Long life

How strange to feel nostalgic for the 1970s

It always seemed a grim decade to me – until I went to the fancy dress party

11 July 2015

9:00 AM

11 July 2015

9:00 AM

The 1960s were already more than halfway over when I realised that I was living through what was supposed to be an exciting decade. I had got married, found a job, had two babies and was leading the stressful life of a young family man, quite unaware that all around me Britain was bubbling with excitement. In 1966 I was in Paris, doing night shifts as a trainee journalist for Reuters news agency, when I happened upon a cover of Time magazine, emblazoned with girls in miniskirts and boys in flared trousers, announcing that London was ‘the swinging city’. When I came home to check this out, London seemed much the same as it had been in the 1950s — a grey and grimy but dignified city, old ladies still wheeling their wicker shopping baskets up and down the Brompton Road. At one point during the Sixties, I had gone to a Beatles concert in Bournemouth, but I hadn’t enjoyed it. Despite an ear-splitting sound system, the fab four were drowned out by the hysterical screams of the girls in the audience, and the noise was unbearable. If this was ‘swinging’, it wasn’t for me.

Then the other day I got an invitation to the 21st birthday party of the beautiful Emily Beatty, the daughter of friends and neighbours in Northamptonshire. I accepted, of course, but noted with concern that the theme of the party was to be the 1970s and that we were to dress in the style of the period. I thought about the Seventies, but couldn’t remember anything special or glamorous about them. They seemed rather a grim decade to me. I returned in 1973 from Rome, where I had been for Reuters for the previous five years, to find Ted Heath at war with the coalminers. He imposed a three-day week as an energy-saving measure and then in 1974 called an election on ‘Who governs Britain’ which decided that the miners did. The decade in my mind is a blur of wars, coups and crises of various kinds, of recession, stagflation and industrial unrest, culminating in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ when rubbish littered the streets and bodies remained unburied.


It was a time marked by the arrival of colour television and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but also by the pre-eminence of such ghastly people as Gary Glitter, Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, all since identified as child abusers. For me the best thing about the Seventies was that in 1975 I was made editor of this magazine, at the same time that Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative party. But The Spectator then was hardly cool or swinging. I usually went to work in a suit and tie, and nobody else in the office wore anything that could inspire me in my choice of get-up for the fancy-dress party. I suppose we were on the fogeyish side, almost untouched by the popular culture of the time. And insofar as I was aware of popular fashion, I saw it as a hangover from the Sixties, without any clear identity of its own. So I decided, being in my own seventies, to go just as I was then and still am now, only without the tie.

The party was in the open air in the middle of beautiful Salcey Forest, with dancing to live music in an enormous barn, and what an eye-opener it was! The Seventies, it turned out, had been a very glamorous decade, and I had missed it entirely. But it wasn’t too late to catch up. The girls, especially the birthday girl, looked terrific in cat suits, miniskirts and hippie dresses, with lots of sequins and bare backs and floral chiffon scarves. They mostly wore platform heels and had their hair layered and feathery in the style of Farrah Fawcett-Majors of Charlie’s Angels. The men were generally a little less appealing, with their unbuttoned shirts and medallions hanging over their hairy chests, several also with wigs and false moustaches or sideburns. The great exception, however, was the host, Nicholas Beatty, Emily’s father, a large and handsome man, who looked magnificent, dressed from head to toe in a voluminous suit of tiger-print material and wearing a hat of the same stuff. He could have been a grand Hollywood impresario, or perhaps an American boxing promoter.

And thus we danced the night joyfully away to the thumping rhythm of The Trojans, a band which, according to its website, specialises ‘in ska and reggae with a dash of soul, funk, R&B and world roots’, whatever those may be. Who knows what the Seventies were all about? But they must have been great fun for those who were there.

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Show comments
  • manolive

    Watch the movie “Dazed and Confused” and you’ll get a great idea of exactly what the 70’s were like

  • Davedeparis

    I was only a kid but I knew I hated the whole decade. In Australia it meant stagflation, the fall of Saigon and the dismissal (our Constitutional crisis). In the wider world there were plenty of nasty foriegn conflicts we has just enough connections to be divided over in Northern Island, South Africa and Rhodesia-Zimbabwe. And then to top it all off the bloody Bee-Gees.

    • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

      Northern Soul morphing to Disco. Punk Rock. Marc Bolan. Supertramp. Fleetwood Mac. James Hunt v Nikki Lauda. The summer of ’76. The Persuaders. The New Avengers. Happy Days. The Two Ronnies. The Holy Grail. Pans People. Spangles. Texan Bars. Alias Smith & Jones. Kevin Keegan, Brian Clough. Botham&Richards. The Good Life. Fawlty Towers.
      Chopper bikes. Flares. Beetle crushers. Jackie Stewart. Ali v Frazier. Starsky & Hutch. Magpie. The Clangers. Bagpuss. Wurzel Gummidge. Babycham.
      You missed a hell of a lot Alexander.

      • Guest 1

        From your list, he only missed a hell of a lot if he didn’t ‘live’ in front of a TV screen.

        • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

          Of the 35 things I cite only 13 are TV programmes. However, it is a fact that TV was much better ion the 1970s.

          • Guest 1

            My apologies. I’m pleased to hear that only 37% of your life was spent watching TV. However, all the others citations refer to watching things, to entertainment. Talk about ‘Society of the Spectacle’. All part of the great decline of the West.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            Does one watch a Grammar school or the summer of ’76, or low unemployment or Babycham? F1 was not on TV in the 70s due to squeamishness about the regular deaths, but the racing was way better than today.

          • Guest 1

            OK, only 74% spectacle. And flares – like all 70s fashion – were dire.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            Remember in 1975 the UK was more equal than ever before or since. We were happiest in 1976/7. There were far more kids about due to the babyboom from 1958 to 1972, hence more fun, more positive outlooks, generally more youth and enthusiasm. People began to reap the rewards of the progress since the War, new wealth brought a consumer lifestyle, cars, holidays and choices that the many had not had before.
            This all went into reverse under Thatcher and got worse with the hollowing out of the middle class by Blair and Cameron.
            We have spent 35 years becoming more selfish, more suspicious, more covetous, more emptily aspirational.
            The 1970’s were a great time to be alive. I remember the dignified old men I met who had fought in the trenches and the well turned out chaps who had gone through WW2. Queitly heroic people that you are unlikely to see these days, who it was a rare privilege to meet.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            You could have re-written history for Stalin. Perhaps you did… An extraordinary, bizarre interpretation! In the drab, ghastly 1970s Labour screwed up our economy even worse than usual and we were in truly dire straits, until (huge collective sigh of relief) the Conservatives under Thatcher arrived and turned things around. Most sensible people would shudder to think what might have happened if Labour had been permitted to continue. Perhaps we’d have been like Greece.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            But the Tories were in power for just over half of the 1970s and then the whole of the 1980s. Odd how your deceitfulness needs to pretend you weren’t responsible for setting Britain back by a generation even though Tories ruled for all but 5 years from1970 to 1997.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            Forget the 1980s and ’90s – that’s just your clumsy attempt at obfuscation. Labour were in opposition for most of that time, fortunately.
            It was under Labour in the mid to late ’70s that inflation peaked at alarming levels of 20+%, and the IMF was called in. Labour is economic catastrophe personified. You are one (two?) of its cardboard cutout adherents.

          • Damon

            True, Malcolm, and we need not even mention “the sick man of Europe” and editorials in American newspapers entitled, “goodbye Britain, it was nice knowing you.” The 70s nostalgics are the same types who would have us believe that good old British Rail was fab, instead of the grimy national disgrace it was. But then, no-one rewrites history like the lefties.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            Are you for real? The Heath administration pushed inflation from 9% in 1972 to 24% by 1974. Labour brought it back down to 8% by 1978. Thatcher put it back to 21% by 1981 then destroyed our industrial base too.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            BS, Bazzer: Heath was a wet but he lacked the purblind economic insanity of his successor Labour administration that pushed inflation into the mid-20s percent and very nearly wrecked us, before Margaret Thatcher turned things around. You remind me of a loon I encountered while teaching, who took his summer holidays in the DDR and appeared genuinely to think it was a great place. Nowt so queer as the deluded agenda-driven ideologues of the Left, even downmarket examples like you.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            It is a shame you feel the need to lie to justify your ranting. Wilson inherited a rapidly rising rate of inflation in 1974, thanks to the Oil crisis and Tory incompetence. Inflation was already at 19% when he took office. Yes it peaked briefly at 24% before he got it under control and reduced it back to 7% within two years. Yet another Tory attempt to blame Labour for a global event.

          • Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            Nonsense. Unemployment peaked under Thatcher, 1984. Interest rates peaked under Major, 1992. Military casualties peaked under Thatcher, 1982. IRA terror too, 1985. Strikes peaked under Thatcher. Balance of payments deficit peaked under Major 1991. Debt peak still not reached as Cameron keeps breaking his own record of doubling it, just like he has immigration. Tories are a total social and economic disaster.

