Us children of the 1970s may bore our kids into slumber with our tales of how great life was back in “our day”, but what was it that made our adolescence so special?
There are literally hundreds of things that made that decade stand out amongst all the times in which to be growing up, but let’s take a look at just a few of them…
1. Physical Play
“Wanna come out to play?” we would ask our mate, as our parents looked on, nervously fretting about the fast-accumulating telephone bill. But that was what we did. We actually went outside and did stuff – at the park, on the street, down by the river. No remote, virtual interaction for us. It may have been something as banal as kicking a can around, chatting about playground politics or knocking on somebody’s front door and running away, but it involved actual physical effort. No wonder our young ones are so confused by it all.
2. The Football Terraces
We stood up to watch our favourite team. I’m not talking about standing in front of our plush seat holding our halloumi wrap at certain strategic moments during play, compelling the poor old guy sitting behind us with the dodgy leg to do likewise. I’m talking hard, stone terraces with unforgiving metal rails to prevent us from falling too far when our team scored and the crowd surged forward (I supported Brentford so seldom had that problem back in those days). At half-time we would simply walk around the ground (it wasn’t really a stadium) to take up a new position at the opposite end. Nobody cared – there were no stewards and the police were generally okay about it so long as there was no fighting, which there often was. Some of the better grounds had covered terraces, sparing us drenchings during inclement weather. Or, in the case of the more leaky ones, at least minimising the amount of rainwater that got through. Does anyone know what the score is? Nope, sorry – wasn’t watching.
3. The Raleigh Chopper
The king of bicycles. Impractical, possibly. Dangerous, for sure. But has there ever been a bike with so much street elegance and style? The chunky rear tyre, the long cushioned seat, the dragster handlebars, the gearstick which daily threatened the manhood of each and every boy user? Needless to say when they revived this wonderful, iconic vehicle in the 21st century it was a sterile, sanitised version with every inherent hazard callously airbrushed from the design. For those of us who survived the experience, the Chopper made us what we are today.
4. Affordable Housing
Don’t let anybody tell you it’s easier for kids today than it was for us. Okay, my father was a very good window cleaner when he bought his own house in his early twenties. In partnership with my mother, of course, who was of a similar age and had only recently retired. For those who followed the social housing route, getting a council house was an expectation as opposed to something akin to a lottery win.
5. Basic UK Holidays
Depending upon one’s wealth and status there was the caravan, the holiday camp or the hotel. Caravans were tiny, and certainly devoid of such luxuries as lavatories and washing facilities. Being caught short in the night meant a walk across a dark field, whilst the weekly shower at the site ablutional was for many the highlight of the holiday week. At the opposite end of the scale the hotel was actually quite posh, but still involved a stipulated sitting for lunch at which we sat alongside the same strangers, whom we got to know well during the course of the week, whilst perusing the menu and contemplating the two available options which were “take it or leave it”. Rooms generally were not en suite, although landings were, and managing the queue for the loo could become something of an art form if the guy in the next room had any nocturnal habits which might render a visit in his wake unappealing.
6. Telephone Boxes
Who needed a mobile phone when you had a telephone box on every major corner? Granted there was sometimes a queue, and the irritation with overhearing the oblivious occupant chatting aimlessly, and seemingly endlessly, with their Auntie Doris rose in increments as the mind-numbingly pointless conversation went on (and on and on) with every fresh 2p piece that was inserted. But the phone box was a great option if you didn’t want the folks at home listening to your conversation, and a plea to the Operator that the money you’d inserted didn’t go through would almost invariably result in a free call being granted. Neither was it a problem if you couldn’t remember your friend’s number as the phone box had a full set of printed directories which listed the private phone numbers of everybody in town.
Remember them? Apparently they still exist but they are in scant supply today compared to the 1970s. In fact in those days a pub crawl was possible without the need for a bus or train pass, and even when the lower wages are taken into account a night out didn’t break the bank. The down side is that most pubs were “tied houses”, which meant they only dispensed the beer which happened to be brewed or supplied by that particular brewery. Sometimes it was nice, at other times it was rank. The licensing hours were also prohibitive – all pubs had to close at 3pm on weekdays (2pm on Sundays) and not open again till 5.30pm (7pm on Sundays). Outrageous though it was that the government presumed to tell us when we could and could not enjoy a drink, the restrictions did at least engender a strong sense of community as all the regulars would be there at the same time.
8. The British Sitcom
There were so many wonderful sitcoms on our screens during the seventies that it’s really difficult to know where to begin. Some, like Steptoe and Son and Dad’s Army, were not exclusive to that decade. Others such as Man About the House, Porridge, Rising Damp and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, just epitomised a decade that was so steeped in popular culture, taking us back to a glorious age when we could laugh at each other – and at ourselves. It’s hard to believe that the incomparable Fawlty Towers only ran for twelve episodes, over two series (in 1975 and 1979). Just don’t mention the war!
9. Music Magazines
Can you remember when the lower shelves at the newsagent’s were filled with mags containing little other than either pin-up photos of all the big names in ‘70s pop, or the lyrics to some of those unforgettable songs? For the more serious reader The Story of Pop ran a long series of pricey but eminently collectable titles which chronicled the development of popular music from its 1950s roots right through to the then present day. Once you’d bought the first one you just had to have them all.
