Dominic Sandbrook looks at a dynamic decade. By the mid-80s, Britain felt like an embattled nation, struggling to establish identity on a global stage.
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Contains language which some may find offensive.
In the early 1980s,
Britain was struggling to hold back a tide of change.
Danger seemed to be lurking everywhere.
And at the beginning of the decade,
we found ourselves under attack.
This was an invasion not just of our streets and our homes,
but of our hearts and minds.
Resistance was futile.
For, almost overnight, Britain had fallen -
to the space invaders.
# Dance all night
# Get real loose
# You don't need no bad excuse... #
These Japanese machines first came to Britain in January 1979.
And before long, they were in arcades from St Andrews
to St Austell.
In the halls of Westminster, MPs debated what one called
"the growing menace of the video games arcade."
By now, the tabloids were overflowing with horror stories
about British children who'd fallen victim to the alien plague.
They skipped school and missed meals.
They'd become zombies, sleepwalkers oblivious to everything around them,
as they played on and on to the brink...
The moral panic over video games arcades was just one example
of the deep anxiety running right through the heart of the decade.
The headlines were dominated by one battle after another,
and almost every week brought some new controversy
about the morals of the young and the state of the nation.
MUSIC: I Don't Need This Pressure On by Spandau Ballet
Getting to grips with the threat of AIDS...
This is a condom.
It is rolled over the man's penis
before sexual intercourse begins.
..taking on racism and prejudice...
..backing our boys in the Falklands.
I felt very, very proud and, please God, they pull it off.
Only decades earlier,
Britain had been defined by its industrial might
and imperial supremacy.
But, in the age of globalisation,
the power of British Empire and of British manufacturing
seemed like ancient history.
By the middle of the 1980s, Britain stood at a crossroads.
And the one hand, the reassurance of the familiar,
the world of industry and Empire, coal and steam.
And on the other, the shock of the new.
An exciting, unsettling new world of foreign imports
and digital technology.
These were the years in which Britain redefined itself
for the 21st century.
A nation forged in battle against enemies without and within.
# I don't need this pressure on
# I don't need this pressure on... #
MUSIC: Under Pressure by Queen & David Bowie
One cold evening in March 1982,
a distinguished-looking man strode across Westminster Bridge.
Dressed in military uniform,
he bore a look of grim determination
and he strode into the Palace of Westminster,
narrowly avoiding being detained by a policeman in the lobby.
His name was Admiral Sir Henry Leach,
First Sea Lord and head of the Royal navy.
Leach had come to the Commons to confront the unthinkable.
Thousands of miles away,
Argentina's Navy was poised to land on the Falkland Islands,
a far-flung outpost of British territory in the freezing waters
of the South Atlantic.
# Pushing down on me
# Pressing down on you... #
Within hours, the Argentine invaders
had overwhelmed the island's governor and his token garrison.
8,000 miles away,
Margaret Thatcher's government was in crisis,
and the stage was set for Henry Leach.
He went straight into the Prime Minister's room and standing there,
a magnificent martial figure in his naval regalia,
he gave Margaret Thatcher perhaps the single most important advice
of her entire career.
Not just that we COULD fight this war, but that we MUST.
MUSIC: War Child by Blondie
That was Mrs Thatcher's kind of talk.
And within hours, Britain was preparing for war.
To her critics, Mrs Thatcher's decision to send a task force
halfway across the world to kick out the Argentine invaders
felt like something from the days of gunboat diplomacy
and the age of Empire.
But, for precisely that reason,
many people rather loved it.
And when the task force sailed from Portsmouth docks,
it did so amid a vast outpouring of national sentiment,
the air ringing with patriotic hymns.
CROWD SINGS "SAILING"
We can't allow them to walk all over us and kick us in the face.
Would you be saying that if you had a relation on board those ships?
Oh, yes. Definitely.
All of this bullish patriotism made for a stark contrast with the way
the press and public had treated Britain's Armed Forces in the 1970s.
For more than a decade,
the British Army had been bogged down in Northern Ireland.
