ON THE FRONT LINE stories from the Miners strike ‘84-85

In 2001 I made a documentary about South Shields miners and their families who lived through the strike of 1984-85. Here are short extracts from those interviews, people who need to tell their stories of what it meant to be on the front line. A year that would shape and change their lives forever.

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Phil Screaton: In the lead up to the miners strike there was an air of gloom and pessimism. The writing was on the wall.

Bill Hall: We’d all be warned by Scargill months prior to that, that it was something we had to do to protect our futures.

Joan Cook: It was a whole industry, millions of men fighting for their future. It was a period of time were there was just nothing, at all, coming in. It did wreck havoc, it really did.

Phil Screaton: What I did find during the miner’s strike and since how rapidly all these pits became uneconomical all of a sudden.

Bill Hall: I think the feeling at the time was that we had to do something about it because we had been warned especially by Margaret Thatcher that she intended to deindustrialise the country. Which we had already seen done to the steel works and docks. And we knew that we were next.

Ian Wilkinson: I don’t think any of us had any idea that it was going to be so quick and so strong.

Joan Cook: Everybody was in the same boat and had the same problems so there was always somebody there to talk to. I mean nobody had any money.

Bill Hall: Being a Union Committee man I was brought on board to produce food parcels every week.

Joan Cook: We did get our parcels from the miner’s hall. A few tins of hot dogs, beans that sort of thing. You just get on with it cos you can’t not get on with it.

Phil Screaton: Mortgage was put in abeyance, bills were put to one side you just get on with it.

Bill Hall: To come down from a regular weekly wage to £11 per week is quite a drop.  As the strike wore on it caused a lot of separations and divorces.

Joan Cook: We knew one family with two boys they never got back to their marriage. We knew lads with mortgages who had to sell up. Insurances had to be cashed in.

Bill Hall: When you’re down the pit you relied on everyone around you for your safety and security, that continued through the strike. We all looked after each other.

Joan Cook: They did help each other, it was a strong bond. That industry was like that because it is a very dangerous profession.

Ian Wilkinson: Sometimes I end up dreaming about Westoe Colliery and the water is coming in as it fills up. And panic at the darkness. That’s a lasting effect it’s had on me. Other miners have lost a leg, an arm an eye which is devastating on their lives but this still happens to me at night where I think I’m still down Westoe Colliery.

Phil Screaton: We went down to Orgreave cokeworks  picketing where the police, just local bobbies in their shirts were in line. Then the wagons would come and we’d push them, they’d push us that sort of thing.  But one Monday we were there after doing the Great North Run the day before, and we had North Run t-shirts on, shorts, trainers and walked down the road to the police lines.  Well it was just unbelievable, Thatcher had got on to the police to step it up…they were in riot gear, on horses this was completely different. It was scary to see how it all got out of hand but also last thing you wanted to do was being chased by police horses all over town.

Bill Hall: Halfway through the strike it was quite common to get up in the morning and pick yer mail up and find a packet of bacon had been shoved through as well. You never found out what neighbour sent it, you were just pleased you got it. And It’s the only year I got a suntan. That year of being in the fresh air and taking the kids to the beach (laughs).

Phil Screaton: My son was only 6 months so spent a lot of time with him, raised a lot of money for a cause I believed in and still believe as a socialist that it was a valid point. It was one of those years when it was a turning point in yer life. You were out of work but not down and out of work.

Bill Hall:  I loved the camaraderie down the pit. We used to work hard, play hard and have a good laugh. Even with no pit’s left the mining community are a proud community. We’re still fighting for things in our community.

Watch the film ‘On the Front Line’ (17mins) narration by Tom Kelly, music by John Clavering.

Gary Alikivi August 2019.

NAILS

Following on from talking with some of the team who worked on ‘80s live music show The Tube, I contacted someone who appeared on the programme. But Wavis O’Shave wasn’t available. Mrs O’Shave telt me he was on holiday so this otha bloke stood in for him. Are ye hard enuff to intaview me he sed. He’ll put me windas in if I daint post this. I telt him to wind his neck in but he wudnt listen. Here’s the world exclusive interview with The Hard.

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Mee Thu Hard hear. Ah woz hard befour ah woz hard, mee lyk. Ah woz bourne wihth ah hundrud and sicks tatooz and bye thu tym ah woz fower ah hahd thaht mennie ah hadd tuh ware thum onn mee maytz bak.

Ah woz ah sizaireeun berth anhd thu hahd tuh saw uz oot ov mee hard muthaz syde. Ah slepht inn ah Pytt boote. Mee fatha wud putt broon ail inn mee hoht watta bottel. Mee kot woz ah kayj fytaz riynng. Noo ah sleap onn ah watta bed wihth naylz innit. Onn mee forst borthdae ah hahd dinamight onn mee borthdae kake innsted ov kandlz.

Mee pairentz thort ah woz hard ov heering til thu foond oot mee hard granda hah filld mee lugz upp wihth Pollyfilla sows ah cuddnt heer mee dadd snoahrin coz hee wud putt kracs inn thu seeling. Ah hahd mee forst harecutt onn ah frensh polisha.

Wen ah woz ah hard bairn ah yoused tuh plahy marblz yousing cannunballz and ah lornt tuh sphell yousing payvmeant slahbs tuh rite onn four Scrabl.

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Heerz mee hard granpappie givvn sum coppaz ah lyft

Ah used tuh plahy hopp skotch onn lhanddmynes befor ah stahrud jumpyn onn peepl frohm Skotlynd. Mee pairentz wud tek uz tuh thu beech and ahd gan roond nuttin everiewon. Thu naymd ah chuwing gum afta uz – Beach Nutt.

Ahd gan and dek everywon hoo wehr sittn doon, sow theer chairz gott carled dek chairz. Ahd mek sanned kaslz oot ov sement anddh wen ah dyd ah hard farrt thud bee ah sanhd storem.

Onn mee forst hollydae ah warked tuh thu noarth poal wihth mee sleevz roalled upp. Ah forst stahrtd swarin wen me dahd purriz inn anne armie tanc. Ah cudnt stohp swareyn. Ah thinc ahv gohht turretz sindrum. Sum say iht happund wen ah meetyouryte hirruz onn mee heed. Ah felt nowt. Ahm thaht hard ah kan fynd thu ehnd ov Sellataype eaven wen ahv noced meesell oot.

Ahd geht hoyed oot ov thu synmma four havin thu hardest sylhoett inn thear and ah gott nyked four thu forst tyme four shohplifftinn. Naybodie hahd eva scene ah sicks yor owld lyft ah shop owa itz heed befor.

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Hearz mee hard granpappie with hiz remedeez four indeejestshun

Wen ah gott olda ah ghot bahrrd frohm ahl thu pubs. Thu wud hirruz ower me heed wihth ah barr. Felt Nowt. Noo ah hav aboot nyntee pients befor ah gan oot tuh thu pub ahnd hava lok inn. Kidz sed ah woz reet hard. Orr aht leest thu carled uz a reethard.

Wen a woz ah hard bearyn ah ofton hahd ah saw throte sow ah stoppd slahsyn meesel wihth ah saw. Ah youst tuh plahy drafts. Ahd doon aboot nighntee pynts ov draft beehr.

Ah startudd deeing wayts. Ahd wayt four mee Jiro tuh cum four oors. Ah bort ah dumm behl tuh dee mee wayts and wen yu rhang itt yud heer nowt.

Ah starrtud tu doo traynin – ah gan four ah wark allongg thu trayn trak wen ah intasity tayn iz cumin heed onn.

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Hearz mee granpappie with too moar remedeez four ah saw throte.

Ah lyk tuh realacks having ah dyp in ah volkanoz lrva in mee shortz and ah lyk ah gud kurrie iff itz dun reet – boyled inn thu mikrowayve four fyftean oors in thu dezzat wihth mustad onn itt andh ah hot watta bottle onn mee heed.

Ah belleev inn thyng thaht gan headbutt inn the neet. Mee mam woz ah meedyum bhutt mee dahd tuk ah larj. Aktshooly shee woz ah sydkik meedyum and wud kik aniebodie woo stud allongsyd herr. Shee wud tekkuz tuh thu spyritchooliszt choorch anhd wud bryng threw peepl fromm thu hard Beyond.

