On this day, 26 July 1980: Speed
On this day, 26 July 1980 … ‘Three walls, no roof, an earthen floor, With nought behind and nought before … Except a pipe you cannot smoke, And weeds that make the culvert choke! See the iron running in, Behind the bricks – and now begin! Left of iron there’s the ground – Dig – and now the treasure’s found!’
A cryptic clue – not, as it may sound, from an episode of Ted Rogers’ exacting 3-2-1 Saturday night quiz show, but from Speed’s epic nationwide treasure hunt. In fact, it’s the final clue leading to the location of the secret, prize-winning code in Zone 1 (South-east England). I mentioned a few weeks ago that this treasure hunt, brainchild of imaginative Speed editor (and IPC veteran) Dave Hunt, offered a veritable bonanza of exciting prizes but had seemed far beyond the abilities of nine-year-old me or my family, and so I never even attempted to enter it. This is a shame because as I look back now – this issue collects all the clues from previous weeks – it might not have been as difficult as I assumed to discover any of the secret prize locations (it’s pretty clear from the Zone 1 clues that it’s somewhere in a parky area of Wimbledon – on the Common as it turned out). What really made the hunt difficult was the vast swathes of the countryside included in each of the six zones. I lived on what looks like the border of Zones 1 and 2, and the latter stretched from Holyhead to Clacton-on-Sea (the prize was later revealed – in the 4 October issue, see below – to be right in the middle of the country, on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire).
Still, it was an ambitious and original promotion and fun to read about even today, so respect to Mr Hunt for running the competition. There’s still more that I’d like to know about it. Who from IPC went travelling all over the country to bury the secret codes? Did they do it undercover of darkness? How many people actually tried to find the codes after the final clues were published? Were there swarms of kids out on the streets and the moors, as there seem to have been since Pokemon Go launched last week? I enjoyed the story of the Watts brothers who found the Zone 4 code in a ruined house near the Bronte Museum after seeing some other poor soul poking about at the spot but failing to find the prize.
The treasure hunt is a good example of what seems to have been a genuine desire to encourage kids to be active. The Speed Go-kart Grand Prix advertised below is further evidence of this (although, like the treasure hunt, could only have been participated in by readers living in or close to a certain geographical location - in this case Christchurch in Dorset), and the popular strip Speedboy could also be seen to be an attempt to inspire readers to put down their comic and go out and do something less boring instead. I don't think any of the other comics in the IPC range were quite so evangelical about this as Speed (some had their own missions: Look and Learn wanted us to improve our minds, Jinty wanted readers to do lots of crafts, Jackpot wanted us to enter loads of competitions, Action was keen for us to assault officers of the law and Cheeky wanted us all to be as annoying as hell), so good on them. It's a shame the comic didn't last longer.