10 things you didn’t know about the 1970s
It’s an era that has long been dismissed as a car crash of bad fashion and industrial strife.
But do the 1970s get a raw deal?
Do we conveniently forget there were seismic differences in social norms five decades ago as the era dawned?
Are we maybe a bit hasty consigning great swathes of the era’s light entertainment industry to the bin marked ‘un-PC’ – shows and comedies that transfixed much of the nation back then and pulled in audiences of fifteen million-plus each time?
Is it more a case we’ve chosen to remove the rose-tinted spectacles that turn the 1960s into an aspirational era of mini-skirts and sexual freedom and the 1950s into the polka dot-charged decade of vintage rock’n’roll cool?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from researching, writing and publishing a whole series of books on the era it’s the case that the 1970s were arguably more culturally ground-breaking and aspirational than either of the earlier eras – they just failed to realise that platform shoes, flared trousers and big hair were never going to look good on a picket line-style photo decades down the line.
Many also forget that many of the more jaw-dropping moments of the era weren’t without their dissenters – even back then.
In fact ‘The Black And White Minstrel Show’ – a programme that has the ability to single-handedly consign the decade to a lifetime of understandable racism accusations – actually received its first petition trying to ban it as early as 1967.
It courted controversy throughout its existence – despite being a massive primetime hit.
‘Love Thy Neighbour’ – another light entertainment headline grabber for the era for all the wrong reasons – hardly found things plain sailing either.
It was criticised for its sledgehammer-style handling of racism from the day it was broadcast in 1972.
Scratch the surface and any decade can quickly be made to lose its veneer.
We might re-think the iconic hourglass figure of the fifties if we remember it was aided by widespread rationing that carried on through much of the era and helped by the athleticism required to skip around the World War Two bombsites that still littered the country.
Few eras have a more polished image than the sixties. The ‘swinging’ era brought us the Beatles and Stones-led popular music explosion and recreational drug-charged peace and love.
But it wasn’t all sweetness and light.
It was an era that brought the USA and Russia closer to conflict than at any other time. The Cuban Missile Crisis scared the world witless. The era was also responsible for the Great Train Robbery and the Moors Murderers.
So before you write off the ‘70s here’s a few things to remember about the much-maligned decade that might surprise you:
- It can’t be totally blamed for flared trousers. They were becoming popular from the mid-1960s. In fact the 1970s as good as killed them in 1976 with the rise of punk.
- The era produced films that have gone on to influence generations: Star Wars, Jaws and the Exorcist being just three.
- Despite the era being maligned as treating women as second class citizens it actually produced the country’s first female Prime Minister in Margaret Thatcher in 1979. And before you say anything else just remember what was happening in a few years earlier… In 1971 women were banned from entering a Wimpy Bar after midnight (all-night Wimpys were big in the era) as it was assumed only prostitutes were out after that time.
- The 1970s introduced the first taste of a digital future via the rise of pocket calculators, digital watches and the first personal computer.
- Style icon David Bowie truly hit the big time when he unveiled his androgynous Ziggy Stardust in 1971. The singer reined supreme throughout the era.
- The first Gay Pride parade was held in New York City in 1970.
- Portable music started long before the iPod. The Sony Walkman was launched in the 1970s.
- Tech giants Apple and Microsoft were both launched in the era.
- The Beatles just made it into the 1970 but split within weeks.
- America got a lot closer – Concorde was launched which cut the journey down to just three hours.