Norwich isn’t just Partridge and mustard you know. It has a link with BLARG cars thanks to one of the biggest watched TV game shows of its era.
Mike Humble shares an ironic tome of a trip out to Norfolk’s capital…
Norwich – a fine City. Well, that’s what the road sign just beyond the Nottcutts Garden Centre on the A11 Newmarket Road declares anyway. I’m inclined to agree in all honesty, it’s the capital of East Anglia and county metropolis of Norfolk. Norwich has taken a fair share of light-hearted ribbing over the past years partly thanks to the Rover driving mentalist and King of the Norfolk airwaves: Alan Gordon Partridge, played by the incredibly talented petrolhead Steve Coogan. To digress for a moment, I met and chatted to Steve a couple of months ago, albeit briefly and in Birmingham… but that’s for another day.
Anyway, back to Norwich – as if I’d ever left it, I like the place very much. There’s a cracking market and more historic architecture than you can shake a stick at. Also, it’s half an hour from the seaside, Jarrolds department store on London Street serves the best tea and carrot cake ‘er indoors has ever sampled in their ground floor cafe. Also, when wandering in the centre, there’s a feeling in the air that back in Victorian times this city was of great importance… of which it was. So it’s fair to say that I don’t need much of an excuse to accept a nice meander eastwards to Norwich, I just adore the endless lanes and back streets that are simply chock-a-block of those quaint little arty farty hole-in-the-wall shops.
But for those who are slightly older, this city conjures up memories of being the centre of the universe for TV game shows. From 1971 to 1983 one of the biggest audience pullers on ITV was Sale of the Century and I’m sure many of you will remember the smooth voice of John Benson announcing proudly: “And now, from Norwich… it’s the quiz of the week.” If anyone in our house so much as made a peep during this quick fire quiz, you were most certainly running the risk of getting a clip round the ear from my mam. I remember with a fond smile at how impatient, rude and patronising Nicholas Parsons could be with the contestants as the game sped up towards the end – woe betide if they dared to ponder or dither whilst giving an answer, though he was only trying to cram as may questions in to boost the chances of the players of getting the highest possible score.
The synopsis for the younger reader was a simple one. You were asked questions for points, which equalled money, with the ultimate goal of having £140 or more at the end. This gave the lucky winner a chance to win a top prize, which more often than not in later episodes tended to be a Mini or Mini Metro. But your chances would be hampered by the temptation of the end of round instant sale. For example, a music centre normally worth £350 could be on offer for £35 or a pair of his and hers touring bikes worth £295 all yours for just £20. Trust me, this was really heady stuff on the box back then but a quick click here finds it cringingly bad, hilariously old-fashioned and embarrassingly naff today – but I loved it!
Funnily enough and a bit more recently, I was in contact with former Anglia TV personality and news reader Helen McDermot (Aunty Helen as she was known to many viewers back then). She told me that, towards the end of the Eighties, Anglia TV was so old-fashioned and stuffy before their corporate re-branding that key figures within and presenters for the company used to jokingly call their employer “Angina Television“. But anyway… I’m digressing from the story once again.
Getting back to the point, it’s not usual practice to deliver vehicles afar from a salesman’s point of view – it’s time that could be better spent in the showroom doing other things more productively. We had sold a few vans to a business in Norwich by tender, and owing to the fact it was during a quiet period, I offered to run one of the vehicles over to the customer. The gig also required us all squeezing into a part-exchange vehicle we took off them as part of the deal and driving it back. We had a sales manager who was on my wavelength for nostalgic whimsies so we had a laugh about going to Norwich to conclude the “deal of the week” and then humming the SoTC theme tune, with the younger lads having no idea what we were prattling on about.
The Convoy of LDV Convoys – honestly, dear reader – made its way eastwards and in a couple of hours we arrived at the premises of Fitt Signs of Pitt Street Norwich. We were buzzed into the reception area and waited for one of the buying managers to come downstairs. I stood there looking at some of the sample Perspex and glass illuminated signs made for local and national businesses adorning the walls. The man appeared and back outside we went as he checked the vehicles over and signed the paperwork. I was still whistling the SoTC ditty quietly to myself while waiting for his satisfactory moniker and upon hearing my faint trills he smiled. He remarked it was a tune he had not heard in years and beckoned me back inside.
We walked back through the reception area and down a dark corridor that lead towards the actual factory and, upon spotting it, I almost laughed out loud at the vision before my eyes. A switch was flicked at the wall socket and lighting up in huge resplendent red neon letters over the top of a theatrical red velour blackout curtain, the words Sale of the Century flickered and blinked into life. It transpired that they did quite a lot of signage work for Anglia TV back in the 1980s, including all the corporate re-branding of the offices and studio’s from the Knight on the Horse era, into the later wavering triangular flag logo that readers who receive ITV Anglia on button number three may recall.
This large neon attraction formerly lived at the Anglia TV HQ buildings located at the top of the road known as “Agricultural Hall Plain” on the fringe of Norwich city centre, and was used as part of the studio furniture during the shows filming. I was told it was originally blue, then changed to a deep red soon after, but once the series was killed off, the makers took it back to display in their reception area. Owing to the fact the last series was broadcast in 1983, it was deemed as ‘not current enough’ for promotional purposes. I was subsequently told that, and I quote; “no-one had the heart to throw it in the skip” so it was demoted away from front-line duties. What is a shame though is the fact my mobile ‘phone back then did not feature a camera.
That’s it from me for 2014. Happy New Year to you all from myself and everyone at AROnline.