Did we like it?
We were dreading an It’s A Knockout jolly full of familiar Five faces making sickeningly arch comments overflowing with retrospective smugness, but we were pleasantly surprised by a stark, sober documentary that delved into the great social ills of the decade.
What was good about it?
• Christopher Eccleston’s authoritative narration which was detached and sonorous at times while, elsewhere, he could barely hide the disgust in his voice.
• The clear way in which the superseding of Britain’s anachronistic car industry was swept out to the sea of oblivion by the innovative Japanese automobiles, such as Datsun. The Japanese cars had features fitted as regulation that British manufacturers still regarded as luxuries.
• The wearied resignation of the narration as the cheap efforts of British industry to thwart Japanese cars were detailed such as blatant xenophobia, including one remarkable advert that seemed to rely on Britons’ delusions that all goods made in this country were somehow of a higher quality simply because they were British and were advertised with a posh accent. The British Government joined in with a half-baked Buy British campaign, but this too was doomed.
• How thanks to the advent of the microchip, the size of a computer shrunk during the 70s from the size of a room to the size of, well, a computer.
• While we missed out on the computer games of the 70s, there was the same thrill and awe from the footage, and from talking heads such as the perceptive Miranda Sawyer, to get across that playing bat and ball on a TV screen was every bit as novel and exhilarating as tracking monsters with the intelligence of ringtone-obsessed bankers every week through tunnels on Mars. And in much the same way as today’s games will be usurped in 25 years time where the monsters will have the intelligence and instincts of a trained guard dog.
• Ted Turner, think Rupert Murdoch with a grain of humanity (but only a grain, mind you), predicting that satellite TV would succeed through the broadcast of “football, British football, the football they play in Europe, soccer”.
• The horrors of the McDonald’s school in which young, bright people had their minds burned out as they learned by rote customer service mantras.
• Roy Schieder’s weariness over the inundation of Jaws merchandising, which, at its height, included specially-grown genetically modified children who would be dangled over boats and devoured by Great Whites to Wimbledon-style vacuous applause from passengers who had utterly lost their moral scope after being force-fed a diet of celluloid tripe for too long.
• Andrew Neill sporting an even more ludicrous hairstyle in the 70s than he does today; it looked like frozen, brown electricity.
• The notorious Caligula, which was a film about the decadent Roman emperor starring the cream of British theatre (John Gielgud, Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole and Helen Mirren) but whose lofty ambitions were hijacked by the financier, who also owned Penthouse, into a soft-porn extravaganza. During the shooting, an exasperated Gielgud remarked to the passing McDowell, “I’ve never seen so much cock in all my life!”
• Dave Hill of Slade recalling the marvel of the Sony Walkman that enabled him to get excited about listening to music while doing the gardening. Yes, we know it sounds simple but just think how many people will gain pleasure from having their iPod thumping music into their heads and evicting the creative thoughts that might otherwise germinate there.
What was bad about it?
• The King Singers, a vocal harmonic group made up of the equivalent of the British nobility that the French got rid of at the end of the 18th century.
• While the programme was largely liberated of retrospective sneering, the mockery of scientists who claimed that robots “would soon become part of the family” was unnecessary. Even if it was a misapprehension, it was the imagination to believe that robots could become near human that partly propelled such technology forwards and helped us get to the stage today where “robots in the home” isn’t so implausible.
• While the Japanese method of mass-production was successful, the techniques employed to achieve these economic superpowers were morally dubious, such as essentially reducing the workforce to fleshy robots who had to exercise together in the car park before starting work to eradicate every last molecule of inefficient individuality.
• For all the impressive research, there wasn’t actually anything we didn’t already know. What this documentary did was to colour in some of the gaps in our knowledge without ever really astounding us. It would be most useful for younger generations who weren’t alive in that decade, or who did not feel its uncomfortable echoes in the 80s (the most jarring of whom was Margaret Thatcher, who was featured here lauding the Advertisers’ Association for managing to swindle a fortune from populace for “something they didn’t need and probably couldn’t afford”).
• Matthew Parris sitting in exactly the same chair, in exactly the same spot, in exactly the same room spouting exactly the same bunkum as he had done in My Appalling School Report.
• While we’re largely a peaceful, considerate bunch, we could happily stake out I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing in the searing Saharan sun and lustily cheer as its back is flayed of all its skin, salt sprinkled into the wounds and sand kicked into its face until every note in its desiccated body had been exiled to oblivion before settling back, bloodlust partially sated, for the main event of Angels by Robbie Williams suffering exactly the same fate. Or rather we would if Williams wasn’t going to use that as the ‘treatment’ for his next self-pitying video.