Dominic Sandbrook explores Britain in the 1970s. Here, he looks at the final years of the decade, marked by concerns that appear startlingly current.
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# I've been on tenterhooks Ending in dirty looks
# Listening to the muzak Thinking about this and that
# She said, that's that I don't want to chitter-chat
# Turn it down a little bit Or turn it down flat
# Pump it up When you don't really need it
# Pump it up until you can feel it. #
Maybe you were going on your first foreign holiday
or furnishing your first home.
Perhaps you were starting a family, or like me, just starting school.
Whatever you got up to during the ''70s,
it's passed from personal nostalgia into our shared national history.
By the final years of the 1970s,
Britain felt like a very different place.
After a decade of extraordinary turbulence,
we had made a decisive break with the old post-war settlement.
But the future was still up for grabs and in the last years of the '70s,
Britain was plunged into a fierce argument about how we'd make our way in the world
and about what kind of country we wanted to be.
This was the battleground on which our future would be decided.
Late '70s Britain was a culturally diverse country.
A competitive country. A conflicted country.
But amid all the trauma and excitement,
the 21st century was taking shape.
The '70s are remembered as a golden age of pop music.
But it wasn't such a good time to be a rich rock star.
# Tonight there's going to be a jailbreak. #
In 1974, as the economy crumbled,
the top rate of income tax went up to 83%.
So Britain's pop aristocracy simply took their fortunes abroad.
The Rolling Stones were already in the south of France.
Rod Stewart fled to California.
David Bowie took his family to Switzerland.
And even Thin Lizzy left for West Germany.
If you had been a regular viewer of Top Of The Pops,
you might scarcely have noticed.
When it came to the very biggest names in pop and rock,
the audience were used to enjoying the delights of Pan's People
rather than a live appearance.
# And there's nothing I can do. #
Britain's rock star refugees were leaving behind a country
that seemed to have become a closed shop
of highly unionised, state-controlled industries.
Car-making, steel-making, mining and railways,
all relying on billions from the taxpayer
to survive a harsh new world of global economic competition.
Many foreign observers thought that Britain was in terminal decline.
As one commentator put it, it was an "offshore industrial slum".
But behind all the dereliction, you might have noticed
the beginnings of a rare British success story.
In one of the most unexpected twists of modern times,
a new model for private enterprise had emerged
from among the anti-materialistic hippie generation of the '60s.
# Imagine me and you
# I do
# I think about you day and night. #
1967 - the Summer of Love.
And in this quiet street in a well-to-do part of London,
a small group of friends were at work
on the first issue of a new magazine
that would speak for Britain's youth.
# I can't see me loving nobody but you. #
Somehow, I doubt that anybody back then would have imagined
that for just one of them, this would be the birth
of a global business empire and a personal fortune worth billions.
But it was, and it all began down there.
# No matter how they tossed the dice
# It had to be. #
The magazine that started in this shabby basement
was called, appropriately perhaps, 'The Student'.
The driving force behind it was a 17-year-old former public schoolboy
with one A-level and an ambition to become a journalist.
His name was Richard Branson.
Why shouldn't we just have pictures that people like to look at?
Pictures that girls want to go out and buy the clothes of
and do them much better than anybody else.
'The Student' was typically idealistic
and just as typically, it quickly ran out of money.
And at that point, Richard Branson hit on an idea
that he hoped would keep his magazine afloat.
He started a mail-order business.
But selling records didn't save 'The Student'. It made it redundant.
Branson quickly spotted the much greater potential of his new venture
and three years later, Virgin Records not only had its first shop in central London,
it was a record label.
# Money feeds my music machine. #
The Virgin studio was in this 17th Century Oxfordshire manor house,
which doubled as a comfortable country retreat
for the head of the company.
From mail order and music shops to his very own record label.
The Branson legend has become one of the '70s
most familiar success stories.
Nothing symbolised it better than this.
One of the bestselling records of the whole 1970s
and Virgin's very first release all the way back in 1973.
It is of course, Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells'.
If you really want to hear the genuine sound of the '70s,
here it is.
A 49-minute new-age symphony without a single lyric.
The perfect soundtrack for the new sophisticates
of the aspirational '70s.
Of course, it sounds even better with these on.
At the age of just 23,
Richard Branson had made himself a millionaire.
In five years, he'd gone from a basement squat to this.
And part of the secret of Branson's success as an entrepreneur
was that he created a very distinctive identity
for the Virgin brand.
