Allova Din & His Wonderful Gamp (1984)

Local Interest, Vintage Technology
Many, many moons ago, my father John Vickerstaff worked as an electrician at St Edward’s Hospital in Cheddleton. An old Asylum with the most gigantic dance hall and stage you could imagine.

Each year around Christmas time the staff would put on a ‘show’ for the patients, other staff and general public. They were variety shows of the kind you would see on the TV at the time. Live from the London Palladium and so on. Comprising musicians, dancers, singers, choirs, barber’s shop quartets and as my father once described, “anyone who could bang two spoons together.”

These shows were very popular and were extremely well supported by the hospital staff and paying public.

In 1984 though, my dad became a little more hands on with the production, wearing the co-producer’s hat along with hospital colleague Peter Dodds, having previously looked after the lighting and technical stuff. This time, rather than put on another variety show the decision was made to ‘have a go at a pantomime.’

It was felt that a full-on pantomime would be a little much to begin with, mostly I think because no one really fancied learning loads of lines! Instead a compromise was found. Samuel French, the publishers had a number of one-act pantomimes which were written entirely in rhyme. Only around an hour in length, with dialogue much easier to learn.

Dad consciously steered away from what he called ‘regular pantomimes’ and always gravitated towards the more unusual or off-the-wall ones. So for St Edward’s Hospital’s first foray into the world of rhyming panto, they chose to put on, ‘Allova Din & His Wonderful Gamp.’

A parody of Aladdin, as you could probably guess!

My mum took a major role in this show along with many family friends and staff at the hospital. Hospital legend Johnny Brough took the villains role which he did several more times over the coming years, becoming one of the best panto villains around.

I video recorded the final performance on our portable VHS recorder and Sony colour video camera. I was ten years old.

Allova Din was an enormous success! As soon as the final curtain came down my dad was asked, ‘what are we doing next year John?’

And so began a run of Pantomimes at the hospital, helmed by my dad.

From memory…

Allova Din, 

Cinderalfred, 

Humpty Dumpty,

Santa In Space, 

Little Miss Muffet and 

Goldilocks and The Three Bears.

I’ve started transfer these old tape recordings to my PC before the VHS cassettes fall apart completely. I’ve uploaded Allova Din to Odysee and the link to view it is below.

Allova Din & His Wonderful Gamp

VHS Video Transfer – Pinocchio – West Street School – 1983

Technology, Vintage Technology

Recently I’ve had an old S-VHS Video Recorder cleaned and serviced by local TV and Hi-Fi shop Smith Bainbridge and Wardle here in Leek. The Recorder wasn’t faulty, it did still work but it had not been switched on and operated properly for a number of years and my intention is to use it to transfer some old VHS tapes onto my computer. I didn’t want to risk feeding it an irreplaceable old tape and watch while it chewed it up. So a thorough clean and new drive belts were in order.

Once the unit was back with me I hooked it up to my PC using a video capture interface. This is a small grey box with connections for the video recorder and a special ‘Firewire’ interface to connect to the PC. This unit converts the analogue picture and audio from the VHS machine and converts it into a digital format which can then be ‘captured’ by the PC and saved to the hard disk as a movie file.

It’s a fairly simple process, but is a little long winded. The video recorder must play back the tape in real time so if a whole tape is to be transferred it can take a few hours. VHS tapes had a run time of typically 2 or 3 hours in Standard Play mode, but some could manage 4. Double that if Long Play was used.

My focus here was a video tape from 1983. It was of the kids from The Mount Methodist Primary School, or West Street School as it was more commonly known in Leek. The year the school closed. This was the final production the school put on. Pinocchio. I was in it in the title role and the show was filmed by my late father John.

 

Video recorders were not very prevalent back in 1983. My father had bought one though. He’d opted for a VHS model rather than the more expensive Betamax. He specifically bought a portable model, though portable is probably not how we would describe it today. Ours was a Ferguson Videostar. A video recording system comprising two parts. A television tuner on top of which sat the VHS recorder. With a suitable battery installed in the top unit, it could be removed from the tuner and used as a separate recorder. It was used mostly with a colour video camera.

The colour camera my father chose was a pretty robust model from Sony. In fact there were not very many home user colour video cameras around back then. Almost all the others were black and white. The Sony was an early colour model. The HVC-3000P was a shoulder camera which was the standard format back then. Colour cameras were large beasts and were camera’s only; that is, they didn’t have recording capability. The camera needed to be connected to a separate recorder. Eventually the two units would be combined and the Camcorder would arrive. But not yet. The Sony was intended to be hooked up to a portable Betamax recorder but with the correct cable adapter we used it with our VHS model instead.

