I’m still amazed that more people don’t remember me as a TV child star. My standout appearance on the low budget Saturday morning television show ‘The Untied Shoelaces Show’, in April 1984, was probably my breakout moment.
Actually I only know one person that saw it live, and it was never shown on television again. And the footage has never been on the Internet. Until now.
I think it was my Uncle Kenny who somehow got us tickets to be in the audience for The Untied Shoelaces Show, a really dreadful kids TV show produced by BBC Scotland in the early eighties, and hosted by Radio Clyde DJ ‘Tiger’ Tim Stevens.
The show had the usual Saturday morning mix of phone-in games, minor celebrity appearances, and dated cartoons. It’s excruciating to watch now, and not just because I’m on it.
It was an Easter themed show which meant that all the kids had to dress up in an Easter themed costume. My cousins Rhona and Katy went as flowers I think, and my brother was in a bunny costume, as were 95% of all the other kids in the audience. I didn’t want to be a cute animal, so my Dad, who loves a good pun, had the idea for me to dress up as “Easter Road” – a well known street in Edinburgh and the name of the home stadium for the football team Hibs.
It was a very economical costume too, another reason my Dad loved it. Basically it consisted of a black trash bag, with holes for my head and arms, some white masking tape down the front, and a bit of cardboard around my neck that said ‘Easter Road’. I wore this over a white t-shirt, my underpants and my black school shoes. I’m not sure if I really got the joke, but I know my Dad still thinks it was hilarious to put his 8 year old son in a bin bag for an appearance on live television.
Apparently he was not the only one. As we all waited in the cafeteria at the BBC in Glasgow for the studio doors to open, one of the producers came up to me and asked if I wanted to be on a team for a game. I was pretty happy about that but I think my cousins were a bit upset. They had probably spent all week working on their glittery flower costumes, and here I was with my tiny head poking out of a trash bag, being hand-picked to be on the telly.
I’m sure if I Mum had known then what we all know now about BBC disc jockeys in the 70’s and 80’s she might not have been so keen, but before I knew it, I was whisked off down a corridor to meet my teammates and get some instructions about the game we were to play.
It was just a stupid relay race where we had to pass an Easter egg along the line with our chins and flip some pancakes. I don’t really remember much about it, but my Dad videotaped the show so that my moment of fame has since been relived many times. I do remember not being able to burst a balloon with my feet because I was wearing my slippery black shoes.
We won our race against another boys team and got into the final puzzle round against ‘the girls’. What happened next was one of the worst injustices in the history of television. In what was clearly a blatant attempt to advance a radical feminist agenda, the female presenter proceeded to help ‘the girls’ defeat our team and win the grand prize. Just watch the video. It’s outrageous. In retrospect though, watching the girls receive some creepy kisses from the musical guests makes me think that maybe second place wasn’t too bad after all.
As soon as we got home we all watched and re-watched the video trying to see if anyone else got on camera. I think my brother’s left bunny ear appeared very briefly in a crowd shot, and Rhona and Katy could be seen in the background of a dance number, but there was no doubting who was the star.
I remember going into school at Springhill on the Monday morning and thinking that everyone would have seen it. Unfortunately only one boy had watched the show, and all he wanted to talk about was my balloon bursting failures. So I just had the piss taken out of me for a week. I love that I still have the video. Occasionally I will put it on for a laugh with friends. There is a moment when the presenter asks me my name and I say ‘Peter’, but of course I say it in a high-pitched little boy’s voice. Such an innocent wee lad.
At the time I really enjoyed the fact that I got on TV, but what made it even sweeter was that my little brother didn’t. Every single thing I did was a competition with him, and I hated losing. I was 18 months older than Andy which gave me a big advantage at most things, and I never grew tired of beating him. Like most brothers, we fought a lot, but we were also of similar enough age to be able to play together.
Our house in Barrhead had a really big fenced-in garden. There were three sections to it out the back. The left hand side was all flowers and plants, the middle had a really nice patch of grass with some roses that we would sometimes use as a putting green, and the right hand side was just grass with some trees lined down the far side in front of a big hedge. Two of the trees on that side were about 6 feet apart which made them perfect for goal posts. Our Dad found an old bit of steel mesh and propped it up behind the trees so it looked like a net, and we had ourselves our own little football pitch.
My brother Andy wasn’t very good playing outfield, but he was a great wee goalkeeper with no fear when it came to diving in at feet. Although I mostly played center-half for my boys’ club teams, I fancied myself as a striker, and together we created our own unique world of football in that garden.
