I Love 1978

Saturday, September 16, 2000 by

In 1978, I was a mere two years old, having just learnt to read with the assistance of Lenny The Lion. It is therefore with some trepidation that I sit down to write this review as I have no authentic recollection of the political or pop-cultural reference points of that year but then again with I Love the Seventies that isn’t really required. There is probably no way of knowing whether this programme truly is a genuine reflection of what popular culture was like in 1978 – or more accurately what it was like to be a child in 1978 – but reflections can be refracted without losing their essential “truth”.

Lynda Carter, looking presumably by virtue of some Faustian pact, barely a day older than when she played Wonder Woman, is a likeable host. The conventions and structures of the programmes are by this stage set in stone and the whole thing runs as smoothly as a well-oiled limousine, or in this case a Top Trumps Lamborghini. The standard ensemble of cultural pundits – Peter Kay, Miranda Sawyer, Fiona Allen, Rhona Cameron – are all present and correct, delivering more of the same. Their observations as ever are no more insightful than your average “I remember when” pub conversation but still evoke the commonality of the experiences of an entire generation. The range of participants actually involved in these cultural artefacts was impressive, including the director and one of the original actresses from Grease, three of The Boomtown Rats, a Sodastream engineer, four lead actors from Blake’s 7, three members of Hot Gossip and the Japanese inventor of Space Invaders. The level of research as exemplary as usual, I Love 1978 struck up an appropriate balance between those responsible for the material and those who consumed it, all coming together with a very satisfying click.

Occasionally, there was the feeling that these vox pops dominated the programme rather than complimented the topics for discussion, and it might have been better had the items been left to speak for themselves. The silver-clad futurist spectacle of their Starship Trooper routine encapsulated the essence of Hot Gossip far more effectively than any comment its members made, even if they did consider the admittedly fairly static number unrepresentative of their repertoire. The commercial for Sodastream and its construction as an innovative essential lifestyle-enhancing accessory for your home spoke volumes about the modernity of the product and the concept of making new technologies, like the advent of Space Invaders, more accessible to the people. This was of course in stark contrast to the basic reality that a Sodastream drink was indeed genuinely vile, flat, synthetic and entirely lacking the allure of the tooth-dissolving originals. Ken Mabb commendably kept the faith, citing contemporaneous sales figures and praising his company’s risibly wrong-footed venture to topple Coca-Cola’s supremacy. Interspersed between the features were a selection of contemporary adverts, including those for Popomatic Frustration and Mousetrap. In a sudden stream of consciousness, I instantly remembered the hours of fun I had with both games – giving adults headaches by popping the plastic dome in the centre of the Frustration board and getting sick of Mousetrap because it took ages to set the bloody thing up. Both, like the family Sodastream machine, are gathering dust up in the loft – all simultaneously so far away and so near.

Amongst all the differing sections, three were pre-eminent. The obligatory look at the popular film, pop act and TV show of the year. Like Jaws and Star Wars, Grease consolidated the development of the high concept box-office smash. Reintroducing, like Star Wars before it, an element of gee whizz sensibility and romanticism that a jaded mainstream cinema had previously overlooked, Grease saw youth establishing themselves as the most visible formation of the cinema audience. The superfluous Johnny Vegas speculated on the rituals of girls’ pyjama parties while failing to point out the obvious irony. Grease is very much like I Love the Seventies itself – a calculated piece of nostalgia primarily popular with those were too young to genuinely be a part of that era.

In a seamlessly sequential flow, the Boomtown Rats were next up under the spotlight, ripping up magazines containing photographs of John Travolta having knocked Summer Nights off the number one spot. Proud to have “upset the apple cart”, Bob Geldof and co commented on their dismissal by punk purists whilst archive clips showcased the Rats’ coherent, textured take on the post-punk New Wave. As punk indeed began to diversify into differing forms, the BBC also tapped unwittingly into a vein of rebellion against the establishment and gave us the saga of a group of revolutionaries who fought each other as much they fought the Federation. The total anathema to the safely sanitised utopian excesses of Star Wars, Blake’s 7 attained a sophistication in its serial narrative and credibly flawed characterisation that belied Paul Darrow’s overtly simplistic assertion that the series was but “cowboys and Indians or Robin Hood in outer space”. Indeed, the appreciation of this series seemed to be negotiated within predictable parameters – Jamie Theakston, still struggling to remember something of note, hit his stride with the incisive bon mot “The special effects on Blake’s 7 weren’t very special.” Whilst Gareth Thomas admirably defended the programme’s frugal resources and made the point that the series should be looked at primarily as a product of its time, the montage of shots comprising the effects sequences slid perilously close to sneering at the show through a self-conscious kitsch perspective. Nevertheless, Jacqueline Pearce’s obvious delight in revealing that Servalan had become “a masturbatory fantasy for an entire generation of young men” was the highlight of this episode.

The remainder of this edition centred around discussing the narrative redundancies of The Incredible Hulk, the limit of Wonder Woman‘s super powers, Kate Bush’s nipples and the bizarre cult of Dean Friedman, making the programme a rounded, cohesive, enjoyable whole. I was sometimes left with the impression that “1978″ was a thin thread on which to hang a string of somewhat generic retrospectives, but then this is a light-hearted, generalised evocation of an era, not a definitive excavation of the preoccupations of a particular 12 months in our history. Designed to do nothing more than provide an hour’s worth of good-natured reminiscence, I Love 1978 does its job very efficiently. And it would take a hard heart indeed not to warm to something that is at once so strangely familiar (even to those who weren’t there at the time), comforting and precision made.


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