Wotsits

You only get a woosh with a Wotsit as the advert used to say. Cheesy Wotsits as many people still say. You know these cheesy corn Puff snacks, everyone does but they’re still a memory from my childhood and given that is what this site is all about then that is what I am going to write about.

Don’t judge my childhood food choices as children aren’t known for their culinary prowess at the best of times. Cheesy Wotsits were my go to snack and still remain a guilty pleasure comfort food for me.

Only the cheese flavour would do for me.

As every older person ever always says when reminiscing about snack favourites from the past… they aren’t as big as they used to be. In part this is certainly true – packet sizes of all snacks have been shrinking down, in part because we seem to be more aware of the health disadvantages. Never did me any harm… OK I admit I have reached grumpy old man status.

I’m fairly certain they were bigger puffs of corn when I was younger and much less curly but ever since Walkers bought them from their once dominant rivals Golden Wonder, they have essentially become Cheetos smaller and C shaped.

The recently released Giant variety are much more like the Wotsits I remember from my childhood. There has also been new flavours released recently which is a trend amongst all snacks lately.

Yes I owned a Wotsits mouse mat!

But for years the only time you could have a flaming hot Wotsit would be in the lead up to Halloween. I miss those days. Now I’ve reached grumpy old man territory I am going to make a Wotsit sandwich and you can judge me on that all you want..

Challenge Anneka

This was great Saturday night entertainment in the nineties. Anneka Rice running, using an enormous mobile phone and driving round in a beach buggy – what’s not to love?

Anneka was previously best known from Treasure Hunt but I was just a tad too young to remember that. However the running around was replicated here.

Anneka sat outside of her massive truck. Nice helmet.

Each week Anneka was set a challenge, initially they were feasible – refurbish a community centre, resurface a road riddled with potholes – yes prime time entertainment. Later challenges were more epic, constructing bridges across water or even kitting out a Ukrainian orphanage for example.

The premise was that Anneka had no idea of what she would be up against until the challenge started, usually delivered via a cryptic clue which would then quickly resolve itself.

The real challenge was to organise the manpower and equipment needed to take on the challenge. All provided for free. Anneka using her giant mobile phone to request items like P-L-Y (cue infamous blooper).

Anneka and crew in the beach buggy. Actually on a beach too!

At the time it was all very tense and believable, constant updates on how many days, hours or minutes were left and occasionally Anneka failed.

However believable it seemed, it was later confirmed much of challenges were pre-arranged. Imagine the scandal if that happened today!

The themetune was a classic too as was the title sequence with Anneka whizzing round a cartoon world fix problems.

According to the reliable source of Wikipedia Anneka attempted to pitch a show twenty years after the original started but by the BBC reckoned that the show had slipped away from public memory by then.

However Anneka did revive the show very briefly on ITV. Same format, same theme tune but very little promotion. It faded with little trace and the suggestion that with health and safety being much tighter making a programme like that would be much harder now.

We do however have DIY SOS which morphed from being another makeover show to being along similar lines to Challenge Anneka or the Challenge programme as she always referred to it.

Bewitched (Board Game)

This is not about the 1960s American TV series about, or the Irish girl group. This is actually about the board game that you probably won’t recall.

In truth when it comes to the actual gameplay I don’t recall all that much detail. But there were witches hats and I think the playing pieces were frogs.

So instead of detailing this board game and what I thought of it. For this Halloween I would like instead to share with you a cautionary tale of sneaking and assumptions.

The board game’s game board.

The truth is that I can remember playing this game with my cousins. It’s fair to say that it’s probably a game that was aiming towards a more female player. Remember this was the early 90s and there were girls toys and boys toys and we were cool with that.

But this was a game that I ended up receiving for a birthday. Its quite possible that I really enjoyed playing it at the time but I don’t think it was the most sought after boardgames and I would imagine that I would remember more than I do if it had been.

However, I did it get as a gift and I was really pleased. Because when I was about 7 or 8 I had known that I would be getting it for my birthday.

This was not some childhood mystic hocus pocus. I was snooping in my mums wardrobe and saw the game in there. Of course that was my present I knew it.

I remember what happened next vividly. I can even remember where I was when the following conversation occurred.

My mum asked if there was anything anything that I wanted for my birthday and my response was an excited ‘Bewitched’. No suspicion from my mum, she just asked if there was anything rlse I wanted ‘Just Bewitched’ was my response.

Of course she must have known that I had seen something in somewhere I shouldn’t but in my child’s mind non of this was obvious. I was literally like the child with his hand in the biscuit tin, all innocent yet caught red handed.

A little frog spell book.

Now looking back almost 30 years ago (yikes!) I suspect that the game probably wasn’t even intended for me and was probably actually a gift given to my mum by a relative because witchy things are very much her thing.

Not calling my mother a witch or anything. Anyway, moral of this story is don’t sneak a peek, or don’t make it obvious you have. Or maybe don’t share such a personal story with the Internet and expect it to be interested. I don’t which maybe there are no morals at all.

