Sad that Eighties motors haven’t stood test of time…

A yellow Metro not too dissimilar to my beloved motor.

A yellow Metro not too dissimilar to my beloved motor.

Depending on your view of life I’m either an excellent driver – or a very bad one.

It took me five attempts (yes, five) to pass my driving test and I finally achieved success in 1989.

On that basis, you’d have thought I’d have been quite good by the time I took off my L Plates, wouldn’t you?

However, I’m embarrassed to admit that at the age of 18 I drove into the back of someone else’s car because I was titivating with my hair in the rear view mirror.

The vanity of youth, eh?

It’s also true to say that I still have a tendancy to hog the middle lane while driving on the motorway – much to my other half’s annoyance.

But I’d like to think I’m a better driver these days, due in no small part to more regular shifts at work and the fact that there are no babies to wake me in the middle of the night anymore.

Thus my days of travelling to The Sentinel on auto-pilot, fuelled by coffee, are a dim and distant memory.

I learned to drive in a Nissan Micra and my first car was actually a company car – a bright yellow Austin Metro from WT Bell, no less, of Burslem.

I remember picking it up from the garage of the then Port Vale Chairman and him telling me that it was ‘a good little runner’ with the latest stereo system.

To be fair, the car never let me down and it did have a ‘wicked’ stereo with a graphic equaliser.

When it was stolen from outside my parents’ house in Sneyd Green one night the thieves woke my mum and dad because I had left the stereo on full blast and so when they started the engine Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell kicked in at full blast – waking the neighbours and presumably scaring the life out of whoever it was who nicked my wheels.

I loved that car – even if my mates did refer to it as ‘The Canary’ and ‘The Yellow Peril’ and I was jealous that they had a Ford Orion and a Renault Fuego.

Sadly, my beloved Metro was found dumped at Central Forest Park – its stereo missing and the car itself a write-off on account of it having been driven through and on to wooden fence posts.

Now I read that the car once driven by Lady Diana Spencer during her engagement to Prince Charles is on the endangered list – along with a number of other Eighties classics which haven’t survived the test of time, often due to unnecessary scrappage.

Car industry website honestjohn.co.uk estimates less than 2,000 of the 1.5 million Metros built between 1980 and 1981 survive today.

Its analysis of cars built before 1995 claims that 1980s cars have disappeared far more quickly than models from other periods.

Many of the models we grew up with and watched racing around on our goggle box have all but vanished from Britain’s roads – although some may take the view that it’s no bad thing.

These include the legendary Austin Allegro (only 291 remain) which, as I recall, was something of a joke even back in the day.

Then there’s the Austin Montego. I’m pretty sure my dad drove a green one of these of which we were quite proud at the time.

According to Honest John, however, only 296 Montegos are being driven on UK roads today.

Other motors from the Eighties said to be on the brink of extinction include the Austin Princess, Hillman Avenger, Vauxhall Viva, Austin Maxi, Morris Ital and Rover SD1.

Even the legendary Ford Cortina, a staple of TV cop shows from my youth, is in danger of disappearing – with just 5,411 of the 4.15 million models built prior to 1982 still on the road.

So, if you see one of these Eighties classics, give it a toot – for old time’s sake. And make sure the driver hasn’t broken down, won’t you?

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

Eurovision: Always terrible but at least it used to have a novelty value

Bucks Fizz in 1981.

Bucks Fizz in 1981.

Eurovision: A party political broadcast on behalf of Euro-sceptics if ever there was one.

Anyone wishing to persuade their compatriots that Britain really should leave the European Union as a matter of urgency simply has tell them to tune into BBC1 tonight for this annual cheese-fest.

Masquerading as a music contest, this bloated televisual nightmare is simply an excuse for all the other countries of Europe (especially France) to show just how much they dislike us.

Mind you, we don’t do ourselves any favours, do we?

I mean, Bonnie Tyler is this year’s United Kingdom Entry. Really?

Don’t get me wrong I’m as fond as the next man of her massive Eighties hit Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

The video alone – with its weird imagery taken at an all boys school where nudity and the consumption of drugs which make your eyeballs turn into small suns seems commonplace – is frankly unforgettable.