Shud gan intwo ah trans anhd ah arhm restl thu hard buggaz hoo kame thru. Thu wons sed ah woz ah hardvaak in ah prevyuss hard lyf. (See YouTube; ‘Dead Hard – The Hard’s animated adventures in Muvizu’)

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Hearz mee granpappie with too moar remedeez four ah saw throte.

Mee dahd styl givz uz thu bhelt iff ahm norty – ahn atey nyn thousand vholts shokk. Sumwear inn Switzalahnd ascd uzz iff ah wudd trie oot thear woshin mashyn four them. Summitz carled Sern attom krusha. It woz a bit smahrl inn thear burra felt nowt.

Ah wons tried mee heed at bean ah sayf kraka nuttin sayfz burra moovd onn tuh bean ah lone sharc. Ahd lone mee pett sharc oot uv me swimmyn pool. Ah trydah runnyn ah protekshun rakit oot ohn tennys playaz. Iff thu dydnt giz ah kwid ahd busst thear rakit.

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Hearz me hard granmah havvin hor peeanna lessonz

Ahv fehl oot wihth mee peht hard dog coz heez started tarkin inn hyz sleap anhd hee sez ahm knot rely hard. Welll, yuh naar wot thay sahy – yuv gora let sleepyn dog lye. Ahm gannyn ower tuh Eyeland noo. Summitz tuh dee wihth wontyn ah hard borda. Ahl tek mee dogg – heez ah hard borda colly.

Ann iff yuh edditt thys intavyoo ahl giv yee ah hed ah hit an punsh yuh innyuh besst frendz mustash anarl.

Nuff sed for now. He’s back in his box.

Gary Alikivi August 2019.

WRITE FATHER, WRITE SON with author Peter Mitchell

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Did you watch ‘When the Boat Comes In’ or catch the world premier of the play at The Customs House last year ? There are two events during September in South Shields that will interest you.

David Whale is host of Heritage Talks at The Word and he’s invited writer Peter Mitchell to be guest speaker on Wednesday 4th September…. ‘I’m really looking forward to this event. It’s an opportunity to talk about my Dad’s work and his life as an extremely successful writer as well as my own career in broadcasting. David has asked me to look at this from a very personal perspective and I’m keen to share the story. My Dad left Shields when I was six-years-old to concentrate on a new life and career in London. I spent much of my childhood travelling between Shields and the capital on ‘access’ visits. They were very different worlds and, obviously, had a profound effect on me growing up’.

Peter will also be talking about his career in the media… After leaving Tyne Tees I joined Zenith North – first as Director of Production and, later, as Managing Director. That company produced Byker Grove and The Dales Diary. A little while later, I formed my own production company and were able to take ‘The Diary’ with us. We continued to produce that until the final series was aired in 2008. They were fantastic days allowing us to explore and film some of the finest locations the Northern Hill Country has to offer’.

At The Customs House is ‘When the Boat Comes In: The Hungry Years’ written by Peter as a sequel to last year’s successful play…. ‘The first play focussed mainly on the aftermath of the Great War and a love story between two strong characters: Jack Ford, a man determined to be successful in the new Land Fit For Heroes and Jessie Seaton, a feisty, intelligent, young woman who wanted to change the world through politics. The Hungry Years finds the two of them trying to come to terms with life without each other. The focus shifts to the politics of change but the legacy of world conflict is never far away’.

Tickets for the Wednesday Heritage Club, 4th September 2pm are £1.50 from The Word, Market Place, South Shields.

Tickets for The Customs House, South Shields  https://www.customshouse.co.uk/theatre/when-the-boat-comes-in-part-2%3A-the-hungr/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

WORD UP with Michael Metcalf, director on music TV’s Top Dog’s THE TUBE

Today’s post comes with the sad news that Chris Phipps has passed away. Amongst a host of credits on TV, Chris was part of the team that brought us The Tube. When I interviewed him I found him very generous with his time and encouragement ‘Yeah there is a load of stories out there, keep diggin’. (Posted Aug.12th 2019).

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Last post ‘Get It On’ was an interview with former Tube presenter Gary James, Gary put me in touch with Michael Metcalf, another team member from the music programme. This is his story…..

What is your background and how did you begin working in TV?  I had a rather strange journey into television. I left school at 15 with no qualifications. I had been offered a place in Catering and Hotel Management at Newcastle Polytechnic. In the meantime, my brother suggested that I work with him as an apprentice baker and confectioner. I worked with him for over a year (not taking the place at College) but decided it was not the job for me.

Lacking qualifications and opportunities, I did what many people in the North East did in the ‘70s and sat an exam to work at the ‘Ministry’ at Longbenton. I was assigned to Family Allowances long before it became Child Benefit.

After several years, I realised that I was not cut out to be a civil servant and managed to get an interview at Tyne Tees Television as a Driver/Handyman. People who know me have hysterics hearing this story, as to this day I am stuck if I have to change a plug. I was interviewed by a lady called Lydia Wilkinson and whilst we had a lovely afternoon chatting, she said that I was not the type of person they normally got for that job and felt I would be better suited to ‘Admin’. I left thinking that it was a kind way to end the interview and thought that was that.

A few weeks later, I got word they had a vacancy they thought I would be better suited for and had an interview as a ‘Schedules Officer’. I was successful, so left the Civil Service after 8 years and began life at Tyne Tees TV. God Bless Lydia Wilkinson, who was completely responsible for my career in Television.

My first week on the job I was asked if I wanted to see a programme being broadcast, so I ended up in the Control Room watching ’Northern Life’. It was the most exciting thing I had seen. The next day I bored my work colleagues, telling them that is what I wanted to do. I explained some of the jobs seemed quite technical, but there is a lady in the control room who seemed to shout and count backwards and I thought I could do that. The job was Production Assistant (PA).

I applied when a vacancy came up and became the only male PA on the ITV network (TTTV had employed another man but he had moved on to become a Floor Manager). It was the start of my life in Production. I loved being a PA and worked on lots of different programmes, including doing continuity on several drama’s. I also worked with a lot of freelance directors, one of which was Geoff Wonfor who was the husband of Andrea Wonfor the Executive Producer on the Tube.

The Tube Crew

Colin Rowell, Chris Phipps and Michael Metcalf.

How did you get the job with The Tube and when did you work on the programme ?  As I was already working with Geoff as his PA, when the Tube began, I continued working with him and did most of the filming for the first few years. It is important to remember that at that time we were a bunch of Geordie guys who were suddenly flying off to work with some amazing people and having the time of our lives. I remember one trip to New York we hired a helicopter to fly around the Statue of Liberty.

I sat with my back to the front of the helicopter, alongside the pilot, Geoff was in the row behind with the camera assistant and the cameraman was strapped in but hanging out of the side of the helicopter, the door had been taken off.

I had the headset to communicate with the pilot, going down the Hudson, he asked if we wanted to go under or over the bridges, I asked if we could do both, which we ended up doing. It is hard to imagine getting away with that now but we had the time of our life. Eventually, I went back to working on Drama’s so it was Series 1-2 of The Tube that I worked on as PA. During the time of working on Drama, I applied for a vacancy to become a Director and got the job, so ended up going back on the Tube as the Studio Director for most of Series 4.

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The Tube team with Lesley Ash (presenter) and Paul McCartney.

How did you get on and work with the rest of the team ? As I mentioned earlier, the great thing about working on the Tube was that we were a bunch of Geordie Guys, having the time of our lives. Every day the job was an adventure. The Tube welcomed new bands and one in particular had sent a VHS and we thought they were interesting so decided to go and film them. We got to the location, The State Ballroom in Liverpool which had been used as a location for a movie ‘A Letter to Brezhnev’.

We got there and began to set up, the band were there so eventually we did a run through with them, it was ok but there wasn’t the energy or excitement that we had seen on the VHS. Eventually being the PA, I organised some lunch, the lead singer asked me if I thought the band getting into their stage gear might help, which I said I am sure it would.