And if the Falklands felt relatively clear-cut,
then Northern Ireland was a nightmare
in endless, muddy shades of grey.
Not just a divisive conflict,
but a dirty one, in which Britain's fighting men had been dogged
by accusations of torture and assassination.
But now, the Falklands had thrown up an enemy against whom
the British people could stand united.
MUSIC: Stand And Deliver by Adam And The Ants
# I'm the dandy highwayman
# Who you're too scared to mention... #
No casting agency could have supplied a more fitting villain.
A South American military dictator, General Leopoldo Galtieri.
Fighting the war was one thing,
but winning it was quite another.
Never before had any Government fought such a difficult
naval campaign, thousands of miles from home
in the freezing waters of the South Atlantic.
It was for that very reason that Mrs Thatcher's government
kept its cards extremely close to its chest.
News, some of it very bad news,
only reached the public in short bursts,
delivered by the defence spokesman Ian McDonald,
not, perhaps, one of life's natural broadcasters.
In the course of its duties,
HMS Sheffield, a Type 42 destroyer,
was attacked and hit late this afternoon
by an Argentinian missile.
As for TV footage,
strikingly little actually made it back to Britain from the front lines
and those reports that did were very carefully censored.
'I'm not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid,
'but I counted them all out and I counted them all back.
'Their pilots were unhurt, cheerful and jubilant,
giving thumbs-up signs.'
MUSIC: The Hurting by Tears For Fears
It was a gruelling and bloody campaign, but on the 14th June,
with the British troops outside Port Stanley,
Argentine morale collapsed.
There is a white flag flying over Stanley.
Victory had come at a heavy price.
14 ships, more than 900 lives,
broken bodies and shellshocked minds.
But it was victory all the same
and it had taken just ten weeks.
-We, the British people,
are proud of what has been done.
Proud of these heroic pages in our island's story.
Proud to be British.
Once again, it seemed that Britain has stood up alone against
a foreign bully and won.
For Britain's Armed Forces,
the stains of Northern Ireland were quietly forgotten.
Now, our boys were national heroes once again.
And what Mrs Thatcher had proudly called
"the spirit of the South Atlantic"
was more than just a political soundbite.
There was, I think, a palpable sense
that after years of imperial decline, Britain had rediscovered
its patriotic pride.
A warrior nation,
renewed in battle.
MUSIC: Wouldn't It Be Good by Nik Kershaw
For a time, the Falklands victory gave Britain a new sense
of national self-confidence.
# I got it bad
# You don't know how bad I got it #
But in the turbulent world of the 1980s,
there was always another demon to confront, some of them much closer to home.
# It's getting harder
# Just keeping life and soul together... #
One day in March 1982,
a small business sent out one of its staff to post a package
to an elderly woman in a quiet village near Colchester.
The lady in question was a retired schoolmistress.
A churchgoer. A letter writer.
The kind of public-spirited warrior
that you'd find in towns and villages all over the country.
Except that this woman wasn't quite your stereotypical little old lady,
because her name, you see, was Mary Whitehouse.
MUSIC: Waiting For A Girl Like You by Foreigner
# I've been waiting
# For a girl like you #
Mary Whitehouse had made her name campaigning tirelessly
against blasphemy, filth and smut in the national media.
And inside the package was a video cassette.
In the spring of 1982, video technology was still relatively new.
Most people were only beginning to buy their first video recorders.
In fact, my parents didn't get our first VCR until a year or two later.
So, the video companies were naturally keen to drum up
as much extra publicity as they could.
Now, the people who'd sent this package
were a company called Go Video,
and what they were hoping was that
Mrs Whitehouse would watch their film
and would be so appalled by it that she would go straight on TV
to condemn it.
And that way, they'd get thousands of extra viewers.
And as plans go, it sort of worked,
because she did watch it,
and she did talk about it.
Its name was The Care Bears Mov...
No, it wasn't.
Its name was Cannibal Holocaust.
Video recorders arrived at the perfect time.
Battered by recession and unemployment,
British families were turning inwards.
Instead of spending money outside the home,
many were now staying in, night after night.
