Star Wars, The Bill and a landslide for Maggie

Margaret Thatcher celebrated a landslide General Election victory in 1983.

Margaret Thatcher celebrated a landslide General Election victory in 1983.

I was 11 years old in 1983. I hadn’t even started my Sentinel paper round but my world was about to get much bigger with a move to high school.

Trawling through the archives is fascinating but it doesn’t half make you feel old – particularly when you realise how long ago it is that certain people died.

1983 was the year when we lost some stellar names from the world of showbusiness.

Believe it or not it is 30 years since the likes of David Niven, Dick Emery, Billy Fury, John Le Mesurier and Violet Carson passed away.

It was also the year that music mourned the loss of the irreplaceable Karen Carpenter, aged just 32, and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys – along with American heavyweight boxing legend Jack Dempsey.

Closer to home, Sid Daniels – the last surviving crewmember of the RMS Titanic – died at the age of 89.

It is difficult to comprehend now but in 1983 the Cold War was still cropping up on TV news bulletins.

In March of that year U.S. President Ronald Reagan outlined initial proposals for the Strategic Defence Initiative.

The media dubbed the plan to develop technology which could intercept enemy missiles ‘Star Wars’ and it stuck.

In September the Soviet Union admitted shooting down Korean Air Flight 007 which had entered their airspace – claiming that its pilots were unaware it was a civilian aircraft.

Two months later we saw the final scare of the Cold War when Soviet officials misinterpreted a NATO exercise codenamed Able Archer as a nuclear first strike. Thankfully, someone had the gumption to realise it wasn’t.

That same month the first U.S. Cruise Missiles arrived at the Greenham Common Airbase – prompting protests from the likes of CND and other peace protesters.

While managing to keep his finger off the big red button, actor turned U.S. President Reagan proudly watched as the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger set off on its first flight – three years before its final, tragic flight.

The former Hollywood hearthrob also indicated that the Global Positioning System or GPS, which we all now take for granted, would be made available for civilian use.

1983 was the year that the infamous ‘Butcher of Lyon’, Klaus Barbie – who is estimated to have been involved in the murder of 14,000 people – was indicted for war crimes after a lengthy crusade by Nazi hunters.

Of great interest to us here in the UK following the Falklands Conflict, military rule in Argentina ended in 1983 after seven years following democratic elections which resulted in Raúl Alfonsin’s first term as President.

Back home, on a wave of euphoria after the Falklands victory, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government was re-elected by a landslide majority in June.

Four months later Neil Kinnock was elected leader of the Labour Party, replacing Michael Foot.

The Northern Ireland troubles made headlines daily in 1983.

In September 38 Irish republican prisoners armed with hand guns hijacked a prison meals lorry and smashed their way out of the Maze Prison.

It was the largest prison escape since World War II and the biggest in British history.

Then in December a Provisional IRA car bomb which exploded outside Harrods killed six Christmas shoppers and injured 90 more.

Another major story from 1983 was the Brink’s–MAT robbery in London.

Around 6,800 gold bars worth an estimated £26 million were stolen from a vault at Heathrow Airport.

In October Scottish entrepreneur Richard Noble set a new land speed record of 633.468 miles per hour by driving the British designed and built Thrust 2 jet propelled car across the Black Rock desert in Nevada. The record stood for 14 years.

In sport the Old Firm’s dominance of Scottish football was broken when Dundee United were crowned champions for the first time in their history.

Meanwhile, in tennis, the legend that is Bjorn Borg retired from the game after winning five consecutive Wimbledon titles.

In entertainment, Rock group Kiss officially appeared in public for the first time without make-up, the final episode of M*A*S*H was screened and UK TV favourite The Bill first aired as one-off drama called Woodentop.

Paws for thought as City Dog’s Homes celebrates 30 years

Solo, our first dog, who came from the City Dog's Home at Bucknall.

Solo, our first dog, who came from the City Dogs’ Home at Bucknall.

I recall my dad’s reaction when my brother and I returned home with our first pet dog.

“It’s a bit big, isn’t it?” said the old man – with a customary lack of enthusiasm – as the nervous, black and white cross-breed sniffed around her new abode.

Of course, within five minutes dad was on all fours and making a huge fuss of the animal who I named Solo (after Star Wars character, Han, of course).

The year was 1989 and I remember vividly our trip to the City Dog’s Home in Bucknall. I wasn’t prepared for row upon row of kennels with pleading eyes or the incessant barking which assailed our ears.

In the end we chose Solo, who was two at the time, precisely because she was quiet and timid – standing as she did at the back of her pen, shaking.

She went on to live to the ripe old age of 15 and had many adventures.

One time mum inexplicably dropped a steaming hot joint of roast beef, straight out of the oven, on to the tiled floor of our kitchen.

Quick as a flash Solo snapped up the great chunk of meat in her jaws and ran off with it – curling up in her bed and snarling like a mad thing at anyone who went near her until she’d scoffed the lot.

That was Sunday lunch gone for a Burton.

After Solo died mum and dad got their current dog, Cobi, from the City Dogs’ Home too.

The place has actually been open for more than 30 years – helping to find homes for literally thousands of unwanted dogs.

During that time the one constant has been Vicki Phillips who is now the manageress of the privately-owned home.

Vicki, aged 63, lives close to the Brookhouse Lane site and for her and her four staff it is far more than a job.

She said: “You can’t help but become emotionally attached. It can be a very depressing job but it is always a very rewarding one too.

“It is nice knowing that you have provided a dog with a safe, warm environment.

“Then every time we re-home an animal it gives you a great sense of achievement and happiness.”

