Lessons cancelled for a bit of television history

It’s one of my most vivid memories from primary school and one of those televisual events from the Eighties which, like the Falklands Conflict and the Live Aid concert, gripped the nation.

I was 10 at the time and probably recall it so well because it meant something other than lessons for the pupils at was Holden Lane First and Middle School in Sneyd Green.

We shuffled into the assembly hall to sit in rows on the cold floor in front of the school’s one, large colour TV which rested on a trolley in front of the stage.

What unfolded before us over the next couple of hours was pure drama and kept 120 under-11s amazingly quiet and interested.

It was a scene, I’m sure, that was repeated at schools across the country as archaeology came to the masses.

The first few timbers of the Mary Rose broke the surface just after 9am on October 11, 1982, cradled in the arms of a chunky yellow lifting rig.

For someone like yours truly, fascinated by history, it was a tremendous bit of telly and I can’t quite believe it is 30 years ago this week.

First there was the genuine concern that the salvage operation would not be successful – pioneering as it was.

It had taken years of planning and had been delayed by the fact that a detachment of Royal Engineers, who had been working on the project, had been forced to pull out because they had more pressing business with Argentines soldiers in the South Atlantic.

Indeed, the operation was not without its hairy moments – like when a corner of the frame slipped a full metre and we all gasped in horror and the thought of Henry VIII’s flagship disintegrating.

The commentators filled our heads with doomsday scenarios of the hull snapping or the wood deteriorating with exposure to 20th century air.

We simply crossed our fingers that everything would be OK and wondered what treasures the Tudor time capsule would yield when it was eventually brought ashore.

The raising of the Mary Rose was one of the most ambitious and expensive operations in the history of maritime archaeology.

It was significant in that the people behind the privately-funded project weren’t forced to sell-off bits of their treasure trove to cover their costs and led to the creation of the first historic shipwreck museum in the UK to receive funding from the Government.

Mum and dad took my brother and I down to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to visit the Mary Rose Museum when I was in my early teens and I remember standing on the viewing balcony over looking the great hulk which was being sprayed with salt water.

The great warship had been sailing to attack a French fleet when she sank in the Solent – the straits north of the Isle of Wight – on July 19, 1545.

It was no surprise then that among the 26,000 artifacts recovered were weapons which gave us a window on warfare during the Tudor period – including cannons, guns, longbows and arrows.

But the Mary Rose was a floating community which is why everything from casks containing food and drinks to chests of carpentry tools were also salvaged along with rosaries, musical instruments, navigation equipment, clothing and even medical supplies used by the ship’s barber surgeon.

The silt of the Solent had preserved many of the objects well but the underwater environment which had been their home for hundreds of years had made them sensitive to exposure to air. Thus, for the last three decades, work to conserve the wreck and its artifacts has been unceasing.

Millions of pounds have been spent on the Mary Rose to preserve this Great British treasure for future generations.

The final phase if the conservation process – controlled air drying of the hull – is expected to be completed no later the 2015.

I’m sure old Henry would be proud.

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

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1982: The year I realised there was life beyond Sneyd Green…

Let’s turn back the clock 30 years. Yours truly was tubby, aged 10, and at infant school.

I was still happily playing with a tin of toy soldiers and nipping over the railings for a game of footie on the high school playing fields of a weekend (goalkeeper, obviously, because this asthmatic didn’t do much running about).

Then things changed. This was the year I looked beyond Sneyd Green and started to take notice of, well… other stuff.

I think this was because 1982 was a momentous year – for all sorts of reasons.

Indeed, I’m convinced it was the events of those 12 months which switched me on to current affairs.

No, I’m not talking about the arrival of the BMX or the ZX Spectrum home computer – I had neither.

Nor did I go in for Deely Boppers, ra-ra skirts or leg warmers – which all made their bow in ’82.

I’m not talking about the launch of Channel 4 with its first edition of Countdown, either.

No, what struck me when I watched the evening news was the crushing misery of real life.

Unemployment hit three million for the first time since the Thirties and I learned what a dole queue was.

Of course, there was no bigger story than the Falklands Conflict – which unfolded before our eyes on television from April to June.

For a starters, my mum suggested we stop buying Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies because of their country of origin. She only suggested it, mind.

As a 10-year-old I recall being worried as Maggie’s Task Force sailed off but I didn’t really know why.

The Falklands Conflict was the first ‘war’ which us Brits witnessed via nightly updates on the TV news.

For anyone who saw them, even a youngster like me, there are certain names and images which will be seared into your mind.

Mirage fighter planes, Exocet missiles, Harrier jump jets, Goose Green, Mount Tumbledown, the blazing Sir Galahad, the sinking General Belgrano.

For the 74-day duration of the conflict pictures were beamed into our living rooms every teatime – exposing for the first time the full horrors of war to us back home.

In the end, we won, but the cost was steep: 255 British military personnel, almost 650 Argentine military personnel and a handful of Falkland Islanders died.

Last year I met Simon Weston OBE – the remarkable survivor of that fire on the Sir Galahad – at a theme park in Cornwall of all places. He remains an inspiration.

Television also provided other vivid memories of that year for me.

In October I was one of more than 120 pupils at Holden Lane First and Middle who huddled around the school’s only beast of a TV and watched as King Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose was raised from the murky depths of The Solent.

This was history at its most exciting and I was hooked for life.

I also watched virtually every game of the World Cup in Spain and very nearly completed the Panini Sticker album for the tournament – eventually giving up on a couple of Hungarian midfielders.

It was a year to be Italian and I recall the Boys’ Brigade lads playing football on the grass up at Wesley Hall Methodist church (trees for goalposts) all wanting to be Paolo Rossi.

1982 was also a year of contrasting royal stories. There was joy for the House of Windsor when Diana, Princess of Wales, gave birth to her son and future heir to the throne Prince William in June.

But a month later I remember being horrified that the Queen had spent 10 minutes chatting to intruder Michael Fagan when she woke up to find him sitting on the end of her bed.

Ten-year-old me was genuinely concerned about Her Majesty’s safety for several days after that.

Thirty years later and our Liz is approaching her Diamond Jubilee so I guess I needn’t have worried.

Happy anniversary, your Majesty.

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