But if we are reduced to wheeling out stars from 30 years ago then surely we’d be better off opting for Duran Duran or asking Wham to reform.

I’ve nothing against the Welsh warbler selected to champion this Sceptered Isle in Malmö tonight, other than that she appears to be somewhat past her best.

I guess we’ll see when the block-voting by members of the former Soviet Union commences this evening.

Maybe it’s my age but I don’t remember it always being a foregone conclusion that the UK would receive fewer points than Lichtenstein.

Although, to be fair, during the 1980s the countries taking part in the competition were at least in Europe.

Nowadays they’ll take anyone – including Israel, Cyprus and various intercontinental countries such as Russia and Turkey.

My first memory of Eurovision is of the year when family-friendly Bucks Fizz were the toast of Europe.

The grinning four-piece, with their daring outfit change, won the contest in 1981 with Making Your Mind Up – a song so bad all the other countries in Europe voted for it so that we were forced to keep listening to it and seeing the group’s garish outfits on Top of the Pops.

These days, Eurovision has its own website and there’s even an app to download – should you run out of chores to do – which allows you to immerse yourself in competition trivia and learn all the words to Moldova’s entry.

Of course, 30 years ago – even though the contest was well-established there was still a huge novelty factor when countries most of us only knew from O-Level or GCSE geography came together on the same night via the wonder of the small screen in our living rooms.

Back then we laughed at the idiosyncrasies of Europe’s smaller nations – until, that is, they started beating us with songs which sounded like they’d been made up by a drunken medieval peasant.

We didn’t mind so much when Ireland’s Johnny Logan kicked off the decade by winning with What’s Another Year. At least we could understand what he was saying.

But did the Aussie-born singer really have to return in 1987 and win again with Hold Me Now? Surely there should be rules against that sort of thing.

I bet Terry Wogan agrees with me.

Of course, Eurovision in the Eighties also introduced the watching public to a little-known, Canadian-born singer by the name of Celine Dion whose Ne partez pas sans moi won first place for Switzerland in 1988.

She was 20 at the time, years before she hit full diva mode with her epic theme from the movie Titanic.

That victory launched Celine Dion on the path to global stardom. Yes, it’s Eurovision’s fault.

Oh well, at least we can thank it for the music of Abba.

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

Why good photographers are still worth their weight in gold

Sentinel photographer Steve Bould with a selection of images taken by Sentinel photographers over the years which were displayed at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in an exhibition entitled 'Dear Happy Ghosts

Sentinel photographer Steve Bould with a selection of images taken by Sentinel photographers over the years which were displayed at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in an exhibition entitled ‘Dear Happy Ghosts’

I’m sure it’s not just me that is still wowed by touch-screen technology and who thinks that cameras on telephones are a novelty.

To the current generation of teenagers who know no different, taking pictures of yourself pouting in the mirror and then uploading said image to Facebook is par for the course.

In contrast there are very few pictures of me or my friends at high school or college because the generation which grew up in the late Eighties didn’t carry cameras around with them. Most of us didn’t have one.

If someone took a photograph there was generally a good reason for it. It was an occasion, an event, a gathering. It had a purpose.

Nowadays every oik with a mobile telephone can take a picture of his or her takeaway tea and display it to the world within seconds.

Don’t get me wrong, I am genuinely in awe of the fact that my six and eight-year-olds are able to use a mouse and navigate their way around an iMac screen and use the internet.

I can also, of course, see the huge benefits of hand-held devices which are part computer, part camera and part phone – even if they have killed the art of conversation for many.

Nowhere has the march of technology been more pronounced than with photography.

You used to walk in someone’s house and there would be the obligatory wedding picture in a frame – given pride of place – along with a few pictures of the kids, maybe a shot of grandad’s 70th birthday bash and a recently-departed pet dog.

Nowadays photo frames are electronic devices – winking at you from the mantelpiece or coffee table as they change from Christmas Day to last year’s holiday in Majorca.

Working in the media, of course, image technology has had a huge impact on the way some of my colleagues work.

I started as a cub reporter at Smith Davis Press in 1989 – the same year as Steve Bould began his career as a photographer at The Sentinel.

