Anarchy in the UK? Media, popular culture and society in the 1970s
1 How far were the 1970s a disastrous decade for the British?
1.1 The financial context
1.1.1 This saw the end of the 'golden era' of capitalism Arab organisations
stopped the supply of oil to the USA. The price of oil soon
quadrupled. The pound had also been devalued so the cost of all
1.1.2 The oil shock and devaluation of the pound caused huge cuts in
government spending sent the economy into a damaging recession.
Unemployment rose from 2% to 4.7% of the population and the standard
of living dropped.
1.1.3 Inflation rose to 25% and due to this trade
unions demanded higher wages, which further
1.1.4 Things grew even worse when miners caused power
cuts and went on strike, public sector workers went
1.1.5 This all contributed to a felling
that Britain was in a state of
1.2 The political context
1.2.1 Instead of Butskellism (A blend of economic policy that
served both sides) British people seemed to face an
increasingly stark choice between strongly left-wing rule of
the trade unions and a strongly right-wing, even fascist
1.2.2 In every instance the
government had to give in to
union demands for wage
increases. Margaret Thatcher
gradually emerged as the voice
of reaction against 'mob rule' in
1.2.3 In Northern Ireland, tension erupted between the
protestants and catholic. Such events such as
bloody Sunday only made things worse. The
government passed the prevention of terrorism act
which allowed police to make arrests based on
suspicion of terrorist activity.
1.3 The social context
1.3.1 The 1969 divorce reforms act and the matrimonial property act
made it easier for women to get a divorce. The rate of divorce
doubled to 100,000.
1.3.2 The 1970s saw the growth of 'women's lib': to demand equal pay, free
contraception and childcare.
1.3.3 The era of mass black and Asian
immigration was over, their
combined population had risen to
650,000 in 1971. Racial tensions
2 How far did mass media and popular culture reflect or exacerbate the social and economic tensions in the years 1970s?
2.1.1 There were only three television channels, BBC1,
BBC2 and ITV, as 95% of British households had a
television set, the potential audience and influence
2.1.2 The impact of
by the spread of
done in colour.
2.1.3 The 1970s are remembered as the golden age of the
sitcom, with many classic series, such as Faulty Towers.
The values and images shown in such programmes may
have had a large impact on British people's attitudes to
authority, morality and on a range of social issues.
2.2 Soaps and dramas
2.2.1 The most popular dramas were either based o
the past, such as ITV's Upstairs Downstairs, or
on contemporary policing The Professionals..
Especially the Sweeny depicted a tough and
rough police force that was not afraid to punch
first and ask questions later, the police were
shown as hard and honest. 75% of British
people thought that the police were honest. The
representation of the tough policing was very
2.3 News and documentaries
2.3.1 The 1970s saw a rise in
investigated the damage
done by the drug
thalidomide, corruption in
the government and
reports from Vietnam
and Northern Ireland.
2.3.2 The BBC also faced threats, this time
from its board of governors and even
directly from the government, over its
programmes on Northern Ireland.
Threats included a call from James
Callaghan to secure greater
governemtn control over broadcasts.
2.4 Radio and popular music
2.4.1 In the early 1970s glam rock rose to the fore but
was rivalled with the rise of home-made, anarchistic
style of punk. The Sex Pistols were the most
famous example, they rose to fame after they
swore at interviewers.
2.4.2 Appearances in the press and on
television spread the fashion to
other young people across the
country. While punk remained
limited to a minority of young people,
it had a large impact on subsequent
mainstream music and fashions.
2.4.3 Punk was also seen as promoting
female independence and
self-confidence. For the first time bands
had female members who were not there
solely as sex objects.
2.5 The press
2.5.1 In the case of war on terrorism, many
reporters have prided themselves on their
ability to expose the truth, regardless of
political bias. The satire boom of the late
1960s encouraged a more confrontational
approach to government in the press
2.5.2 Press coverage of 'wildcat
strikes' and 'flying pickets'
encouraged other unions
to adopt these tactics in
their own struggles
2.5.3 The more left wing newspapers
showed greater sympathy to
workers who went on strike than
the right wing press, who strongly
2.5.4 The sun, for the first time, introduced the
'page 3 girl", a draw for Mary male readers.
Mary Whitehouse continued to protest
against 'sexploitation' in the media.
2.6.1 Mounting debts in American films studios
led to withdrawal of investment. In 1968,
American money had funded 85% of
British films, within 2 years, this had
dropped to 66%. At the same time, the
conservative government cut funds
available to the National Film Finance
2.6.2 The Theatres Act virtually ended the censorship of
plays on British stages. Liberal views on sex were
becoming more permissible, films were classified
features much stronger violent or sexual content . Some
films focused on the struggle of individuals against
society. But it is still questionable if these films made
British society anymore violent.
3 How far did mass media change British society in the years 1970s?
3.1 Economic and social tensions, changes in the
law, directly affected most people in British
society, as mass media reflected these
problems, they may have made them seem
worse than they actually were.
3.2 The 1970s were a time of national hardship, rising
unemployment, and inflation. Causing tentions between tade
unions and the government. The troubles in Northern Ireland
gave a backdrop of violence to the decade.
3.3 Mass media reflected these developments.
Newspapers were full of stories about Northern Ireland
and bomb attacks on Britain, there was very little
reference to these troubles in television. However
tension and violence was the subject of many films in
3.4 The escapism of violence of
some genres of popular
music in this period can be
seen as a reaction to the
3.5 Depictions of racial minorities
on television may have
chnageed the attitudes of the
white majority to a degree and
the more liberal censorship
may have spread permissive
attitudes in cinema. There
were some backlashes
against the depictions of sex
and violence in mass media,
but only from a small minority
of the population.