MUSIC: On TV by The Buggles
And now, home videos allowed us to choose what we wanted to watch
and when we wanted to watch it.
In case you've never seen one of these before, this is a video tape
and this little thing is creating a big revolution
in the way that people watch television.
At first, the big Hollywood studios hesitated to release their films
on video, worried that people would stop going to the cinema.
That left a hole in the market,
a hole that the small independent distributors
were only too pleased to fill.
So they pumped out anything they could get their hands on.
European arthouse classics?
Well, not quite.
More slasher flicks and soft-core porn,
all packaged in these tastefully understated covers.
Now, unlike cinema releases,
videos weren't covered by the censorship laws.
This was home entertainment, right?
You could watch whatever you liked,
and that meant that the distributors could get away with, well,
MUSIC: Living On The Ceiling by Blancmange
Horror, nudity, murder,
torture, rape, even cannibalism.
No wonder Mary Whitehouse was up in arms.
A new enemy was at hand...
the video nasties.
And soon, video nasties were everywhere.
My own favourite programme even visited a planet devoted
to the export of explicit videos.
Are they very disturbing,
these videos you sell?
They show what befalls those who refuse to obey the orders
by which the people of Varos must live.
For the anarchic sitcom The Young Ones,
the video nasties panic was a gift.
First, we're going to have
Sex With The Headless Corpse Of The Virgin Astronaut.
Urgh. Won't the carpet get awfully sticky?
It's a video nasty!
It's a carpet, Farty!
But true to form, Mrs Whitehouse didn't quite see the funny side.
It's like a plague
and just as the locusts eat the green leaf,
so most at risk in this plague
are the virgin minds of the children.
One of Mrs Whitehouse's allies compiled a dossier claiming,
among other things, that half of all small children had already seen
a video nasty and that the video recorder
was now replacing the baby-sitter.
Alas, as dossiers go, this one was distinctly dodgy.
In fact, a later study found that seven out of ten children
were claiming to have seen films that didn't actually exist.
MUSIC: Blue Monday by New Order
Let's have a look at a video.
Yeah, that one looks good. I heard someone gets strangled in that.
-Really? Oh, good. I want to see it.
-Yeah, you'll like that.
You see a lot of people getting their heads chopped off
and slaughtered all over the place.
I suppose there's obviously a market for them,
or people wouldn't hire them.
-'Do you think there should be legal controls over the distribution?'
Erm, well, I think it's wrong to restrict what people want to see.
If there's a market for it, let people watch it.
In the summer of 1983,
the panic reached its climax.
An 18-year-old man convicted of rape and burglary blamed the videos.
"I got the idea for the rapes", he told the court,
"from a video nasty".
Here was the evidence that Mary Whitehouse's moral crusaders
had been looking for.
A year later, the government passed the Video Recordings Act.
The worst titles were banned,
and the rest placed under strict age restrictions.
Steve? What do I class this as?
Classify it in the miscellaneous column.
Just like cinematic releases,
home entertainment would now be subject to classification
and state censorship.
Even if the video nasties panic was a bit exaggerated,
it was a very striking symptom of the anxieties thrown up
by social and cultural change.
Britain in the mid-'80s was a country obsessed with
the idea of privacy and of domesticity,
and yet it was getting harder and harder
to keep the outside world at bay.
Try as you might, it kept finding its way in,
seeping through the cracks into the heart of the family living room.
MUSIC: That's All by Genesis
And in one corner of England,
that collision between the speed of change
and the security of family and community provoked open conflict.
On the 21st of April 1984,
hundreds of football fans poured through the turnstiles
to watch their local heroes Chesterfield, in Derbyshire,
take on the might of Nottinghamshire's Mansfield town.
Just another mid-season encounter
between two fourth division sides in the East Midlands.
But the atmosphere that day was charged with tension.
Forget Liverpool and Everton or Rangers and Celtic,
even Real Madrid and Barcelona.
This was different.
The air was electric with bitterness and betrayal.
You see, Mansfield and Chesterfield were both mining towns.
They both relied on the coal industry for jobs and prosperity.