The VHS recorder is sadly long gone, but I do still have the Sony camera in full working order.

I still have some sound equipment which will only work on Windows 7, so I still have a computer running it. This is also my video capture computer. It has a firewire interface fitted to which my Terratec capture device is connected, the video recorder into that. Windows Movie Maker captures the video and once stored on Hard Disk, can be edited just like any other digital video.

It has been a considerable number of years since I have watched this recording and I had forgotten how much trouble my parents went to, to make the video look a little special for the kids. Right at the beginning they added a title sequence. I remember dad made a mirror ball for it. If memory serves it was the float from a toilet with small pieces of mirror cemented all over the surface. The ball was connected to a small electric motor which turned it very slowly. Suspended behind the mirror ball was a small white sheet, as a background. In front of the mirror ball was a small pane of glass. The black text that appears during the focus pull was stick on to the glass. The old rub-down lettering, Lettraset it might have been called? This was all done on the kitchen table in our old house on Picton Street.

Right at the very end of the video my parents added all the cast names from the program as a sort of TV rolling credit. Back then there were no sophisticated computer systems available to do snazzy video effects. The BBC of course began to use the BBC Micro for some text and titling effects, but we didn’t have a BBC Micro at that time. Our home micro then was a Tandy TRS-80. A very much simpler and less powerful micro than the beeb and one which didn’t even have lower case characters. The micro only had CAPITAL LETTERS.

The rolling credits here were done the old fashioned way. A couple of sheets of A4 paper were taped together to make one long sheet. My mother typed  up all the names from the program on a typewriter loaded with this long sheet of paper. When done, the camera was set and the page was slowly wound up around a kitchen towel holder we had on the kitchen wall, giving the appearance of scrolling titles. The large THE END was done using the same rub-down lettering as the opening titles.

To keep the video looking as authentic as possible I did the most basic of editing adjustments. Firstly I cut out the small amounts of picture jitter that were present when the video recorder was paused during recording. Right at the beginning, the interval and when the performance ended and again when the titles were added. I also boosted the colour saturation a little and increased the contrast to make the video look a little better on modern day flat screens.

Pinocchio The Movie has been uploaded to Youtube. If you would like to see what 1980’s video technology looked like and what the kids of the 80’s did for school productions, be my guest and take a peek!

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Light. A new game for the BBC Micro

8-bit

White Light – A review
Retro Software www.retrosoftware.co.uk

In the dim and distant past my parents bought a BBC B, a Sanyo colour monitor, 80 track disk drive and an Epson RX80 F/T printer. Cost a small fortune as you can imagine. Over the next several years I saved my pocket money, Christmas and birthday cash and spent it mostly on software, slowly gathering quite a collection. Predictably, since I was a teenage boy, most of this software were games, despite my father declaring,
”This computer is not a games machine!”
I begged to differ of course. I was always more a fan of action games than adventures, though Twin Kingdon Valley  I especially enjoyed playing. Standout games for me were Arcadians, Planetoid, Thrust, The Sentinel, Psycastria, Elite, Exile and Fire Track.

Now, some three decades on my old BBC B and everything which went with it is long gone. Sacrificed on the altar of IBM PC compatibility. I’m married now with two children, the oldest, just a little younger than I was when I had my first beeb. Over the years I have managed to pick up the odd replacement along the way, to revisit the old kit and these days I have a Master Turbo, a BBC B+ 64 (which came free with my wife) and my most
recent addition, A Master Compact on which I’m writing these words. It still surprises me how much interest there is in these old 8-bit computers. There are forums and Facebook groups dedicated to Acorn kit all over the Internet and support and advice is only a message post away. All that said, I was amazed that new software is still being produced.
Games especially.

So, what is White Light?
White Light is a brand new game from Retro Software.

Photo 08-12-2017, 16 36 23It will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played Fire Track, Nick Pellings’ almost legendary scrolling space shooter, one of my favourite games back in the day and one of the reasons I grabbed a copy of this. In fact White Light is pitched as an unofficial sequel. Here the title refers to the Galaxy’s greatest energy source. It’s been stolen by the Industrial Pirates and you must find it and destroy the pirates.