That identity was based largely on himself.
Branson had found a way of selling music to a newly affluent market,
not just as pop culture, but as a kind of expression of identity.
And his own self-consciously outrageous persona,
was, of course, all part of the package.
What Branson had realised long before many other people
was that the future wasn't going to be about public ownership and heavy industry.
It was going to be about private enterprise
and selling pleasure.
Branson had grown up in an era full of dreams of a brighter future.
From full employment to better housing.
What these dreams had in common was the idea
that the state new best how to make them come true.
# Reasons to be cheerful
# Part three One, two, three
# Summer, Buddy Holly, The working folly
# Good golly Miss Molly and boats
# Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet. #
This is the National Theatre in London. It opened in 1976.
It still enjoys the unusual distinction of being simultaneously
one of the capital's most loved buildings
and also one of its most hated.
It was also several years overdue.
The building had been planned back in the 1960s
and the many terraces and foyers are testaments to the idea
that equality and happiness can be engineered through architecture.
Because this wasn't just a theatre.
As the programs from that very first season put it,
this was a social space, an area of casual encounter,
a theatre of the crowd.
Now, this kind of high-minded utopianism was all very well
in a playground for middle-class Guardian readers.
But what about in the places where real people actually lived?
The children of Cardiff are facing a future city
which will rise from the fall of condemned past
and bring to the surface a way of new life.
A way removed from disorder.
A way of reaching some concrete expression of tomorrow.
The story of how the '60s vision of streets in the sky
became the concrete jungles of the 1970s
is one of the most sobering lessons of recent history.
On the face of it, these new homes
with their fitted kitchens and indoor loos
should have been a vast improvement
on the Victorian slums they replaced.
The problems, however, were on the other side of the window.
In the kind of communal spaces that seemed so convivial
in a building like the National Theatre.
# I love the sound of breaking glass.
Everyone smashes a window now and again
and scratches their name on the wall.
-Why do they do that?
-Something to do.
Have you ever done that?
I've done it loads of times.
Along with the vandalism went the violence.
# I'm going out tonight
# I don't know if I'll be all right. #
-I don't go out at night time.
-Why not? You must go out, surely?
No, I don't.
You get mugged here, smash your windows.
You can't walk safely at night.
# Concrete jungle Animals after me. #
One housing estate in Nottingham
summed up everything that had gone wrong.
Welcome to Alcatraz, the jungle,
because that's what the people on this estate call it.
This is Hyson Green in Nottingham
and there are hundreds of places like it all over the country.
I suppose it took about 100 years
for what our ancestors built to turn into slums.
It's taken just 10 years for Hyson Green to turn into a modern slum.
# You abandoned me
# Love don't live here any more. #
So why did these new estates deteriorate so badly, so quickly?
Of course, the architecture didn't help
but the problem wasn't just how they were built,
it was about the kind of people that the council put in them.
By the end of the '70s,
a third of marriages were ending in divorce
and one in ten children was born out of wedlock.
Along with the elderly, single parents and homeless families
were among those most in need of council housing.
What reporters discovered in places like Hyson Green
was what happened when these vulnerable people
were tightly packed together.
Earlier this year, Hyson Green, and in particular, Valley Walk,
became a national byword for juvenile crime and vandalism.
Over a period of eight months, a gang of children and teenagers
terrified and tormented the old lady who lived here at number 22.
Mrs Linda Bilson, a widow, was living alone.
She was robbed and kicked.
Her furniture was destroyed
and a group of children were even alleged to have urinated on her.
It was a desperately depressing story.
Here in Hyson Green in 1978,
it seemed that for once, something might actually be done.
The residents themselves had a plan
to revive the sense of community
that seemed to have been sucked out of their estate.
They wanted to turn their vandalised garages
into a sports centre and workshops.
Christine and Robin Robinson are with me from the tenant's association.
Christine, why do you think the garages and what you do with them
is important for the future of Hyson Green?
Well, we hope it will encourage people to come into the flats
who actually want to live here
rather than people live here because they have nowhere else to go.
The workshops did get built
and in the end they sustained about 30 businesses
but it was all too little, too late, and by the mid-1980s,
the council decided that Hyson Green needed a complete rethink.
So, this is Hyson Green today.
It's a supermarket.
In the end, the housing estate lasted barely 20 years.
Like so many concrete dreams of the 1960s,
it ended up on the wrong side of a wrecking ball.