You know, there was only 12 miles between them,
but in the spring of 1984, those 12 miles yawned like a chasm.
In March 1984, the Coal Board had announced the closure
of 20 pits across the country.
North Sea oil and foreign coal supplies were now cheaper
than coal from many Britain's pits.
20,000 miners would lose their jobs.
The miners' union, under Arthur Scargill, called a strike.
But Scargill refused to organise a national ballot,
perhaps because he feared that miners in more productive collieries
would vote no.
Mansfield in Nottinghamshire was one of those places.
With plentiful coal and modernised pits,
Nottinghamshire's miners were under little threat,
so why, they asked, should they go on strike?
By the time Chesterfield and Mansfield met on the football field,
Britain's miners were deeply divided.
Most of Chesterfield's miners were out on strike.
Most of Mansfield's miners were still working.
And as Mansfield's players ran out onto the pitch that day,
the chants rolled down from the Chesterfield terraces...
MUSIC: Hammer To Fall by Queen
Off the field, the mood was even uglier.
Every morning, as Mansfield's miners turned up for work,
they were met by flying pickets
bussed in from Chesterfield and beyond.
The government had quietly stockpiled coal reserves
to keep the lights on,
but unless coal kept on coming from Nottinghamshire's pits,
those reserves would run out in six months.
And that meant that Nottinghamshire was absolutely crucial.
In effect, everything else was a sideshow,
because if Nottinghamshire's men carried on working,
the nation's coal reserves would never run out,
and one day, eventually,
the Government would win.
So if the strike were to succeed,
Arthur Scargill absolutely had to cut off the flow of coal
from the Nottinghamshire pits.
In May, Arthur Scargill came to Mansfield
and appealed for solidarity.
There is one rule in the whole of the trade union rule book in Britain
that supersedes every other.
When workers are on strike,
you don't cross picket lines!
To Margaret Thatcher, the striking miners were the enemy within,
but to the wives of the men on strike,
the working miners were the real enemy.
'All on his own.'
Come on, spikey.
This is the brave one, with all his windows boarded up!
'How long is this going to go on?'
As long as it takes.
As long as it takes to get them out.
Traitor, traitor, traitor...!
But to Nottinghamshire's working miners,
Scargill was the real traitor.
Each area was given a choice to vote and the Notts area voted to come
to work, so that's why we're here.
And until they have a national ballot, we're coming to work.
MUSIC: It Ain't Necessarily So by Bronski Beat
The miners' strike was the longest industrial dispute
in British history.
It held for a year before the miners gave in.
It is often seen as a turning point,
a titanic personal and political showdown
between militant socialist Arthur Scargill
and free-market capitalist Margaret Thatcher.
But, I'm not sure about that.
You see, I think the key battle, the real battle,
was among the miners themselves.
And I think that conflict was part of a much wider and more profound
See, on the one hand, you had those miners who thought that
the most important thing was loyalty to the union.
Comradeship with your mates.
Solidarity with the British working class.
And on the other hand, you had those miners who didn't want to be
strong-armed into joining Arthur Scargill's revolutionary crusade,
who wanted to put their own livelihoods and their own families first.
And I think that tension,
between collective loyalty and individual aspiration,
was a faultline that ran right through '80s Britain.
MUSIC: Big In Japan by Alphaville
This was an age of seismic industrial upheaval,
propelled not so much by the Thatcher government,
but by the sheer momentum of technological change.
This is a microchip.
It doesn't look like much, does it?
But what this represented was nothing short of a social,
cultural and technological revolution.
For some people, computers were just a gimmick.
But the government believed they were the future.
Yes, that's the section of the programme there...
A few weeks after Margaret Thatcher had first won power,
her Industry Secretary and ideological mentor,
Sir Keith Joseph, sent her this memo.
Now, Thatcher and Joseph had come to power absolutely determined
to roll back the state and force British industry to stand
on its own two feet.
But now, Joseph told her that the computer industry
ought to be a special case.
"It is," he wrote, "of crucial importance to our future industrial
"and economic performance.
"In its way, it's likely to be of the same sort of importance
"as was the steam engine."
