Saturday, August 22, 2009

Views Of The '70s Part 2 - Klackers, Racism, The Cambridge Rapist, Frisbees, Digital Watches And Maxi Skirts...

No videos of TV series, but books based on them instead - Upstairs Downstairs, the '70s answer to the '60s Forsyte Saga, was hugely popular both on TV and in book form.

In the second part of our "Views Of The '70s" series, Christine, who is now fifty-one, looks at life in the decade for a young working class woman...

It's odd what's written about the '70s and I know a lot of it is not true. Firstly, the '70s were not a time of dazzling new technology, that was the '80s - and a lot of it was clunky and unaffordable even in the '80s!

The '70s, for me, was the last non-technological decade. We had the TV, of course, and although colour had come out in 1967, my family had black and white in the '70s. The licence was a lot cheaper, and we couldn't afford to buy or rent colour.

New technology in the 1970s was things like calculators and digital watches. I never had a calculator, I didn't know anybody who did, but digital watches from around the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s were objects of desire. There were several boys I knew flashing them around - it was hinted some of them had "fallen off the back of a lorry", and they weren't very reliable. I remember one lad showing me his digital watch, proud as punch, "Look at this!" and I looked, and the face was blank!

"Battery must've gone!" he said.

"But you've only just got it!" I laughed.

Nobody I knew could afford a video recorder - and we never dreamt of having one. They came home to roost in the 1980s.

TV games systems, computers, all that kind of thing did not get going until the 1980s.

But that's a reason why I have fond memories of the '70s - because we led much simpler lives. Mind you, I have fond memories of the '80s too, because technology from that decade now seems so funny.

I left school in 1974, and the sort of things I'd amused myself with as a kid were things like colouring books and Spirograph - a '60s game that was huge in the '70s. I loved it dearly.

And there were klackers - a huge craze in the early '70s. I don't know why now. As I say, simpler times!

Kids were not really innocent in the 1970s. I remember even little girls, under elevens, singing one of the favourite rhymes of the time: "Ooh, Ah, I Lost My Bra, I Left My Knickers In My Boyfriend's car!"


I didn't like pop groups like Led Zeppelin - they seemed a bit of a '60s hangover, and nobody round my way wanted to be thought a hippie. That was '60s - dead and gone, as far as we were concerned. We did wear flares, the bigger the better, but not because of their '60s hippie roots. They were just a great fashion. There was a lot of snobbery surrounding groups like Led Zeppelin. I knew a girl who was into them and she was really up herself - and lived in a nice, semi detached house in a nice avenue!

Listening to the charts on Radio 1 and watching Top Of The Pops were our weekly doses of the pop scene. And you could get pop magazines, Donny Osmond posters, etc. There was one magazine called 45 and it had all the words of the latest songs in it. I used to get that, because it was sometimes hard to hear what people were singing on our decrepit old record player and radio!

My favourite pop star was David Essex. He seemed gentle and had the most wonderful eyes. I also liked Gilbert O'Sullivan. I liked my pop to be fun and/or gentle. Noddy Holder had a mouth like a barn door, and seemed like an overgrown schoolboy. Little Willy won't go home! How I wished Noddy would bog off!

I think people were getting very cynical back then, they were hard times, and people talked about the '70s being a "hangover decade" - the '70s were paying for the '60s party. But, cynical or not, in the '70s, and in the '80s too, we'd still cry over schmaltzy rubbish. I wept buckets over Terry Jacks's Seasons In The Sun...

"It's hard to die when all the birds are singing in the sky..." Still makes me tearful!

There was well over a million unemployed, and when I left school I worried about getting work. My step-mother thought I should join up! She took me to the Army Centre in Cambridge - almost frog-marched me there! They had a chat, my step-mum was pretty determined, but I didn't want to go in and it didn't work out.

I had three crumby jobs - the first was making and packing hand-made jewelry - £10 a week - for a 40 hour week! You could not live on £10 a week even then, no way! I got laid off from there, and went to Cambridge to find work. It wasn't easy, even there. I went to the Citizens Advice Bureau, who gave me addresses to help find jobs and accommodation.

I finally got a job with Cambridge University in the Metallurgy Department. The pay wasn't great, but it was liveable. The Cambridge Rapist was on the loose... Terrifying! This man wore a black balaclava-type mask, with "RAPIST" written on it when he was on the prowl... and he was absolutely for real.