# When all the birds are singing in the sky
# Now that the spring is in the air
# We had joy we had fun
# We had seasons in the sun...#
The best communal housing, it turns out,
is one that gives people a sense of individual space.
Nottingham council had already learned that lesson in 1978,
when it started building these new houses,
literally next door to Hyson Green.
These were the kind of homes that people wanted to live in
and given the chance to buy.
But the failure of the high-rise housing experiment
was hugely damaging in a deeper sense too.
It helped to fuel a growing mistrust of Government planning
and a loss of faith in their supposedly benign bureaucrats
who'd taken it upon themselves
to manage the lives of millions of people.
And that mistrust spread into another battleground of the 1970s.
SONG: GRANGE HILL THEME TUNE
No children's series of the 1970s provoked more indignation
among adults, than Grange Hill,
which hit the nation's screens in 1978.
This school was the original location for the series.
Tucker Jenkins and his mates ran riot in this very playground.
And they had their punch-ups in this corridor.
The man who created Grange Hill, Phil Redmond,
was a former comprehensive schoolboy himself.
He'd written the series, he said,
to give modern children something to relate to,
something that reflected the realities of school life.
Realities that as he well knew, were often less than pleasant.
But that, of course, was the problem
because the programme provoked a torrent of complaints
from outraged parents,
horrified by the hard-hitting realism of scenes like this.
Now, I suppose it's too much to hope for
that anyone knows what happened to Justin's trousers.
-Thank you, Jenkins. Dianne will keep an eye on you.
We want the head. We want the head.
"I have previously written to you on the vexed subject of Grange Hill.
"I can now say I find the new series equally as obnoxious as before,
"but because of my dislike, I watch extra carefully.
"I do not see why I should have to listen to ill-mannered boys
"shouting their desire for a pee all over my living room."
Bunch of hooligans, the whole lot of you.
You don't deserve the amenities of this place.
Thank you, Jenkins.
We all know who you descended from.
But the complaints about Grange Hill
were about much more than decency and realism.
The programme was so controversial because it had touched a raw nerve
among viewers who were already anxious and angry
about the state of Britain's schools.
Ever since the 1960s,
Britain had been switching to a comprehensive school system.
At the time, comprehensives were hailed as a great improvement
on the old selection-based system,
where the best went to grammar schools,
and the rest to secondary moderns.
But by merging these two types of school,
comprehensives were supposed to raise standards
across the board.
I like it. I think it's great.
All of my friends, they've been up here.
You can do almost anything you want.
On the corridors, you can just lift your feet up, and you get carried.
The politician who'd approved more comprehensives than any other
was the Conservative Education Minister,
Thanks to her, by the mid '70s, almost two-thirds of children
were being educated at comprehensives,
including the pupils at her own former grammar school.
When Labour returned to power in 1974,
they were determined to finish the job.
They began by scrapping direct grants,
a subsidy scheme that allowed bright children
to go to fee-paying grammar schools
that their parents would not otherwise have been able to afford.
Although fewer than 200 schools were affected,
the decision had a dramatic effect on public opinion.
The switch to an entirely comprehensive system
was now seen as a bad thing,
depriving thousands of children of a grammar school education.
I think all children, if they're bright,
should be given a chance to go to a grammar school.
You do get a better education.
I think it's a better system at grammar school.
You have the best children together. They must help each other along.
At the same time, the press claimed,
comprehensive schools had been infiltrated
by raving young Marxists,
whose progressive teaching methods were turning promising children
The furore over comprehensive education
is often presented as a partisan dispute
between left and right.
But it was actually more part of a culture war,
fought out between two sets of middle class parents,
with completely opposite views
about whether schools should serve the community,
or the individual.
On the one side, were those parents who were really keen
to embrace the principle of social and academic diversity.
And on the other, were those who were desperate to see their children
reach their full potential in a more selective environment.
And it was to the second group,
parents who still saw grammar schools
as a precious opportunity for upward mobility,
that the new Leader of the Opposition, Margaret Thatcher,
began to speak.
Conveniently forgetting her own record
at the Department of Education.
We've got to stop destroying good schools in the name of equality.
People from my sort of background needed grammar schools
to compete with children from privileged homes,
like Shirley Williams and Anthony Wedgwood Benn.
Now, then, Form one...
'I think that the same anxieties
'were at the root of the furious objections to Grange Hill,
'from some adult viewers.
