A good toy is a good toy… for boys or girls

The Evel Knievel rev-up motorcycle.

The Evel Knievel rev-up motorcycle.

Hopefully, by the time this column returns next week Santa Claus will have visited chez Tideswell and made two little girls very happy once more.

On Christmas Day the most difficult decision they will probably have to make will be which toy to play with.

I reckon Santa knows them well enough by now to realise that they aren’t really girly-girls – if such creatures ever existed.

The truth is my two are just as likely to play with Nerf guns, walkie-talkies or superhero figures as they are to dress up as Disney princesses or play school with their teddies.

Yours truly wouldn’t have it any other way and I’ve positively encouraged my daughters to play with whatever toys take their fancy – not simply the ones packaged in pink boxes and involving fairies and ponies.

The news (Tweeted to a Labour politician) that Marks & Spencer is to become the latest high street name to make its toys ‘gender neutral’ (I hate that phrase) is a good move in my book.

When we, as a family, browse the toy aisles in any store my girls are just as likely to get excited about toys which have been marketed specifically for boys.

If you delve in their dressing up box, alongside the fairy gowns, wigs and cat outfits you’ll find holsters and cowboy guns, swords and shields.

Ask my two about superheroes (usually considered a preserve of lads) and they can name virtually every Marvel comic book character and tell you their powers.

Talk to them about Dungeons and Dragons and they’ll tell you that clerics have the best chance of defeating zombies because they’re undead. Obviously.

Today, our eldest – Lois – gets to take a toy into school as it’s the last day of term.

She has chosen the Tauriel action figure – complete with bow, quiver of arrows and two swords (as has her friend Lizzie).

So while other girls in her class will be playing whatever they’re playing, Lois and Lizzie will be re-enacting scenes from the latest Hobbit movie. And why not?

This doesn’t mean my Lois and her younger sister Mina won’t want to read the Rainbow Fairies books in bed at night anymore, or have their nails painted by mum, or make bead necklaces for their friends or collect Beanie Boos.

It just means they like a bit of variety and I’m glad they don’t feel boxed in to playing with things which are only fluffy or pink.

When I was four I used to follow my cousin Joanne around like a sheep. I thought she was marvellous. (Obviously you still are, Jo). Whatever Joanne played with I wanted too. Consequently I nagged my mum for a doll and she gave in. Lord knows what my dad must have thought.

My doll’s name was Susie and I have vivid memories of carrying her around and talking to her.

At one stage she was definitely in a relationship with my second-hand Eagle-Eyed Action Man and they lived in a shoe box.

Bear in mind I was born in 1972 and even back then toys were marketed very specifically along male/female lines.

I grew up in the age of games and toys like Tank Command and Tin Can Alley, the Evel Knievel rev-up motorcycle and Scalextric – all aimed at boys.

But, in truth, my favourite toy up until high school was soldiers – something which saw no television marketing.

I had a tin of tiny plastic ones which included British and German Second World War soldiers, Napoleonic infantry and U.S. cavalry troopers.

It was a collection I’d built up over several years and that tin went everywhere with me.

Mum and dad will tell you it kept me quiet for hours and I dare say they didn’t know they’d got me most of the time.

Then I discovered Dungeons and Dragons and the experience of creating adventures while playing tabletop games with your friends.

That is, I suppose, the beauty of a good game or toy. It feeds your imagination and it doesn’t really matter what it is or who it was targeted at as long as it achieves that aim.

You see, despite what those toy marketing gurus might think, girls like to build Lego and boys like to dress up. Thankfully, Father Christmas had this sussed a long time before Marks & Sparks started mithering about it because of the politically-correct brigade and a few crusading politicians.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

I enjoyed growing up when books and libraries were treasured

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

I took assembly at my youngest daughter’s school this week to help celebrate World Book Day.

I printed off a few dozen large pictures of characters from children’s fiction and asked the 180 or so kids if they could name them.

We talked about the importance of reading and the simple pleasure of a good book.

Then I read a Horrid Henry story which had the four to seven-year-olds in hysterics and a chapter of a Famous Five novel which left the children desperate to learn what happened next to Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog.

It’s easy to understand why some kids these days don’t appreciate books – there’s simply so many other distractions.

Game consoles, computers, mobile telephones and umpteen television channels mean that the humble old book may seem a rather dull option.

This perhaps goes some way to explaining the poor literacy levels among pre-school and primary age children.

When I was growing up in the Eighties children’s television was in its infancy and so books were still a hugely important source of entertainment.

