I Love 1982

Saturday, February 3, 2001 by

Before sitting down to watch this programme, I made a conscious effort to recall 1982 as best I could. What did 1982 mean to me? What could my faltering memory recollect?

Well, in this year I turned 18, finally left school and failed to enter university. I managed to find a summer job in a raspberry-canning factory in a town that made Royston Vasey look positively normal. I got my first proper hangover, joined the swelling army of Thatcher’s unemployed and won a poetry competition. Billy Downie discovered world communism and attempted to enroll us all in the Sighthill branch of his revolutionary freedom fighters. Ronnie Bowie lured me into following Partick Thistle on a regular basis, home and away (thank god for the UB40 gate – no stigmatisation there then) and Stephen N. introduced me to the joy of LSD. Rampant rumours of conscription struck as the Falklands “situation” evolved and, frankly, we swallowed the urban myth – or whatever they were called then – and proceeded to shit our pants for a few weeks. And, rather embarrassingly, I got myself into a situation in the common room when Lesley Greenhill sat on my lap. Splendidly good year, actually. Rounded off nicely at a New Year’s Eve party by dropping acid and deliberating for hours with fellow veg-heads as to which were the top three crisps of the day. Right then, 1982? Bring it on.

Well, what can I say? My first reaction was to spend the duration of the show spitting the dummy out of my metaphorical pram. This was, on one hand, a vibrant and occasionally fascinating piece of television, but on the other was a turgid pile of hastily put together, ill thought out bollocks. I appreciate that you can’t please all of the viewers all of the time but there definitely appears to be a massive gap between what I lived through and this programme. Deely boppers and BMX bikes? At least I can watch the rest of the ’80s series safe in the knowledge that ’82 has to be the nadir of the canon.

Confounding my expectations, however, I doff my cap to Messrs Vance, Travis and Read as our hosts for the evening. Unobtrusive and precise, their very status as “has-beens” somehow seemed utterly appropriate here, and enhanced the show. On the odd occasion they even lapsed into that cartoon buffoonery and mugging to camera, so behoven of the Radio 1 DJ in the early ’80s.

The opening intro, which neatly previewed our viewing delights, struck the first note of discord. Clearly, we were in for a fairly limited and blinkered view of 1982 though the use of the wonderful Fantastic Day by Haircut 100 softened my militant stance somewhat. First up, we had The Young Ones. Sneaking in at the tail end of the year (the first episode went out on 9 November), there is no denying its place in the pantheon of classic television. I loved it and fondly recall gathering together with my mates Ronnie and Steven, purchasing a case of Schlitz and watching it religiously. We loved it and immediately took it to our hearts. I was disappointed that no mention was made of the Comic Strip Presents (nor the birth of Channel 4 itself), the first of which, “5 Go Mad in Dorset”, was actually shown a week previously. That nitpicking aside, it was obvious that the procession of talking heads that provided a hagiography for the show clearly loved it. The clips were wonderfully judged and made me chuckle all over again. It was an utter delight to watch an appalled Lawrie McMenemy on Did You See …? rubbish the show – this from a man who advertised Kaliber! I was a tad disappointed that only Nigel Planer appeared, although I suppose that Mayall and Edmondson are sick to death of talking about it, but I would have loved to hear what Alexi Sayle and Christopher Ryan had to say on the matter. As for the assertion that The Young Ones was our generation’s Goons or Python - I don’t know. I can appreciate the view but I certainly don’t subscribe to it.

As we faded out from the anarchic comedy of The Young Ones, we heard the delightful strains of Come On Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners & The Emerald Express. Given the time accorded to Bananarama and Imagination, I was massively disappointed that no time whatsoever was given to the big hit of the summer. You couldn’t move in discos in Glasgow for acolytes of mock-gypsy dancing wildly in the manner of Kevin Rowland, hands clasped behind their heads clad in dungarees and lumberjack shirts. Four weeks at number one, sandwiched, incidentally, between the two worst chart toppers of the year (Fame and Eye of the Tiger) this was the sound of a beautiful summer. Come On Eileen was that rare beast, a summer number one that captured not only the climate but the mood of the time. August was wonderful indeed.