'They were afraid that their bright children
'might be dragged down by other people's badly behaved kids.'
Trying to put that young girl's eye out, were you?
-Were you born stupid?
It's something you've developed yourself, is it?
# Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone #
The education debate was just one symptom
of a consensus cracking apart.
# All in all you're just another brick in the wall... #
And just as the post-war settlement seemed to be breaking up,
so some people were beginning to question
the survival of the United Kingdom itself.
'Putting his jacket on, ready for the final whistle.
'Don Masson's there and the referee's looking at his watch.'
And it's almost there, and now it is! A victory for Scotland, 2-1!'
In June 1977, Scotland's footballers struck a hugely symbolic blow
against their old enemy on the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium.
The exuberance with which the Tartan Army tore down the Wembley goalposts
was about more than just the result of a football match.
Not since the days of Bonnie Prince Charlie,
three centuries earlier,
had the Scots been so high on self-confidence.
To understand why,
you have to go back to an event at the beginning of the decade
that seemed to have transformed the fortunes
of everyone in the United Kingdom.
It happened hundreds of miles north of Wembley, far from land.
Seven years earlier,
beneath the cold waters of the North Sea, BP had hit the jackpot.
After decades of decline, the discovery of North Sea oil
seemed a godsend for Britain's economy.
Nothing captured the excitement more than this.
The thrills of drilling,
the hazards and rewards as you bring in your own offshore oil strike.
An exciting board game for all the family.
The reality was even more exciting than the game,
because in the first years of the 1970s,
the oil companies made strike after strike.
Forties, Brent, Piper, Montrose and OILC.
Now in the game,
the first person to get to 120 million in cash is the winner.
But the actual value to the British economy of North Sea oil
was estimated at almost £1 billion a year,
and in the 1970s, that was serious money.
# Don't stop me now 'Cos I'm having a good time
# Having a good time
# I'm a shooting star leaping through the sky
# Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
# I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva
# I'm going to go, go, go There's no stopping me
# I'm burning through the sky, yeah
# Two-hundred degrees
# That's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
# I'm travelling at the speed of light
# I want to make a supersonic man out of you #
This must be the Chancellor of the Exchequer's favourite spot
in the whole of Britain.
It is the fiscal measuring bay, the point at which
they work out exactly how much oil they're getting from the North Sea
and exactly how much revenue all that's bringing in.
But even before the very first drops of black gold
had passed through these pipes,
North Sea oil was paying handsome dividends
for the Scottish National Party.
For decades, the Scots had been the United Kingdom's poor relations.
Very slowly the idea had been growing
that Scotland should reclaim its identity as an independent nation.
North Sea oil provided the means,
it was a stunning windfall that could propel Scotland
towards a more prosperous future outside the United Kingdom.
The effect was dramatic.
In 1973, Margo MacDonald of the Scottish National party
was elected MP for Glasgow Govan.
A seat that had been solidly Labour for 50 years.
By November 1975,
when the Queen arrived in Aberdeen
to officially open the North Sea pipeline,
the SNP, with its commitment to independence,
had 11 MPs at Westminster
and was the most popular political party in Scotland.
At the end of 1975, the Labour government finally responded
to this surge in nationalist sentiment
with a proposal for referendums in Scotland and Wales.
Not on the question of independence, but on devolution.
A form of limited self-government.
This is Edinburgh, on Burns night.
The most cherished evening in the Scottish calendar.
An occasion to bring out the pipes,
and the haggis.
It became a very significant date in modern Scottish history.
Because after more than two years of Westminster bickering,
it was on this night, January 25, 1978
that MPs at last got the chance to vote
on the government's plans for referendums.
But there was a twist in the tale.
It was late that night that an independent-minded Labour MP,
called George Cunningham, introduced a crucial amendment.
For devolution to pass,
at least 40 percent of the entire electorate
would have to vote for it.
A simple majority of the votes passed would not be enough.
Now, not surprisingly,
the Nationalists were absolutely furious.
"When the English start losing," said the SNP's Douglas Henderson,
"they change the rules of the game."
The great irony, though, is that George Cunningham was Scottish.
Despite one Labour MPs attempt to thwart their ambitions,
the Scottish Nationalists remained defiantly confident.
The tide of history seemed to be with them,
and that summer, the Scottish football team,
the pride of the nation, was going to Argentina to win the World Cup.