The band and the two girls they had with them went off together, when they returned, they were wearing leather bondage gear and the girls were wearing leather bikini’s and carrying leather whips. The band was ‘Frankie Goes To Hollywood’ and the rest they say, is history!

Was there a show you look back on and think ‘that was a nightmare’ ? When I came back on the Tube as Studio Director, it was a particular turbulent time in television and there were a number of union disputes. So working under those conditions were difficult.

I remember one occasion the only band that arrived for the show was ‘Go West’. Instead of the usual 20 minutes, they ended up preforming for the whole show, so it was effectively a concert for them, which was amazing. Working on a live show, there are always moments that are a nightmare but that is the fun of working live and getting out of any tricky situations.

 

And a show which went really well ? I have such great memories of all shows I worked on. Although I have a great deal of affection for the show that featured Cameo. They were a great bunch of guys and Larry Blackmon was fantastic. We had such a great time and they were buzzing after the show. It turned out they were one of the few bands who did not have to rush off, so asked me if there was a bar or club that I could suggest they go to. Knowing the guys at Walkers club and bar, I rang up and asked if I might bring the guys along, you can imagine the response. So after the show we all had an amazing night at Walkers.

Did any bands/artists/ performances stand out ? The range of artists who performed on The Tube is endless and so many of those performances stand out. Obviously Tina Turner was amazing, I was lucky enough to direct the show that INXS did (which is the first time Paula met Michael Hutchence). Divine performing on stage at The Tube, so many magical performances.

What did you do after the Tube ? After the Tube, Tyne Tees got a commission for ITV Chart Show The Roxy and I directed that for about 18 months. Eventually I decided I should move on and actually met Andrea Wonfor travelling back from London. She had left Tyne Tees by this time and had started Zenith North, so I asked if she had any jobs for me. Her response was ‘Michael, you have said that in the past but I am not sure you mean it’, I confirmed I did so she said leave it with me.

A few weeks later she contacted me and said she had a new Channel 4 series called ‘Big World Cafe’ which would be playing World Music and was going to be based in the Brixton Academy. Would I be interested ? The job was mine as Series Director. But that meant leaving Tyne Tees and moving to London.

Which is how I came to move to London, thinking that if things did not work out, I could come back to the North East after six months. That six months turned into 25 years! I did go freelance and worked for many companies, directed a lot of music shows and then found myself in breakfast television, working on the Big Breakfast and then finally GMTV.

Michaels broadcast and video credit’s included concerts by Ricky Martin, Julio Iglesias, Inspiral Carpets, Roxette, Wet Wet Wet and Bros plus loads of sport, political and current affairs programmes for Zenith, ITV and Channel 4.

What are you doing now ? In 2008, I took voluntary redundancy from GMTV. Whilst I thought I might stay in London and work freelance, I’d been at GMTV so long and had let my freelance work stop, which is difficult to revive. So in the end I returned to the North East and concentrated on charity work.

 

Last thoughts…..Was the Tube important in my life ? You bet your life it was. Working on such a successful programme which everyone in the industry knew of, it becomes your calling card for the future. The majority of people who worked on the production of the show went on to have very successful careers.

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GET IT ON – with Gary James former presenter of Music TV’s Top Dogs, THE TUBE

None of us on the presenter side, perhaps with the exception of Jools and Paula who breezed through it all without a care in the world, could have had any idea that the show would be as seminal as it was. We certainly knew we were part of the ‘new wave’ and that we didn’t want to be all BBC and Top of the Pops-ish.  

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Gary interviewing John Peel on the Marc Bolan special in 1983.

When were you at The Tube and how did you get the job ? I was one of the original co-presenters on The Tube from Series 1, which started on Friday November 5th 1982. To give it a bit of extra thrill the programme makers had wanted to put some unknown faces alongside the two main presenters Jools Holland and Paula Yates. They certainly achieved that as few of us really knew what we were doing. It was all live, pre-watershed national networked TV and no second chances.

I applied along with about 5,000 other herbert’s who all thought they were cool, hip and groovy enough to be TV presenters. Along with Muriel Gray, Nick Laird-Clowes, Michelle Cremona and Mike Everitt I got the job. I was quite pretty and twinky back then, which might have helped. Unlike the hideous old bag I turned out to be.

Up until I arrived to do my first show, which was programme two, I had just breezed along thinking I could be wacky with impunity. But the reality set in when I arrived at Tyne Tees TV and was faced with having to do what TV presenters do. As a consequence of that, I looked and sounded like a rather camp yobby twat until I gained confidence. Where did that come from? I somehow managed to make that last until I left two years later after the second Midsummer Night’s Tube special in late 1984.

My only regret is not being able to have worked more with Muriel. She was my soul mate and I adored her. We fired off each other perfectly and would have made a great team. Sadly there was only room for one M/F team and that was Jools and Paula. Any suggestion otherwise and someone would have called the police. Probably.

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Tube production meeting with Muriel Gray, Gary James, Mick Sawyer and Chris Phipps

Did you realise how important and influential the show would become ? The chaos on it was quite genuine and the edginess a result of the fact that for most of the time we were left to get on with what we were doing without any strict direction or guidance to be pros. Because it was live I only ever saw the programmes that I didn’t work on, all from the shitty council flat I was living at in North West London. No video and no internet or social media. If I didn’t catch it when it went out I didn’t see it. As a consequence of that I was only able to watch the shows I was in when my parents told me they had recorded the shows on VHS tape and did I want them? I was just about to say no, throw them away (!) when I thought the better of it, took them in a box and stuck them in my attic.

And there they stayed for years until I came to write my book. I digitised and watched them from behind the sofa for the first time. The performances blew me away. I can now finally see what everyone was going on about – but until then I genuinely had no idea.
Who did you interview and who was your favourite booking on the show ? My first ever interview was actually with Olympic athlete and local boy to Newcastle Steve Cram. During the production meeting that afternoon I said to Paula that as I had no interest in sport whatsoever I had no idea what to ask him. I mean, what do you ask runners for christ’s sake? How did you start running? How do you run? What’s it like running? Everything sounded ludicrous. We started laughing and then in desperation I said to Paula ‘I suppose I could ask him how big his knob is!’‘Even better, ask him to show you!’ she trilled. I loved her then, she could be so much fun.

Next interview was with Andy Summers of The Police. That was my first interview proper really. He wasn’t responsive as I think he had no idea that The Tube wasn’t Radio 4 or The Old Grey Whistle Test. In the interview you can see him looking at me like ‘who’s this gobby little know nothing shitehawk ?’ Not one I recall with pleasure.

I had a much better time interviewing Ringo Starr, The Weather Girls, Eartha Kitt, Tony Visconti, Malcolm Mclaren, Mickey Finn of T.Rex, John Peel, Kajagoogoo and loads more interesting people who were not big music names but who had a part to play in the industry. Best of all I thought was video producer Tosh Ryan, who had made some wonderful stuff with one of my heroes Graham Fellowes (aka Jilted John). Great stuff!

How did you get started working in the media ? I trained as an actor in the mid to late 1970s. Believe it or not I am not a natural presenter (as archive footage of The Tube proves!). After spending some years touring with theatre companies on some pretty controversial plays I decided to try my luck at television and the rest is history. I can’t believe I just used that cliché. I went on in later years to work quite extensively in radio, which I loved. I was a huge fan of Kenny Everett and he was my broadcasting inspiration. Kenny was a genius. I miss him terribly.

I did a lot of work pioneering the first radio programmes made by and for gay people on a pirate radio station in London in the early ‘80s. That was called Gaywaves, and it was broadcast through an arial cunningly hidden in the washing line of my friend Phil Cox’s 13th floor flat in the City of London. The archive of that unique broadcast is now in the sound archive of the British Library. I’m very proud of having done that you know.

I also worked legit too though, even co-presenting Midweek on Radio 4 for a couple of programmes (until it became obvious that my talents such as they were lay elsewhere). For a long time I was also one of the contributors to ‘Malcolm Laycock’s Track Record’ programme on Friday nights at BBC Radio London. That was a hoot. I used to creep into the studios earlier in the day and record sketches for broadcast in the show that night. It was all very spontaneous and lots of fun with my friends Gary Rae, Stopwatch Roy Alexander, Alexis Colby Carrington, Clive Bull and whoever else happened to be wandering by at the time.