Next up we had a piece on hair that, quite frankly, left me agog. Big hair in 1982? Do me a lemon. I’m sure that a variety of big haired acts from 1980 and ’81 were pissing themselves laughing at this. You just knew, with an ominous sense of clarity, that it would all end up with Flock of Seagulls jibes. This was a waste of space, full of factual inaccuracies and an insult to the viewer. Starting with the oft repeated, awful cliché that the ’80s “were the decade that taste forgot”, we were treated to a procession of talking heads droning on about “my hair”. As for the mullet piece, what were pictures of Hoddle and Waddle from the 1986/87 season doing in the show? Funny how I read an article recently in which Trevor Sorbie stated that he cut his first mullet in ’84. Why Limahl was singled out for the level of abuse he received, I don’t know. There were far worse hair disasters in 1982. Phil Oakey, John Taylor and David Sylvian – I’m looking at you.

As for the A Flock of Seagulls sequence – I was howling gales of laughter at this point. The Seagulls hairstyles were a deliberate ploy. One of the band (Ali Score?) was a hairdresser, and he used his “talents” to sculpt the groups’ hair accordingly. The band have never hid this fact and, subsequently, reveled in the scorn heaped on them. The wet look thing passed me by a little (Boots Country Born anyone?) but it was bizarre to listen to Gina Yashere bitch about the wet look whilst sporting a hairstyle that was – and there’s no other term for it – “wet look”. Soon we had Jayne Middlemiss (who had previously mauled Limahl and Nick Beggs) telling us she had “big, big hair – like Bonnie Tyler in a force 10 gale”. Cue a clip of Bonnie, not from 1982. It’s accepted that this series will venture outside the confines of the year in question, and yet the whole hair segment was utterly vacuous, and didn’t merit such an excursion.

Gathering speed on a downhill slide, we then moved on to Rambo. A variety of heads proceeded to pronounce forth on it but not a single one of them quoted the film’s title, “First Blood”. This fact alone spoke volumes, and clearly, Rambo was being talked of in its entirety, not just from “First Blood”. That said, the clip of the look-alikes from Wogan was worth sitting through the programme for. In a telling contrast, the producer of “First Blood” appeared as an eloquent and intelligent voice in this fairly brainless section, but I was saddened by his failure to mention the death of a stuntman during the filming, preferring to focus on Stallone cracking a few ribs.

Grasping, perhaps, for firmer ground, it was now time for a dissection of the career of Boy George. George was many things – immensely self confident, striking, a wonderful sense of self-promotion, above-average voice – but original he was most certainly was not (I’m sure Pete Burns would have laughed at this section if he was watching). This was a safe and predictable piece, with safe and predictable quotes from all concerned. The piece with Natalie Casey (ex ofHollyoaks who’d appeared with George on Saturday Superstore as a toddler and had famously asked to be taken to the toilet whilst Mike Read was interviewing him) was mildly entertaining but is that what the show was reduced to? A three-year old’s recollections? Given the later exploration of the fall of Musical Youth and the tragedies that befell them, why no mention of Mr O’Dowd’s fall and subsequent reclamation of something approaching stardom? Strange.

After worthless sections on deely boppers and BMXs my fears of a parallel universe 1982 were being confirmed and in Chez Borland bottle number three of wine was swiftly uncorked. Glugging down the Shiraz, I wept at the Breville sandwich-maker segment, trotting out the truism that the thing never quite succeeded in cutting the bread in half. But then Musical Youth saved the day (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to write). This was, alongside theBlackstuff retrospective (of which more in a moment), the highlight of the show for me. Here was a wonderful insight into their lives at the time, beautifully balanced and hauntingly sad. The members who appeared were honest, earnest and eloquent individuals who spoke with wonderful candour of their time together. A beautiful little vignette, one that totally enthralled me.