The City Dogs’ Home, which takes in all of the stray animals picked up by Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s wardens, opened its doors in 1982 not long after Longton Dogs’ Home closed.

Vicki worked at the Longton centre at then at the City Dogs’ Home as a kennel maid before moving in at Bucknall as resident manageress.

She recalls: “Back in the early days we didn’t have anywhere near the number of dogs we have now.

“We had space for perhaps 30 or so animals. The number of kennels has quadrupled since then and we never turn a dog away.

“In the Eighties we would get all sorts of breeds in – Shepherds were quite popular.

“Nowadays it is mainly cross-bred Staffies and this is really sad to see.”

On average the City Dogs’ Home is looking after anywhere between 80 and 100 animals.

It’s obviously a full-time job, 365 days of the year, and so on Christmas Day, for example, the staff will share the load of feeding and checking on the animals.

Vicki said: “These are difficult times and hard for us as a business.

“As well as the dogs brought in by the local authority we also have animals that come to us from their owners for a variety of reasons.

“Sometimes people have lost their job or their home or are downsizing to live in a flat and simply don’t have the room for a dog anymore or can’t afford to keep one.

“We are extremely grateful to the public who help us enormously throughout the year – particularly at Christmas time – with donations of food and bedding.”

Vicki, who used to have seven rescue dogs of her own but now only has a Poodle and Cavalier left, has the following words of advice for anyone considering taking on a dog.

She said: “It may be a cliche but having a dog really is a big responsiblility.

“People need to be aware of the commitment – not simply in terms of the financial cost but in terms of the time required to properly look after an animal.”

*Anyone who thinks they can offer a safe home to one of the animals at the City Dogs’ Home should contact Vicki on: 01782 304130.’

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

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

The 80s gave us some great toys… and a few to forget

I had to smile when I read that sales of LEGO were up by 25 per cent in the first six months of this year.
Astonishingly those little plastic blocks and their assorted figures currently account for seven per cent of the global toy market.
Which just goes to show that, in spite of fads, fashions, gadgets and gizmos, not much can compete with the simple pleasure of building with your imagination and then starting again from scratch.
As a child I loved LEGO. In fact, LEGO is one of my claims to fame. No, really, it is.
I’ll have you know that my space station was judged third in the Christmas LEGO building competition at the Lewis’s department store in Hanley.
The year was 1983. I was 11 at the time and it was my single greatest achievement – surpassing even the moment when Glyn Shelley and I won the wheelbarrow race at Holden Lane First and Middle School’s sports day.
Never mind the phrase ‘Like a kid in a sweet shop’, the toy department at Lewis’s was quite literally my favourite place in the world.
It was worth a trip to Hanley and the associated trudge around clothing stores for the treat of a Tiko’s pasty with gravy and a gander at what we couldn’t afford in the Aladdin’s cave that was Lewis’s toy department.
Apart from anything else that’s where Santa’s grotto was – the magical appeal of which never faded, for me.
Being a lad in the Eighties it was all toy soldiers, Action Man and the like for yours truly. Not forgetting, LEGO, of course.
Back then, the range of LEGO was far more modest. None of this movie tie-in mullarky that you get these days.
I was the proud owner of two space sets (still in mum’s wardrobe) while my brother Matthew was given the very dull airport and far more exciting castle set.
LEGO, which takes its name from the Danish phrase ‘leg godt’ which means ‘play well’, is one of those toys which I associate with my childhood in the Eighties.
But you may be surprised to discover that it’s not just LEGO that is still filling Christmas stockings and Santa sacks a quarter of a century later.
Many iconic Eighties toys are still in production and selling by the bucketload as parents like me try to inflict their childhood passions on their children.
For example, last year one of those toys I always wanted but never got made a comeback.
Who could forget BigTrak – the six-wheeled tank which looked like something from Star Wars?
It had headlamps and a keypad into which you could programme instructions like ‘move forward five lengths’, ‘turn 30 degrees right’ or ‘fire phaser’ and such like. Genius.
In 1984 I was just the right age to be hooked by Transformers – AKA robots in disguise.
You know, the big red truck Optimus Prime and his mechanical buddies versus the evil (and much cooler) Megatron – leader of the Decepticons.
I distinctly remember spending a big chunk of my Sentinel paper round money on the Transformers comic and loving the cartoon series which had spawned it.
Despite the best efforts of critics, today’s youngsters (and their dads) are still lapping up Transformers action nearly 30 years later thanks to three eminently-forgettable movies.
Slightly less complicated and far more infuriating is the toy which screams Eighties louder than shoulder pads, big hair and ripped jeans – the Rubik’s Cube.
A staggering 350 million cubes have been sold since the 3-D mechanical puzzle debuted in 1980.
I knew plenty of people who owned them but not one who could actually solve the puzzle.
Having said that I owned the cheapo version which was in the shape of a ball and I could fashion something which vaguely resembled a cobra snake. If you squinted, anyway.
Still going (I won’t say strong) with its third animated series planned for next year is the absurdly-named Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I was never a fan of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello but millions of children were – which explains the comics, cartoons, toys, video games and a turkey of a movie.
Oh, and the phrase ‘Cowabunga’. Sorry for the flashback.
It isn’t just boys’ toys that have stood the test of time, either.
The Eighties has to take responsibility for inflicting The Care Bears, My Little Pony and the Cabbage Patch Kids on an unsuspecting public.
Three decades later, because I’ve got two little girls, I’m still dodging the first two on children’s TV channels while doing my best to pretend the latter never existed.
I love the Eighties but some things are simply indefensible.