The show itself was often a bit of a bacchanalian booze up and almost as chaotic as the Tube. We even had to throw out Jah Wobble, who turned up three sheets to the wind and who we had to physically get rid of before he let rip with any naughty words. Happy days.

How did you get on with the other members of the production team and what did you do after The Tube ? To be honest, as I was brought up in the theatre I was closer to the production crew than most of the other presenters were. I didn’t click naturally with musicians in the same way that Jools and Paula obviously did. Actors and musicians are not natural bedfellows oddly enough. We come at it from different angles. I didn’t fancy a trombone up my jacksie so I tended to keep away from the sharp end of the choon department and preferred to hang around with the production team. Michael Metcalf, Chris Phipps, Colin Rowell and many of the rest of the Tube team are all dear friends of mine even now. How they put up with my mincing about though I don’t know.

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With Muriel and Malcolm McLaren in 1984.

The Tube is known for being taken off the air in 1987 after 5 years when Jools said the words ‘Groovy Fuckers’ and the world was so aghast that decent people everywhere had to be treated for shock. What isn’t so widely known is that I nearly beat him to it in series 1 ! Paula and I had been sent down to Steve Strange’s Camden Palace to do an outside broadcast. As Paula was heavily pregnant with her first child Fifi I did all the energetic stuff and at one point was put on the upstairs balcony to read out a load of local gig information.

During rehearsals it became apparent to me that being up there looking down with hundreds of clubbers around me I would be unable to see the floor manager or the cameras easily. So I remonstrated with the crew and director pleading health and safety. Being a nobody of course I was ignored. When the cameras cut to me on the live broadcast I was surrounded by drunken punters and trying to deliver a long list of stuff to camera while they were jostling me and making wanker hand signs in front of my face. Normally I’d probably have joined in – but you cant do that on live TV can you?

I just managed to get through it before the urge to turn round and tell them to fuck off overcame me. But I don’t think the director knew just how close they were to an irritated ‘fuck’ being delivered live on air – 4 years before Jools did it for real. Perhaps if I had done I would be more famous? Bugger. Another missed opportunity. Oh well.

What are you doing now ? After I finished doing The Tube I went back into theatre where my heart and talent was best displayed. Since then I have continued acting wherever jobs are available and am a proud founder member of a group in London called Actors Writers London (AWL). This is a group established through Equity back in the late ‘70s to showcase the work of new writers and where they can hear their works performed by professional actors for the first time.

BOOK

I now live down in East Sussex as I prefer to be a country boy. It’s here that I continue with my writing. I have just published my autobiography which I charmingly called ‘Spangles Glam Gaywaves and Tubes’ – it tells the story of my childhood and of growing up as a young gay man in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Despite that disgraceful stuff it is also for everyone else that lived through those times or who might have an interest in it. My goodness me it makes a great holiday read and at a paltry £12.99 it is a must buy frankly. You can get it from all good online booksellers or from my publishers here: https://www.bookguild.co.uk/bookshop-collection/non-fiction/art/spangles-glam-gaywaves-tubes/  . Please buy it. It’s not the principle, it’s the money.

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

SKUETENDERS – stories from South Shields.

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In the North East of England, the Lawe Top is an area that run’s parallel to the river Tyne and looks out to South Shields harbour and North Sea. It was once an island, and in some way’s it still is. Some residents I interviewed in summer 2011 were proud to talk about the Lawe being ‘a little village up on the hill’ away from the town of South Shields. The documentary included narration by local historian and former museum worker Angus McDonald with music by North East musician Martin Francis Trollope.

This a short extract from some of the interview’s…

Janis Blower: It still has to a certain extent the same old identity that it had with the river and the sea, although the pilot’s have moved away from the area. It’s like a little village with it’s own unique identity.

Dave Slater: It’s an area which I’ve always liked and a lot of people living in Shields have this affinity with it. They think it’s like a special place. And the houses are nice they have their little quirks.

On Fort Street and the corner of Roman Road is Crawfords Newsagents….

Bob Crawford: (owner) I’ve been here 28 years it’s always been a newsagent’s, on the deed’s it say’s from 1920. Enjoy living on the Lawe Top. Made a lot of friends. Lot of nice people live on the Lawe Top. Hopefully be here a bit longer.

Jane Price: I’ve been working here about 10 years now and it’s quite handy cos I live on the street. Literally fall out the door into work. And it’s lovely living up here it’s like a village separate from Shields. Like a really close community. I also work in the pub at the end of the street. The Look Out pub. It’s really nice I enjoy it, my kid’s had a good upbringing here.

Living on The Lawe people are known as Skuetenders. But what is a Skuetender ?

Janis Blower: Well there is various theories to what a Skuetender is. One of them is that if you look down on the area from above the Lawe is in the shape of a skate. But probably the most reliable one is that this is the end of the river where the original fishing hut’s where, the fishing Shiels from which South Shields took it’s name. And it’s where they would salt the fish, and skuet is an old word for ‘to salt’. So if you were born at this end of the river you were a Skuetender or  it’s become Skitender over the years.

Ethne Brown: Well I’ve always lived on the Lawe Top, I was born on the Lawe Top in Trajan Avenue so I’m a Skitender born and bred.

Mel Douglas: Skitender is someone who has lived in this locality within a certain distance of the river. Yes I’ve always been one of them but not as much as Duncan Stephenson as he’s a proper Skitender.

Duncan Stephenson: A Skitender ? You’ve got to have a ring around your bottom end where you sat on a bucket when you were a kid. That’s where a proper Skitender came from, if ya’ haven’t got a ring round yer bottom end yer not a Lawe Topper.

Janis Blower: Well I was born and brought up in Woodlands Terrace so as a child you would just have to walk down Woodlands Terrace and you were straight on to the hill top. If the weather was good you literally spent all yer time out on the hill top or down onto the beach. What our mothers didn’t see what we got up to was a good thing.

Mel Douglas: When I was young I lived in George Scott Street. That was my impressionable time but we eventually moved up to this house (Lawe Road) which I’ve enjoyed. On the hill top area when I was a boy there was the gun encampments and Trinity Towers – a sort of radar station which was all fenced off.

Janis Blower: Trinity Towers was a magical place to play because it was so much like a castle or a fort. It had been originally built in the 1830’s by Trinity House, as a pilot look out. It stayed that until the early part of last century when the new pilot house was built at the top end of the park. By the time we were playing in it, it was the radar station for the college. You couldn’t actually get in it but it had bushes around it and little nook’s and crannies.

Mel Douglas: The encampment where the gun’s where for example a lot of people aren’t sure where they were. But looking out of my window if you catch the time of year when spring is starting to come through, realising that the gun’s and the fence had some sort of foundations, well there wasn’t much soil on top of that and the rest of the area in deep soil. So when the grass started to grow it would grow quickly where there was plenty of soil. But where the foundations of the encampment was there was no soil to speak about.

Janis Blower: By the time I was a child playing on the hill top the actual gun’s themselves had gone but you could still see where the gun emplacements had been the big round pit’s had been there. They had been fenced off originally but I’m sure that I can remember sitting on one of them dangling my leg’s inside. You were always being warned off them.

On the Lawe Top is Arbeia Roman Fort…

Dave Slater: I noticed when we moved here when we walked up Lawe Road is on the wall, name plaques of Roman emperors like Julian Street etc.. and the one round the corner is the name of his wife. So you can always learn something new as old as you are and as many times you been up here.

Janis Blower: The fort was very open in those days and we used to play in it as children you wouldn’t think about doing that now. I don’t suppose as a child you really appreciated what a heritage monument it was. There used to be a caretakers house attached to it which has been demolished long since, and when you used to play on the green between the hill top and the pilot house, if ya dug around you could find bit’s of stoneware. I remember the red samian ware that you see in the fort, and we would find these bit’s of things and we would take them to the caretakers house and knock on the door ‘Is this a bit of roman pottery’ and he would say ‘Yes look’s like it is’. But I think after we had done it after the fifth or sixth time it was ‘No it’s a bit o’ brick’.