10. Vinyl Records
Before we had internet downloads or even CDs our sounds arrived by means of a circular piece of (usually) black vinyl which had to be played on a rotating deck under a needle, or stylus. It was the tally of weekly sales of the one-number, seven-inch “singles” which determined where that song was in the music charts on that particular week. The most successful artists became obscenely rich on the proceeds.
I mean real music – not the bland, repetitive, anodyne pap which seems to have predominated throughout what feels like the last three hundred years. Our musical heroes were larger than life. Demi-gods. We all hung on what they were wearing in the latest episode of Top of the Pops and where their most recent record had got to in the charts. Our parents mocked, but the fact that most of those 1970s artists who are still alive continue to perform before large audiences must say something about their place in rock’n’roll history. That one solitary decade gave the world glam rock, the supergroups, prog rock, classic disco, Bowie, punk and later the whole Bee Gees/Saturday Night Fever thing borders upon the unimaginable. It’s almost like each and every year was an era in its own right.
12. The Park
How can anyone with a heart not weep for the kids of today, with their little plastic slides and soulless, safety-first wood bark flooring beneath their puny, strapped-in swings? They will never know the joy of falling head-first from a great height onto the unforgiving concrete and then jumping straight back onto the witch’s top with a bump the size of a golf ball protruding proudly from their forehead.
13. Stylish Cars
Okay, they may have broken down rather a lot, and some may not have started at all on cold mornings, but aesthetically the cars of the 1970s were beautiful. What’s more, each model was distinctly different, even unique, to the point that anybody with even a passing interest in motor vehicles would instantly recognise the Cortina, the Capri or the Volkswagen Beetle and be able to distinguish it from any of its competitors. The early Zodiacs and Zephyrs had kind of tail fins, the Hillmans (Hillmen?) and Vauxhalls had distinctive shapes all of their own, Minis were small and Maxis were bigger. There were still plenty of Ford Anglias and Morris Minors around, the latter sometimes with side-arm indicators and even wood trim on the exterior.
14. Witty TV Adverts
Even before The Goodies got their hands on them, many of the television commercials were entertaining and funny. The new Yorkie chocolate bar declared that it was “not for girls”, which would have been an appalling marketing strategy had anybody actually taken it literally (which of course nobody did). Muhammad Ali told us to watch out for the Humphreys who were trying to steal our milk, and the less said about the short-lived Pound Power Man who fronted (and rather prominently) for Williams Warehouse the better.
15. Classic Films
All the President’s Men, Bugsy Malone, Carrie, The Eagle Has Landed, King Kong, Logan’s Run, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Marathon Man, Nickelodeon, The Omen, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Rocky, A Star is Born, Taxi Driver, Voyage of the Damned – and these were just from 1976! The seventies saw a proliferation of war films, horror movies, Westerns, cop films and cult flicks like no other decade.
16. Cult Heroes
…Which brings us nicely on to that other phenomenon which, if not entirely exclusive to the 1970s, was certainly at apogee during that great decade – the cult icon. Whether it was a pop singer, a television detective, a cartoon superhero or a leather-clad super-cool guy from a cheesy American retro comedy, there was always somebody out there that we privately (or sometimes not so privately) wanted to be. If you didn’t have a Ziggy cut after yer man had quit live performances (for a while anyway) in July 1973, you probably had a lollipop stuck in your mouth for much of the decade or sported a Starsky cardigan. Slogans such as “Who loves ya baby?” or just “Heyyyy!” were articulated liberally in many a playground.
Do you recall when we could say something in jest to somebody and it wasn’t taken too literally, and nobody was offended? Let’s be truthful, political correctness has served a purpose in lifting us from many an ill-informed prejudice and on towards a more understanding, probably kinder world, but many would argue that the balance has perhaps tipped a little too far. Could it be time we lightened up a little, and learned to laugh once more? After all, the Yorkie may not have been for girls – but they still bought it.
When we stood proud on the street corner in our bright orange loon pants, butterfly shirt collars and stripey tank-tops, tall in our four-inch platform heels, shoulder-length hair blowing freely in the wind, did any of us seriously imagine that in a few decades’ time the “in” look would be a pair of baggy trousers sported half-way down our backsides, a baseball cap worn back to front and a gormless, vacant expression? And if flower power wasn’t your thing the 1970s also offered its own fifties revivalist movement, punks, skinheads (mark two) and the disco-dancing Pods and pleats which accompanied the Travolta thing at the end of the decade. Whatever was your wont it was vibrant, colourful and classy. Where did it all go wrong?
19. The Summer of 1976
The mother of all heatwaves, the yardstick by which all today’s swelterfests are measured. It may not have been the hottest on record, but it lasted forever and we basked in it because it was ours. Everyone who is of “a certain age” has a story to tell about that glorious summer and what it meant to them. The political and economic climate was gloomy and yet it was a wonderful time to be young. Its memory will live on forever.
20. We Were Younger Then
As was so cynically (although not unreasonably) pointed out by the radio and television broadcaster Henry Kelly, much of our nostalgic hankering is driven by a simple longing for our lost youth. There is some truth in his observation to be sure. But I don’t care what anybody says, the 1970s were unique and quite magnificent in a way that no other decade can boast. I feel so very fortunate to have been part of it.
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