 

The game takes place on a beautifully detailed industrial themed scrolling landscape. You control your ship with the usual keys, z, x, *, ? and RETURN. Though the SHIFT key is a very useful bomb button when you find yourself in a tight spot. It destroys everything on the screen. Use them sparingly, you don’t have many. You can redefine the keys if you prefer and there is a joystick option should you wish. I was always more of a keyboard gamer so the default keys suit me fine. Hitting SPACE or fire on your joystick starts the game. Your main focus is to shoot the approaching ships before they shoot you first or just simply crash into you. They follow some familiar flight paths to Fire Track but there are also some differences. There are targets to shoot along the landscape as you go for extra points and a handy laser-upgrading power up is available to do extra damage. Graphical attention to detail is impressive. The background scrolling and star field are silky smooth and unlike Fire Track you can’t see through the landscape when you blow up one of the surface features. A minor criticism of the afore mentioned game I seem to recall. Nor does your ship’s gun  continuously fire, I never saw the point in that. White Light features some nice touches such as a high score table, which if you write-enable the disc allows it to be saved, and keeping your weapons power-ups when you move up to the next level.

It’s obvious from just a few minutes playing this game that a lot of care and effort has been put into its creation. A project taking several years to complete, producing a very polished game.

So what might a child of the Playstation era think of a game like this running on one of Dad’s curious old computers? Photo 09-12-2017, 21 24 42
My eldest Tom has played a few beeb games before, his current favourite being Kevin Edwards’ Crazee Rider, the first game I bought with extra graphics and music on the Master 128.
After a few goes, slowly getting the hang of the controls, Tom’s verdict was,
”This game is hard. But in a good way!”

Whenever the Compact is switched on, he keeps going back to it.

In Summary
White Light is a high quality product. Superbly programmed by Sarah Walker with detailed graphics by John Blythe. I’ve no doubt this would have been a big hit back in the day. Game play is wonderful, getting steadily more challenging as the levels progress, rather than being way too easy or astonishingly difficult. Zarch on the Archimedes fell squarely in the latter category! The game music is wonderfully atmospheric. Though the sound chip in the Beeb is no SID chip it does have a charm of its own and this release uses it most effectively. The packaging is professionally produced and fits in nicely on the shelf with the games of old. If you still run a BBC B or a Master and enjoy a spot of gaming then make White Light a part of your collection. It’s brilliant to see software development still happening on the BBC; a computer so far beyond its designed operating lifetime, and that deserves to be applauded and supported. Fine work Retro Software. Very fine work indeed.

White Light is available from www.retrosoftware.co.uk on 5.25” & 3.5” floppy disc for use on real BBC Micro’s, Masters and Master Compacts and a download has also been made available to run on a Beeb Emulator.

 

Incidentally, if you’re wondering how I got these words from a 30 year old computer onto a modern blog page here’s how I did it.

  • Bashed words into the Master Compact using Acornsoft’s View  word processor.
  • Saved the file as a plain text or ASCII file to a 3.5” floppy disc using
    View’s ‘WRITE’ command.
  • Read floppy disc in my Acorn RiscPC and import ASCII file into the Easi
    Writer
    word processor.
  • Tweak the formatting then save the file as a Microsoft Word document to an MS-DOS formatted floppy disc.
  • Read the floppy in to Word on a Windows PC and upload to blog site.

A bit of a convoluted process I’ll admit. Next time I’ll hook up my BBC to PC serial cable and squirt the text directly across to the PC and straight into a word processor.

Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO)

drone, Film Making, Photography, Technology

I should’ve spent last week in Scotland. With my family. Camping. But I couldn’t go with them. You see, the date for my SUA (Small Unmanned Aircraft) or Drone Flight Test came through, in the middle of the week. I had to make my apologies and let them head north without me.

I bought my Drone, a DJI Phantom 4 Pro towards the end of last year with the intention of using it to earn some money. Aerial photography, Surveying, Film making and so on. To remain ‘legal’ while undertaking paid work a PfCO or Permission for Commercial Operations license must be granted by the CAA. To obtain this license it is necessary to complete a course, short exam and flight test.

The course was quite an in-depth 2-day affair earlier in the year. It covered the Air Law relevant to Small Unmanned Aircraft and how to operate them safely. Once I completed the course and passed the test, I had an Operations Manual to complete and submit. This details how I will manage and operate the aircraft. Risk Assessments, Flight Planning, Insurance, keeping an accurate maintenance log of the aircraft and batteries, and so on.

The Ops manual was signed off after surprising few revisions and then it was on to the flight test. The date of which turned out to be mid week on my holiday…

To say I was nervous about it would be an enormous understatement. My test was originally booked at 4pm in a nice farmers field in Knutsford, but as the days rolled towards test day, my time advanced to 12pm. Then when I checked the weather the evening before there was a 90% chance of rain. I contacted the test centre and they said everyone else on the test had cancelled due to weather. If I wanted to go for 9am I could wait for a gap in the weather.