The Lawe Top used to be home to St Aidens and St Stephens Churches….

Joan Stephenson: When a lot of the houses were pulled down around this area and people moved to other part’s of Shields and they want their children baptised or anything they still say St Stephen’s is their church and they come back.

Ethne Brown: I was born up here and I was christened at St Stephen’s Church and all my family and father’s brother’s were in the church choir. My Grandma Whale on more than one occasion opened the fete at St Stephen’s church. It’s always been the pilot’s church and nice that they were in the choir. I was also married at St Stephen’s Church.

Mel Douglas: With respect to that I was very fortunate when sadly they pulled the church (St Aidens) down that I was in a position where I could buy the pew that I sat on as a boy and have in a room upstairs. The pew used by people getting married, my father, Grandfather, myself, all male members of the family had sat on that pew when getting married. Very proud of it.

Joan Stephenson: When St Aiden’s closed they amalgamated with St Stephen’s, it was sad because St Aiden’s was a lovely church. In the 1970’s we decided to make this building into a multi-purpose building to make it more economic to run and it stayed up while unfortunately St Aiden’s closed. Once the chairs are put to the side we hold dances, mother and toddlers, young kid’s come into dance, social evenings, it’s a really good venue for anything like that.

The street that overlook’s the Tyne is Greens Place where I spoke to Karen Arthur and her father George…

Karen: When you were little what did you used to see around here ?

George: We used to go to the shop along there beside the Turks Head pub. Shrybos you called here. We nicknamed her Fanny Mossy. Everyone knew her around here. She was an eccentric, she was an old maid and owned that shop.

Karen: Did she only let one person in at a time Dad ?

George: Yes if two of you went in she would say ‘Get out one of ya’. Cos she knew if she was serving one the other one would be helpin’ themselves with the sweets an’ that.

Lenonard Smith: We moved to 23 Greens Place in 1947 and that was great because at one time 17 lived in four flats. There was one tap outside and one toilet. Me happy days of the Lawe Top was I used to go to the Corporation Quay and I spent all my school holiday’s going away with the inshore fishermen. With the net’s it was driving, then crab pot’s and longlines. We used to bait up in the cabins on the Corporation Quay and the light was done by carbine. The only thing with carbine was that when you went home you had black tash’s where the smoke would get up your nostrils.

On Baring Street is the art shop Crafty Corner….

Trevor Dixon: We purchased this property 8 year’s ago now and it used to be Crabtree’s the Bakers. Where I’m sitting now there used to be a massive oven that came right from the back of the shop. Took 6 months to cut it out and skip after skip. Our shop is a craft shop and ceramic studio. It’s a very old building that we are in and it’s reckoned that we have ghosts. They’re all friendly. We’ve had a few local ghost groups bringing all their instruments in here and in the basement. They reckon we do have a lot of ghosts and we have things moved around now and then, disappear for a few day’s then turn up again.

I don’t think we could have picked a better place to be cos as you know The Lawe Top goes back in history as a creative place and I feel we’ve meant to be here.

Final words about The Lawe Top….

Mel Douglas: If it was up to me I would live in this house for the rest of my life. It’s a beautiful house and I love the community that I live in. Fantastic neighbours, nice people, I’d live nowhere else.

Ethne Brown: I just love living here on this Lawe Top. The house is a bit big nowadays but I don’t know where else I would go in the town. This is the only place to live.

Janis Blower: Everybody knows everybody else, yeah it’s a fabulous area to live. I can’t imagine to be living anywhere else to be honest.

Joan Stephenson: Just a lovely place to live.

Duncan Stephenson: Got everything here, beaches, parks. Home is where…

Joan: Your heart is.

To read more about the film go to the blog Skuetenders Aug.25th 2018.

 Gary Alikivi August 2019.

HOLBORN – stories from a changing town

Like many towns in the UK, South Shields is changing, and in 2010 I made a documentary to capture those changes, in particular the area of Holborn, once called the industrial heartland of South Shields.  These short extracts are taken from interviews with workers and ex-residents of Holborn. 

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Readheads Shipbuilders docks photo by John Bage.

The shipbuilding industry was a big part of Holborn…

Alex Patterson: My very first memory was going to a ship launch. There was a massive cloud of dust and rust, and smells of oil that left an impression on me that stayed all my life. I was a Naval Architect by profession and retired about 10 years ago.

John Keightly: I started in the Middle Dock in 1959 straight from school, the boys High school in South Shields. I was a carpenter. We used to hang all the staging of the big centre tanks an’ like I say no health and safety, no harnesses, no ropes, just walking along 9 inch planks 70 foot up.

Malcolm Johnson: Well I started in Readheads Dock when I left school. The noise was tremendous, you couldn’t hear yersel speak at one time. There was no ear protection like there is now. There was about 4 or 5 guys in every riveting squad, the riveter, the holder up, the catcher, the heater, I mean you can imagine the number of people that was in the yard at the time. As I say the noise was tremendous you just had to live with it, it was part and parcel of yer day’s work.

John Bage: I started work in Readheads August 1964 three weeks after leaving South Shields Grammer and Technical school. I always wanted to be a draughtsman so applied to Readheads and was accepted for a 5 year apprenticeship as an outfit draughtsman.

Richard Jago: Me dad went into the Middle Docks, I think in the 1940’s when Sir Laurie Edwards owned it. He was there right up until he was made redundant in the ‘80s.

Liz Brownsword: Me Grandfather he worked in Readheads from the age of 14 until he was 77. Worked there all his life. He had to go into the docks because his parents couldn’t afford for his education no more you know. Me mother had lot’s of cleaning job’s when we were little. Dignitaries that used to come into Readheads Docks used to admire the dark mahogany staircase and panels. Me mother used to say ‘Well they admire them but we’ve got to keep the bloomin’ things clean, keep them dusted you know’.

John Bage: There was almost a thousand people working there at the time because we got a lot of orders for building ships and the dry docks also had a lot of work. They were almost queuing up to go into the docks for work on them.

John Keightly: Well there was British tankers, Shell tankers, Coltex, every tanker you could name was in and out of the Middle Docks. As well as cargo boats, molasses carriers, grain carriers they covered all sorts of ship’s.

John Bage: Readheads built quite a few ship’s when I was there and a few of them returned to dry dock’s for survey. But one in particular was the Photenia, which belonged to a local shipping company, The Stag Line of North Shields. They used to bring the ship back to dry dock for conversion to a cable layer. The ship would then go off to New Zealand and lay power cables from North Island to South Island, and then return to the docks about a year later to have all the equipment removed which would then be stored until a year later the ship got another contract for cabling. It would come back to the dock again, and the equipment would be put back on the ship again. A lot of equipment and work for the dry docks.

John Keightly: People in the market used to know when the ferry was in with all the smoke. Well they knew when the whalers were in with the smell, it was horrendous. When you got home yer ma wouldn’t allow you in the house. Used to have to strip off in the wash house, have a rub down before you were allowed anywhere near the door. I just loved the place, (the docks) it was hard work and they were strict but the camaraderie was just fantastic.

Immigrants arrived from many different countries and settled in Holborn….

Hildred Whale: My Great Grandfather was Karl Johan Suderland who was born in Sweden in 1855. He came to this country I believe, in the 1870’s. He did try his hand at a number of job’s, such as ship’s chandler, mason, he was a butcher at one time but eventually all these skill’s came together when he decided to run a boarding house at 67 West Holborn.

Yusef Abdullah: The boarding house was run by a boarding house master who was an agent for the seaman and the shipping companies where he got them employment. Also the arab seaman didn’t drink so there was no kind of social life only the boarding house where they used to have a meal, play dominos, card’s, meet friend’s etc…

Photographer James Cleet captured the housing clearences in Holborn during the 1930’s..….

Ann Sharp: I work with an invaluable collection of photograph’s here at South Tyneside Central Library and one of the area’s we have been focusing on along the riverside area of South Shields is Holborn. Where condition’s have changed considerably, industry and housing have changed over time. We are particularly looking at the photograph’s by Amy Flagg and James Henry Cleet.