As a youngster I was incredibly proud of my collection of ‘fact books’ – Ladybird books on everything from birds of prey to kings and queens of England.

They’re now part of my daughters’ book collection – sitting alongside Horrible Histories.

When I reached high school I genuinely enjoyed my Saturday morning trips to Hanley Library where I would use the leather bound Encyclopaedia Britannica to research everything from the Treaty of Versailles to rise of Benito Mussolini.

But, for me, the real pleasure in books has always been through fiction.

The first book which really made an impression on me was Stig Of The Dump, by Clive King, which was actually written in the Sixties but was first adapted for television in 1981.

That’s when I and my classmates a whole generation of Eighties kids became enthralled by the tale of a boy who finds a caveman living in a rubbish tip.

Around the same time my friends and I were introduced to The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (Aged 13 and three quarters), by Sue Townsend, which became the best-selling British new fiction book of the decade.

It was funny, occasionally risque, and perfectly pitched at kids like me who were about to become teenagers and could empathise with the pathetic oik that was Adrian.

Roald Dahl was, of course, prolific during the Eighties and produced some of his best-loved works – including George’s Marvellous Medicine (1981), The BFG (1982) and Matilda (1988).

I read all of them but Charlie And The Chocolate Factory remains my favourite simply because I love the idea of the scrawny, poor but ultimately nice and polite kid finding the Golden Ticket.

As a dad with young children I’ve had cause in recent years to bump into two other beloved children’s characters from the Eighties – Spot the dog, created by Eric Hill, and Jill Murphy’s bear family – both of which were first published in 1980.

The simple narrative and beautiful illustrations are a real joy and they have become timeless classics which reinforce wholesome family values.

As an avid player of Dungeons and Dragons in my teens I was captivated by The Dragonlance Chronicles – first published in 1984 an written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman – a sort of Lord of the Rings Trilogy for a new generation.

I’ve actually met Margaret twice since then and always say thank you. I even named by goldfish after one of the key characters.

These books eventually led me to my all-time favourite novel, first published in 1986 by English heroic fantasy author David Gemmell.

I’ve still got my original copy of Waylander – a tale about an assassin seeking redemption in a war-torn land – which was signed by David at a book store in Birmingham a couple of years before his untimely death.

As much as I appreciate what modern technology does for us I’m chuffed to have grown up in an age when books and libraries really were treasured.’

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

A warm welcome and fond memories of my first trip to States

It was with a mixture of fear and trepidation that I boarded American Airlines flight 55 from Manchester to Chicago. I had never travelled abroad on my own before and I had never been to America.

I passed the eight-hour flight chatting to Ollie, a second-year medical student at Keele University who told me he was visiting his girlfriend in Tennessee.

Tennessee? How things have changed. The furthest away any girlfriend of mine had ever lived was Tunstall.

Stepping off the plane at Chicago O’Hare was a daunting experience.

I had just over an hour to collect my luggage and catch a connecting flight to Indianapolis.

Of course, I hadn’t realised that O’Hare is the fourth busiest airport in the world and handles more than 66 million passengers each year.

The sheer size of it was what hit me – something which would be a recurring theme during my time in the States.

As I arrived at immigration a stern-looking bloke who was the spit of Poncherello out of CHiPs! (how are you on your Eighties TV trivia?) asked me whether my visit to the U.S. was for business or pleasure.

“Pleasure,” I replied.

“And what’s your pleasure?” he asked, raising a quizzical eyebrow.

“Playing Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu,” I replied, with utter sincerity.

“Oh,” said Poncherello.

Nothing quite ends a conversation like telling someone you’re attending a games convention.

It was sod’s law that my plane to Indy would be delayed but nothing could diminish my enthusiasm.

As I waited by the departure gate, soaking in the sights and sounds, a woman sat next to me, leaned over and said: “Excuse me. Would you like a hamburger?”

As chat-up lines go, it was a new one on me.

“I don’t know why but they gave me two,” she added – motioning inside a McDonald’s paper bag.

Well it would have been rude to refuse and for the next hour and a half I chatted to Pam – a 59-year-old psychologist.

She was so friendly and so interested in everything from the royal family and the Titanic to the Olympics that I actually enjoyed being delayed.

By the time we boarded the plane we had swapped business cards and she had invited me and my family to her farm in Nebraska where she and her husband breed horses.

That has certainly never happened to me while waiting for a PMT bus up Hanley.

