I Love 1972

Saturday, August 5, 2000 by

Most archivism on present day TV is so poor and lazily uninformed that I Love The Seventies is clearly a cut above the rest simply because it knows something about its source material, and appropriately contextualises it.

The appreciation of the ’70s is from people who were there, experiencing it, looking back to how they felt and how things seemed at the time, rather than from people who weren’t even around and have no understanding of the era.

Although shying away from any meaningful representation of the rootlessness that some say signified that era, there were some great moments in the third programme of the series. The choice of David Cassidy as host was perhaps a mistake, weighting the programme too much towards a recollection of his own success that year and the rivalry with Donny Osmond. But however tedious and anodyne their music was, it did excite the teenage girls of Britain in 1972 (for a present-day comparison, I’d say Boyzone and Westlife are even blander) so probably deserved representation for nostalgia reasons, though the look back at the New Seekers’ career was less understandable. As ever, too much time was given to the likes of Katie Puckrik and Rhona Cameron, whose insights into these teen idols were no more interesting than those which any fan could probably give.

We did have a welcome return to the favoured Sounds of the ’70s technique of including Public Information Films to evoke the period – and they chose well including the “Learn to Swim” animated PIF with its slightly dim-witted cockney-accented girl and boyfriend referring to “losing me birds”, which was made in 1972. Period adverts added to the feel, and chewing the cud over Spangles and the like, while tedious to me (comedian Johnny Vegas’s contribution was unspeakably bad), was doubtless significant to those who can actually remember 1972. It was also fascinating to see the end of another era, still just about struggling on in the early ’70s – a black-and-white Movietone newsreel of that year’s Oscar ceremony, dominated by Cabaret, with the same old plummy voice despite very 1972-ish background music. But what was the reason for the several tedious minutes given over to Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, other than to show how scarily old Barry Davies now looks? Why was so much time given over to The Joy of Sex and the launch of Cosmopolitan magazine?

It really got interesting when wider social and cultural history was touched on, however vaguely. While Cassidy’s introduction for clips of Love Thy Neighbour, “prepare to cringe”, would have been horrendously irritating for any other programme, it applies perfectly to this infamous Thames sitcom (shown on UK Gold as recently as 1997, but absent from terrestrial television for many, many years, and almost certainly forever). Looking at it now reveals one aspect of British life and TV that has unquestionably moved on since 1972. It isn’t just the exchange of racial terms of abuse as the programme’s main source of humour that has dated so badly – it’s the entire style, its tinny studio-bound quality, its very slow pace even for then. All those involved agreed that it was a programme of its time and should not be shown again; it had to end in the mid ’70s as its style became increasingly predictable (this wasn’t mentioned, of course, but it ended in the month – January 1976 – when the Race Relations Act came into force). Nevertheless, Radio 1′s Trevor Nelson made the point that, appalling though it may seem now, it was watched by virtually all black families at the time because there was no other black representation on peak-time television, and because the character of Bill Reynolds was clearly cleverer than Eddie Booth, usually ending up triumphant.

Cassidy’s presentation of the Blue Peter vs Magpie split was typically simplistic and reductive on the BBC’s part – implying that Magpie did not exist until 1972 and ran out of steam very soon after, when in fact it was virtually continually successful from 1968 to 1980. Still, Observer TV critic Kathryn Flett pointed out that her mother did not allow her to watch ITV – a ’70s attitude often ignored today, but not an uncommon situation in the straight class-divide split of what was still, essentially, a two-channel society (BBC2 having limited broadcasting hours and being very much the third player). When the Harlem Globetrotters were featured, Wayne Hemingway made the potent comment on how much more distant American culture seemed back in those days of slower and more expensive flights to the US, however all-pervasive and potent it was in a British childhood.

But the best moment was the retrospective of T.Rex – so magnificent was Marc Bolan’s string of hits, so extraordinary was his charisma as a live performer, that you couldn’t really go wrong. Teenage girls en masse have rarely absorbed something so striking and outlandish, and Bolan never failed to live up to his dictum that “pop should be a spell”. John Robb’s salutation was spot on, but why did the T.Rex sequence have to be followed by some impersonator appearing on Channel 5′s Open House With Gloria Hunniford?

There is room on television for a fairly straightforward, nostalgic look back to a particular period. OK, there was too much filler, too little real examination of the nature of the era, but a programme about the ’70s which understands its subject half the time (such as this) is far preferable to a programme which doesn’t understand its subject at all (like most others).


Comments are closed.