We secured some funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to work with the community and volunteers and they’ve been helping us to retrieve the photograph’s from the collection to scan the photograph’s and looking at the images to find out historical information. From that information they are compiling, others are actually inputting that information into a database. Then liberating the photograph’s onto the internet so that other people can find out what life was like for people along the riverside.

Bob Overton: (Owner, Rose and Crown pub) In the mid ‘90s someone turned up in the bar with some black bag’s and asked if I was interested in some old photo’s of the docks. I said yes and give him some money and in the bag were photograph’s of warship’s that were repaired during the Second World War. All the photograph’s had been taken by James Cleet and they are all marked on the back, Top Secret not to be published.

Norma Wilson: Just after the war there was a lot of housing done and they built the Orlit houses in Laygate Street there was 24 of them and that was a new development, and my family were rehoused there. We were the first people to move in there.

Alex Patterson: I live in Canada now and moved there in 1962. Most familiar memory is moving into West Holborn. These were brand new houses, and we moved from single room houses with 4 toilets in the street with a tap at each end. So it was relative luxury moving into a house that had a bathroom, water inside and a garden.

Liz Brownsword: Me Grandfather lived in West Holborn at the top of the street it was a 2 bedroomed house with a garden, living room and a scullery at the back. He loved his garden when he retired, growing cabbages, leeks, lettuce, you name it he loved growing vegetables.

Alex Patterson: We had an avid gardener at the end of the street, Bill McLean. Who provided vegetables and flowers for a little bit of pocket money. But he had a fabulous garden and everybody who lived in the street went there.

Norma Wilson: Me mam used to send us down on a Sunday morning to buy a cabbage or a cauliflower for Sunday dinner.

At one time there was 33 pub’s in Holborn, but one pub that survived was The Rose and Crown…

Bob Overton: (Owner) We had our opening night on November 30th 1983 and the guests to open it was Terry McDermott and John Miles, it was meant to be with Kevin Keegan as well but he had some contractual difficulties with the breweries so we ended up with just Terry and John.

Richard Jago: Probably during the ‘90s it was at it’s peak with music happening. There was a big roots scene and all sorts of people played here.

Bob Overton: A lot of local band’s and artists would turn up and play for reasonable fees. We had Tim Rose play one month and the following month we had Chip Taylor. I suppose a claim to fame was that Tim Rose wrote Hey Joe and Chip Taylor actually wrote Purple Haze which were the first hit’s for Jimi Hendrix in the UK.

Richard Jago: Think I’ve drunk here since the late ‘80s so I’m an apprentice really. Great bar, friendly people from all walks of life drink here.

Copies of ‘Hills of Holborn’ (30mins, 2010) are available on DVD to buy from South Shields Museum and The Word, South Shields.  There is a short version to view on the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.  Narration was provided by local historian and former museum worker, Angus McDonald with soundtrack by North East musician John Clavering. 

Gary Alikivi August 2019   

TYNE STORIES – from the south bank of the river.

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Back in 2010 I made a film along the south bank of the river Tyne, collecting stories from former boatbuilders, tugboatmen – people connected to the river. Narration was provided by local historian and ex-Museum worker Angus McDonald with music from Martin Francis Trollope. These are some extracts from the documentary….

Tom Fennelly: The volunteer life brigade’s were formed to support the full time work of the coastguard, using the breeches buoy equipment to rescue life from shipwreck. That continued from the very early day’s right up till 1989 when that equipment was withdrawn.

Not only do we help to save live’s and help to find people who are missing, we also get involved in rescuing animals. We were involved in recovering a dog which had gone over the cliffs and the owner was obviously very distressed because the dog sadly died. We were pleased to be able to recover the dog and allow the owner to have closure.

A couple of week’s later we got a letter from the owner of the dog saying thank you very much in your effort’s in trying to save the dog and in particular for recovering the dog’s body which allowed her to take it home and the dog’s companion was able to sniff the dog and then bury it in the back garden.

There was a footnote added to the letter saying p.s. My parents had the foresight to insure the dog Paddy the Labrador. Could you please supply us with a death certificate. The first time we had been asked to supply a death certificate for a dog but we duly obliged and were very grateful for a £25 donation which followed.

Ethne Brown: My family are the Whale family who are Tyne Pilot’s. My father was one of six brothers, 5 of them were pilot’s. You couldn’t be a pilot on the river Tyne unless your father or Grandfather had been a Pilot.

This is my Dad (showing photo) he worked until he was 70. He was self-employed and if you were fit enough, like he was, you could work until you were 70. My Father used to come home from the watch house which is just across the harbour there, he would come at lunchtimes sitting in the window having his meal and wait for the ship’s.

They used to go out in the coble’s, then climb aboard and bring the ship in. It was always their ship until it left the river.

Duncan Stephenson: Me Father had seen one of the skipper’s of the tugs ‘Me son’s left school he want’s a job’. So a Mr Headley come to the door ‘Can you join a tug called The Waysider. She’s lying at the Stanhope buoys and can ya’ skull?’ Aye I said and that was the start of me career as a riverman.

A tugboat tugged ship’s in and out of the Tyne. When they were going into dock, we would bring them in from sea, then take them back to sea. When I started in 1956 there was about 40 tug’s working night and day. All hours of the night, everyday, towing ship’s in, towing ship’s out. Big ship’s used to go up Newcastle Quay. You had all sorts of boats.

Fred Thompson: Me Grandfather was a tugboat man. Me father, uncle’s, the whole family and cousins, we were a whole tugboat family. Mainly I was deckhand and fireman. Eventually I was relief engineer in a big tug called the Tynesider and that’s the one that Duncan was in.

Duncan Stephenson: About 4 o’clock in the morning we had been doing a job and we were coming back to the buoys to tie up next to another tug. It was the lad’s job to jump from your tug to another tug and put on the ropes.

Fred: Course we’re in the Stanhope buoys and Duncan had to jump aboard the other tug.

Duncan: We’re coming alongside this tug and I’m gonna jump from this tug to that tug.

Fred: Course when the ropes were off the tug’s started going off a bit away from each other.

Duncan: I jumped and me self-conscience said ‘You’ve jumped too soon’.

Fred: As he jumped he missed and went in.

Duncan: In the water, in the drink and I’m swimming about in the water.

Fred: He took a bit of pulling out, he was more than me.

Duncan: Eventually after a long struggle they pulled us aboard the tug.

Fred: He was 18 stone then !

Duncan: I was a big lad. I’m still a big lad.

 

Susan is sitting with her father, Tom Fenwick…

Susan Fenwick: When did you start in the Foyboats Dad ?

Tom Fenwick: 1948 wasn’t it.

Susan: Who else in the family was in ?

Tom: Sam, William, Tony and me. I had some narrow escapades. I was blown up on a ship called The Firebeam loading coal at Harton Staithes.

Susan: Then you were nearly drowned at North Shields weren’t ya ?

Tom: I was at Smiths Docks on the foyboats to tie a Swedish ship up. And I got jammed between a ship and the quay in me boat. The result was me boat was lifted up in the air with a rope underneath it then it fell back in the water and broke in two. Throwing me and my work mate in the water with it. Anyhow he couldn’t swim and neither could I but by God’s grace we got out.

Susan: And ya’ came up with yer glasses on and yer cap….

Tom: Aye I still had me glasses on, it was laughable but serious. But never mind we got over it.

Fred Thompson: (Fred sitting at his table painting a ship using watercolours). I’m 80 next month and I finished when I was 65. Mainly the thing now is I paint them. This one is going into Salford harbour.

Interviewer: Anything else you would like to say about working on the river ?

Fred: Nah I could go on forever but I think that is enough for now. Once I start I can’t stop. (laughs).

 

Inside The Missions to Seafarers with Committee member Fay Cunningham….

Fay: During the Second World War the Mission really did play an important part because there was more people from our Merchant Navy personnel from South Shields signed on from anywhere else in the country, and that is the reason why we have our Merchant Navy memorial down at Mill Dam.

