1970 and All That ; the Seventies Are Usually Derided as the Decade That Taste Forgot. but, Says Simon Armitage, Author of an Acclaimed New Novel about the Period, They Were Actually a Golden Age for Culture and Children's Freedom

By Armitage, Simon | The Independent (London, England), August 18, 2001 | Go to article overview
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1970 and All That ; the Seventies Are Usually Derided as the Decade That Taste Forgot. but, Says Simon Armitage, Author of an Acclaimed New Novel about the Period, They Were Actually a Golden Age for Culture and Children's Freedom


Armitage, Simon, The Independent (London, England)


I don't have an earliest memory. I can bring to mind an image of me and my sister leaning against an iron railing on a sunlit afternoon, me with my hands stuffed in my pockets, my sister sporting a pair of shorts made from a beach towel. But that's a photograph, taken when she was three and I was 18 months younger. Like all my early recollections, it isn't a memory at all, but a Kodak moment. In fact, for the first seven years of my life I was asleep. Sound asleep. I didn't hear the bullet from the grassy knoll that shattered JFK's skull. Beatlemania was just a background hum. Bobby Moore might as well have been holding an ice-cream cornet in the air at Wembley for all I knew, and the Moon landing was way past my bedtime. I think it was the roar of the first ever jumbo jet passing through British airspace that woke me. I blinked a few times, looked out of the window, and it was the Seventies.

Of course, I didn't know it was a historical period. It felt like the present, but that is the great con trick time plays on us all. As proof of the crime, and also the ugliness of the era, I'd offer Kevin Keegan's wedding photograph. The perm, for one thing, but also the white (leather? leatherette?) suit with lapels that owed more to aeronautics than tailoring. At least the width and length of the flared trousers hid what could only have been platform shoes - the type requiring special planning permission and a police escort.

Fashion, like drink, is a good friend but a terrible enemy, and the Seventies, as a decade, was more unforgiving than most. For almost 10 years, danger was everywhere, especially in any encounter with music and clothes. Few came through unscathed. The lucky ones got away with patch pockets and a few Flintlock singles. Others, though, succumbed to the full indignity of the age, including a swatch of Top of the Pops albums (featuring "20 unoriginal artists") and a test-card tank-top. And if the tartan turn- ups didn't get you, the clackers or the Peter Powell Stunt Kite did. It was a minefield. It was an asylum of sound, colour and shape. A zoo.

Given the horror I'm describing, the current obsession among Seventies survivors for trips down memory lane might seem surprising, even masochistic. Sure, it's cheap telly, all that archive footage of Space Hoppers and Chopper bikes. And nostalgia is always useful when it comes to stimulating sales figures. But there are, I'd argue, important philosophical and sociological reasons why people of my generation want to sound off about Love Hearts and Spangles, or pride themselves on a thorough knowledge of public information films, or can reel off the full roll-call of Trumpton's fire-brigade or The Whacky Races' starting grid by heart.

For one thing, it's relief and, speaking as a man, it emanates from the firm understanding that never again will I have to subject my groin to the double torture of nylon undies and undersized silk- effect shorts. Secondly, it's a form of power, in the sense that control of recent history has finally been wrested from our forebears and their friends, for whom the Sixties were the last word in rebellion and change. No one would question the importance of that era as a turning point in human relations. But Jesus, would we ever hear the end of it? On top of that, the Sixties had quickly become a commodity, an industry, and with reformed hippies and lapsed revolutionaries now controlling media networks and editorial policy, the opportunity for flashback and rewind to those swinging times was unending and interminable and everywhere.

Against that backdrop, it must have been with some timidity that somebody, somewhere, filling a gap in the conversation, and apropos of nothing, opined that in his or her judgement, the cartoon series Scooby Doo was never the same after the introduction of his irksome, pint-size accomplice, Scrappy. A quizzical silence might have ensued, followed by another voice, declaring, "Yeah, and if it hadn't been for you meddling kids, I would have got away with it.

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1970 and All That ; the Seventies Are Usually Derided as the Decade That Taste Forgot. but, Says Simon Armitage, Author of an Acclaimed New Novel about the Period, They Were Actually a Golden Age for Culture and Children's Freedom
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