          • Grace Ironwood

            Vonbar,
            You are advancing the proposition that Mrs T is responsible for setting Britain back by a generation?

            Do you mean transformative mass immigration and the current debts couldn’t really get going until the turn of the century?

            …I suppose you are right.

          • Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            Yes. Thatcher was responsible for the deregulation of the City in 1986/7. She took us into the EU and Maastricht. Yes, it was her.

          • Terry Field

            You need treatment. Go and sit quietly and nursie will come over soon.

          • Guest 1

            That’s a better set of reasons than all the entertainment guff you started with. I’d go along with that, but I’d also add that the 70s were disfigured by strikes, was the decade that saw the UK enter the EEC on a false prospectus (as Heath full well knew), and was the decade that set in the rot that saw the end of the Great War and WWII dignity that you write about.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            No. The rot as you put it set in under Thatcher, once she got the upper hand in 1986. Big Bang. Big Mistake.

          • Guest 1

            Big Bang – little choice, given that NY and Tokyo and already gone that way. It was, of course, the real opening campaign of globalization, which is supported by the liberal-left and the liberal-right. Thatcher’s real, long term, crime was pushing for the SEA – a real advance for the EU federalistas.
            But, to return to the 1970s, if you think that the endless strikes, shortages, three day week, the Liberals propping up a minority government, the IRA terror campaign (sorry, Mr Corbyn, that was a terror campaign), camp cr*p on TV that overlay child abuse by the ‘entertainers’ approved by the BBC, the continuing leftwards shift of the Labour Party (the very beginning of the end of its support for the white working class), and dreadful fashion were all marks of a good decade, then I feel sorry for you.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            The IRA terror campaign began in 1969 and ended in about 2000. The Tories were in power for 21 of those 31 years , learn some facts.

          • Guest 1

            Wha? What has the party in power in Britain got to do with the IRA terror campaign – it made no difference to the IRA. So, as I said, one of the horrible aspects of the 1970s was the IRA terror campaign. Along with all the other cr+p things about the 1970s.

          • Terry Field

            You sound like a cheap advertising agency – skilled at lies and distortion.

          • Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            Which bit of what I just said is a lie? I recount facts.

          • Terry Field

            It was equal, because everyone was shit poor.
            In those days the old soldiers and British history in general was treated with naked and undisguised contempt.
            You must be suffering from dementia.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            How can anyone admit to watching 2-3 hours of TV a day, at any period of their lives? Did you have nothing better or more important to do? Yes, I’d have put you down as a Ford Capri and Vesta Chow Mein type…

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            I now watch about 3 hours a week. Which proves my point. My uncle had a nice brown Capri with a black vinyl roof. Saw one at Le Man’s this year, brought back great memories of a superb decade before the horrors of Thatcher and her idiot sycophants.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            It is a particularly idiosyncratic fantasist who attempts to invoke nostalgia over a “nice brown Capri with a black vinyl roof” – unless you’re engaging in satire, which seems unlikely.

          • Terry Field

            I assume you are an acolyte of the Unions!

          • Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            No. In my Civil Service days I was in the FDA for 14 years. It is not a union as such. Even so I left due to their meek acceptance of anything the Government threw at them. It was a waste of £24 a month. I have since been on strike three times while NOT a union member. Tory union laws give far more rights to us non-unionised radicals.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            My uncle had a brown Capri with a black vinyl roof. Saw one at Le Man’s this year. Brought back great memories of the time before Thatcher and her lackeys ruined Britain.

          • Chas Grant

            Back then everyone seemed to watch TV incessantly of an evening. Nowadays everyone’s on bloody Facebook or out dogging instead.

          • Terry Field

            Eating one’s Chow Mein on a Vesta only results in indigestion.

          • Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            I was a child. I learned a lot from the many documentaries I watched in the 70s.

          • Innit Bruv

            Aaaah… Camberwick Green. Happy days.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            I am amazed that Windy Miller is yet to be knighted. After all Bagpuss has an honorary degree.

          • Innit Bruv

            I couldn’t agree more…

      • Damaris Tighe

        Northern Jazz Funk.

        • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

          What?

    • Guest 1

      Rhodesia – Britain’s shame.

      • Grace Ironwood

        Now the Zimbabweans’ shame.
        Is it worse when it’s supposed to be better?