Today we had our Armistice Day service of remembrance for those who had fallen in the First and Second World Wars and all war’s since. It was held at the Merchant Navy Memorial. You find that most of the people that attend are mostly ex-seafarers or present seafarers. It’s always a poignant ceremony, it’s always cold because we are right by the river and not far from the sea.

Today we had 60 children from Laygate school who helped lay the wreaths and I’m sure it’s a day that they’ll remember and they will remember the work that our seafarers do.

Boatyard’s on Wapping Street, South Shields….

Fred Crowell: I started my life as an apprentice boat builder at Robson’s Boatbuilder’s in South Shields. We used to build a lot of wooden lifeboats at that time, rowing boats for Saltwell Park and Hexham. Now it’s mostly restoration of traditional boats and we’ve done several over the last few years. It’s quite rewarding to see them back on the river and it’s preserving a bit of history.

Alan Smith: We heard on Radio Newcastle that a trust was being set up and it would be called North East Maritime Trust and they wanted any volunteers. So myself and a pal of mine, Brian came down. We believed in what the trust was trying to do which is to preserve the examples of the wooden boats that were used on the coast here. We do have an example what is possible, it’s called the Royal Diadem. Which is a Northumberland fishing coble.

(Boat being lifted by crane into the water). The boat was built in 1950 for two brothers, William and Albert Silk. Registered in Berwick but it fished out of Seahouses. Then comes the day that the boat is actually finished and all boats are designed to be in the water. We couldn’t use the slipway so we decided to use the crane. There’s a point when the boat is in the air but over the water, then it’s in the water and you always feel that’s where it’s meant to be, it goes from being static to alive. It’s just as though the boat has been born. Fabulous day, fabulous turn out. A lot of people here to see the launch.

Extracts from Tyne Stories (50mins, 2010).  Short version of the film available to watch on the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

 Gary Alikivi August 2019.

NAMEDROPPER – in conversation with freelance author/TV producer Chris Phipps

Being on the dole during the ‘80s had it’s advantages. We queued up outside Tyne Tees TV Studio every Wednesday to get free audience ticket’s for the following Friday’s edition of live music show The Tube. If I was working I wouldn’t have got the chance to be part of what became a ground breaking TV programme and something that changed my life. Looking back it took a couple of years to seep through, but it was one of the magical moments I experienced that massively helped me in my work today.

In one of the programmes I was standing on the gantry looking across the studio with the stage and drummer below, another stage was to my left, there was a bar at the back, pink and blue lighting all around, Pat Benatar at the front of the stage – a little lady with a big voice. And cameras on the studio floor catching the buzz. Something clicked. It was the first time I thought ‘I would love to be involved in something like this’. I knew I was onto something.  

So a chance to interview a man who was part of that show was a great opportunity and one that I wasn’t going to miss. Take it away Chris…..

It’s interesting you mentioned Pat Benatar because I booked her, the drummer was fantastic and she was incredible.

I was at the Tube from the start in ’82 till it’s full run to ’87. But I started as a journalist in ’74 with three big stories happening on my patch, the Birmingham bombings, the hunt for the Black Panther and the Carl Bridgewater murder – a baptism of fire. After that I was producer at Pebble Mill at One and did a lot of regional TV and radio then.

I was doing rock shows, reggae shows and of course in the ‘70s the Midlands was Dexys Midnight Runners, UB40, Specials, Selector coming out of Coventry. It was like a nuclear reactor in terms of the music coming out of there. And of course you had the whole New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and I was involved with a band called Diamond Head who came out of Stourbridge. They were touted as the next Led Zeppelin which was a big mistake. They were phenomenal but for certain reasons they just went on to implode.

How were you involved with Diamond Head ? I did two TV shows with them, both of which are very rare now. One was on ‘Look Hear’ an arts programme on BBC Midlands with Toyah Wilcox. I also had them at West Bromich Further Education college, they done a student recording that was found in a loft a couple of years ago. That whole NWOBHM was fascinating because a lot of those bands were back in their day jobs after a couple of years, apart from Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. Finally, Diamond Head were vindicated because Metallica covered some of their numbers that contributed to their financial coffers.

What are your memories of those first days at The Tube ? I joined in ’82 as a booker and I became Assistant Producer from ’85-’87. My brief was to find bands that we could agree on to put in the show. A band on the first show that I booked didn’t happen, The Who didn’t do it because their pa system got stuck in Mexico or somewhere. So the producer Malcolm Gerrie knew Paul Weller’s father and got The Jam to do it. In a way I’m glad that he did because The Jam playing their last TV gig ever, really said this is what The Tube is all about – that was then, this is now and off we go.

On one show I booked a combination of Green Gartside and his band Scritti Politti, and Robert Palmer which I thought was a good mixture. Then Gartside wouldn’t do it, didn’t want to perform live or something I can’t remember now. But he pulled, you know my job was to convince really big names to come, particularly in the first six months of the programme because it was based in Newcastle. A lot of record companies would say ‘We’re not sending anybody up there’.

There was a show in December ’82 with Iggy Pop, Tygers of Pan Tang and Twisted Sister, who famously signed a record deal after their performance..…Now there is a story that I discovered Twisted Sister in a bar in New York when really the truth of it was I had seen them at Reading Festival. I was just knocked out by them because I love theatrical rock. They were on a label called Metal Blade then, which was run by a friend of Toyah Wilcox. I was interviewing Def Leppard backstage, then spoke to Twisted Sister’s manager and told him I had a gig on a TV music channel in the UK called The Tube. He said if you can gaurantee us a booking we will finance our own trip over.

So yeah they turned up in a van outside The Tube studio direct from New York, played the show, and in the audience was Mick Jones from Foreigner, his manager and UK supremo from Atlantic records Phil Carson. Phil signed them the next day.

Actually I don’t think I was too popular with the Tygers because I had to cut one of their numbers. At the time they had a great album out The Cage, but they were another band that imploded. Incidentally, first time I saw the Tygers was at JB’s club in Dudley. They were supporting Robert Plant and his rock n roll band The Honeydrippers.

Why did you ask the Tygers to cut a song from their set ? Lemmy wanted to jam with Twisted Sister at the end. In fact the guy who directed that show and all of The Tube, Gavin Taylor, who sadly died a few year ago, said his two favourite moments he directed were U2 at Red Rocks and Twisted Sister jamming with Motorhead. And this from the guy who directed Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis.

So after that everytime I saw the presenter Paula Yates she used to impersonate my Birmingham accent and go ‘Chris Phipps Twisted Sister’ (laughs). God love her. They sent me a platinum disc as a thanks which I still have, and a manhole cover with the Twisted Sister logo on it.

Also on that programme was Iggy Pop what are your memories from then ? Yeah he was a wild one. No one could find him just prior to his performance, he completely disappeared. I got a call from reception and they said there was something in the reception area spinning round and looking like a mummy. He was bandaged from head to foot (laughs).

Did the show help the careers of other bands ? Fine Young Cannibals got signed, although they already had a publishing deal. The Proclaimers got signed and there was a time when a researcher called Mick Sawyer and some of the Tube crew went to Liverpool to film Dead or Alive. But they weren’t around, then someone in a pub told them to go round the corner to another pub where there is a band rehearsing ‘You might be interested in them’. It was Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

The Tube filmed the original version of ‘Relax’, that was shown and Trevor Horn saw it. He did the deal and re-recorded and produced the single.

Frankie epitomised The Tube and the ‘80s, they got what it was all about. You can never bring The Tube back. It’s of it’s time. Chris Evans on TFI Friday in the ‘90s near enough had it. The set was just like The Tube, so yeah it’s had an incredible influence.

Last year I was on the Antiques Roadshow with memorabilia from The Tube and I thanked the BBC for banning ‘Relax’ because, it not only done Frankie a load of good but The Tube as well (laughs).

