What was the most important decade of the 20th century? 1960s obviously gave us The Beatles, England’s sole World Cup, the civil rights movement and the assignations of JFK and Martin Luther King. The 1980s brought us Roland Rat, Bono and the Sinclair C5. And then, of course, thereâs the much-loved 1970s, the focus of a current BBC documentary series, in which historian Dominic Sandbrook argues a case for the age of the space-hopper.
This programme, the second in the series, focuses specifically on 1973 and 1974 and how these years have shaped the Britain we know today. It opens with the general grotty images that weâve come to associate with those years â the energy shortage, the oil crisis, Bruce Forsyth. The sexual revolution is also featured and is visually interpreted by a moustachioed gentleman, who makes a little impressed face after spotting a group of middle-aged ladies.
You might not associate the sexual revolution with the 1970s, Dominic explains, but it was the decade when sexual liberation found its way into the homes of ordinary people. Unfortunately, weâre then shown some grainy footage of an ordinary couple nakedly embracing each other and rolling around on the floor like dying fish. Softcore pornography, we learn, was different then. Women exposed their breasts as if they were pints of bitter, offering them to the camera with a warm smile and a wink.
Itâs the same weird mix of sex and humour that helped define British cinema and television in the 1970s. This was the era of the British sex comedy, a surprisingly unappealing cocktail of jugs and bawdy humour. The episode focuses on the genre defining ‘Confessions of a Window Cleaner’ specifically, which Sandbrook is appalled to reveal was the highest grossing British film of 1974.
But as the horny general pubic fawned over broad tits-based comedy, they were also pinching their pennies. The oil crisis had happened, sending prices soaring. It was a difficult time for the entire country, and The 70s represents this feeling of discontent by showing footage of experts providing viewers with ways for Brits to save money.
âYou can save money by not having a roast for every meal,â? says one well-informed lady.
Dominic insists that Britainâs financial troubles were political, but if this ladyâs to be believed, obviously the amount of roasts being consumed during those years were a major factor. We cut to images of old ladies complaining about the price of bread and then Sandbrook shows considerable disdain towards Slade, whose 1973 hit âMerry Xmas Everybodyâ? failed to provide accurate commentary on what was happening.
â’Look to the future, itâs only just begunâ? Not the most appropriate lyrics,â? he says, with a disapproving look.
As the episode draws to a close, it fails to really explain how the 1970s have shaped the Britain of today, as Sandbrook claimed it would in the beginning. Have bawdy sex comedies had much of an influence on modern Britain? No (surprisingly). But the financial crisis isnât too dissimilar. The 70s is a decent series, and it manages to avoid many of the typical clichÃ©s that youâd expect to find in similar documentaries.