I Love 1970

Saturday, July 22, 2000 by

Channel 4′s recent Top Ten series was, by common consensus, the best Saturday night telly for ages. It worked partly because of its scheduling (you’d never had anything like that on primetime Saturday evening before) but mainly thanks to its presentation: a carefully balanced mix of detailed research, knowing voice-overs and inspired choice of interviewees.

The series set a new model for successful, memorable nostalgia-based TV; and, crucially, secured that success thanks to two things: avoiding being too earnest and nit-pickingly obsessive, but also steering clear of sweeping generalisations and lazy, factually incorrect assumptions about the Good Old Days. Although the Top Ten‘s were quite undemanding, accessible viewing, it was obvious that every bit of information, every archive clip, every vox pop had been meticulously researched and verified; and that throughout its pre-production the emphasis had been on unearthing new material and footage where possible as opposed to simply recycling clips that’d been screened countless times before.

Much of the same approach seems to have been adopted by the BBC Manchester team behind the new 10-part I Love The Seventies strand running on Saturday nights (at precisely the same time C4 showed Top Ten). And, going on the evidence of the first programme on 1970, much the same results have been achieved: a fun, thoughtful, rewarding hour-long summary of the main cultural and commercial products both launched and already in circulation during those 12 months. And that latter point is important – for it doesn’t necessarily matter that, for instance, the Stylophone wasn’t actually invented and patented in 1970; what matters is that 1970 was the year when the Stylophone became big – big enough to find its way into cupboards and homes and the memories of a whole generation.

From start to finish I Love 1970 showed much the same sense of an attention to detail and careful research that there was on the Top Ten shows – no tired old clips wheeled out for the 100th time, no tired old celebrities either – and also, no brow-furrowing political commentary cluttering up proceedings. Because this kind of programme, with this kind of agenda, was clearly no place for dogged polemic and that sort of fervent criticism; it just wouldn’t have worked and would’ve so sat at odds with the style and tone of the rest of the programme as to sabotage the whole hour’s entertainment. Your usual references to matters politics (General Election, Labour defeat blah blah blah) would have actually ended up making the thing somewhat predictable and clichéd; instead, the absence of such elements made the whole thing quite refreshing. Give us Oliver Postgate over Ted Heath anyday.

So what we got was a shopping list of brands and titles and objects: the Raleigh Chopper;Scooby DooThe ClangersThe GoodiesM*A*S*H; the Stylophone; the World Cup; Kes; the midi- and maxi-skirt; the Triumph Stag; and a round-up of notable musical endings (Beatles, Supremes, Simon & Garfunkel) and beginnings (Jackson Five). Each was afforded four or five minutes worth of clips and comment of both the wry, waspish kind or the instructive, illuminating insight. Most of the former came from celebrities past and present, and latter from the designers, manufacturers and inventors who were responsible for all those wonderful icons.

Together, these contributors made up a somewhat spectacular line-up that included Tom Karen (Chopper designer), Joe Barbera, Danny Baker, Wayne Hemingway, Bill Oddie, Elliot Gould, Brian Jarvis (Stylophone inventor), Alan Ball, Peter Firmin, Iwao Takamoto (Scooby Doodesigner), Mary Quant, Paul Smith, Mary Wilson, Mungo Jerry, Ice-T and Charles Shaar Murray. And there were some great moments: Baker appeared solely to do an impression of a Clanger; Firmin described the creature’s appearance plaintively as “the shape of a teardrop.” Bill Oddie argued for celebrating The Goodies as no less than a document of the entire ’70s – and he could be right, going off the evidence here (a stunning clip from an episode where the team satirised police brutality).

Ice-T contested that no matter how much of a hard-bitten gangsta you were, seeing Michael Jackson live in concert would soon have you “screaming like a bitch.” We saw a vintageNationwide report on the yo-yoing of women’s hemlines, the esteemed Michael Barratt cross-examining a group of suited lorry drivers over why long skirts were an outrage to the male population. And Charles Shaar Murray’s simple statement on The Beatles breaking-up – “like an eclipse of the sun” – was worth more than any amount of the ubiquitous Paul Gambaccini’s thoughts (is Gambo the only bloke qualified to comment on popular music history on British television nowadays?)

The whole splendid cavalcade was presided over by one Sir James Savile OBE KCSG. Jim’s narration was for the most part quite harmless and effective (all very carefully scripted in advance). His appearances in front of the camera were lightened by the sight of him squeezed into a few of his vintage Top of the Pops outfits (a rainbow sweater, black and white spacesuit, harlequin jumpsuit) jiggling with a group of teenage girls. Savile’s an endlessly fascinating figure nowadays – who the hell does he think he is? – and his presence here merely compounded the attraction and appeal of the programme. Yes, no matter how hard he tried, not even Jewellery-Jewellery Savile could not diminish the success of I Love 1970.

It should be a tantalising next couple of months on BBC2 on Saturday nights; though it’s going be hard to beat the memorable image with which this first programme ended: Jimmy and his chorus of damsels dancing along to the closing music with a chant of “Now then/now then/how’s about that then”.


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