Fifty-nine Up

I am like many people of my generation. We have grown up with the “Seven Up” children from the original showing of the “World In Action”  documentary in 1964.

I was eleven years of age when the programme appeared on our screens. My family were avid fans of documentaries ( I always had a keen interest as a child in history and current affairs). This was a very interesting experiment. Taking 20 children from all walks of life and parts of the United Kingdom. Letting them meet each other and play with each other. Discussing their lives and their dreams of the future.

It was a fascinating piece of  sociological research and was based on just one premise: “Shoe me the child at seven and I will show you the man”.

We were definitely shown the child.There were the children who were destined to go to expensive public schools and hen Oxbridge and then there were the children from working class homes who, even at seven years of age had little thought for worldly success and merely hoped to have a job and expected to follow their parent’s lead in raising as family and existing on a day to day basis.

To understand this concept see the following Part 1 of the documentary:

The documentary was a success. Seven years after its first showing the programme makers decided to return to look at how the children had developed in the seven years since they had first been seen on our screens. This documentary was called “7  Plus Seven”. We could see here the way that the children’s own lives were developing much the way that they themselves had predicted in the original documentary.

Every seven years thereafter we were treated to a documentary about the growth of these children into adults, parents, drug addicts, accountants, teachers and dropouts. Because it started at a time when I was within sight of their age, I somehow felt as if I were growing up with these children.

It must have been unusual to have had your life documented so publicly. Many of these adults have become something of minor celebrities. Some of them have ducked out of the series because they no longer want to live their lives in a fishbowl.

Yesterday I watched the latest series “56 Up”. It was fascinating to see the way that the children were now (many of them) grandparents. Some of them had retired or had been made redundant and had become victims of our recent economic woes. There were the lost hopes of a political career or becoming a Derby Winning jockey. They had come to terms with their lives but represented the vast social changes that we have all gone through in the past half century or so in the United Kingdom (indeed all across the world).

I was most moved by seeing the way that the East End of London had changed. I was born and bred in Hackney and the demise of the dog track which is now been replaced by the main Olympic Stadium represents the huge changes that have happened within my lifetime (and theirs).

I am fearful and interested in what the next programmes will bring. We all lie in uncertain times with vast changes. There is the threat of the grim reaper appearing in the near distance and the economic uncertainties mean that growing old can be something of a fight for existence. Notwithstanding this is the change that has been brought about by the digital revolution… I wonder how this will be reflected in “63 Up”.

I am “59 Up” now and have just taken voluntary redundancy, retired and moved to a different part of the country. My changes, like theirs, is part of the huge tapestry that is 21st century Britain. Maybe I will still be blogging in 2019 and can do the update to this post!”


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