Home   Kent   News   Article

Frankie Say the 1980s were special: Kent's influence on everything from Princess Diana, Live Aid, Bagpuss, Subbuteo and Panini football stickers


More news, no ads

LEARN MORE

Remember the 1980s? When Margate's Bembom Brothers and Folkestone's Rotunda were pleasure palaces we thought could never be beaten?

When TV channels were limited to just four and if you wanted music on demand you could call 'dial-a-disc' on the telephone and hear a random hit single in all the clarity a crackly old phone line could muster?

Bembom Brothers - as Dreamland was known for much of the decade - pictured in 1983; one of the county's top tourist attractions
Bembom Brothers - as Dreamland was known for much of the decade - pictured in 1983; one of the county's top tourist attractions

No wonder many of us consider the younger generation to be spoilt when it comes to the sheer breadth of entertainment available today at the touch of a button.

But did you know of Kent's influence on some of the decade of excess?

Firstly, let's talk fashion.

In 1984, the pop charts were set ablaze by Liverpool five-piece Frankie Goes To Hollywood who burst on the scene with three of the finest singles of all time - the sex-crazed Relax, the ode to armageddon that was Two Tribes, and the sublime ballad, The Power of Love.

And while they dominated the charts for most of the year with finely crafted, and well-produced pop, they also delivered a marketing masterstroke - most notably when Paul Morley (co-founder of the band's record label ZTT) came up with a ruse of taking the Frankie message out on to the street.

Liverpool's Frankie Goes To Hollywood ruled the charts in 1984...and had split up three years later
Liverpool's Frankie Goes To Hollywood ruled the charts in 1984...and had split up three years later

Inspired by the work of Gravesend-born designer Katharine Hamnett, he came up with the Frankie Say t-shirt range. (A word of note here...it should never, ever, say Frankie Says...Frankie is a band, not an individual so if you want to splurge on a dodgy eBay replica, then you have been warned).

The shirts were everywhere during the summer of that year. A stroll down any high street informed you of what Frankie were thinking. Whether it was 'War! Hide Yourself', 'Arm the Unemployed' or simply to 'Relax, Don't Do It', the shirts became one of the decade's most iconic garments.

See the video clip above - taken from TV-am in 1984 - which features Katharine Hamnett and Frankie's Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford discussing the craze (not to mention a very young Nick Owen presenting).

And Katharine Hamnett's influence on the pop culture of the time didn't end there. The designs which inspired Morley were based on the likes of her Choose Life t-shirts - famously worn by the likes of Wham! (See the clip below of them performing on Top of the Pops in 1984). While her design was the basis for the Feed the World T-shirts worn by the performers in Band Aid.

Not to mention her famous meeting with Margaret Thatcher in 1984 where she wore one of her designs which loudly proclaimed '58% don't want Pershing' - an anti-war slogan referencing a weapon system the West was keen on when mutually assured destruction seemed to be on the cards.

Staying with fashion, Chatham's Zandra Rhodes, who learned her craft at what was then the Medway College of Art - and is the now soon-to-closed Rochester campus of the University of Creative Arts - had already made her name in the 1970s designing clothes for the likes of Queen's Freddie Mercury and Brian May and T Rex singer Marc Bolan.

Fashion designer Zandra Rhodes was one of the 1980s most in-demand designers. She learned her craft at what today is the University of Creative Arts in Medway
Fashion designer Zandra Rhodes was one of the 1980s most in-demand designers. She learned her craft at what today is the University of Creative Arts in Medway

But she won global acclaim in 1986 for a famous off-the-shoulder item worn by Princess Diana during a trip to Japan and designed many outfits for her. And there was surely no greater fashion icon in the 1980s than Princess Di.

Surely the decades single biggest fashion icon. Princess Diana went to school in the county, too
Surely the decades single biggest fashion icon. Princess Diana went to school in the county, too

While we're discussing pop culture, few would argue that the music from the decade stands the test of time. Or, at least, most of it. We'll not include Black Lace's Agadoo. Or, for that matter, actor Anita 'Angie Watts' Dobson's vocal rendition of the EastEnders theme music which, incredibly, made it to number four in the charts.

We'll let you be the judge of a promotional single recorded by one regular in the charts during the decade.

Hazell Dean hit the top 10 with the likes of the brackets-tastic Searchin' (I Gotta Find A Man) and Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go).

A lesser known recording of hers, made in 1982, was a double-A side single promoting the delights of living in, ahem, Medway.

Medway You're The One, backed by Medway That's Where I Wanna Be (examples of the lyrics being: "Medway, whatever you want, it's got it, there's no other place quite like it," followed by the difficult-to-cram-in-a-pop-song, "characteristic towns, with so much history, Medway means business that's for sure" it deserves a revival. Or perhaps not. Judge for yourself courtesy of the video above which gives the song a twirl.

