Despite still being in the early stages of our three-year project to digitise 5,000 at-risk recordings as part of the British Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, we’ve already had the pleasure of handling all manner of curious items – oral and social histories, speeches, recitals, broadcasts, music, conferences, debates – the list goes on and will continue to do so. But nothing so far has raised quite as many questions amongst the team as an unassuming cassette from our London Union of Youth Clubs collection entitled ‘NEW WAVE COOKERY FOR THE 90’S’.
What exactly is new wave cookery? With no information on the cassette itself, we’re forced to discern as much as we can from the accompanying J-card. An initial clue is provided by the cover image of an enormous band cranking out what must be quite a noisy ode to convenience, conducted rather improbably by a man in a chef’s hat and apron – all under the benevolent gaze of a giant overhead appliance. There probably isn’t much call for a chef in this brave and new wave world, so it’s gratifying to see this one being put to gainful alternate use.
Upon playing the cassette, further exposition is provided, rather breathlessly, by our two excitable hosts. It transpires that NEW WAVE COOKERY FOR THE 90’s’ is in fact ‘a brand-new competition where music and food mix to create lots of opportunities for you to join in the fun by challenging your culinary ingenuity’ and ‘microwave know-how’. Participants are then subjected to a relentless barrage of fifty questions on those twin lode-stars of any young person’s life: music and microwaves.
Those precocious enough to be able to name three types of bean, identify cracked wheat at 200 paces or laugh into their sleeves at the very idea of eating cake al dente were in with a strong chance. And let’s not play down the challenges involved – bear in mind this was long before the internet or smartphone technology came to provide such a wonderful aide-memoire when used surreptitiously under the table at a pub quiz (and you shouldn’t be in those kinds of places at your age anyway). Fittingly, the potential spoils were rich: top-ranking teams would be awarded a ‘free trip to London’ for the final, where the ultimate champions would take home a ‘STAR PRIZE’ of an Atari ST, £500 of software including ‘Music Studio’ and a ‘MAGNIFICENT OXO TROPHY’. A just reward for any youngster worldly enough to weigh up the relative merits of square versus oval cooking vessels and correctly identify the composers behind both The Marriage of Figaro and the theme tune from Neighbours.
Of course it takes more than general knowledge to snare yourselves a MAGNIFICENT TROPHY. The quiz on this cassette was only part one, with the second phase involving teams ‘devising a main meal recipe for cooking in a microwave oven, suitable for perhaps Tim Rice or Sam Cook’. While this is presumably intended to be play on celebrities with food-related names, the latter must surely be a reference to the legendary soul singer, which immediately throws a spanner in the works (something you must NEVER do with a microwave, incidentally): that particular Sam has a surname capped with a treacherous letter ‘e’, rendering the pun invalid. And even worse, at the estimated time of this cassette’s recording he’d already been dead for a quarter of a century. It is possible that the name refers to the cricketer Sam Cook who played for Gloucestershire between 1946-64, but we had to Google the name just to find that out and Googling simply wasn’t an option in the late 1980s. Even with a brand new Atari.
Sadly, at this point the trail runs dry, so it looks as if we may never know the answer to our Cook(e) conundrum. With no further information in the archive, an online search proving fruitless and Oxo responding to our enquiry with an apologetic shrug, we’re left with little but conjecture. What happened when the successful teams travelled to London to ‘devise’ their microwavable banquet? Did Tim and Sam ever break bread together (probably not, as bread is one of the few foodstuffs that benefits little from the microwaving process)? Who won that Atari computer music system? And was the trophy everything they could have hoped for?
So we’re appealing for anyone out there who might be able to shed some light on what actually transpired in those heady new-wave days of the late 1980s to get in touch. Were YOU a member of one of the participating youth clubs? Did YOU devise a sumptuous readymeal to be savoured by an award-winning lyricist, an elderly cricketing ace and/or a ghost? And how much ‘devising’ was actually involved – surely it’s just a question of pricking cellophane with a fork and then twiddling your thumbs for eight minutes? Please advise!
As for the rest of you, a short demonstration of an Atari ST running Music Studio, given by men with sports jackets and impeccable hair can be found below, about five minutes in. Short of an extended saxophone solo or a cameo by Michael J. Fox, this is absolutely peak 1980s:
Who would you invite to YOUR hypothetical celebrity microwave banquet? Michael Fish? Meat Loaf? Uncle Ben? And what would be on the menu? Feel free to get in touch with your answers – but don’t expect a trophy.