Pam sort of set the tone, really. Almost everyone I met – with the notable exception of Poncherello (who, to be fair, is paid to be miserable) – was incredibly friendly. People of the south of England, please take note…

Take, for example, Herschel – my 70-year-old taxi driver.

He brought me up to speed on the trials and tribulations of the Indianapolis Colts American Football team and gave me the heads-up on their new quarterback.

This was to come in handy the next day when I toured the impressive Lucas Oil Stadium – the 63,000 seater home of the Colts which comes complete with a retractable roof and artificial turf.

I learned that the Colts had only won two games last year and their fans had endured a torrid time.

As a Vale fan I could empathise and I adopted the Colts there and then.

That is where any similarities between the Hoosier state’s finest and the Valiants ended, however.

In light of their terrible season, the Colts were given the first NFL ‘draft’ pick this year – allowing them to choose from the cream of the crop of young players coming out of colleges and universities.

As a result, they picked up Andrew Luck – the best young quarter back in the country – for nowt, on account of how bad they were last season.

It’s the equivalent of the worst team in the Premier League being given first dibs on the best teenage footballer in England – irrespective of how much money Manchester City or Chelsea wave in his direction. Can you imagine?

Having ticked off a top-flight football stadium, a visit to a genuine diner was next on my list.

I finally settled for Johnny Rockets and enjoyed chilli beef sandwiches and a strawberry milkshake at the bar while throwing money into my own personal five cent jukebox.

Eat your heart out, Fonzie.

It was while walking around Indy that I realised that everything in the U.S. is BIG – from the blocks and the skyscrapers to the vehicles.

I was told that Indianapolis is a relatively modest, mid-western U.S. city, so Lord only knows what the really big ones are like.

Then there are the people.

We think we have an obesity problem over here but I can tell you it is nothing compared to the epidemic America is facing.

I was genuinely gobsmacked at the sheer girth of some of the folks waddling down the street and how many of the people were grossly overweight. It made me think long and hard about portion-sizes and the kinds of food I shovel down.

Not that I had much time to eat.

I had booked myself in for four solid days at Gen Con – the world’s largest gaming convention – showcasing tabletop games, board games, card and computer games.

Yours truly and 40,000-plus other geeks met authors, game-designers and artists, play-tested new games and took part in competitions.

I actually won the blue riband event – the Cthulhu Masters tournament – a horror roleplaying game based on the writings of American author H.P. Lovecraft.

It was a special moment and the perfect end to my first Gen Con Indy. I was taking home a trophy which had never before left the U.S.

Yours truly being presented with the Cthulhu Masters brain case trophy at Gen Con 2012.

Yours truly being presented with the Cthulhu Masters brain case trophy at Gen Con 2012.

When I arrived at customs at Indianapolis airport I wondered how I would explain the large, heavy rubber-plastic brain I was carrying in my hand luggage to the nice men with guns.

Sure enough, when my backpack went through the scanner one of them said: “Sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to step this way. You have something organic in your luggage. Can you tell me what it is?”

“It’s my trophy for winning the Cthulhu Masters tournament at Gen Con,” I replied, nervously.

The customs man gingerly removed the brain case from my rucksack. “Joe, come look at this!” he shouted, beckoning his buddy over.

He then turned to me and exclaimed: “Dude, that is awesome!”

“I know,” I said, with a very relieved smile.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Fond memories of my one encounter with the Queen

