Anarchy in the UK?
Media, popular culture
and society in the 1970s
1 How far did mass media and popular culture reflect or exacerbate the social and
economic tensions in the 1970s?
1.1 Radio and popular music
1.1.1 Radio and popular music: 1973 Independent Broadcasting Authority Act mean BBC had to compete
with a range of UK-based commercial stations. BBC invested more money in its local radio stations
and began broadcasting on am and fm. Radio 1 was forced to cut its broadcast time and to share
airtime with Radio 2 despite that Radio 3 was allowed to keep its large budget for live concerts and
lectures. Showing Board of Governors' persistent bias against popular music. Audiences for Radio 1
rose in 1970s, with DJ Tony Blackburn's Breakfast Show (attracting 20 million listeners). Popular
music in 1970s seen as either escapist or reflective.
184.108.40.206 Early 1970s 'glam rock' rose to fame with artists such as Slade and Gary Glitter.
Mid-70s rise of New York-Inspired disco with performers such as David Bowie. High
point of disco when Saturday Night Fever (1977) was released. Rivaled by rise of
home-made, anarchistic style of punk. Leading punk band, the Sex Pistols made
hits such as 'Anarchy in the UK' (year of silver jubilee) and 'God Save the Queen'.
Rose to fame through press attention e.g. swore at interview with Bill Grundy on
Thames Television's, Today Show on 1 December 1976.
220.127.116.11 Apart from the raw anger of the music, the Sex Pistols also
made famous the ripped and safety-pinned clothes of designer
Vivienne Westwood. In November 1974, Westwood opened a
boutique in London called Sex, sold clothes to fashionable
young Londers (like Mary Quant in 60s). Appearances in press
and on TV increased spread of the fashion trend to other parts
of UK in 80s. Punk remained limited to minority of young people,
but has had large impact on subsequent mainstream music and
18.104.22.168 Punk also further promoted female independence and confidence.
The Slits was among the first all-female bands to write and perform
their own music, while bands like X-Ray Spex and The Banshees were
fronted by formidable female singers like Poly Styrene and Siouxsie
Sioux. Adam Ant observed that 'punk was the first youth movement in
which women played as big part as men. For the first time bands had
female members who were not there solely as sex objects'.
1.2.1 Only three TV channels; BBC1, BB2 and the ITV franchises. 95% of British
households had a TV. 1977 to 1979 people watched 16 hours of TV per week in
summer and 20 hours in summer. Impact of TV enhanced by spread of broadcasts
and reception in colour; BBC2 began colour broadcasts in 1967, BBC1 in November
1969. Colour TV sets increased from (1970) 1.7% to 70% (1979). Authorities worried
about the impact of gory colour reports on troubles in Northern Ireland or Vietnam
War, but did not stop rise of colour TV as the norm. 1971-75 government taxed ITV's
profits between £15 million and £27 million per franchise rather than its advertising
revenue. ITV produce quality shows, The World at War (1973-74) and current affairs
programmes, This Week and World In Action.
1.2.2 BBC struggled with costs; licence fee was kept at fixed rate at
time of high inflation and increased costs due to colour
transmission. Charles Curran, Director General 1969-77 had to
make BBC1 more competitive to justify licence fee. Responsible
for golden age of sit-com, classic series such as Till Death Do Us
Part, Fawlty Towers, Porridge and The Good Life all made by BBC.
Weekly audiences as high as 20 million, images and values shown
in programmes have had large impact on British people's attitudes
to authority, morality and range of social issues.
1.3.1 Many sit-coms of 70s share a number of common traits
22.214.171.124 Fawlty Towers
126.96.36.199.1 12.5 million
188.8.131.52.2 Main characters: Hotel manager Basil Fawlty, his
wife Sybil and a Spanish waiter,
184.108.40.206.3 Main setting: Fawlty towers
Hotel in Torquay, Devon
220.127.116.11.4 Plot: Basil is centre of a stressful
situation. Manuel makes things worse
before Sybil sorts everything out
18.104.22.168.5 Influence attitudes
22.214.171.124.1 16.8 million peak
126.96.36.199.2 Main characters: Fletch, an
habitual criminal in his 40s, and
his cell-mate Godber, in his early
20s, in prison for the first time,
and who wants to go straight
188.8.131.52.3 Main setting: fictional slade
Prison, mostly in Fletch and
184.108.40.206.4 Plot: Fletch knows everything there is to
know about prison and is usually involved
in a scam at the expense of the prison
guards or trying to help Godber
220.127.116.11.5 Influence attitudes
towards authority (police
and prison wardens)
18.104.22.168 The Good Life
22.214.171.124.1 15.7 million peak
126.96.36.199.2 Main characters: Husband and wife Tom and
Barbara Good, who decide to give up their
jobs and live off the land in their back garden
in Surbiton, and their nouveau rich
neighbours, Margot and Jerry Leadbetter
Nouveau riche: someone who has made a lot of money in their own lifetime rather than inherited their wealth
188.8.131.52.3 Main setting: The
Good's house and
184.108.40.206.4 Plot: although they fundamentally get on very well, the
Leadbetters look down upon the Goods' attempts to grow
vegetables and rear livestock in their garden and the Goods
criticise the Leadbetter's materialism
220.127.116.11.5 Influence attitudes towards
class and consumerism
1.4 Soaps and dramas
1.4.1 Coronation Street most popular soap. Popular dramas
based on past like ITV's Upstairs Downstairs, set in England
1903-1930, or on contemporary policing. The Professionals
and The Sweeny reflected the modern side of tough policing.