# We're going to the Argentine
# And we'll really shake them up when we win the World Cup #
The bandwagon was well and truly rolling.
Even Rod Stewart wanted in on the act.
And leading the parade was Scotland's manager, Ally MacLeod.
MacLeod's predictions of Scottish glory in 1978 have become legendary.
A few weeks before Scotland flew out, he told the press
"I'm convinced the finest team this country has ever produced
"can play in the final of the World Cup and win.
"I'm so sure that we can do it that I give my permission here and now
"for the big celebration on 25 June to be made a national Ally-day."
Even before a World Cup ball had been kicked,
Ally MacLeod had become a household name,
and so had his wife.
As you know, Ally's off to Argentina in the summer
and he's leaving me behind.
But the Daily Record and your Co-op
are running the great World Cup competition
and there's a total of 24 trips to Argentina to be won.
England had famously failed to qualify for the tournament,
so there was no danger of them bringing the trophy home to London.
All their fans had to look forward to was a new West End musical,
due to open in the very same week
that Ally MacLeod would be leading his boys into the World Cup final.
And in one of the cruellest and funniest ironies
in British sporting history,
Evita's most famous song became the unforgettable,
unofficial, anthem of Scotland's trip to the World Cup.
# Don't cry for me, Argentina
'So, so, so close.'
# The truth is I never left you
'Gemmill gets the tackle in.
'He has space there.
'He might play swift, and he does! And it's brilliant goal.'
And Scotland are out of the World Cup.
One of the great saloon bar theories of British politics
holds that it was England's dismal defeat by West Germany
in the 1970 World Cup that cost Howard Wilson his chance
of victory in that year's general election.
Given the place of football in Scottish national identity,
it is tempting to see Scotland's, frankly, abysmal performance in 1978
as the kiss of death for the devolution campaign.
Because, when the referendum was finally held on 1 March, 1979.
The wind had gone out of the nationalist sails.
When referendum day arrived,
a third of Scottish voters didn't even turn up.
Another third voted for devolution,
but that still fell short of the 40 percent the law required.
The devolutionists had lost.
this great theory about the correlation between sporting failure
and political failure doesn't quite work for Wales.
The Welsh sense of national identity was no less deep
and powerful than that of the Scots.
It was rooted in Wales' ancient language and culture,
long buried but now at last re-emerging.
Symbolised, above all, by the Welsh people's pride
in their magnificent rugby team.
'It would be a remarkable try, and he's made it!'
Nationalists had already won the right
to have Welsh taught in schools,
and even the road signs were now bilingual.
And yet the Welsh sense of a distinctive identity,
powerful though it was,
didn't extend to a desire for political independence.
Because when the referendum on devolution was held in Wales
at the same time as in Scotland,
the Welsh voted against it
by a margin of almost four to one.
And so the United Kingdom survived
the upheaval of the 1970s, politically intact.
But there was no denying that something had changed.
The very fact that devolution had been discussed at all
was a powerful sign of how the old certainties were crumbling.
As we entered the age of identity politics,
diversity was all the rage.
ROUSING GUITAR MUSIC
Even within England,
cultural diversity had become a controversial issue.
For many older people who'd been born into a country that was
almost entirely white, the effects of Commonwealth immigration
seemed uncomfortable, even alarming.
But for those young people
who'd grown up after the heyday
of mass immigration,
a new Britain was taking shape around them,
unified by a shared love of music
and in particular, a band called The Specials.
The Specials and their record label 2 Tone put their home city
of Coventry on the British youth culture map.
'Here I am, Adrian Thrills, a cub reporter with New Musical Express,'
'on my way up from London to Coventry.'
Keen as ever to keep its finger on the pulse,
the BBC sent a young reporter to catch up with what had
quickly become a national phenomenon.
'I finally tracked The Specials down to 2 Tone HQ -
'home of the hits.'
Straight upstairs, all right?
'This is where the assault on the nation's airwaves was planned
'with a unique mix of punk and reggae.'
CHATTER AND LAUGHTER
The look and sound of a distinctive moment in British pop culture
was devised and run from this upstairs bedroom
by former art student called Jerry Dammers.
Here we have the cheque books.
And this is the wardrobe.
Nice piece of mohair.
This is the original of one of the ones that we do.
CARIBBEAN STYLED MUSIC PLAYS
In fact, The Specials were reviving a musical style
from the 1960s.
Jamaican ska was street music.
The songs were about everyday issues.