We called it ‘The Game’. We would invent a tournament of real teams and then make a draw for say the British Cup. Then we would play Liverpool versus Celtic, or whoever, with each team having 5 chances each to score a goal. The teams would take turns but I would always be the one trying to score the goals, and Andy would always be the goalie. I would start each turn with the ball in the middle section of the garden, and then start a move by taking the ball around imaginary players, or pretending to do tricks, and then thwacking the ball as hard as I could at my wee brother in the goals. We took turns commentating on the plays and we recorded every result and the scorers from every game into a big folder.
We would play the British Cup, European Cup, Home Nations, and then the World Cup with qualifying rounds from every continent. We played matches featuring every team in the world. I remember that Mauritius somehow made it to the World Cup Final one year. Also Scotland tended to do quite well, and England often went out in the early rounds. We played The Game every year from early Spring to late Autumn, and we could only play it in our own garden. The Game was our own special fantasy world, and we never told anyone else about it.
Sometimes I go back to Barrhead now and I can peek through the hedge at the back of the garden at 2 Arthurlie Avenue, and see the hallowed turf that was home to many glorious goals and saves. The trees are much bigger now and the garden seems a lot much smaller than I remember. But when I think of my childhood, that’s the first place I think of. And it is a very happy place.
When Andy died in 1995, he was cremated so there was never a headstone or a graveyard for me to visit. But my Dad scattered some of Andy’s ashes between the goals there at our house in Barrhead. So when I’m back in Scotland, I always try and stop by the old garden and say hello. I still miss him.
It rains a lot in Scotland, which meant that we couldn’t always play outside in the garden. We played a lot of Subbuteo in the early 80s though – I was even in a Subbuteo league at one point – until we finally got a computer one Christmas.
It was the ZX Spectrum 48k with the rubber keys. We only had 3 decent games on cassette, Chequered Flag, Horace Goes Skiing, and Match Day that you had load via a tape recorder. I remember when Match Day 2 came out years later, and I thought we were living in the future. We must have played that game a thousand times.
There wasn’t much else to do as a kid in Barrhead in the mid-80s. There were only 4 TV channels too and most of it was shit.
I’d started to get into pop music a bit when I was about 8 or 9. Before I started buying music, I used to listen to the chart rundown on a Sunday night and make a tape of the songs I liked. The first album I ever bought was Queen – ‘Greatest Hits’, and the first single I ever bought was ‘Take on Me’ by A-ha. At about the time I bought the A-ha record, I remember reading about how a lot of the early Beatles’ singles were now quite valuable, and they were even more valuable if you had the complete collection. After I heard A-ha’s second single (‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’) I convinced myself that the Norwegian trio were going to be as big as The Beatles, and so I decided I was going to buy all of their singles and that I would get very rich by selling them when I was older.
To be fair, I could have picked a lot worse bands than A-ha. But they did have some terrible songs after those first two hits. And I bought them all.
Queen were my number one band. One of my most vivid musical memories was the day of Live Aid in July 1985. I would have been almost 10 years old at that time. We used to watch Top of the Pops every week on a Thursday night, but that was just bands miming to their hits in front of a studio audience of twats. Until Live Aid, I had never seen a band playing live to a stadium full of people.
I remember that Saturday afternoon of Live Aid, we were waiting for Queen to come on and we saw U2 for the first time. Somehow it felt like Bono jumped out of the TV into our living room in a way that no one else had done. It was amazing and ‘Bad’ is still one of my favorite songs of all time. But then Queen and Freddie Mercury came on and I was mesmerized.
There was one shot during Radio Ga-Ga where the cameraman got behind Freddie Mercury and you could see what he saw – thousands and thousands of people all looking up at him and clapping their hands in unison. That was the exact moment I fell in love with live music. As a 9-year-old kid, I’d never seen anything like it and it still gives me goosebumps.
That Saturday, we stayed up late to watch the finale of the Live Aid show from Wembley and Paul McCartney came on to sing ‘Let It Be’. But then his microphone failed and so we couldn’t hear him singing. McCartney didn’t realize either, and I remember being so upset that I was crying.
I never had a video of the concert so those images of Bono, Freddie Mercury and Paul McCartney have just been seared into my brain. I joined Barrhead library and I was able to borrow 6 records at a time for a month. It was mostly old 70’s albums but they had all the old Queen records like ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ and ‘A Night at the Opera’, and I became an even bigger fan of Queen after that.
Some happy memories of TV, football and music then. Life wasn’t too complicated. Looking back now, in some respects, everything has changed, but in other respects, nothing has changed at all.