This blog is devoted to all those pieces of 20th century culture too often pooh-pooh'ed by the so called 'high brow' crowd. The stuff that conjoures words like 'vibrant', 'garish' and 'lurid'. Cheap paperbacks, b-movies, exploitation, fantasy, horror and hokey sci-fi - all have a place on this blog where the trash of yesterday is recognised as the classics of today.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What was Christmas Like... 40 Years Ago?


The three highest-grossing movies of December 1970 were;

Christmas Number Ones

Top of the charts in the US
was Smokey Robinson and The Miracles with The Tears of a Clown.

And in the UK; Dave Edmunds with the decidedly un-seasonal blues classic I Hear You Knocking.


Nerf Ball
Another reminder of a more simpler time, the Nerf ball was a simple foam ball. Yep, that was the big seller for Christmas in 1970. Created by Parker Brothers, the ball was declared 'the world's first indoor ball!' and came with a promise that it would not break lamps or windows when hurled about indoors (which surely sounded like a challenge to most kids). Nerf products remained popular for years afterwards with the company producing various sports balls made from the foamy, squashy material and later, in the '80s, 'Nerf Blasters' which fired foam darts.


This simple electronic musical instrument was big news in the UK. With Australian artist/TV personality Rolf Harris as its spokesperson, the Stylophone was a popular Christmas gift for 1970. By pressing each metal note with a stylus, a circuit would be completed and result in an electronic 'beeping'. There were several play along records also released and David Bowie even used it on his 'Space Oddity' single.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What was Christmas Like... 30 Years Ago?


The three biggest grossing movies for December 1980, which incidentally, are all in the top ten highest grossers for that year. Also, Flash Gordon which I've included for its later cult appeal despite it's poor box office take in 1980.

Christmas Number Ones

Topping the Billboard Top 100 Hits in the US was Lady by Kenny Rogers.

And in the UK; the tooth-rottingly sweet There's No-one Quite Like Grandma performed by Stockport-based St. Winifred's School Choir.


Rubik's Cube
The brainchild of a Hungarian professor in the mid-70s became the 'it' Christmas toy of 1980. How times have changed, eh? Imagine handing this to a member of the current Nintendo Wii/PlayStation III generation and saying "Here you go, kid. Merry Christmas. Knock yourself out"! A real reminder of a more simpler time, the Rubik's Cube was a fad that has remained with us ever since. People still buy these. Even my parents had one back in the day.

The Empire Strikes Back

With the franchise on its second movie and before the later years of Ewoks and Jabba's muppet show, Star Wars was at the top of its game in 1980. After famously being caught with their pants down in 1977 when they severely underestimated the first movie's popularity, Kenner made up for lost time with its sequel and with a whole new array of bounty hunters, rebels in snow gear and Imperial war machines to choose from, Christmas 1980 was a bountiful harvest for many a young Star Wars fan.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What was Christmas Like... 20 Years Ago?

With the countdown to Christmas in full swing, I thought I'd take a trip back in time and stop off at each 10-year interval until 1970 or so, to see what was going on at this time of year back then. This post will take a look at a year I remember very well - 1990 (I skipped 2000 as it still feels way too recent).


Here are a few of the biggest widely released movies of the Christmas season in 1990. Home Alone was huge and was one of the highest grossing movies of that year.

Christmas No. Ones

In the UK, having a number one single at Christmas is kind of a big deal and often results in festive (if sometimes overly wholesome) entries by big names (and sometimes not so big). The yuletide spirit is somewhat less reflected in the US with the Billboard Top 100 rarely taking notice of the festive season.

In 1990, the US number 1 single on Christmas was Because I Love You (The Postman Song) by Stevie B.

And in the UK... Saviour's Day by Cliff Richard. Remember what I said about wholesomeness? But to be fair, it only lasted until December the 30th before being knocked off the top spot by Iron Maiden with Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter so it's not all bad.


I tried very hard to find some sort of definitive 'Top Selling Christmas Toys Year by Year' list on the Internet, but to no avail. There are many lists out there but they are all culled from different sources while some seem to be purely made up. At the risk of doing the same, I decided to trawl through a few catalogues and articles and come up with a few examples of what was hot for Christmas in 1990.

The Gameboy
Released in Japan and the US in 1989 to huge success, Nintendo's Gameboy made its way to European shores in 1990. This was huge. Hopelessly obsolete in light of today's technological advancements obviously, the Gameboy was unbelievably popular in its day with its 8-bit graphics and 'green' colour scheme. A common sight in the early '90s was a group of kids crowding around a single Gameboy held in the sweaty hands of a comrade, watching over his shoulders in attentive silence as he tried to beat that tricky level on Super Mario Land. And woe betide any joker who thought it was funny to flip the 'off' switch when somebody was mid-game. No way to save your games in those days, kids. Each time you switched it on, you had to start from the beginning.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Turtles were everywhere in the early '90s. The first movie came out in March of that year and the cartoon show was still going strong on Saturday morning television. Of course in the UK, they were called 'Hero' Turtles instead of 'Ninja' Turtles as some nanny-state enthusiasts decided that if British kids heard the word 'ninja' they would instantly start killing each other with nunchuks and shuriken. I can't say that this deterrent worked however, as I have clear memories of leaping around the living room as a kid wielding homemade nunchucks fashioned from toilet roll tubes and string.

The Turtles figures began in 1988 and the new additions to the line in time for Christmas 1990 were variants of the main characters such as 'Leo the Sewer Samurai', 'Raph the Space Cadet', 'Don the Undercover Turtle' and 'Mike the Sewer Surfer'.

Power Drencher
Super Soakers were a huge part of childhood in the '90s. These high-pressure water guns made hot summers a war zone for kids with a seemingly endless variety of armaments from small pistol type things right up to gargantuan rifles that actually stung when you got hit by them.

But the famous Super Soaker brand didn't come until 1991. In 1990, the very first Super Soaker was named the 'Power Drencher' and was later re branded the 'Super Soaker 50' the following year. The bright neon (and so very '90s) colour scheme and top-mounted reservoir was a staple from the beginning and totally changed the game for summertime water fights.