The Specials kept the social angle but applied it to 1970s Britain.
Their very first number one was a song about teenage pregnancy.
SONG: "Too Much Too Young"
Of course this wasn't the first time that British youngsters
had got excited about black music,
but what made The Specials special,
was that black and white musicians were now playing together
and attracting a huge following in the process.
# Don't want to be rich Don't want to be famous... #
Being black no longer meant that you had to integrate yourself
fully into white culture.
And at the same time, black culture was becoming increasingly
appealing to white audiences.
This was multi-culturalism in action,
finding its way from the grassroots into the living rooms
of millions of British families and just as it was
happening in music,
so it was also happening in football.
COACH: On the outside, through the middle. On the outside.
Today most football supporters take it for granted
that their team is a melting pot of races and nationalities.
Back in the 1970s, though, most would scarcely have noticed
that their teams were almost exclusively white.
Towards the end of the decade, though, that began to change
and at the forefront was this small West Midlands club -
West Bromwich Albion.
West Brom were one of the most exciting teams in the country.
And that season, they achieved a unique distinction - becoming the
first team in England's top division to field three black players.
'Yes, 3-2. Laurie Cunningham.'
Laurie Cunningham was a Londoner.
Cyrille Regis had come to England from French Guiana
and Brendon Batson had been born in Grenada.
In 1978, Top Of The Pops was possibly the only other place
where you might see more than an occasional black face.
So with more insights than he probably realised,
West Brom's jovial manager, Ron Atkinson,
nicknamed his three black players "The Three Degrees."
# When will I see you again? #
'Back from Regis...'
# Will I have to wa-a-a-it
# Will I have to suffer... #
In 1978/79, West Brom celebrated their centenary season.
They finished third in the First Division,
their highest position for a quarter of a century.
Yet the real highlight of the year was, in many ways,
the visit to West Bromwich of the real Three Degrees.
In its way this photograph, which shows all six degrees,
is a compelling symbol of the changes reshaping not just football,
but British society in general.
But of course these changes often seemed deeply unsettling
to people who vividly remember the days
when Britain had been decidedly monocultural.
And waiting in the wings,
was a politician who was quite happy to speak on their behalf.
# Said you'd been threatened by gangsters
# Now it's you
# That's threatening me. #
If we went on as we are,
then by the end of the century
there'd be four million people
of the new Commonwealth or Pakistan here.
That's an awful lot
and I think it means people are really rather afraid
this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.
# I'm wishing on a star... #
Mrs Thatcher was not afraid to court controversy over
issues like immigration if she thought it could win her votes.
And yet, this was a tactic borne of frustration.
Because despite all the economic horrors of the last three years
under Labour, despite inflation at 26%
and an emergency loan from the IMF,
in the summer of 1978
the Tories were still only on level pegging in the opinion polls.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
But by the following May, Margaret Thatcher
was walking into Downing Street
as Britain's first woman Prime Minister.
Now when historians tell that story, they often concentrate
on the dramatic final months before the general election.
But I think Mrs Thatcher's victory was the culmination of forces
that had been gathering strength since the beginning of the 1970s.
It was the crescendo of a kind of national mood music,
that was as much cultural as it was political.
But for a long time, Mrs Thatcher herself was merely humming along,
building confidence before she felt ready to lead the orchestra.
# Sailing away on the crest of a wave... #
Take, for instance, council house sales.
The right to buy is remembered as one of Mrs Thatcher's radical
new policies, but the truth is,
she was marching to a borrowed tune.
This is Harold Hill in Essex, a huge suburban housing development,
built after the Second World War.
Estates like this one were precisely the kinds of places
where many council tenants were desperate for the chance
to buy their own homes.
Today about half the houses on Harold Hill are privately owned
and often, it's not difficult to spot which ones.
On 16 August 1980, after she had become Prime Minister,
Margaret Thatcher paid a visit to this house on Amersham Road
to see Mr and Mrs Patterson.
The Pattersons had just bought their own home.
They were the 12,000th council tenants to do so
and Mrs Thatcher was delighted to present them with the deeds.
Don't you think this is lovely?
And the trouble Mrs Patterson has taken with it?
And Mr Patterson is a handyman. He's put in all these.
He's done the garden and the shed outside.
But this was hardly something new.
The local Tory council had sold off its first house in 1967.
But the most surprising thing about right to buy,
is that it was a policy the Labour government had seriously
considered after winning power in 1974.
