I Love 1971

Saturday, July 29, 2000 by

I Love 1971 reeks of unashamed nostalgia. Concurring with its forbear of last week each section was interspersed with snippets of cine film and imbued with a sunny, yellowed taint. Tonight some of us relived clackers, The Banana Splits, Middle of the Road, Get Carter, Jackie Stewart, Shaft and the Brucie-era Generation Game, whilst those of us who couldn’t make it to 1971 felt an illogical pang of yearning anyway.

We seem to know the drill already, so simple was the format established last week; a celebrity with some vestigial connection to the year in question chairs an enjoyable hour of archive footage and contemporary commentary. There’ll be a pivotal film, a defining trend in fashion, playground crazes, a couple of representative personalities and survivors and – we hope – old telly.

I Love, and tonight’s I Love 1971 rightly celebrate the subject; unusually veering away from the smug retrospective sneering that normally mars these sort of ventures. Instead we take on 1971 on its own terms – as emphasised by the wonderfully unexpected incursions of contemporary adverts (and to see those Matchbox cars magically delivering themselves into their own toy garage still gets one counting the days until Christmas).

Of course the normal sticking point is with the inclusion of pundits, and while Jamie Theakston ummms over The Banana Splits, one cannot help but think of the footage we’re not being shown. But, let’s accept it, punditry is required to deliver this material to the audience, and the punditry here isn’t half bad. Mark Gatiss, although a little underwhelming, appears quite happy to quietly wallow in the past and seems to have a genuine personal response to the material. Jonathan King, still the epitome of toad-faced, leaps on the chance to self-mythologise but reminds us that, despite our inevitable associations of 1971 with childhood (and let’s face it, this series is aimed at now grown-up clackerers and Space Hopperers) there were cynical operators working within pop music then – no different from today. Stuart Maconie puts in an appearance, and succeeds in raising a smile with the odd uncovered detail, even if his shtick (which is oft times a verbalisation of an already accepted response) teeters perilously close to easy mockery. But the most welcome appearance was probably from show-jumper Harvey Smith who even now seemed the epitome of the year he was tagged to. Ragged in profile, staunch and crusty he still had an element of iconoclastic fun about him. One of Maconie’s best bits of observation was that the V-sign (which Harvey had proffered to a dreadfully partisan crowd) was the epitome of 1971. He was right, and Harvey still seemed to carry the gait of a habitual “up-yours” man even now.

Even though we weren’t looking on 1971 as a foreign place, with all the smirking that normally entails, there were some moments that made the year seem quite alien, and funnily enough as we continue to consider Harvey Smith it was the revelation that 29 years ago show-jumping was second only to football in popularity that unsettled the most. The only other moment that rivaled this was watching Jack Carter take a bullet on a ’70s shingle beach, whilst the mechanisms of ’70s industry lifted away the man he had in turn murdered – all on that subdued ’70s film-stock. Otherwise this programme was all about familiarity.

One cannot deny there is a simple pleasure in recognition and the spiral of associated thoughts it provokes. Ah, here are the Liver Birds! Didn’t Elizabeth Estensen succeed Polly James? Didn’t Pauline Collins precede Nerys Hughes? And that’s the essence of this programme. It’s a collective memory, touchstones in our own histories – far enough away to be mythologised, but so close you can almost touch it.

And it makes someone who wasn’t even born then feel as though the memories are theirs too. Come 1973; that’s when the ’70s really started. For me, anyway.


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