The ITV Chart Show

In many ways this was ITV’s answer to top of the pops or perhaps a way of capturing the MTV experience in an hour on Saturday Mornings.

The programme featured music videos from the various chart toppers if the week. There was on screen information alongside which when I was younger only the animations were of interest but as I grew older the information contained within was somewhat of interest.

The on screen graphics and information from the mid-90s straight from an Amiga computer.

The programme was a constant throughout my childhood as my Dad was a big music fan and missing it was probably unthinkable. Even as I got older and watched Live and Kicking it was rare I ever got to see the phone-in at the end of the programme.

The chart show is the kind of programme I would probably appreciate more now than I did then only with the same songs they used to play. As a child music was not so important to me, least of all chart music.

As well as the main singles chart – it was the Saturday Chart and therefore often differed from the main chart on Sunday, there were other charts like the Indie Chart and Album Chart.

The graphics would often change but the format was stellar. Top of the Pops 2 owes a lot to the programme. Eventually it was Ant and Dec and a live music programme, CD:UK that would see the programme end.

Just incase you couldn’t tell with the Twix logo all over the title sequence.

Bonus points for the well integrated Twix sponsorship at the start.

Currently remembering things one at a time on Sunday Evenings.

The Great Storm of 1987

On the night of the 15th October the South of England was battered by winds of up to 100mph.

I lived through this. In fact as the storm hit overnight I slept through this. As I was barely out of being a toddler I think you can forgive me that. My tender young age at the time also means I don’t have a great deal of memories from it.

The South was battered.

I can recall being at my Grans house huddled around a (battery operated) radio listening to the latest news and hearing my relatives talk about traffic lights being literally bent over by the wind.

Bigger memories come from the years after. In particularly the tenth aniversary where there was a fair amount of TV coverage and documentaries looking back at the events of the night.

Micheal Fish famously delivered a weather forecast stating that there was no reason to worry when a woman had rung the BBC to say there was a hurricane coming.

Technically it was only hurricane force winds but he has spent the remainder of his life apologising for it. Often the butt of the joke his account of the telephone call has actually changed frequently down the years.

Aside from Micheal’s famous faux-parr it’s the footage of Ian , the Met Office forecaster the next day which is most interesting.

Ian McCaskill was battered by the fallout from the storm.

He gives a brilliant lesson in PR and what to do when you completely fail to forecast the weather correctly as he appeared on the news looking literally windswept and apologetic.

Amongst the documentaries ten years on I recall a 999 special. The reconstruction series hosted by Micheal Buerk that I loved as a kid and really need to write up for here at some point.

Elsewhere footage on YouTube surfaced of how the various broadcasters managed to put out a service with the power knocked out. Lucky that the BBC had the broom cupboard to fall back on.

The Broomcupboard with children’s artwork removed.

It’s the sort of thing that would have had me glued to the television. Except we were huddled round a radio and I was under 5.

Scrapheap Challenge

Scrapheap Challenge is another one of those shows that seemed to be on air just as I was hitting the right age for it. It’s also another one of those programme that does exactly what’s on the tin.

In this case the challenge was to build some sort of device, weapon or contraption using scrap found in the scrapyard.

Robert Llewellyn standing on some scrap.

Two teams went head to head to compete in a competition of some sorts. For example building an amphibious vehicle. The winner then went on towards the finals.

Each team had someone who could be considered an expert, usually some kind of engineer and then two others from a more mundane walk of life.

After initially planning out their ideas, helpfully illustrated for us with some graphics the teams then split to head off on quad bikes to find what they think they need from the scrapheap.

In almost every episode someone would find something not on their list that they think will be really useful that they return to their teammates enthusiastically only to find blank expressions.

The hosts. Robert never lost his enthusiasm.

Presented by Robert Llewlyn (better known as Kryten in Red Dwarf) who seems to hold endless enthusiasm for everything going on. He was joined originally by Cathy Rogers who was actually an executive at RDF who made the programme, in later series Lisa Rogers (no relation) replaced her.

The show also made it over to America but they prefer to call their scrapheap Junkyards and their challenges Wars.

Robot Wars

Probably a firm favourite of many and unnoticed by everyone else. I was slap-bang in the target audience for the show. Airing at 6pm on BBC 2 back when the BBC didn’t have the rights for enough episodes of The Simpsons to air it every night.

The premise of the programme was simple. Robots fighting against each other. No AI involved, they were all remote controlled. At least I think they all were. Those that controlled the ‘House Robots’ to the best of my recollection were never talked about or seen.

Those House Robots had names like Sir Kilalot and Matilda or my favourite at the time Roadblock – don’t ask me why it was my favourite but this fighting machine was made from a Road Closed sign, witty stuff.

Yes, watching a cheese shaped roadsign was how we entertained ourselves in the new Millennium!

Going against the House Robots were the competitors. These robots were built by members of the public. There were some expert teams but also sometimes teams consisting of father and sons which was probably half the appeal of someone my age at the time.

The robots were no soft-touch. There were saw blades, flame cutters and many spikes and jagged edges. But everything took place inside a perspex walled arena so no health and safety concerns here.