1.5 The press
1.7 News and documentaries
2 How far were the 1970s a disastrous decade for the British?
2.1 A decade full of tension and an absence of good taste. Arthur Marwick
has suggested that 'perhaps violence, racial tension and terrorism are the
most important social phenomena of the 1970s'. However, many people
who lived through the 70s look back and claim a sense of nostalgia.
There was a quick succession of distinctive styles, from the hippies'
flared trousers at the start of the decade, through the punks' ripped,
safety-pinned clothes at the end of the decade, which challenged the
status quo. The 1970s could be seen as the decade when the permissive
values of a small minority in the 1960s became more widely discussed,
experienced and perhaps, accepted by British people.
2.2 Financial Context
2.2.1 1973 saw an end of the 'golden era' of capitalism. In October
1973, a number of Arab states invaded Israel. In retaliation
for American support for Israel, the Arab members of the
Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)
stopped the supply of oil to the USA. The price of oil soon
quadrupled. The pound had already been devalued in 1967,
so the cost of all imports rose. The 'oil shock', the devaluation
of the pound and huge cuts in government spending sent the
British economy into a damaging recession.
2.2.2 1974-78 the standard of
living fell for the first time
since the start of the
rose from 2% to 4.7%.
2.2.3 Inflation averaged 13% in 70s
and rose as high as 25% IN
1975; a weekly shop that had
cost £25 in 1970 cost £115 in
2.2.4 The price rises led trade unions to demand
higher wages, which further worsened
inflation; a vicious cycle. Govenment efforts
to limit pay increases led to a tense struggle
with the unions (widely reported in media).
Miners caused power cuts and every 3-day
working week when they went on strike in
1972 and 1974.
2.2.5 Things worsened in winter
1978-79 when public sector
workers went on strike; litter
was not collected by dustmen
and piled on the streets; in
one Liverpool graveyard the
workers refused to bury the
2.3 Political Conect
2.3.1 Instead of Butskellism, British people
were faced with a stark choice
between strong left-wing rule of trade
unions and a strongly right-wing,
perhaps even fascist government.
Butskellism was a blend of Conservative Chancellor Butler and Labour Chancellor Gaitskell. The economic policies of both parties came to an agreement.
2.3.2 On the left, union leaders such as Jack Gormley
of the National Union of Miners, seemed to be the
most powerful men in the country; in every
instance the government had to give in to union
demands for wage increases.
2.3.3 On the right, Margaret Thatcher,
leader of Conservative Party from
1975, gradually emerged as the
voice of reaction against the 'mob
rule' of the unions.
2.3.4 Many people sympathised with the
unions at the start of the decade, but
the disruption to everyday life caused
by the strikes led to a loss of support
as the decade wore on.
2.3.5 The other major source of attention was the
Northern Ireland. Tension between Protestants
and Catholics erupted in violence in 1969; the
British government sent in troops to try and
restore order. However, events such as Bloody
Sunday only inflamed the situation (the violence
escalated in the 70s and spread to mainland
Britain, With Provisional IRA bombs set off in
London, Birmingham and Guildford.
IRA: Irish Republican Army
Bloody Sunday: 27 protesters were shot and 14 of these killed by British troops in the Bogside area of Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
18.104.22.168 The government saw this as the biggest threat to British
security since WW2 and passed the Prevention of
Terrorism Act, 21 November 1964. This was a draconian
piece of legislation that allowed the police to arrest
people merely on suspicion that they were plotting acts
2.4 Social Context
2.4.1 The 1969 Divorce Reform Act and the 1970
Matrimonial Property Act made it easier for
women in particular to seek a divorce.
Within a year the rate of divorce doubled to
100,000. In 1965, there were only 2.8
divorces/1000 population; by 1975 had
increased to 9.6/1000 population; by 1980
was 12/1000 population.
2.4.2 An increasing number of
married women began to go to
work; in 1951 1/4 did, by 1970
it rose to 1/2 and 3/4 by 1990.
2.4.3 The 1970s saw a growth of 'women's lib'; the National Women's
Conference first met in February 1970 to demand equal pay, free
contraception and childcare. In 1972, the feminist magazine Spare Rib was
launched. The founders of the magazine also staged a demonstration
against the Miss World competition that year. In October 1970, the
Australian feminist Germaine Greer published The Female Eunuch, in
which she argued for an end to marriage. The book was widely discussed,
and Greer made often appearances of TV and radio.
2.4.4 By the start of the 1970s, the era of mass black and Asian
immigration to Britain was over; their combined population had
already risen from 337,000 in 1961 to 650,000 in 1971. Only
significant influx after this was when 30,000 Ugandan Asians were
granted refuge after they were forced to flee by dictator Idi Amin.
22.214.171.124 However, immigrants continued to settle
in only few towns and cities; in such
places, racial tension developed.