Culture Club frontman Boy George celebrated his 60th birthday recently. Yes, really. Doesn't that make you feel old?
Culture Club frontman Boy George celebrated his 60th birthday recently. Yes, really. Doesn't that make you feel old?

Staying with music for a moment, Boy George, frontman of Culture Club, left many a school child mightily confused over his gender when he first emerged on the scene. Kent can just about lay claim to him, given he was born in Barnehurst, in Bexley, which was, in the year of his birth, 1961, still part of the county.

Oh, and just to make you feel old, George turned 60 in June. Yikes.

The Esplanade, Rochester, in 1980 - perhaps Hazell Dean had a point
The Esplanade, Rochester, in 1980 - perhaps Hazell Dean had a point

And as we're expanding our reach into what are now London suburbs, David Bowie, of course, grew up in and around Bromley and performed across the county before hitting the big time.

During the 1980s he started the decade with the sublime Ashes to Ashes and ended it with much-maligned Tin Machine album (his attempt at being a band member in a rock band). In between, he managed to (Queen excluded) steal the show at Live Aid in 1985 with his rendition of Heroes, while also finding time to pop up to present the animated classic The Snowman.

Apparently US TV audiences wanted a big name to introduce it (author Raymond Briggs did the honours when it first debuted on Channel 4 in 1982) so Bowie was recruited, pretending he was the grown-up version of the boy in the video. Just go with it. They were strange times, the 80s.

Talking of Live Aid, we can scarcely ignore the man behind the whole Band Aid/Live Aid juggernaut - Faversham's very own Bob Geldof.

Not only did he single-handedly change the 1980s from being a decade where looking out for number one was becoming the mantra, but he helped raise millions of pounds for the starving in Ethiopia. Not to mention swearing live on BBC1 as he told us, in no uncertain terms, to give the cause some money. Which also sparked a rare amusing Spitting Image song parody entitled 'We're Scared of Bob' which featured a We Are The World-style line-up of singers and lyrics including 'The cause is just, that cannot be denied, ah but does he have to make us so petrified'. It got things done though. So let that be a lesson to them.

Faversham's Bob Geldof masterminded Band Aid, in 1984, and Live Aid the following year
Faversham's Bob Geldof masterminded Band Aid, in 1984, and Live Aid the following year

Coincidentally, Live Aid saw the coming together of both Bowie and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger - the man more commonly known in these parts simply as 'Dartford rocker Mick Jagger'. They duetted on a version of Martha and the Vandellas' Dancing in the Streets. Originally planned to be an on-stage duet with Bowie in London and Jagger in Philadelphia, the time delay on the live link put paid to that, so they recorded a video instead. It went to number one when released.

Away from music, video games in the 1980s were a rather different kettle of the proverbial fish than they are today.

Back then we considered the likes of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong pretty cutting edge. And if you owned one of Nintendo's Game and Watch devices (the first kind of handheld gaming and about a million miles away from what you can play on your phones today) then you were king of the playground.

The joys of Pac-Man kept many of us entertained during the 1980s
The joys of Pac-Man kept many of us entertained during the 1980s

The thought of a game like the annual FIFA offering for football fans could scarcely be imagined (the first incarnation of which, known as the less catchy 'FIFA International Soccer' didn't emerge on the Sega Mega Drive until 1993 and even then had the players' names made-up or named after the designers who worked on the game).

Instead, we had the simple magic of Subbuteo - a table-top version of the beautiful game which will be instantly familiar to many but, for the sake of any youngsters reading this, involved players on little wobbly stands which you flicked towards the ball on a football pitch you needed to, ideally, iron and pin down to prevent an inch perfect pass getting stuck on a fold. Simpler times, as I say.

It's not quite FIFA on the PS5, I grant you, but many childhoods were influenced by the simple joys of Subbuteo
It's not quite FIFA on the PS5, I grant you, but many childhoods were influenced by the simple joys of Subbuteo

The game was created in the 1940s by Tunbridge Wells' Peter Adolph who used an existing table-top game, Newfooty, as his inspiration, changing the designs and materials used to create a game he originally called Hobby.

Unable to get a trademark for Hobby he, instead, used the Latin name of the bird of prey called a hobby, which was falco subbuteo. And hence Subbuteo, with all players hand-painted by staff at its factory in Langton Green, was born.

Subbuteo - finger flickin' fun back in the day - and born in Tunbridge Wells
Subbuteo - finger flickin' fun back in the day - and born in Tunbridge Wells

It saw off Newfooty by the 1960s and by the early 1980s was still big business.