So Mrs Thatcher decided not just to pour money into Britain's computer
industry, but to try and create a nation of young programmers,
and to do that, she put computers into schools.
The contract to supply our nation's classrooms went, naturally,
to a British firm, Acorn Computing.
And the result, devised in league with Britain's public service
broadcaster, was the BBC Micro.
This was a computer built for programming.
A computer to fire the imagination of Middle England.
Now, I used to love this machine, the BBC Micro.
Not just because we had it at school, but because this was
the very first home computer that my parents ever bought.
I was ten at the time and for months,
I'd been chipping away at their resistance,
endlessly lecturing them about it.
Vital importance as an educational tool, without which I would be sunk
in the harsh new world of the 1980s.
Still, let's see if I've got the old magic.
It might look rudimentary to you, but I'll have you know,
this is how Bill Gates started.
The BBC Micro faced stiff competition.
Not least from a deceptively flimsy looking little machine
that sold at barely half the price,
and came with an unforgettable rubber keyboard.
Now, this is the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
If the BBC was something of an electronic Volvo,
then this was a bit more of an electronic Skoda.
Still, if you were in the market for a home computer at Christmas 1984,
the BBC would have set you back about £400,
but the Spectrum would only have cost about £129.
So, it's hardly surprising that, in a decade haunted by
recession and unemployment, the Spectrum proved a tremendous hit.
Indeed, by the middle of the 1980s,
Sinclair had shifted almost five million of them.
Some of them to my classmates.
Now, did we all use our new hardware
to write our own programmes?
Or just to play games?
Well, what do you think?
MUSIC: Together In Electric Dreams by Giorgio Moroder & Philip Oakley
Mrs Thatcher's dream of a nation of computer coders
never quite came off,
but the children of BBC Micro Britain did go on to develop
some of the most successful games ever made,
not least the best-selling Grand Theft Auto series,
which set new standards for gameplay and graphics.
And by the mid-1980s,
Britain had gone computer crazy.
'The British now have more home computers
'than anywhere else in the world.
'Most of the users are youngsters,
'taking to the computer as naturally as adults now use the telephone.'
You print into the computer directions for it to, erm,
try and go through the maze and hit the target.
When it comes to try to take a new idea and to get it into industry,
the brain is at its best when you're young.
'How does that help you with your school work?
I don't think it does.
Before long, the boom in the British-made home computers
had rather fizzled out.
By the end of the decade, both the Spectrum and the BBC were
effectively out of date
and by now, British consumers were turning to faster,
flashier American models, like the Commodore Amiga or the Atari ST.
And that, I think, told a wider and more interesting story,
because more than almost any other nation in the world,
Mrs Thatcher's Britain eagerly embraced
the new era of globalisation.
And now, in everything from computers to cookery,
ordinary people were beginning to look outside our shores
for entertainment and inspiration.
MUSIC: Take My Breath Away by Berlin
McDonald's had first come to Britain in 1974,
but it wasn't until the early '80s that we really took the Big Mac and
fries to our hearts -
and our stomachs.
Why did McDonald's strike such a chord?
Because it was fast, convenient, colourful,
very, very salty?
Well, yes. But there was something more.
McDonald's, you see, was different.
Because McDonald's, of course, was American.
# ..place inside... #
This was the heyday of the special relationship,
when Britain and the United States stood shoulder-to-shoulder against
the threat of Soviet communism.
And although Mrs Thatcher recognised the Soviet leader,
Mikhail Gorbachev, as a man she could do business with,
her heart really belonged to his American counterpart...
A man with more than his fair share of old-fashioned Hollywood charm.
We see so many things in the same way.
We share so many of the same goals and a determination to achieve them,
which you summed up so well - and alas,
I cannot imitate this wonderful American-English accent -
"You ain't seen nothing yet."
You are a very tough act to follow.
# Take my breath away... #
To those of us who grew up in '80s Britain,
the United States seemed richer, more glamorous
and much, much cooler.
Everything American appeared bigger and better, not least the shopping.