I remember the day quite clearly. It was Thursday, May 1, 1986 and yours truly, my mum, younger brother Matthew and my nan and grandad waited in the weak sunshine for the arrival of a very special visitor from Stoke Station.
I have to admit I wasn’t that keen on flowers and I certainly didn’t understand the term ‘regeneration’.
Nevertheless, we had just bought season tickets to the National Garden Festival which had transformed a 180-acre eyesore which had, until 1979, been the site of the Shelton Bar steelworks.
After five years of planning, earth-moving and landscaping and millions of pounds of Government funding, the Garden Festival – billed as a celebration of the best of British gardening – was ready to receive its Royal seal of approval.
I had never seen the Queen before and even 14-year-old me, besotted with football and Dungeons & Dragons, was excited as we stood in the drizzle with 14,000 other people waiting for Her Majesty to arrive.
I had never seen so many police officers and I remember grandad telling me they were worried about the threat of a terrorist attack.
We didn’t have a great spot in the crowd, if truth be told, and I remember craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the monarch as she stepped out of a shiny black Rolls-Royce.
She was wearing a vivid blue woollen coat and a black hat and seemed to have a fixed grin as we waved our Union Flags and Garden Festival carrier bags like things possessed – convinced that she was waving at us.
We listened to the opening ceremony during which the Queen said some very nice things about Stoke-on-Trent and told us she thought pottery pioneer Josiah Wedgwood would be proud of what had been achieved at Etruria.
Then she joined civic dignitaries for a one and a quarter mile train ride around the Garden Festival.
That’s when most people lost track of Her Majesty and, like us, went off to explore the remarkable site.
My brother had his picture taken with children’s telly witch Grotbags and I was chuffed to have met Central TV news presenter Bob Warman.
We marvelled at the strange waterfall made of Twyfords bathroom ware, enjoyed having a nosey around the new show homes and were thrilled to be taken on a cable car ride.
Then I remember great excitement as parachutists paid tribute to the Queen by dropping in, unexpected, on Festival-goers.
The Red Arrows also flew over the site and left a red, white and blue vapour trail which was pretty cool viewing to a teenager like me who was still harbouring dreams of joining the RAF when he left school.
After touring the festival site the Queen made her way over to the new Beth Johnson Housing Association complex in Etruria Locks – arriving in style aboard a red, white and blue narrowboat decorated with flowers.
As the boat went by, dozens of Sentinel employees could be seen waving from the newspaper’s new offices next to the Festival site.
This was the first and only time I laid eyes on the Queen and, having shared the occasion with my family, the memory is all the more special to me.
Since then I’ve been fortune enough to chat to Prince Edward, meet Prince Charles and Princess Anne and take photographs of the late Princess Diana and her sons William and Harry during a visit to Alton Towers.
However, I remain a great admirer of the Queen who, through all the trial and tribulations of the last two decades has remained a dignified and reliable ambassador for both the monarchy and Britain.
Whoever succeeds her certainly has big shoes to fill and I dare say we will never see the like again – both in terms of Her Majesty’s longevity and grace.

It’s hard to match the thrill of destroying a Death Star…

As I’m happy to admit, I’m a geek. A nerd. Dungeons & Dragons, sci-fi and horror: That’s all my bag. Oh, and computer games.

I got into computer games early because I was fortunate to grow up in the decade when they migrated from arcades and pubs into our homes.

However, my earliest memory of video games is from sitting in the upstairs rooms of a pub in Rhyl.

I would have been 10 or 11 at the time and, as mum and dad enjoyed a drink, my brother Matt and I would occasionally be given money to spend on Space Invaders.

Actually invented by Japanese company Taito in 1978, this was arguably the daddy of all arcade games which became a global hit in the early to mid-Eighties.

Simple and addictive, it was a two-dimensional game in which the player controlled a laser cannon by moving it horizontally across the bottom of the screen and firing at ever-descending ‘aliens’.

Your cannon was protected by stationary bunkers which slowly got worn away by the aliens’ missiles (and your own).

The aim was to defeat rows of aliens that moved horizontally back and forth as they advanced towards the bottom of the screen. You earned points for destroying each alien and they became quicker and more difficult to destroy as the game progressed.

Occasionally an alien ‘mother ship’ floated across the top of the screen and hitting this meant major points.

The object was obviously to get the highest score you possibly could. Truth be told, I wasn’t great at it but I loved it nonetheless.

I also have vague, blurry recollections of playing Atari’s Pong – a very simple, 2D table-tennis game which seems such a simple concept now I’m sure most children wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

Then, in 1984, I went on a school coach trip abroad. A couple of classes from years one and two at Holden Lane High went to Valkenburg in Holland.

It was in an arcade there one evening that my friends and I (Rob, Richie and Glyn) discovered the Star Wars arcade game. It was a revelation to kids like us who had grown up playing cowboys and indians, ‘Army’ and play-acting the heroes from our favourite films and TV shows.

Made by Atari, this game was truly brilliant for its time. It enabled you to take on the role of Luke Skywalker, piloting an X-Wing Fighter in his final run against the Death Star.

You sat inside the ‘cockpit’, while your mates hung around outside egging you on.

As you downed Imperial Tie-Fighters character voices from the film would echo through the explosions.

“Use the force, Luke”, “I’ve lost R2!”, and, of course, “This one’s strong”, added to the excitement.

By today’s standards, the simple, linear graphics seem incredibly old-fashioned but I can tell you that nothing quite matched the thrill of hitting the exhaust port of the Death Star with your proton torpedo and watching its explode. Happy days.