Now the most senior man on our picture desk, he’s one of the few photographers who recalls the momentous changes that have taken place over the last quarter of a century.

Back in the late Eighties, of course, cameras used rolls of film.

We would take our holiday snaps to a shop to be developed and every media organisation had its own dark room where a kind of a magic happened.

Even though I was a scribe, I spent many happy hours (though not as many as Steve) chatting away to colleagues under the eerie red light as negatives – or ‘negs’ – were developed (‘devved’).

I watched in awe as images materialised on prints in the trays.

It was a time-consuming process whereby the photographer didn’t really know just how successful or otherwise a particular shoot had been until he was able to view his or her negs back in the safety of the dark room.

In those early days I developed a healthy respect for ‘snappers’ (they hate being called that, by the way).

The importance to me of images chronicling everything from major events locally – from job losses, major crimes and football club successes – to the minutiae of people’s lives cannot be overstated.

That’s why I am so in awe of the treasure trove that is The Sentinel’s library and archive – with its row upon row of folders of prints, negatives and cuttings.

If a picture is worth a thousand words then this newspaper’s archive boasts billions.

It was, of course, the advent of digital cameras which ended the dark room’s domination and consigned camera films to the nostalgia pages.

In 1996 The Sentinel’s digital archive began and, to be fair, it’s a terrific, immediate resource.

When I began working as a journalist in the Eighties photographers, the vast majority of whom were men, at newspapers like The Sentinel would travel to just three or four jobs in a day – because they needed the rest of their shift to come back and ‘dev’ their work.

These days, photographers on your average regional daily newspaper will be expected to do six, seven or eight jobs in a day – often uploading the images to a laptop and emailing them back to HQ, thus removing any need for them to return to the office.

They may do more jobs but they also, of course, have the luxury of being able to view images as they take them – re-shooting if they are unhappy with the results.

Steve said: “I guess it’s swings and roundabouts. Photographers will do more jobs these days but the technology at their disposal is far superior to what was available 20-odd years ago.

“The job has changed. Some skills are no longer relevant.

“However, even though most people have devices which can take pictures these days it doesn’t mean the pictures they take are any good.

“Most people don’t have the technical ability to take a decent photograph or lack the courage to ‘get in there’ and get close enough to whatever is happening.

“Simply posing a group of people properly or creating an interesting image from a fairly dull subject matter – that’s a real skill.”

He’s not wrong. That’s why a good photographer is worth his or her weight in gold: Because they know a picture of a takeaway tikka masala isn’t that impressive after all.

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

The Football Final and a paper round… how I fell in love with newspapers

A Sentinel front page from July 1988.

A Sentinel front page from July 1988.

I can tell you exactly when I fell in love with newspapers. I would have been about 10 years old and it was The Sentinel that hooked me.

My mum and dad had the paper delivered and I would nick the Football Final and sit alone in the back room reading the brief match reports and scanning the league tables.

I remember thinking at the time that it was incredible that within an hour and a half of the final whistle a page full of information had been printed on the back of our local paper and delivered to our door.

At the age of 15 I began my paper round – delivering The Sentinel and national newspapers to homes in Sneyd Green and Smallthorne.

My ‘run’ was very hilly and was the longest of any of the paper boys and girls working out of the newsagents on Mornington Road.

The year was 1987 and I would get up at 5.30am on a school day and a similar time at weekends and have to be at the paper shop by 4.30pm each day after school.

I earned the princely sum of £5.50 per week but consoled myself with the fact that I lost a stone in weight in three months lugging that great heavy bag around.

I remember weekends being toughest because my bag was heavier – filled with numerous lifestyle supplements and magazines which the nationals produced to add value to their reader offer.

Being a paper boy helped me to develop a healthy interest in current affairs – from the trials and tribulations of ‘gender-bender’ Boy George to the kidnapping of Terry Waite and the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise.

I would browse the nationals before delivering them – something my boss Joe frowned upon because he feared complaints from customers irked by papers with creased pages.

I slowly learned the differences between each of the tabloids, began to spot the spin and the political bias, and marvelled at how the same story could be told two or three different ways.

It was while at Sixth Form College, Fenton, a couple of years after I gave up my paper round, that I applied for a job with a local press agency – determined to carve a career in journalism.