I got a ground floor bedsit with mice in it and an old sash window without a lock! I was so frightened because of the rapist. I imagined waking up to find him in my room. I screwed the window frames together, and got into trouble with the landlord about it for damaging his property - he didn't seem to give a damn about my safety!

I loved the arrival of Disco music, but didn't like Punk. A friend of mine said she thought Johnny Rotten was sweet. That was the '70s!

Toys for kids were still things like colouring books and Plasticine, and, around 1976, the Frisbee came over from America and was a huge craze.

The '70s were not a decade to be timid in, and I think I was timid! I wore glasses and was picked on at school, and I remember in Cambridge one day during the heatwave of 1976, I was in the town centre when a gang of youths started following me, shouting terrible obscenities, and jostling me. It was a busy area of the town, but nobody came to my aid. In the end, I ran into the police station. The boys disappeared faster than light!

I got married in 1977 and, although it didn't last (I was divorced in the late 1980s), I was happy for some years.

Fashion in the '70s was funny. We were very influenced by the 1960s and it was a bit garish and yucky early on, but there were some nice things. I remember smock tops - which were lovely retro garments, and long dresses with puffed sleeves came back. Denim jean skirts were also popular. The mini and the maxi were both introduced in the '60s, of course, but after a while the maxi saw off the mini in the 1970s and maxis with black tights were very popular.

We didn't go abroad on holidays. I've read that foreign holidays became increasingly popular from the '60s onwards, but we couldn't afford that, and neither could anybody else we socialised with. And yet we had lovely holidays in England - and I still favour the South Downs or Yorkshire over any foreign destination I've visited.

With three TV channels, the box was far more of a shared experience and in the '60s, '70s and '80s, there were many fads and catchphrases. There was one ad, I think it was for Playtex, and it may have been late '60s, but in it a very posh woman said: "My girdle's killing me!" and we all went around saying it for ages. And the ad for Cadbury's fruit and nut chocolate, in the early '70s, "Everyone's a fruit and nut case", ended with a secretary saying: "Full stop, Sir?" and we all went round saying that, too...

Then there was Anchor Butter... the ad went: "If you want a better butter, there's no other name you'll utter, because Britain's better butter bears the Anchor sign!" Great. But we all ate margarine, because it was so much cheaper.

I remember the ad for McVities digestive biscuits - with a Welsh man being offered a cup of tea and saying: "It's too wet!" A drink was, apparently, too wet without a McVities digestive!

And the Muppet Show with the song "Ma Na A Na". Everybody was saying it. I remember saying to my insurance man when I opened the front door to him: "Ma Na A Na?" to which he replied: "Funny you should say that - Ma Na A Na!"

I don't think the '70s were really a golden age for TV. There was a lot of trash on, and I found the '80s rather better. More subversive. But Upstairs Downstairs was magic. When Lady Marjorie went down on the Titanic, I remember reading that one village went into mourning - although the action was set in 1912! Within These Walls was another classic and I adored George & Mildred.

I didn't like Love Thy Neighbour, because I found it crude and I did find the racist language hard to take. I know it was supposed to be designed to take the heat out of things, but I think it largely failed.

But I have to say that I don't think that the vast majority of English people were racists in the 1970s. In those days "English", "British", "Scottish" and "Welsh" may have meant white because, traditionally, that's what they were. Nowadays the traditional UK nationalities are not a colour, which is absolutely how it should be, because things have changed.

On the council estate where I lived, there were several black families in the 1960s, well before the '70s, and they were our friends and neighbours. There was racism, usually the odd bigoted white Alf Garnett type, or bored trouble making white youths, and occasionally trouble would come from a black person (I remember a black man calling a local woman "white trash" - there was a big uproar about it, but nobody lambasted him louder than his own wife, who was also black!), but in the main we all adapted and got on together.

We were all ground down - it was a sink estate before the phrase was coined - and in the '60s and '70s (when there was an influx of "Boat People" on to the estate) we had to get along. I think we were all basically united in poverty. It was a great bringer-together. Far better than the ridiculous PC moralising of the modern day.

And a lot of stuff on the Internet is so untrue.

People seemed a lot more honest in the '70s - a lot less hypocritical than today. I think the 1990s witnessed a huge rise in hypocrisy and people became smug and basically fooled themselves into thinking they were "nice" and "caring". In the '70s (and '80s, too, I believe) we didn't fool ourselves.

Given a choice between the 1990s and early 2000s and the '70s and '80s, I'd say, "give me the '70s and '80s any day!"

I miss the honesty.

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