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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Smells like 1971. Feels like it too.

I watched "Sunday Bloody Sunday" yesterday. It's on You Tube.  It was directed by John Schlesinger in 1970 and came out in 1971. Every frame reeks of London in that period of time.

Glenda Jackson plays a recruitment professional who's having an affair with toy boy Murray Head, who's also carrying on with Peter Finch. In the first few minutes of the film we see her washing down pills with Scotch and trying to make a cup of instant coffee by putting a cup of Nescafe under the hot tap. She drinks from an enormous flagon of wine. We're not meant to interpret this as meaning she has a drink problem. It's the standard behaviour of lots of people in the film.

Everybody smokes. They smoke so much that at times it seems a film about smoking. When Finch goes to the all-night chemist in Piccadilly Circus everybody in the queue is smoking. At one stage she spills ash on the carpet and then rubs it in with her shoe. People used to do that and say "good for the pile".

Just as you can smell the smoke, you can also feel the cold. She and her boyfriend get into bed to keep warm. Even when she goes to visit her wealthy parents in their very salubrious house they're sitting having dinner at a splendid table with the only heat in the room provided by a two-bar electric fire.


  1. We didn't need central heating, we had hot water bottles — and Chillblains

  2. My preoccupation with watching re-runs of The Sweeney lies in the glimpses that it offers of a London that has slowly faded into history.

  3. There's a scene in "Sunday Bloody Sunday" involving a dog which has to be seen to be believed.

  4. 1971 .. Mum and dad with a fag always on the go, an old paraffin fire that seemed permanently lit, no hot water just a cold water tap and a shared bathroom and toilet ... And this was living in Chelsea.

  5. This puts me in mind of a TV comedian of the time who said "Dad would suck an extra strong mint and we'd all sit round his tongue."

  6. In the 1970's Britain was still showing the effects of the financial burden of 'winning' the war. While we spent our Marshall Aid* on setting up the NHS, devastated Europe was re-tooling with state-of-the-art everything. In 1971 how much of our day to day existence involved the use use of stuff made in the 1930's? Trains, engineering equipment, every piece of school equipment? Does anyone recall just how shabby our public spaces looked in the 1970's? All those off kilter kerb stones and dodgy paving, lino, stuff covered in ten layers of paint, few wipe-down surfaces, Chipped concrete street lights, magnolia everywhere, exposed,rusting and bleeding re-bar, cars with steam billowing from under bonnets and The Brotherhood of Man.

    We were a basket case in so many ways not just economically although I always recommend the chapter, 'Running the British Economy', in Denis Healy's autobiography; it gives a good impression of how impoverished we were. I've read, in numerous U.S. diaries, bios and histories of how intelligence led the Administration to believe that Great Britain was on the verge of a socialist revolution.

    Our friend above who watches The Sweeney with a wistful eye may wish to set his bead on Columbo and note how often the producer features new technology in the story; the Sweeney was flurry of nylon sheets in Kings Cross bed-sits, prams and fags butts being pushed into egg yolks. For all the great art and culture of the 1970's and the gravity with which it dominates the nostalgic impulse among people of a certain age the word I would use to describe much of the 1970's is.....grubby. And by 1980 the imminent - and well over due - technological and political revolution was about to ruin it all for everyone.

    *I think that we made our final payment on the Marshall Aid loan only 15 years or so ago.

  7. Looking at my fellow passengers on the tube yesterday, it struck me that in 1971 the only people you saw with tattoos had got them in the forces.

  8. Even thirty years ago all the senior NCOs in my regiment had fore arms plastered in tats. It was quite common for men of their generation to be given the choice of the army or borstal earlier in life. Often they were recruited straight from borstal and bought with them their ink, safety pins and swallow dotted fists.

    Borstal: Now there's an institution that had a very short life beyond the 1970's.

  9. In paragraph 3, you need to change either 'Finch' to 'Jackson' or the feminine pronouns to masculine ones. I'll know which it is when I've watched the film again, which your piece made me want to do.

  10. "it struck me that in 1971 the only people you saw with tattoos had got them in the forces"

    Or prison