PC gaming was still in its infancy (my much-loved Commodore 64 had yet to arrive) but video games slowly were migrating into our living rooms – with Atari, Nintendo and Sega leading the way with their chunky ‘third generation’ consoles, ‘joy sticks’ and slide-in games which were the size of a roof-tile.

In 2012, many homes have a Wii the latest X-Box or PlayStation but, back in the mid-Eighties, being able to play video games in your house was a real novelty and any lad (it was usually lads) who owned one gained many cool points.

Some of the games from this era had such an impact on us that they entered popular culture – with Donkey Kong, Mario and Frogger springing to my mind.

Indeed, Namco’s Pac Man was so big at one stage that U.S. President Ronald Reagan once set aside matters of state to congratulate a player on getting the highest score ever.

It was during this time that many of the best-loved platforms were born: First-person shoot-em ups, roleplaying games, survival horror games etc.

Certainly, today’s online mass, multi-player games and the home console games with astonishingly realistic graphics owe a huge debt to the mid-Eighties.

That was the golden age of video arcade games and, looking back, its not hard to see why.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Dungeons & Dragons: My constant companion for 30 years

The year was 1983. I was eleven years old and I’d made a new friend at high school.
His name was Richard, or Spud to his mates, and he lived in the manor house up Norton.
It was a huge, wonderful old building which was fascinating to someone like me who had only ever been inside a three-bed semi.
What’s more it was next to a graveyard where we’d lark about playing hide a seek and chucking crab apples.
I quickly became best mates with Spud and ‘the manor’, as we referred to it, became my second home for the next 15 years.
Spud had an older brother, Gary, who was cool on a number of levels: Firstly, he had a black leather jacket which I would have given my right arm for; Secondly, he had a quality stereo system and a stack of rock albums and CDs.
But it was Spud’s other older brother, Chris, who was to have the greatest impact on me.
One evening I saw him sitting in the dining room reading something and scribbling notes. On the table in front of him were a couple of dozen tiny, metal figures and some funny-shaped dice.
I asked him what he was doing and he told me about Dungeons & Dragons.
A week later Spud and I were playing the game – using rulebooks, miniatures and dice borrowed from Chris.
I remember exactly how I felt during that first session of The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. I can even tell you what happened to the characters involved.
It was as if all my Christmases had come at once. It didn’t matter anymore that fat asthmatic yours truly was last pick for football.
This was the game I’d been waiting for. This was a hobby I could properly invest in.
All I needed was a few pencils, some dice, the rulebooks, my imagination and my mates.
I am now just a week away from my 40th birthday and I’m still playing the game which was actually created in the U.S. in 1974 but which really took off around the world in the mid-Eighties.
It spawned a cartoon series, a stinker of a movie starring Jeremy Irons and is now firmly established in popular culture as the sole preserve of geeks.
Dungeons & Dragons – or DnD – as we players call it, is the daddy of all roleplaying games (RPGs).
Every single best-selling computer and video RPG – from Tomb Raider, Resident Evil and Final Fantasy series to mass multi-player online sensations such as World of Warcraft – owes a debt to DnD’s simple tabletop concept.
It is estimated that more than 25 million people have played the game and as many as five million are currently involved worldwide.
Not bad for an 80s craze which has received its fair share of negative publicity of the years – including its alleged promotion of devil worship and witchcraft and for the naked breasts in drawings of female monsters such as harpies and succubi in the original rulebooks.
So what is DnD? Well, do you remember when you were a child and you’d watch a cowboy film or a space adventure movie and then run outside wanting to act the part of the hero?
Basically, DnD allows its players to do just that – in their heads that is.
It is set in a fictional world of swords and sorcery where magic is real and monsters exist. (Think Lord of the Rings and you’re not far wrong).
Players take on the role of a character such as a warrior, a thief or a wizard and work as a team to overcome puzzles, challenges and villains in a series of never-ending adventures.
As I’ve told my dad more times than I care to remember, there is no ‘winner’ in DnD. Your character survives, grows more powerful and gains fortune and glory – or it doesn’t.
Players use those ‘funny-shaped dice’ – four, six, eight, 10, 12 and 20-sided – and their characters are represented on the ‘floorplan’ or ‘battlegrid’ by miniature figures.
The game is controlled by the Dungeon Master, or DM, who acts as the storyteller cum referee.
Over the years yours truly has played dozens of games with scores of people – usually at someone’s house.
But I’ve also taken part in huge four-day conventions all over the UK where hundreds of players meet up for tournaments.
I don’t care that people take the mickey out of me. The fact is, I owe DnD a lot.
In school it helped with my history, maths and English and fuelled my love of creative writing and fantasy fiction.
And my knowledge of medieval weaponry? Second to none.
Crucially, as well as providing me with enormous fun, it has helped me to stay in touch with a great circle of friends.
I’ve spent literally thousands of pounds on my DnD collection and am now teaching the game to a new generation of players – including my own children who absolutely love it.
I’ve even started writing games and supplements which are being bought by other players around the world.
What’s more, for my 40th birthday I’m fulfilling a long-standing ambition by jetting off to the States to take part in the largest roleplaying game convention in the world: Gen Con Indy.
Yes, I am that nerd…