It’s no secret that sales of newspapers, both national and local, have been declining since their peak in the 1950s – never more so than following the advent of the internet.

Two of the national newspapers I delivered as a paper boy – The News of the World and Today – are no longer with us.

The former was shut down in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal while the other, which had only launched in 1986, closed nine years later due to financial pressures.

I am proud to say that having delivered both I worked for and had articles published in both during my time as a ‘stringer’ for a local press agency. Back in the mid to late Eighties newspaper circulation figures were still astonishingly high.

In 1987 the News of the World was selling an average of 5,360,000 copies a week while the Sunday Mirror was selling almost three million.

The Sun was selling almost four million copies daily and the Daily Telegraph 1.15 million copies.

The circulation of all these titles, and all regional newspapers has plummeted dramatically over the last 20 years as technology has advanced and the way in which people access information has changed – prompting many observers to predict the death of newspapers.

Far fewer people take a newspaper to work and far more work at a computer or have a phone which gives them instant access to all the news, sport and features that they want.

However, in the week that politicians carved a highly unsatisfactory deal between themselves and anti-Press activists, I’d like to think there’s life in the old dogs yet.

Blogs and the broadcast media are all well and good but, in the final analysis: No-one does in-depth like newspapers; No-one chronicles history like newspapers; No organisations do investigations like newspapers. No other media organisations have the resources to do what newspapers like The Sentinel do here in North Staffordshire.

That’s our USP and that’s why, in my opinion, even in this age of ever-changing technology newspapers still have a vital role to play.

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

Decade spawned new TV format… and murdered some songs

The Children In Need logo from 1980.

The Children In Need logo from 1980.

As I was looking at the schedule for last night’s Comic Relief I began to wonder where it all began: This telethon lark, I mean.

Like many television formats we now take for granted, it originated in the UK during that decade of television firsts – the Eighties.

Back then – as with Live Aid – it was genuinely ground-breaking as a form of mass entertainment and in terms of a technological achievement.

The first terrestrial TV telethon was screened in Britain in 1980 and it has since gone on to spawn Comic Relief and Sport Relief – all fronted by the BBC.

Thirty three years ago the Beeb’s Children In Need charity – which has its roots in a 1927 Christmas Day appeal for children’s charities – took centre stage for a single themed programme which lasted the whole evening.

Presented by veteran Terry Wogan, newsreader Sue Lawley and That’s Life’s presenter Esther Rantzen, we were all shocked when it raised more than £1 million from public donations.

The show benefited, of course, from the fact that there was no cable or satellite TV back then and so most people in the UK tuned in to watch this most unusual bit of programming.

The massive success of that first telethon persuaded BBC bosses to keep the format which has been an annual fixture ever since.

Using its massive resources, Auntie has turned Children In Need Day into a huge annual fund-raising exercise – with all its regional TV news teams and local radio stations encouraging their viewers and listeners to do something daft for the good cause.

In 1985 Pudsey Bear became the charity’s mascot – designed by a BBC graphic designer and named after her home town in Yorkshire.

Originally, the teddy which now pops up on all Children In Need branding and brightens up supermarket checkouts during the month of March, was brown in colour and didn’t sport an eye patch.

Interestingly, the telethon isn’t universally popular – with some observers arguing that such events detract from other charities.

Others have criticised a lack of accountability in terms of where the money goes and the fact that some celebrities are able to promote themselves for free on prime time television.

But the telethon has surely done more harm than good since that historic first broadcast in 1980 – even if some of the telly is woeful.

Just look at the numbers: To date Children In Need has raised more than £600m – all of which has helped disabled children and vulnerable young people across the UK.

Five years after that first Children In Need extravaganza, comedian Lenny Henry and comedy scriptwriter Richard Curtis founded the Comic Relief charity in response to famine in Ethiopia.

It was launched on BBC1 on Noel Edmonds’s Late Late Breakfast Show on Christmas Day with a live appeal from a refugee camp in Sudan.

Since then Red Nose Day has raised more than £800m while, over the years, inflicting upon us some devastatingly awful music.

This tradition began in 1986 with Cliff Richard and the cast of The Young Ones who murdered Living Doll.