Polls showed massive public support for the idea.
Eight out of ten council tenants liked it
and Labour activists reported that
on the doorstep, tenants would often bring it up themselves.
One senior Labour minister even admitted that council tenancy
carried with the whiff of welfare, of subsidisation
and generally of second-class citizenship.
# Should old acquaintance... #
Of course, the right to buy was never really
likely to get past the closed ranks of the Labour left.
At the party conference in 1976,
the comrades actually voted to make the sale of council houses illegal.
# For auld lang syne... #
And so an idea that chimed
perfectly with ordinary families' desire for more personal freedom
was handed to Mrs Thatcher on a plate.
It was the perfect way to attract a new class of recruits
to the Tory banner.
# All I want is a room with a view
# A sight worth seeing A vision of you... #
Mrs Thatcher's target voters
were a group known as the C2s.
They were skilled workers, many of them
trade union members, and most were Labour voters.
But they weren't really interested in ideology.
What they wanted was a government that kept prices down
and strikes to a minimum.
They dreamed of paying less tax,
taking more foreign holidays
and getting onto the property ladder.
But with inflation eating away at their earnings, they saw their
dreams of the good life
slipping further and further
out of reach.
In an age of rising prices, Mrs Thatcher's talk of balancing
the family budget struck a powerful chord.
I think they ought to make a woman go into power
because she's had to economise,
bring up children, budget with the shopping.
These men haven't.
You don't have to go into Tesco's every week
and you go in there and everything, every single thing has gone up
two or three pence, every single week.
For people worried that rising prices were eating away
at their living standards,
there was an obvious answer. If you belonged to a big trade union,
then it would protect you from the ravages of inflation.
Even the threat of a strike was often enough to get you
a handsome pay rise, effectively protecting your new affluence.
This wasn't so much socialism,
The unions might not have built the new Jerusalem,
but at least they could get you that new Cortina.
But by the late '70s, millions of ordinary people were
beginning to wonder if the endless routine of strikes
and walkouts could really deliver lasting prosperity.
Still, as Britain entered the bleak and bitter winter of 1978,
the unions were once again making the headlines.
The trouble began in September, when at a Ford car plant on Merseyside,
the workers went on strike over pay.
Five other factories immediately followed suit.
After eight weeks, a company handed them
17% pay rise.
Now that Ford had surrendered,
the floodgates burst.
British Leyland car workers,
coalminers, gas workers,
even bakery workers,
all demanded double digit increases of their own.
Britain's 50,000 lorry drivers
wanted a pay rise of 60%.
And then, it started snowing.
Road and rail services everywhere were severely disrupted.
Only the polar bears and penguins at London Zoo seemed untroubled.
And then, the lorry drivers began their walkout,
immediately cutting the supply of food and fuel across the country.
Within days, there were reports of panic buying in the shops
and rationing at petrol stations.
# You've done it all, you've broken everything... #
Mrs Thatcher seized the moment.
Her party political broadcast on the 17th of January 1979
was a masterstroke,
precisely because it appeared not to be political at all.
Instead, she appealed to her audience to put aside
their differences for the good of the nation.
That no-one, however strong his case is entitled to pursue it
by hurting others.
There are wreckers among us who don't believe this.
But the vast majority of us, and that includes the vast majority of trade unionists, do believe it,
whether we call ourselves Labour, Conservative, Liberal or simply British.
It's to that majority that I'm talking this evening.
We have to learn again to be one nation,
or one day we shall be no nation.
If we've learned that lesson from these first dark days of 1979,
then we've learned something of value.
But the days were about to get an awful lot darker.
On the 22nd of January, the three public sector unions called
a simultaneous day of action to demand a £60-a-week minimum wage.
And with 1.5 million people walking out on strike, this was the biggest
and most effective industrial action since the General Strike of 1926.
The two weeks that followed were among the grimmest in Britain's peace time history.
The day of action was extended into weeks of action.
Dustmen, ambulance drivers, caretakers, bus drivers,
road gritters and many more
began a series of rolling strikes that caused total chaos.
TV pictures of piles of uncollected rubbish were bad enough,
but it was the reports of medical supplies being blocked
and of gravediggers refusing to bury the dead that began to convince many,
even on the left, that their unions had simply lost their minds.
This is the world famous children's hospital at Great Ormond Street in London.
In February 1979, this was the location of perhaps
the saddest single incident of the entire Winter of Discontent.