Eighties children’s telly stands the test of the time

Being the father of two small children you can’t help but become something of an aficionado with regard to children’s television.
Mercifully, we’ve made it through the painful In The Night Garden and Dora The Explorer phases and the girls have finally given me permission to sling their Peppa Pig DVDs.
I long ago converted my four and six-year-olds to the delights of Scooby-Doo (which they still lap up).
It is a source of great pride to me that I also recently switched them on to The Avengers – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and they are now hooked to such an extent that both can now name every Marvel superhero from Iron Man through to The Punisher.
Even so, despite the plethora of kids TV channels available I reckon the youngsters of today are poorly served compared to children of the 80s like me.
Maybe it’s the rose-tinted glasses syndrome but I just can’t imagine my girls looking back, misty-eyed in 25 years’ time and reminiscing about Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom.
Contrast that then with my memories of arriving home from Holden Lane High at 20 to four and flopping on to the settee with a bag of Monster Munch.
Perhaps I recall my pre-teatime telly with such fondness because children’s TV was still something of a novelty in the early Eighties.
Or perhaps the absence of computer games, mobile telephones and social networking meant that we were all actually limited to viewing the same stuff on the goggle box.
I prefer to think that what was on offer to children of the Eighties was simply better – with characters and theme tunes which are imprinted on our brains.
For example, do you recall the cartoon which first aired in the UK in 1983 and began with the words: “I am Adam, Prince of Eternia, defender of the secrets of Castle Greyskull…”
It’s all coming back now, isn’t it? Yes, He-Man and the Masters of Universe burst on to our TV screens during my first year at high school.
There followed 130 episodes of Skeletor-bashing action, numerous toys and even a duff movie starring Dolph Lundgren.
Another cartoon favourite of mine was Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds with its annoyingly catchy music.
I am sure you remember: “One for all and all for one, Muskahounds are always ready…” Ahem.
Yes, this little gem which was created in 1981 followed the adventures of canine versions of the swashbucking heroes from Alexandre Dumas’ novel. Enough said.
Then there was Battle of The Planets – a Japanese cartoon series involving the G-Force team of young superheroes (overseen by their robot 7-Zark-7) who battled against the evil Zoltar. Suffice to say I have the DVD.
I also adored the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon – based loosely on the roleplaying game of the same name – which saw a bunch of children take a theme park ride into a world of magic and monsters.
In truth, I never left that world and yes I do have the DVD.
Away from cartoons, I dare say few of today’s children’s programmes could hold a candle to The Book Tower.
Personally, I preferred the show when it was hosted by Doctor Who’s Tom Baker. His rather eccentric style of presenting coupled with the spooky Andrew Lloyd Webber theme tune really did the job of hooking me into reading – which was, of course, the whole point of the show.
Then there was the slapstick genius of BBC show Rentaghost which ran until 1984 and followed the antics of a number of ghosts who worked for a firm called, unsurprisingly, Rentaghost.
But the daddy of all Eighties children’s TV shows has to be Phil Redmond’s Grange Hill which enjoyed its halcyon period while yours truly was at a similar age to most of the characters.
And what characters they were… ‘Tucker’ Jenkins, ‘Ziggy’ Greaves, Fay Lucas, Ronnie Birtles, Roland Browning, ‘Gripper’ Stebson, Gonch and Hollo. The list is endless.
Groundbreaking at the time, Grange Hill pushed the boundaries of children’s drama with storylines such as Zammo McGuire’s descent into addiction to heroin.
With it’s wacky theme tune and comic book title sequence involving a flying sausage skewered by a fork, Grange Hill is as instantly recognisable today to the children of the Eighties as it was when Mrs McClusky ruled the roost.
Tracy Beaker and Horrid Henry eat your heart out.