The following year Mel and Kim and Kim Wilde did similar to Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – with a little help from comedian Mel Smith.

But worst of all was Bananarama’s version of Help! in 1989 which was ruined with the assistance of comediennes French and Saunders and Kathy Burke.

In 2002 Comic Relief and BBC Sport came together to create a new charity initiative. Sport Relief now alternates with Red Rose Day as Comic Relief’s big annual fund-raiser.’

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

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.

It’ll be all white. It’s only a bit of snow…

Heavy snow in the Moorlands in January 1987.

Heavy snow in the Moorlands in January 1987.

We are notoriously bad at coping with snow in the UK. Here in North Staffordshire is no different. A mere dusting of the white stuff and roads grind to a halt and schools close. Curtains twitch and people begin checking their stockpiles of Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies.

I’m not sure why we can’t seem to handle proper winter weather.

Perhaps it is because we get so little of it and it is so infrequent.

The truth is snow is a genuine novelty round these parts which is why most of us don’t bother fitting winter tyres to our cars.

When it does snow, my perception is that the majority of people over the age of 60 refuse to leave the house until the great thaw sets in.

This isn’t what happens overseas, I can assure you.

Our attitude is mad, really. Even after nine months of fairly incessant rain which made for a washout of a summer, many people fail to appreciate the beauty of the season of frost, snow and ice.

Thank goodness for children and their love of snowmen and sledges is all I can say.

In early December I flew to France for a festive weekend away with my mates Will and Rob.

It was a new alternative to the annual pub crawl around Newcastle – the idea being that we would sit in front of a log fire drinking vino, watching telly and playing games.

We landed at Geneva airport to be confronted by a white blanket covering the countryside.

The lady handing over the keys to our hire car – a very modest Vauxhall Meriva – asked Will if he wanted snow chains fitting to the tyres. She genuinely couldn’t advise whether we’d need them or not.

“Nah,” he responded after a few seconds’ thought. “I think we’ll be owrate.”

Two hours later it was squeaky bum time as the ill-equipped people carrier quite literally inched its way up Le Crêt de la Neige – the highest peak in the Jura mountains – in the worst blizzard I’ve ever seen.

To his eternal credit, Will fought with the steering wheel and gear stick for all he was worth to coax every ounce of life from the engine and find some traction in the deepening snow as darkness fell.

It was quite simply an epic journey and it was the snow that made it so.

Had it been simply overcast or raining the four hour journey to Will’s place in France would have been eminently forgettable.

As it was, that journey and the sight of the beautiful, snow-covered mountains and fir trees made the holiday so memorable.

You’ll have guessed by now that I’m a big fan of the white stuff.

Sadly, for me, we get precious little of it round these parts and, when we do, it never lasts for very long.

Indeed, properly disruptive snowstorms in the UK as a whole during the last decade or so can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case when I was growing up in Sneyd Green during the 1980s. Back then heavy snowfalls appeared with far more regularity and I think we coped a little bit better with them.

Football certainly carried on thanks to that genius invention, the high-vis orange ball. Remember them?

Trawling through The Sentinel’s archives I unearthed some wonderfully evocative pictures – highlighting the particularly snowy winters of 1981/2, 1987 and 1989.

The Christmas of 1981, for example, was a white one for the people of the Potteries and I was able to build a snowman with my brother on Christmas Eve.

Earlier that month, on December 13, snow blitzed the south of the country and even the Queen became stranded for several hours in a Cotswold pub.

Two ships foundered in the English Channel and some homes in Somerset were without electricity for five days.

Three weeks later, in the January of 1982, it was particularly cold.

On January 8 and 9 heavy snow and gale force winds saw severe blizzards across the Midlands, Wales, Ireland and southern England. Transport services were thrown into chaos and millions of commuters failed to get to work in London for two days running.

Sadly, in 30 years, we seem to have become worse at coping with the snow when it does arrive.

Perhaps the next time we get an inch or two in our neck of the woods we should try to appreciate the fleeting beauty of it and realise that it isn’t the end of the world. Honest.

Anyway, I’d better be off now. I think it’s starting to snow and I wouldn’t want to get stuck at work.

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