niece was keen. She wrote up for his autograph. And my Missus went mad on The Forsyte Saga which was a drama set yonks ago with people in old fashioned clothes and a miserable bloke called Soames.

The lovely Mrs Peel gives a baddie a karate wallop.

The '60s also gave us World Of Sport - a whole Saturday afternoon of sport. But it was always a busy time in the shop, so I never saw much of it, unless I nipped through for a butty and my Missus kept an eye.

One of my favourite telly treats was a good western and we had several of 'em - do you recall Bonanza, High Chaparral, and Alias Smith and Jones? Some of  'em ran for years, and my Missus said they were "soap operas for men". Well, all I can say is, I found the doings of Big Ben Cartwright, Hoss and all them far more fascinatin' than Hilda Ogden and Ena Sharples going on about Elsie Tanner's romantic life in't corner shop.

Bonanza - a programme for blokes. No corner shops and no hairnets.

In the late 1960s, telly went colour. First with BBC2. But BBC2 was a bit posh for us and we didn't often 'ave it on, and didn't 'ave colour anyway. Then, in 1969, they turned BBC1 and ITV colour as well, but we couldn't afford a colour set until we started rentin' one in 1978.

Now 'ere's a nice bit of 'istory. It's February 10, 1961, and there's discussion about a third TV channel. "Give it to the BBC". We ended up with BBC2 in 1964, which was the first channel to go colour - in 1967. My Auntie Doreen called it the channel for "stuck-ups", and 'appen she 'ad a point. It was 'ighbrow and 'ad lots of "culture" and foreign films with sub-titles. The advert featuring me alongside the article tickles me pink! My nephew Andy found this page in 'is local newspaper archive.

In the 1970s, we got afternoon TV on ITV (the BBC didn't do a proper afternoon service til the '80s), and my Auntie Doreen was glued to it. No afternoon was complete without Marked Personal or those posh ladies from Houseparty. I can stll see Auntie now, stubbing out her Senior Service in her Michelin Man ashtray, and saying: "And WHAT'S macramé when it's at home?"

Auntie Doreen's bakelite Michelin Man ashtray. A family heirloom, it now takes pride of place on our wall unit.

The thing that got on my wick about the telly in the 1970s was that the decade was dreary enough - with the galloping inflation, three day week, power cuts, Winter of Discontent and whatnot - without the telly companies makin' us more fed up. They seemed to get a real kick out of it - put on loads of miserable dramas set in the 1930s or 1940s like Family At War, Sam, The Stars Look Down, The Mallens and When The Boat Comes In. We 'ad enough misery in the present day without 'avin' past hard times thrust up our noses. No wonder boozin' became so popular in the '70s.

You know all that stuff about 'ow we kept cheerful durin't war? Well, the Ashton family didn't. The story began before the war had started. And they were miserable beggars even then.

And then there was The Sweeney, that showed us not only 'ooligans be'aved like 'ooligans, the police did as well. Dixon of Dock Green ended around the same time, but you couldn't call The Sweeney progress really.

Well, I didn't think so.

The 1980s brought us Channel 4 and breakfast telly, and my Missus went through a phase of "limbering up", as she called it, with the Green Goddess. But she soon stopped that. Her knees just wouldn't take it.

 Here's the Green Goddess leapin' about in public. But then it WAS the 1980s.

Channel 4 could be a bit... well... rude. They used to put a little triangle or some such on screen to warn you off the dirty programmes sometimes, but I remember my Missus bein' keen to see a film called My Wonderful Laundrette. She thought it was about time the local Washer Rama had a make-over and was hoping to pick up tips to give to Mr Patel, the owner, though I couldn't imagine the Washer Rama having neons all over the place.

Anyway, the film turned out to be a dirty, violent one, and my wife wrote in complaining about it, but, to this day, she's still waitin' for a reply.

But Channel 4 weren't all bad. It brought us Countdown. And every day, my Missus would leave me to mind the shop on my own for 'alf an 'our, brew up, bring me a cuppa through, and put her feet up to watch it. This give me a bit of time to study the racin' form.

A very fancy laundrette that was. But what they got up to on the premises didn't do much for hygene standards. Of course, I'm pretty broad minded, me. But I don't like folk flauntin' things on the box. You even get it in 'Emmerdale' these days.

We get a video recorder in the mid-1980s. "Just think!" said my Missus, "I'll never 'ave to miss Crossroads again!" But it took us about three years to work out how to set it, and by then they'd taken Crossroads off. My Missus was not impressed.

The 1980s also brought us EastEnders. It was all about folk in London, shoutin' at each other. It still is.

The end of the '80s brought satellite telly, and the '90s brought things like Big Brother - which I didn't understand.

Big hair and big barnies were the order of the day in EastEnders, which began in 1985.

Why do folk want to watch other folk sittin' around on the setee or sleepin' or keepin' chickens?

I suppose there's a lot I don't understand or don't like on telly over the last twenty years. But I used to love watchin' the Crocodile Hunter.

But we have too many channels and sifting through tryin' to find somethin' decent is 'ard work.

We used to end up watchin' Bullseye from 1987 or Dallas from 1982 or suchlike. They were the best things on.

Thank 'eavens for my allotment! And we've got a DVD player now. We've been watching Columbo and The Larkins and Murder, She Wrote lately.

At least we know we like 'em, and we don't have to keep flickin' channels to find 'em. And we don't 'ave to pay the licence fee - and that's a blessin' coz the BBC's gone right downhill.

See you soon,


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Life Of Fame

Here's me, back in my heyday. I had a bit of a sniffle when that was taken, but I don't think it shows.