Those in favour of going on strike...
A walkout by support staff at a children's hospital was,
said the newspapers, Britain's sickest strike.
As the workers marched out, they told reporters they'd all go back if there was an emergency,
but that was cold comfort for the strike-breaking nurses who stayed on,
having torn up their union cards in disgust.
-Why did you resign?
-Because I'm employed here to look after the children
and I didn't feel that I could do that in all conscience
and belong to a union which is trying to disrupt the care of the children in this hospital.
But the union say the children won't be affected.
Well, I don't believe that's true actually.
Hospital ancillary workers, cleaners, caretakers,
catering staff, were among the worst paid of all public sector workers.
But the images of sick children having to be cared for
in hospital by their parents were more than enough
to turn public opinion decisively against the unions.
After weeks of disruption, from the toxic combination of bad weather
and crippling strikes, the Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan
conceded whopping pay rises for the public sector workers.
By the beginning of March, the strikes were over, but the reckoning was about to begin.
At the time, the Winter of Discontent was seen as the supreme triumph of union power.
But the irony was that in the long-term, it was a catastrophe for the unions.
At the end of January, a Gallup poll found 84% agreeing that the trade unions were too powerful,
the highest figure in the survey's history.
The Prime Minister was the first to feel the blast of the wind of change.
On the 28th of March, Callaghan's government lost a vote of no confidence.
An election was called for the 3rd of May.
The Thatcher machine went into overdrive.
# If you change your mind, Take a chance
# I'm the first in line, Take a chance
# Honey, I'm, still free
# Take a chance on me,
# If you need me, let me know, gonna be around
# If you got no place to go... #
Mrs Thatcher's campaign was famously slick.
Advertising agencies had run election campaigns in Britain before,
but no-one had marketed a candidate with as much energy and insight
as Saatchi and Saatchi presented Mrs Thatcher.
Look, she's coming towards us now.
Her days were scheduled to deliver maximum exposure on the early evening news
when her target audience of women,
first-time voters and the C2s would be watching.
And as polling day approached, she won some vital support.
On the morning of the election,
the Sun ran an enormous front page editorial urging its readers,
for the first time in the paper's history, to vote Conservative.
"This is D Day. D for decision, the first day of the rest of our lives.
"The Sun is not a Tory paper.
"We are proud of our working class readership, but the choice you have
"to make today is quite simply the choice between freedom and shackles.
"Freedom to work, with or without a union card,
"freedom to rent your home or buy it,
"freedom to live life your way."
As the results came in, it quickly became clear that Margaret Thatcher
would indeed be Britain's first woman prime minister.
Her victory wasn't a landslide,
but with 339 seats, she'd secured a solid majority of 43.
And the rule book of British politics had been rewritten.
In future, anyone wanting to win an election would need to appeal
not to the trade union barons, but to the readers of The Sun.
Mrs Thatcher's victory was a landmark in our political history.
But it wasn't just a reaction to the disastrous Winter of Discontent,
it marked the culmination of a decade of tremendous change.
The '70s had made Britain a far more tolerant and open-minded country,
but also one that had fallen in love with money.
Margaret Thatcher was astute enough to understand this
and that meant she reaped the political rewards.
Of course, nobody back in 1979 thought that Margaret Thatcher
would still be there 11 years later.
Today, we remember her as the prime minister who changed everything,
for good or ill.
But the reason she got there in the first place
was that more than any other politician of the day,
she realised just how much Britain had changed already.
She was taking over a country that was more ambitious, more affluent
and more outgoing than it had been at the beginning of the '70s.
And yet one that was also more anxious, more insecure
and more individualistic.
She didn't create all this. She inherited it.
From sex and shopping to Europe and education,
this was the great watershed in our modern history.
And four decades on, we still live in a world the '70s made.
# Now watch what you say or they'll be calling you a radical
# Liberal, fanatical, criminal
# Won't you sign up your name, we'd like to see you're acceptable
# Respectable, oh, presentable, a vegetable... #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
In the final episode of the series, historian Dominic Sandbrook looks at the closing years of the 70s. He encounters a nation arguing about the future of education and watching Grange Hill, debating the impact of multiculturalism and enjoying The Specials. We were also anxious over youth crime and fiercely arguing about who should pay for austerity in economically troubled times. With the help of vivid archive and an evocative soundtrack, Dominic reveals that the final years of this tumultuous decade were marked by concerns that appear startlingly current.