The arena where it all took place.

The action in the arena was hosted, for the first series by Jeremy Clarkson. He was probably the perfect host but at the time was a lot more marmite and less popular he was ousted for the following series in favour of Craig Charles.

Jeremy/Craig were joined by Phillipa Forrester (and probably others during various series) as backstage reporters. They would interview the teams and ask questions like ‘do you think you can fix it?’ When the team had suffered at the house robots.

The battles were entertaining to watch. Sometimes they’d be over quickly and the House Robots would make a show of their victories, circling around before placing the immobilised opponent into the kill zone (a small drop in the arena floor). Occasionally too robots would basically commit suicide or simply never get going.

It was all exciting enough but ramped up more by Jonathon Pearce and his massively over the top commentary style. In many ways Jonathon made the programme. You could switch most of the elements but his commentary was essential.

After a few series I became bored, so did the BBC so it was dropped before being picked up by Channel 5. It was then revived briefly by BBC 2 in more recent times.

Bugs

In the nineties Casualty didn’t air all year long and there was a drama shaped hole in the Saturday night schedule. Bugs was one of the shows made to plug the gap.

It was about a secret team of law-enforcers. They weren’t police and weren’t MI5 but somewhere in between. They used technology to crack down on various bad guys.

The series was probably one of the first to use ‘modern’ technology as the main plot device and perhaps the first recognise cyber crime as being the future for criminals.

There was a pretty strong cast although they all came from soap(ish) series. Jay Griffiths previously in the Bill played Ros, Jessie Birdsall previously in Eldorado played Beckett and Craig MacClaughlan who had been in neighbours played Ed.

As a general rule Beckett was the one who took charge and only got his hands dirty when it really called for it. Ed was the dare-devil who took on various stunts and Ros was the computer nerd who generally used technical knowledge to hack systems and crack codes.

At the time it all seemed fast-paced and cutting edge but if you get the chance to see it now.. as I did when London Live started repeating in – random programming choice!

It doesn’t really hold up. The 90s computers running pre-Windows operating systems is fine but in one scene they were trying to crack a code on a Speak and Spell – ET had one of those in the early 80s! Spraying it silver did not disguise the fact!

Aside from the dodgy technology the programme struggled to gain the audience it needed for a Saturday night. A cliff hanger at the end of the second series was enough to get it a third but the same trick didn’t work for series 4.

Bugs will mostly be remembered for… well it probably won’t be remembered by most at all.

Comedy Corner: The Smoking Room

BBC Three, 2004 – 2005

The notion of there even being a room for smoking in a workplace is now nothing but a memory. This sitcom came just a couple of years before smoking indoors at work was outlawed.

The Smoking Room was a weird lounge with yellow walls and old files in an office building, the exact nature of the business was never really revealed but its staff gave glimpses of the world beyond the smoking room, we never saw outside of its four walls for the whole series.

The cast were the smokers. Robert Webb played Robin. He was the only character to remain in the Smoking Room for almost the entire time, exactly what his job was isnt clear but he obviously didn’t spend much time doing it, although he would often state that he would finish off his cigarette then he really must go back to work.

There was also one more thing about Robin. He was (probably) gay, in the closet and obsessed with Ben from the Post Room. He’ll try and drop him into conversations but usually gets little response. Everyone else in the smoking room is pretty much clear on the reality when it comes to Robin.

So who else was in the smoking room? There was Sally who could be sarcastic but probably the most down to earth of the lot. Her friend was Annie who was over dramatic about everything and Barry who was your typical loser, he was always struggling with a crossword.

Annie are you okay?
Are you ok Annie?
Annie are you okay?
Are you ok Annie?

Also popping in were Clint the handyman, who was fairly hapless at fixing things and Len the security guard. He tended to leave most of the work to his junior Ranjit, who is never seen. In season two Heidi popped in, she wasn’t a smoker and was definitely weird.

Occasionally popping in for a fag was Sharon, the manager of the business – nobody liked her but she tried small talk because she had been on courses suggesting she should. Her assistant Janet had no confidence and would often talk about standing up to Sharon, but never did.

The Smoking Room could easily have been a radio comedy as there is very little visual humour and everything takes place in one room. It is also set in real time and while episodes have some threads running through them most are self-contained.

I don’t think you could call it laugh out loud funny but there are enough jokes in there. The bulk of the humour comes from the scenario and pictures painted by the cast.

The series came to an end with a Christmas episode set during the office party. It concludes with an excited Robin being greeted by Ben from the postroom. There were no further episodes made, partly as Smoking Rooms became outlawed.

Being tucked away on BBC Choice this programme probably didn’t get the audience it deserved. It was well observed and full of dry wit and I really enjoyed it. Coming out around the same time as the Office it probably deserved more recognition as there haven’t been many sitcoms set in a single location.

A few extra useless details I remember from the BBC website of the time, the theme tune was Close to Me by The Cure. Also the majority of the cast were non-smokers and so low-tar cigarettes were used which apparently smelt worse than normal ones.

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