By 1982, though, as machines started to paint the players, production of the players moved out of its traditional home and to Tyne and Wear. Today owned by Hasbro, the game still enjoys popularity - primarily from those who can't get their heads around a PlayStation or Xbox controller.

Staying with football for a moment, few will have avoided the lure of collecting football stickers in their youth.

Sticker albums in recent years are a far cry from the perm-tastic ones of the 1980s
Sticker albums in recent years are a far cry from the perm-tastic ones of the 1980s

The sound of "got, got, got, need, NEEEEED" as playground collectors compared their swap list was the soundtrack to many a childhood. Ah, the sweet smell of those stickers as you released them from their paper pack. The painstaking effort at getting them in the album straight and without a crease, was an art form in itself.

And let's not get started on the thrill of revealing a Liverpool silver club badge you knew you could trade for all those remaining Arsenal players you needed (there had to be some benefits to being one of the few kids not supporting Liverpool back in the 1980s, after all. Scalping them in exchange for their club badge was fair game).

And the king of the football sticker collection was - and for many remains - Italian giant Panini. It has, for many years, had an office in Tunbridge Wells of all places. Clearly there must be something in the town's spa water which encourages childhood football delights.

Of course, talking about childhood fascinations, who could forget how some of the most defining children's television emerged from this very county of ours.

I'm not talking about ITV's Saturday morning TV show, No 73 (filmed at Maidstone Studios from 1983 and featuring Sandi Toksvig - she of QI fame and, briefly, the Great British Bake Off).

Maidstone-born TV artist Tony Hart was a children's TV regular with his popular shows
Maidstone-born TV artist Tony Hart was a children's TV regular with his popular shows

Or, for that matter, the work of Maidstone artist, the late, great Tony Hart whose gentle manner introduced a whole generation to the delights of pens and paints through his TV shows Take Hart and Hartbeat during the 1980s. He even designed the Blue Peter logo, don't you know.

No, we're talking about Smallfilms and the combined, magical, talents of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin. The pair worked from Firmin's home in Blean, just outside Canterbury.

Now, granted, by the 1980s, all its most famous creations had long since been aired and, for that matter, retired. Bagpuss aired in 1974, Ivor the Engine chugged off in 1977 and The Clangers' first outing was done by 1972.

Bagpuss has now retired - and lives at Canterbury's The Beaney museum. Picture: The Beaney, Canterbury
Bagpuss has now retired - and lives at Canterbury's The Beaney museum. Picture: The Beaney, Canterbury

But these were the days when repeats of classics made up children's TV schedules - so all were in pretty heavy rotation still. Bagpuss was the equivalent of Toy Story - just without Tom Hanks and Buzz Lightyear replaced by Professor Yaffle.

Bagpuss even inspired a song on the Radiohead album Hail to the Thief, believe it or not.

Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin - the duo who provided the backbone for much of the BBC's children's output back in the day
Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin - the duo who provided the backbone for much of the BBC's children's output back in the day

And in 1986 the duo worked on their last joint production - Pinny's House, a show about the toys in a Victorian toy house.

The following year, the duo were presented with honorary degrees from the University of Kent - an award Postgate dedicated to everyone's favourite saggy old cloth cat.

Firmin was also, by the way, the man who designed the original Basil Brush who, in 1980, was pulling in millions of viewers in his early evening Saturday night slot on BBC1.

Basil Brush was a regular on TV screens during the 1980s
Basil Brush was a regular on TV screens during the 1980s

After Basil's 'right-hand man', Ivan Owen, got embroiled in a dispute over its scheduling (he wanted it moved to a mid-evening slot, the BBC didn't), Basil returned to our screens throughout the 1980s as a regular on Crackerjack (Crackerjack! For those who remember the need to shout the show's name back every time it was mentioned.)

And if all that wasn't enough to demonstrate just how influential Kent was to a quite remarkable decade, consider that some of the decade's best-selling sweets were being made in the Trebor factory in Maidstone.

The Trebor sweets factory in Maidstone in 1989
The Trebor sweets factory in Maidstone in 1989

Staying with tastes people love or hate, Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister for the entire decade can pretty comfortably be named the most influential figure in the UK during the 1980s.

It could have all turned out so differently, though.

At the age of just 25, the young Margaret Roberts, as she was in those days, stood for the then-safe Labour seat of Dartford in the 1950 and 1951 General Elections - losing on both occasions.

Margaret Thatcher spent all the 1980s in Downing Street - but to say she was something of a Marmite politician would be a bit of an understatement
Margaret Thatcher spent all the 1980s in Downing Street - but to say she was something of a Marmite politician would be a bit of an understatement

However, she made her mark on the political scene, despite another defeat, in 1955, under her married name, when she stood in Orpington.

In 1958 she stood for the safe Tory seat of Finchley and the rest, as they say, is history.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More