Despite a long career working in the TV industry, I don’t watch that much TV these days. I used to watch loads and probably have a near encyclopedic knowledge of the medium from the mid 90s to about 2007. I also know lots about old stuff; years of producing archive based shows has made me quite a connoisseur of TV from the 70s and even before.
These days I’m too busy ranting online, attending political meetings or just looking after the kids to watch that much TV. I can just about bring myself to tune in for the odd episode of Newsnight or Question Time and find myself shouting at the telly like a mad person. It brings out the worst in me.
Anyway. For once, I am genuinely excited about a programme that will be on ITV (yes, ITV) on Monday at 9pm. It’s called 56 Up and is the latest installment in a series of documentaries following a series of people who were seven back in 1963 ( the first episode was broadcast in May 1964). The idea is simple: make a new film every seven years to see what has happened to the characters featured in the original show.
Here’s an article from The Guardian explaining the concept of the show:
I teach a summer school for the Chinese at the University of Westminster about reality TV and always mention the series. It is genuinely groundbreaking; one of the first great TV formats and seen as a forerunner for everything from Wife Swap to Big Brother.
I fell in love with the show as a teenager – I guess I must have watched 28 Up back in the early 80s. I remember being fascinated by the black and white footage of the 60s original and being intrigued to find out what had become of the original group, selected to represent different strata of British society.
Basically 7Up was about class; we met very posh and very poor people and a couple of people who sort of represented the middle classes. It was very male dominated – reflecting perhaps a world untouched by the concerns of feminism. Producer Michael Apted
(who began his career as a researcher on the series) feels that the major weakness of 7Up is the lack of female characters (only a tiny minority of the group were female).
Anyway, enough of my wittering. Here’s a clip of this truly brilliant programme.
I love the voiceover (in clipped 1960s RP): “the shop steward and the executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old”.
To a modern ear this sounds dissonant; we love our executives and pay them extraordinary sums of money. However, the very words “shop steward” sound quaint and remote – like “hand loom weaver” or “punch card operator”.
Times have changed – and not necessarily for the better. Yes, we have more exciting gadgets and on the surface society is more fluid. But wages have been going down – relative to the cost of living – for all but the most highly paid since 1979. We may laugh at the clothes and the accents of our 1960s children, but this was a time when people were at least trying to create a more equal society. We can mock the social experiments of the Sixties – from comprehensive schools to slum clearance programmes that resulted in sprawling concrete housing estates
but even if the results were not perfect, the intentions were good. Where are today’s dreamers?
Enough of this mawkish nostalgia for an era in which I was little more than a twinkle in my parents’ eyes.
I guess the reason that 56Up and the original 7Up progammes hold such fascination for me this time round is that child no.1 is due to turn seven at the end of the month.
Seeing a group of seven year olds – even from nearly 50 years ago – brings a lump to my throat as I have one of my own.
I’m curious to know where my seven year-old would have been placed in the class hierarchy of the original. He attends a regular state school and loves all the things that fairly ordinary seven year old children love: video games, sweets, going to the park with his friends and Britain’s Got Talent.
My goodness does he LOVE Britain’s Got Talent – just as I loved The Generation Game back in the 70s (Larry not Brucie if you please…)
If there’s a light entertainment gene, then he’s inherited it.
But then my seven year old is also the son of an over-educated middle class ponce (me). As a qualified teacher, I can navigate my way through the minefields of the National Curriculum and understand that the school’s obsessions are as much about pleasing Ofsted as they are anything else. We own our own home and our household income allows us to take certain things for granted. My husband’s genius for all things IT related means that my son has grown up in an environment where technology is just part of the furniture. In other words, he may not be destined for Eton,
but has some very tangible advantages.
What will the world be like when he’s 56?
The pessimistic tinfoil hat side of me fears that we will be plunged into some kind of neo-feudal dystopia, where all but the super rich will exist in a state of abject squalor.
The more optimistic side believes that the world will change and that things will actually get better (and not in the Tony Blair/D:Ream sense).
If the French can say NON to austerity, then maybe the tide is turning….