The fact that someone calling himself a historian is presenting a series about the 1980s (Britain in the 1980s, to be more precise) is possibly one of the most depressing things that has ever happened in the entire history of the universe. I mean, how can the 1980s possibly be classed as history? My head’s still in the 1980s half the time, and my music collection will never get out of the 1980s. Oh well, time for a nostalgia fest, I thought. Unfortunately, this was rather disappointing. Maybe it was because this episode covered the years from 1980 to 1983 and “my” era’s the late 1980s, but I just thought it could have been a lot better, and that Dominic Sandbrook’s arguments didn’t really work. Hands up everyone who thinks that the two greatest icons of the 1980s were Delia Smith and Steve Davis? Er, no, me neither, with all due respect to them both
The programme started off by saying that the 1980s weren’t created by Margaret Thatcher but by the British people, and that Margaret Thatcher just responded to the forces of society. That was an interesting and a reasonable argument, but I’m really not convinced that breakfast TV had more to do with the result of the 1983 General Election than the Falklands War did! It was fun to look back on how exciting breakfast TV was when it first started, though. And all the fuss when Channel 4 got going. It was a Tuesday night, at about ¼ to 5, IIRC – what a stupid time to pick!
Its main themes were then supposed to be how the ’80s were all about domesticity, as epitomised by Delia Smith, and aspiration, as epitomised by Steve Davis. Er, what?! Like most people, I used to watch a lot of snooker in the 1980s, but I can’t say that I ever thought of Steve Davis as the symbol of aspiration, or snooker as symbolising the new emphasis on individualism rather than community. I think that argument was pushing it more than a bit! And do you really associate the ’80s with domesticity? He went on a lot about microwaves. Do not ask me why I remember this, but we got our first microwave during the British Open. I’ve always vaguely associated microwaves with Tom Watson (the golfer, not the Labour politician) because of that! But surely microwaves were about spending less time in the kitchen, not more?
Then he claimed that there was a load of political controversy over the New Romantics. Was there?! I’m actually being earwormed by a New Romantic song today – Rio, by Duran Duran. Yes, yes, I know that it’s not actually about Rio de Janeiro and has no relevance to the Olympics, but it’s stuck in my head! And the video that went with it is supposed to epitomise all the excess of the ’80s, but I still can’t say that I really associate the New Romantics with politics. Maybe it’s just me. A better point was the one about how many of the top ’80s bands came from areas affected by deindustrialisation. This was about the early ’80s so it didn’t get on to the whole “Madchester” thing, but you had the Human League from Sheffield, Duran Duran from Birmingham, etc … although a lot of the top groups of the early ’80s were from London, so maybe that argument didn’t really hold water either! And a bit more talk about deindustrialisation and a bit less about shopping centres would have been welcome.
What else did we get? The importance of image and advertising. OK, fair enough. I’m not sure that the opening of Next shops was really the greatest symbol of the changing image of women in the 1980s, but anyway! Football hooliganism. Yes, all right, it happened, but was there any need to be so negative? Could he not also have mentioned how successful English clubs were in Europe in the decade before the ban? And Austin Metros. And Brookside.
He talked a lot about Brookside. The argument was that it reflected the ’80s because it was about people who’d all rather randomly ended up living in Brookside Close and all came from somewhere else, rather than Coronation Street which was about a cosy community with roots, and how it covered so many of the social problems of the early ’80s. Those were all valid points, but they seemed to contradict rather than support what he’d said about domesticity and aspiration.
And where, in the middle of all this, was the most iconic moment of the early 1980s? All right, it didn’t have much to do with the lives of ordinary people, and sadly we all know how it ended, but how can you do a programme about Britain in the early 1980s and not talk about Charles and Diana’s wedding? That was definitely rather weird. Oh well.
The main argument of this was probably that the 1980s weren’t all about Margaret Thatcher. But I never thought they were. But I’m really not convinced that they were about Delia Smith either! A bit less emphasis on arguments and themes and a bit more emphasis on events and this could have been a lot better. But, hey, a nostalgia fest is always welcome, and bring on the rest of the ’80s!