As did the E.T. piece. Not quite as beautiful, but equally enthralling. Like so many others, I watched it on pirate (the quality was, surprisingly, excellent) and it was a capacity crowd in the living room that day. Unabashed, I will admit to crying at it. This was a classic film, and I fondly recalled the immense hype that came with it. I really can’t remember any other film approaching E.T. in terms of expectation and hyperbole, and the footage on I Love 1982, I thought, distilled this succinctly. Quite why they backed the segment with Buck Fizz’s anti-Thatcher rant, Land of Make Believe, I don’t know. Surely Renee & Renato’s Christmas number one Save Your Love would have given a better sense of schadenfreude? Great to hear Fat Larry’s Band again.

Just when we were almost back on track, up came the school uniform segment to derail us. Another generic theme that was irrelevant to 1982, kids have always bastardized their school uniforms, and this piece reeked of time-filling. There were a variety of other relevant subjects that we could have done with but this was appalling. Even the excellent Jim’ll Fix It clip failed to save it. What underlined the poverty of this piece was the fact that a number of those quoted would only have been six or seven-years old in 1982.

Mercifully, next up was Boys from the Blackstuff. Cleverer people than I have eulogised and waxed lyrical about Alan Bleasdale’s serial, but in my own humble way, I’d like to add to the praise. Here was magnificent television and upon its initial screening in ’82 I sat riveted, lapping up every single second of this drama. The ignominy of signing on was something I readily identified with, as was the hopelessness of being unemployed, the feeling of thinking, “will I ever work?” Boys from the Blackstuff was genius. Sheer, unadulterated genius. Bleasdale articulated my feelings, spoke from the soul for a generation and told our story. Under the Tories, we were nothing, non-people but Blackstuff let the nation know that we existed, that we had pride, that we wanted to work, that we weren’t the malingering, work-shy shower the Tories would have the world believe. This was potent, polemical and an inspiration. As far as TV drama goes, I don’t think anything will ever touch my soul the way Blackstuff did. And fittingly, I Love 1982 offered up a sombre, yet humorous tribute.

The section on Bananarama was a wonderful piece of revisionist pop history. It’s almost as if there’s a collective willing of the pop world to convince us all that the Nanas’ were actually pretty good. Hmm …

Next, Snooker. Any opportunity to glimpse the genius of Alex Higgins again is always welcomed. What truly staggered me about this slice of the show, was the identification of the semi-final match’s (against a so-young Jimmy White) closing frames as perhaps the greatest snooker ever screened. Forget the tearful histrionics from Alex, this semi was irrefutably magnificent and all power to the researcher who recognised this salient fact. If I had to distill the beauty and majesty of snooker into 15 minutes, then these final three frames would do just nicely. The haunting look on White’s face as he realises that one missed ball has let in an unstoppable Alex is a moment of monumental greatness.

“Monumental greatness”, of course, couldn’t be attributed to ra-ra skirts (and they would have gotten away with it, if hadn’t been for those pesky revisionists!), and likewise the lamentably forgettable Imagination. But, it’s the programme-makers’ prerogative to decide what they think constitutes the essence of a year, not me. Me, I get to snipe like an ill-tempered, spoilt brat from the safety of my armchair, and whine witheringly. On the whole this was a real pick and mix of a show. When it was good, it was very good but when it was bad, it was dire. I can’t really figure out the stream of consciousness that permeates the programme but I do, genuinely, admire the attempt to, in 90 minutes, reflect all that makes up a year. And yet, all things considered, they can have their BMX bikes, their Hubba-Bubba and their big hair. I’ll remember the Falklands, the demise of the Jam, Blade Runner and that incident, in the quiet of Allan Glen’s sixth form common room, involving the beautiful Lesley Greenhill.


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