Friday afternoons were regularly spent sitting in the television room of either Owen House or, when we were out in digs, the main college lounge, watching old, black and white films. We howled with laughter at lines such as, “Do you mind if I taste a bit salty?” from some film where a woman steps ashore off a storm-beaten boat to kiss her waiting husband. Most of the films were rubbish, but just occasionally there would be a genuine classic. One of these was “12 Angry Men” starring Henry Fonda. In it he plays the member of a jury who eventually succeeds in changing the minds of his fellow jurors as they discuss the apparently clear-cut murder case they have just heard. There isn’t much action but it is so clever in subtly developing each character in the room.
So, that’s what was going through my mind when I reported for Jury Service at Sheffield Crown Court, early in 1979. I would be Henry Fonda. Probably. I didn’t know anyone else who’d ever done Jury Service so the whole thing was new and fascinating. Luckily, I was selected (I didn’t even know you had to be selected – they probably thought I would be sympathetic, being so young) to be on the jury for two cases over the week. The first one was a bloke who’d been driving his lawn mower in the park where he worked and was feeling depressed. As you do, in a moment of madness and despair, he decided to drive the lawn mower out of the park and off down the M1 motorway to visit his sister in Leicester. However, he only got as far as Nottingham before he realised he’d made a mistake and went to give himself up at a police station. At first, the sergeant on duty didn’t believe him! Brilliant! Guilty as hell and completely bonkers.
The second case was far more meaty and, after three days, we were instructed by the judge to do the 12 Angry Men thing and go into a room to reach a unanimous verdict. Obviously, he didn’t actually say, “Go into a room and do the 12 Angry Men thing,” but that’s what he meant. Probably. To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of discussion, again the bloke was guilty as hell. It was a child abuse case involving teenagers which was a bit unsavoury, but it wasn’t that that was most remarkable. The best bit was when the man, who had opted to conduct his own defence (bonkers), claimed it was,”a disgrace that a direct descendent of Sir Thomas Moore should be treated in such a way by the police.” The judge looked over the top of his glasses and asked, “THE Sir Thomas Moore?”
“Yes, m’lud,” answered the defendant, basically rendering himself guilty! It was a great experience.
When I got back to college, I had a couple of days to prepare before going out on a five week teaching practice at Catterick Garrison. We had to travel on a mini-bus every day. I hated every minute of it, the only saving grace being that I got to hear “Heart of Glass” by Blondie on the mini-bus radio every morning. Just a mental picture of Debbie Harry would keep me going and I got through it unscathed.
When my second year at college was over, I went back to work at Ward’s brewery again for the holidays, doing pretty much the same as before but with a different set of temporary workers. One of them was a long haired hippie kind of bloke whom I really got on with. We shared similar tastes in music and would natter for hours. One morning he came and told me he’d been to The Limit club in Sheffield and seen a band called the B52’s. He described them as being a bit like Elvis Costello on his “This Year’s Model” album. I bought the B52’s album that weekend and almost everything about it was perfect – the minimal, bright yellow artwork, the tight, clean music with ridiculously random lyrics – even the instruction on the record label to “Play Loud”! I’d vaguely remembered “Rock Lobster” from the radio but my favourites were “Planet Claire” and particularly “Dance This Mess Around” featuring Kate Pierson’s vocals, shrieking, “I’m not no Limburger!” (I had no idea what she was on about) and then growling, “Don’t that make you feel a whole lot better?” It did. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the guitar pictured on the inner sleeve. It just wasn’t the right shape!