I Love 1979
Saturday, September 23, 2000 by Steve Williams
Doesn’t it seem so long ago? No Big Brother, Saturday night television filled with singers and talent shows, cynicism over Britain’s Olympic hopes… yes, just marvel at how different the world was 10 weeks ago, before I Love the Seventies.
The Saturday night fixture reached the end of its run with the same mix of great archive footage and irony-filled soundbites. The only real difference was that some new pundits made their debuts. Of them, Alan Cumming was pleasantly fey, Tracey Ann Oberman was rather pointlessly bitchy (describing the Rubik’s Cube as “something that boys who masturbated a lot used to play with”), and Shaun Ryder was – well – Shaun Ryder (“I think that was my glue-sniffing phase”). I’d like some sort of conformation that Zandra Rhodes’ only appearance in the entire series was for two seconds, announcing that “this is the Rubrik Cube (sic)”.
The “Rubrik” Cube sequence was actually the most successful part of the programme, and really sums up what was great about the series. It took some marvellous archive footage – including Noel Edmonds announcing that it was “driving me absolutely mad” and Jonathan King proudly unveiling the puzzle on Top of the Pops, among lots more great period news coverage – and some inspired guests. It was brilliant to see shots of the Daily Mirror-sponsored British Cube Championships, and then see the winner interviewed today. Also present was Patrick Bossert, the pre-pubescent author of “one of the publishing sensations of the year”, You Can Do The Cube, accompanied with clips of him actually introducing a programme explaining successful cube technique. This footage hasn’t been shown for years, and so there’s automatic nostalgia straight away (like, say, if the BBC were to repeat The Goodies, rather than Fawlty Towers again).
The programme’s been at its best when dealing with cultural phenomenon that haven’t lasted. Therefore, while the sections devoted to two-tone and the film 10 were well done, and pretty essential to a programme on the year, they weren’t really providing anything that we hadn’t seen before – 10 has been shown several times since 1979, and some unfortunate scheduling meant that the two-tone item was broadcast just four days after Madness had been the subject of a 40-minute documentary, on the same channel’s Young Guns Go For It.
So it was perhaps more interesting to see the retrospective on Holly Hobbie, a phenomenon that I’d almost forgotten, and it was fun to see it again. For a bit, anyway – and as has been noted here, the programme struggles when it deals with ephemera, and particularly clothing, where little footage exists. The section on tight jeans relied on a few old adverts, then lots of straight anecdotes over mocked up shots of actors wearing them, and in the end this became a little tiresome.
These are criticisms that could be levelled at all the programmes in the run, and there have been many plus points that have ensured a series that’s been consistently entertaining. The two main plus points, of course, were Stuart Maconie and Peter Kay, and both went out on fine form. Peter was enjoying himself remembering “Monkey magic, and it were, weren’t it!”, and pointing out that the title sequence to the legendary import was almost identical to Bergerac (congratulations to the programme for allowing us to make our own comparisons – he was right). Our man Maconie related a marvellous story about watching Quadrophenia in the ABC Cinema, Wigan, where he’d “never been involved in such an atmosphere of simmering violence … sporadically bricks were thrown across the cinema”. It was enough to make you wish that BBC2 would show the whole film, but alas, this wasn’t the case.
Even Jamie Theakston managed to do himself proud in the end, during the sequence on The Dukes of Hazzard -”When I was young I used to live outside a town called Hassocks, and me and two friends used to pretend we were The Dukes of Hassocks”. And there was also the regular amusing Pops clip – this time, Kid Jensen looking rather too earnest introducing Tubeway Army. It’s this good natured reminiscence (that’s good natured, Oberman) that has made the series such a success, and it’s fortunate that 1979 managed to turn out enough worthwhile topics to fill a programme – two major movements in pop (electro, two-tone), a pivotal film (Quadrophenia), a heart throb (Leif Garrett), a new toy (Rubik’s Cube) and so on. Other years were not so lucky – specifically, 1977, where, as was stated, there were really only a few things that actually had a major effect.
Perhaps we can look back at the series as a whole – it’s hard to tell whether the individual programmes were successful due to the years that they covered or the way they were produced. Maybe we could say that the weaker programmes in the series (1973, 1977) were a combination of both – both seemed to overdose on “ironic detachment” and both seemed overtly fond of dramatic reconstructions of events, but both also seemed to have little material to work with. The best programmes seemed to come from earlier in the run where maybe the format was fresher and we were less attuned to the techniques that were at times overused. The presenters have been almost uniformly weak, but most had the good grace to simply stick to the script and avoid getting in the way.
It’s probably impossible to make a mess of a simple format like this, and though at times it clearly could have been loads better, I Love the Seventies has been one of the outstanding series of the year, and, were it not for Big Brother, would have been the best series of the summer. What else is there to say, then, but roll on I Love the Eighties? Now that’s a decade I really did love…