So that’s what I did.

I arrived at 9am to an overcast but dry sky. Had a briefing with my examiner, then was directed to perform a sequence of manoeuvres, carefully and controlled and a bit like a driving test, execute an emergency procedure. At the end of the flight test land the aircraft safely.

With a quick handshake I was told I’d passed. It turned out not to be as terrifying an experience as I’d imagined. Once packed away it was up the motorway to join my family in Scotland. I made it in time for tea and a quick over a deserted coastline!

DJI_0002

How Not To Work & Claim Benefits…

Film Making, Local Interest, Sound Recording

Had some really good news!

A few years ago I got involved with a local production team, Rotten Park Road,  about to start work making a feature film. Made entirely in Leek. It took a week to shoot and many many months in post production. I recorded all the dialogue, so yes I was the guy with the Mic on a long pole. I also had a couple of small cameos…

Once finally finished the film was touted around the film festivals and was picked up by LA based media firm Adler & Associates Entertainment

After finding our the hard way what ‘film deliverables’ are; a blog post for another time I think, we did some technical tweaking to meet requirements and Adler informed us of a likely sale to a ‘video on demand service.’

Well the news is  ‘How Not To Work And Claim Benefits & Other Useful Information For Wasters’ is now available to rent and buy on Amazon Video!

To say we’re quite pleased about this would be a monumental understatement!

At the time of writing this the movie has had some wonderful reviews. Thank you to all who’ve been so supportive of it!

While we were shooting it. I managed to grab a few behind the scenes photos…

IMG_0666

We had access to a brilliant location right in the centre of Leek. The upper floors had been disused for quite sometime so they were almost perfect for our use. Being able to pretty much ‘do as you please’ with the rooms meant we could dress the place just as we wanted.

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Many of the interior scenes in the movie were shot in different rooms in the same location.  We mostly just moved between rooms next door, or down the corridor. Probably the most convenient movie set ever.

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Here we’re getting ready to shoot the pub scene. I can’t quite remember why Matt or DOP was filming two of our crew through a banana box.

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An actual real pub this time, for an actual real drink.

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Pat with Pip lining up a through-the-window shot.

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Pip playing with the big toys. Grabbing a few shots.

All photographs taken by me.

A little more on the Fly Tipping…

Breaking News, Local Interest, Photography

A recycling centre a few miles away in Stoke on Trent went up in flames over the weekend. The local press are referring to it as ‘an illegal recycling centre’ presumably they were unlicensed to handle the waste. Anyway, in what appears to be a massive co-incidence, the fly tipping site I flew my drone over on Saturday afternoon was set alight last night, around 11:15pm according to locals.

This photograph to took with my Phantom 4 drone may very well be the last photograph of the site before it was torched.

DCIM\100MEDIA\DJI_0011.JPG

Biddulph Valley Way – Fly Tipping

Local Interest, Photography

Earlier this week a local news story broke of Fly Tipping in a part of the Staffordshire Moorlands not too far away from where I live. The story ran on BBC Radio Stoke

Here’s the area on Google Maps.

Fly Tipping - Biddulph Valley Way

This photo on Google Maps will be a few years old, so the rubbish can’t be seen here. If you notice where the four long containers are situated in the oblong patch of ground. Those containers are no longer there but last week that whole area was filled with rubbish. Not just a few bin bags or an old discarded sofa but piles of rubbish, all baled neatly into cubes for transportation. So seemingly industrial rubbish rather than household.

Since the site is only about 15 minutes drive from where I live I popped over there with my Son to have a look. I took my drone with me to get some aerial shots of the site. I don’t know the area especially well and the site took a little bit of finding. A helpful local older gentleman gave me directions that it was opposite a pub. It seems the pub isn’t a pub anymore so I missed the turning! Two very nice walkers actually stopped at the turning for me and waved me in while I brought the car around. I was very grateful.

DJI_0009

This was the first photograph I took when I put the drone in the air. As you can see the piles of rubbish are now safely contained within the yellow fencing. In the past few days there has been a lot of activity on the site. You can see from the fresh tire treads. I also shot a short video of the area.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbytmJOifIk

The cyclist you see come into shot stopped for a few minutes for a chat. He lives in the area and was amazed that all that amount of refuse could be left there without anyone noticing. He suggested that it would be gone in the next few days as the local authority would want it dealt with before the BBC come back for the follow up story.