I was right surprised when I was approached by the Esso Blue people to front their telly adverts. That was around 1957. They said they wanted an 'everyday bloke' as their public face and that's just what I was. The first advert was shown in 1958. I was so nervous during filming, that the first thing I said when the camera started rolling was 'I'm the Esso Blee dooler!' and that's not what I should've said at all.

But they liked it, and they put it in an ad later.

I suppose I was, I think the word is 'overawed', by it all - the lights, the cameras, all the people in that studio. I went all pimply and felt a bit uncle dick. I could feel my knees knockin' together.

But they were all very nice about it, and the first ad only took ten 'takes' - which is a technical term for how many times it takes you to get it right.

They didn't want anybody trendy, which was lucky because I was a bit too long in the tooth to be a teddy boy. Wouldn't've wanted to be anyway, because some of them round my way were a bit on the yobby side, to be honest.

But youth will 'ave its day.

They all turned out to be nice lads - Alfie Wainright retired in 1998 as manager of the Tesco's near us, after thirty-three years in the post.

But he was all margarine quiff and attitude back then.

Anyway, the telly adverts ran for years, I was on advertising signs and in newspapers and magazines too, so I got a bit famous - I was asked to open fetes in my neighbourhood, and people pointed at me in Fine Fare.

Of course, we heard a lot about the likes of the Beatles, Hank Marvin and Cliff Richard, who got carried away with their fame and went a bit wild from all accounts, but I always kept me feet on the ground and I never met people like that anyway.

I did meet Mr Mix from Nesquik, and he was a nice enough chap, off-screen.

Sometimes, I had requests for autographs, and I remember once on the Golden Mile bein' told I was a 'dish' by a woman in a psychedelic kaftan - but my Missus stepped in and said: 'Clear orff, you daft hippie bat - whatever have you been taking?!'

And that was that.

I got an agent called Wilfred, who was based in what my Missus called 'the nicer part of Salford', and he got me an audition. I wondered what I might be like at drama, but he thought I should try for Crossroads.

It was the part of a grotty old poacher who got on people's nerves.

I said to Wilf: 'Can you see ME as a grotty old poacher who gets on people's nerves?'

And he said: 'Yes'.

So, off I went to Birmingham.

But the producer said my nose was too big and kept going off-camera when I had close-ups.

I lost heart after that.

I got really excited when Esso told me I was to make a flexi-disc about going round the world. But it was all done in a recording studio in Warrington. Still, me and the Missus used the money I earned to 'ave a nice weekend in Llandudno, and the waitress at our hotel had seen me on the telly and warned us off the egg and bacon flan. So that was nice.

I remember being asked to open a couple of shops. One of them was what you'd call nowadays a vintage or retro clothes shop, but in those days we called it 'second hand'. It was called 'Az Nu' and was in Porrington Street, where the pork butcher's used to be. It's been boarded up for years.

The other was a branch of the 'Pick-A-Snip' supermarket on Commercial Road. When they opened their next branch, they got Ken Dodd to do it.

I don't think fame changed me. My Auntie Gladys said: 'You're as daft on telly as you are off,' and Mrs Potter next door said, 'Once a pillock, always a pillock.'

'I think there might be a touch of jealousy there!' I told my Missus.

'If you say so,' she said.

See you soon,


'Ello, Everybody!

Here's me starring on a lit-up Esso Blue sign. It has a bulb in it. You could pop it in your shop window, plug it in, and hey presto - all the people passing on dark nights knew you sold Esso Blue. You 'ad to be careful not to trip over the extension lead though.

I've thought for some time I'd like to try this blogging lark. But I'm not that good with computer-type gadgetry, so Andy, my nephew, is giving me an 'and. He's writin' down what I say as I say it.

Even droppin' me g's and aitches when I drop them.

Good lad.

I came to a bit of fame many years ago, back in the late 1950s to be exact, when I starred in a series of telly adverts for Esso Blue.

Esso Blue!

The name still gives me a tingle!

'Boom boom boom boom - Esso Blue!' - that's how the advert jingle went.

And the ads were popular and they went on and on and on.

And on.

Right into the '70s.

I suppose I was a celebrity, although I was never mobbed like Cliff Richard and The Shadows.

That was a relief because people can tread on your feet when they're mobbing you, and I have a tendency towards corns.

Esso Blue was a wonderful product. All right, it did make your windows stream with condensation, like when you're boiling up the sprouts and spuds on a Sunday, but it was the finest paraffin you could buy.

Better than that pink muck anyway.

I sold it at the corner shop I ran in Balaclava Street (it's a Costa Coffee now) and I delivered too.

The telly adverts helped trade at the shop, because a lot of my neighbours thought I could get 'em on telly.

Especially Mrs Clough, out of Pork Street. She used to get herself up like Margaret Rutherford before comin' in for 'er fire lighters. She thought she looked like that woman out of Gone With The Wind, but it were Margaret Rutherford who always sprang to mind.

 That woman out of Gone With The Wind.

Margaret Rutherford

For 'olidays, I often to used to visit my brother Stan. He ran a shop in Ramsgate and I used to give 'im an 'and with the Esso Blue deliveries there. It made a nice change.

Anyway, on this blog I'll be sharing my thoughts on those days and these days and the days in between.

I'll say 'toodle pip" for now because the missus wants to go to Boots. We're nearly out of Radox. They still do the original powder there. There's nothing like it - lovely and squidgy between your toes in a bowl of warm water.

Them self checkouts are a marvel, aren't they?

'Unexpected item in the bagging area' is a national catchphrase - you can get it on t-shirts and the like.

But it's not nearly as good as 'boom boom boom - Esso Blue!'

Well, I don't think so anyway.

We'll have another natter soon.