Here’s the link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06b19jf

Around the time of going to The Tube I went to a few shows called TX45 filmed in the same studios….Yes TX45 ran parallel to The Tube it was a regional series it didn’t go on the network. Actually a series by Tyne Tees Television called Alright Now got them a commission for The Tube. When I was producing in Birmingham a lot of bands would say ’We’re off to Newcastle to do Alright Now or Razzmatazz or interviewed by Alan Robson’. He had a formidable reputation. Newcastle had a reputation for cutting edge shows really, that’s why it got the commission from Channel Four. Back to TX 45 that was co-presented by Chris Cowey who went on to produce Top of the Pops.

What happened after The Tube ? All the talent from The Tube just dispersed in different directions. Tyne Tees didn’t continue to do any big entertainment. They did attempt to rival Top of the Pops with a show called The Roxy but that fizzled out. Malcolm Gerrie, the main guy went on to form Initial TV in London and made things like The Pepsi Chart Show. Now he’s got a company called Whizzkid producing big award ceremonies things like that. Geoff Wonfor who made the films for The Tube, not the studio stuff, he went on and made The Beatles Anthology. (An interview with Bob Smeaton who worked on the Anthology is on the blog ‘The Boy from Benwell’ Nov.5th 2018)

I went into documentary, feature film making and my bread and butter work for 14 years was working on a series called The Dales Diary, which covered the Yorkshire Dales for Tyne Tees and Yorkshire. What was interesting was that I was dealing with people who had never been in front of the camera before so I went from 5 years of people who couldn’t wait to get in front of the bloody camera to 14 years of people who sometimes weren’t happy to do it. Yeah I had some fantastic times working in Yorkshire.

Have you any stories that stand out from interviewing people ? From 1973-82 I’d done a lot of entertainment stuff at Pebble Mill but I also interviewed a lot of people with some priceless historical value. Like the 100 year old woman who made a living from making nails from the back of her cottage near Worcester. There was a man who helped build a storm anchor for the Titanic. I’ve kept all them interviews and in fact the storm anchor one went for research to the director James Cameron when he was making the film Titanic. So I was no stranger to going to people who just wanted to get on, particularly the farming community who didn’t want people buzzing around with cameras.

Did you work on any other music programmes ? I’m the sort of person who will come across something and say that will make a fantastic programme. I worked on a series for Dutch TV, it was like your Classic Albums series but for singles. Incredible programme to work on, it was called Single Luck. It took me all over America tracking down songwriters, producers, and for one song the backing singers were Ashford and Simpson.

Another programme was for the song ‘Blue Moon’ it profiled The Marceles, who came out of Pittsburg. The song sold I don’t know how many millions and some of them are living on the breadline you know. They got nothing, old story isn’t it.

Well I thought how do I find these people who are living in Pittsburg ? One of the singers was called Cornelius Harp. There might not be too many Harps in the phone book I’ll try that. The one I called said ‘No I’m not Cornelius Harp, but he’s my cousin, here’s his number’. The guy who was managing them had a restaurant called Blue Moon. The producer was in California and came over to Pittsburg to re-produce the song. So yeah found all of them and suddenly you have a 30 minute programme.

What have you been working on lately ? After releasing the book ‘Forget Carter’ in 2016 which was the first comprehensive guide to North East TV and film on screen, I’ve just released another book ‘Namedropper’ full of anecdotes and stories of my time in the entertainment world. I’ve hosted quite a few talks including the evenings with Roger Daltrey and Tony Iommi at the Whitley Bay Film Festival. Currently I’m still working as freelance producer/director based in North East specialising in entertainment and music for network and regional.

Chris is appearing at Newcastle’s Waterstones to sign his latest book ‘Namedropper’ on Saturday August 17th at 12 noon.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

NEVER MIND THE SEVENTIES

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A group of music fan’s got together 5 years ago and planned to put together a book about the North East Punk/Post-Punk scene from 1976-80. Bands featured will include not only big names like Penetration, Angelic Upstarts, Toy Dolls, Punishment Of Luxury, The Wall, The Carpettes, Red Alert and Total Chaos but also bands who were only known in the North East. ‘Since we started on the book numerous folks have been involved in one way or another, with interviews and transcribing. There are approximately 300 bands on our list and we’ve got all of them covered to one degree or another. It’s been quite a task’ said Martin Blank.
South Shields bands covered so far include Angelic Upstarts, The Fauves, The Letters, The Rigs, Next and of course, Wavis O’Shave….’Although Wavis was never a punk by any stretch of the imagination, due to his album ‘Anna Ford’s Bum’ being on the Anti-Pop label he became known as a sort of punk-cum-loonie-cum-prankster’. Here’s an extract from his interview…..

What is your first memory ? I think they told me it was only going to be a nice ride down a slide. Seriously tho’ it was ‘Who’s just kicked me out of this low flying UFO?’

What were your main interests when you were growing-up ? At my first school, the lad who sat in front of me calling Miss Bishop ‘Miss Fish Shop’. Another lad always wetting himself and having to dry his shorts on the radiators. They smelt like fish fingers. Everybody including the bullies liked me, so I wasn’t getting my head shoved down the bogs and the toilet flushed or thrown over the high wall into the girls school or having crap shoved up my nose on a lolly stick or having ‘**** off’ written on the back of my neck. They had high hopes for me but in what way I don’t know.

Were you ever in a band ?
Yes and no. Around 1975 I formed The Borestiffers although we were never a band in the conventional meaning of the word. Our ‘instruments’ were a suitcase, a bullworker and a kitchen sink. We performed live only once, at a church hall in South Shields. The entry fee was a slice of bread, or a stick of celery. White bread by the way. Brown was a counterfeit ticket.

Kitchen sinks aside, can you play a ‘proper’ instrument ? I can only play the fool. I can play a few chords on a guitar, but who wants to listen to a bloke wearing corduroy trousers strumming his axe? Mind you, I am a dab hand at the Theremin.
annafordsbum

Do you know if Anna got to hear ‘Anna Ford’s Bum’? Yes, Anna listened to the album and she’s confirmed that she still has it safely in a cupboard. This was related back to me years ago when she was asked by Chris Donald (Viz mag.) when they all appeared on a panel show. A lovely lady, good sport and well out of my league.

Although Wavis was (and still is) well-known in the North East, did you receive much national coverage ? I was somewhat surprised when both ‘Sounds’ and ‘NME’ wanted to claim Wavis as their own and both gave him equal coverage for quite some time. There’d be the occasional mention here and there elsewhere but I was a stickler for refusing to make myself available. The Clive Anderson show sent one of their team to my home and hauled me down for a meeting but when I found out the show was recorded  (I thought it was live) and they were telling me things that I would have to say, I left.

thehard
The Hard became a surprising overnight sensation on The Tube. How did he come about ?
The Hard was a lampoon of the North Eastern stereotypical hard man and I had to be very careful living amidst the real deal. The hardest man in the town was actually a fan of the Hard, which I can never work out especially when everybody swore I had styled The Hard on him. I’d never be that daft, unless of course I did. I do consider myself hard and I can prove it. I once lived off ten quid a week – now that’s hard. 

What was it like appearing on Stars In Their Eyes with your impression of Steve Harley ? 
My wife tried to get me to audition for the show for years as I was both a fan and friend of Steve Harley from ‘74-‘77 and she knew I could do a good impersonation of him. I gave in one year when a bloke came on and did Benny Hill. He was atrocious and I thought, ‘Well I can’t do worse than that, pass me the phone’.
wavisstarsintheireyes

Were Wavis and The Hard really closet intellectuals merely poking fun at the absurdity of the world today ? There’s a side of me that very few people know of. One of those facets of the diamond is a very serious, and reasonably well known controversial author, broadcaster, researcher with a sizeable website and a lot of internet coverage. I doubt you’ll know him and only a very few Wavis people do. He’s a cross between a British Indie Jones and Poirot, and that’s the only clue you’ll get. I’ve/he’s been on Sky TV shows a few times, done a lot of USA radio shows and wrote for a high street national monthly mag for a few years.

The full interview with Wavis will be available in the book. The group are now planning to complete the project, but Martin told me there is still time for some band’s to come forward…‘We now have all the interviews in the can but if there are any other North East bands who were active circa 1976-80 who we don’t know about and who’d like to contribute they’re welcome to get in touch’.

Contact: gobonthetyne@hotmail.com

Gary Alikivi August 2019.