    • ajcb

      Wow, me, too. In California the 1970s meant all the chickens (“Turn on, tune in, drop out”) of the untethered 1960s coming home to roost: a killer/strangler/rapist for every national park; junkies taking over New York City; Charles Manson, Moonies, and other cults; the Hearst kidnapping and its farcical aftermath; racial division and menace promoted by the Black Panthers; topless restaurants in San Francisco; sun-dried hairy hippies selling earrings or fast food (name tag on the uniform: “Lotus”); youth-glorified terroristic nihilism (like today’s ISIS, but driven by Mao’s Little Red Book or similar rather than the Koran) doing things like blowing up the local power station. Feeling poor and helpless. I hated it; all the laddish cynicism and self-indulgence rolled into one satin-trousers-too-tight package (e.g., Hugh Hefner, Robert Redford and Warren Beatty). Blech! Don’t even get me started on the hideous clothes and hair-dos. (Hair-dont’s).

      • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

        I think Alexander is talking about Britain in the 70’s not New York.

        • ajcb

          Please notice from the little arrow that my reply was to Davedeparis talking about Australia. California was about as horrible as he remembers Australia being. (Alexander admits not being in Britain much.)

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            California and Australia are still horrible today.

          • ajcb

            From one who was there, California was worse, ie., horribly ’70s, in the ’70s.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Spent the second half of the ’60s sublimating through the steering wheel, aka rally driving.
    Come 1970, took the train from London to Yokohama (go on, ask me how that was possible), and essentially haven’t looked back. “If you can remember the sixties you weren’t there.” Well, I was there and Britain sucked. Which is why I flew the coop.
    Jack, Japan Alps

    • Too Old To Actually Join UKIP

      “Sucked”, what a horrendously post-1980s American word!

  • First of all, the men are always less appealing. It’s just what they are (no, I’m not a lesbian).

    Secondly, if you couldn’t dig Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, then I am profoundly sorry for you. If the deep human drama of the 1968-69 Golden Globe race, in which Donald Crowhurst died, made no impression on you then or since, then I am doubly sorry for you. Basically: where have you been, man?

  • MacGuffin

    I was awfully young in the 1970s, so my memories are of the second half, but I must say I preferred the 1990s’ 1970s to the actual 1970s. In fact, now that I have experienced a bit of the 2010s’ 1970s, I find myself quite nostalgic for the 1970s of twenty years ago, rather than the 1970s of today.

    • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

      Everything that exists at ones birth is taken for granted. Everything that appears in your first 30 years of like is embraced as innovative modern and a must have. Thereafter it takes at least ten years to come to terms with the novel and the new. I expect you peaked around 2003.

      • Goinlike Billio

        Can I just have an opinion from one of you or is that not allowed ?

        • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

          There is only one of me. I use a comedy moniker. Is your name real Goinlike?

  • Augustus

    “And insofar as I was aware of popular fashion, I saw it as a hangover from the Sixties, without any clear identity of its own…”

    Well, although the flared trousers have long gone, I’ve still got a drawer full of silk kipper ties (very different from Sixties fashion btw). I suppose that’s a kind of nostalgia.

    • Damaris Tighe

      No Afghan coat lurking at the back of the wardrobe Augustus?

    • Terry Field

      I gave my kipper ties to John Snow, rather hoping that he would do the decent thing, since even then he was a monumental egotistical bore, and string himself up with one of them. sadly he failed to do so.

  • When it comes to fashion, Britons are the least to jump into any quick change, they appreciate and enjoy their formal respectable wears, slow to adopt changes.

  • Innit Bruv

    Hell of a lot better than the Eighties.

    • Terry Field

      No. Not at all.

  • Grace Ironwood

    Isn’t that strange- all the greatest purveyors of the new standards of mass media vulgarity turned out to be kiddy-fiddlers?

    • Sten vs Bren

      No, whats strange is that there would seem to have been ‘kiddy fiddlers’ in positions that would have been subject to security service vetting.

      • Grace Ironwood

        It’s a tradition-:) Blunt mucking about with the Queen’s pictures downwards.

        • Sten vs Bren

          Hmm. An entire Establishment open to blackmail.

          I wonder if anybody tried it.

    • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

      What Morecambe & Wise?

      • Grace Ironwood

        By golly I hope not 🙂

    • Terry Field

      Not all. Some were just enjoying normal sex. Then it was allowed.

  • I have been writing my memoirs covering the 1970’s-1990’s in and around North London. They are available free to read at http://chickenbadge.com People that liked this article my find my outrageous stories interesting, I hope.

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