The north-eastern town of Gateshead had been especially hard hit
by the death of industry, but in April 1986,
its residents were treated to their own first glimpse of Britain's
The MetroCentre was a sparkling, consumerist paradise.
Gone were the days of taking the bus into town
and trudging miserably through the puddles,
bitterly regretting the fact that you'd left your umbrella at home.
Now you could park outside and stroll contentedly under cover.
This was shopping not as a chore to be endured,
but as a treat to be savoured.
At least in theory. You could spend all day here stuffing yourself in
the luxurious food court.
You could even get yourself a cocktail.
And afterwards? Well, why not take in a film?
Maybe the latest American blockbuster?
Indiana Jones, Top Gun, Howard The Duck...
This was the shopping experience transformed into a glossy,
transplanted into the gritty heart of the post-industrial north-east
all the way from suburban America.
We find that people come from the greater distance to the MetroCentre
because they know they can come and enjoy this or their children can do
this while they go and shop.
So it's an integration, really,
of leisure and shopping at its highest level.
MUSIC: Mickey by Toni Basil
And to make the shopping experience even easier,
the mid-'80s were boom years for easy credit.
If you find anything in here,
if you find a purse that's been dropped or a handbag,
you pull it out and it's got a string of plastic credit cards in.
So people are obviously not spending cash, they're using a credit system.
And now the American way of life
had even invaded the suburban living room.
MUSIC: Theme from Dallas
By the early 1980s, 27 million people had become
hooked on the gloriously melodramatic world
of the Dallas oil barons.
Well, this has all the earmarks of one of the great nights of my life.
Nothing brings out the best in you like other people's unhappiness.
Chief among them was the arch antihero JR Ewing.
A man who really knew the value of looking after number one.
Nothing would make me happier.
Where Texas lead, Hampshire naturally followed.
Howards' Way brought a dash of glamour to Sunday evenings.
-Oh, hello, it's Jan Howard here.
-Oh, hello there.
Ken, you're sounding a bit muffled.
Hang on, I'll just give the receiver a bang.
This was pure Texan decadence with a south coast twist.
Yet to some critics, our love affair with all things
American marked what one called the end of
our ancient and revered civilisation.
# America... #
And the comedians Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry seemed to agree.
# America, America, America, America
# The States
# The States
# The States
# The States
# The States
# America... #
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
Whether the arrival of American burgers
and American soap operas really marked the death of our civilisation
is, I suppose, a matter of personal taste.
What they certainly marked, though, was the end of British uniqueness.
In a globalised age, the idea that we could just
seal ourselves off from the rest of the world,
even if we wanted to, was clearly defunct.
While most of us were very happy to embrace American food
and American films, the new principle of openness
brought with it a new anxiety.
In the spring of 1983,
BBC Two's science programme Horizon
had carried a truly terrifying report.
It told the story of a newly identified disease.
'With an impaired immune system,
'Kevin's resistance to disease is lowered.
'His condition is called A-I-D-S.
'AIDS. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
'It lets in secondary diseases that can kill.'
What made it so chilling was that nobody knew quite how you caught it.
Is it through blood?
Is it through saliva?
Is it through...? I don't know.
The first AIDS victims had tended to be gay men,
so AIDS was quickly dubbed "the gay plague".
Remember, it was barely 20 years since the decriminalisation of
homosexuality and now, once again,
Britain's gay community found itself under attack.
I've lost my job.
Apparently, where I was working,
they said they'd had customers ringing up saying
they'd got a gay chef working for them
and has the gay chef got AIDS?
Soon, some MPs were even calling for homosexuality to be re-criminalised
and for the police to shut down gay clubs.
If I make it more difficult for them to behave in this way,
to go into the pubs or the gay clubs, I think that is
quite useful, and although it may of course
drive some of this underground,
it makes it less likely that they can spread a disease.
But even as the headlines were attacking Britain's gay men,
it was becoming increasingly obvious that AIDS was far from being
an exclusively gay disease.
We were all potential casualties.
Young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight.
Today, when AIDS is far better understood
and where most of us talk about it much more openly,
it's easy to forget the stigma, the sensationalism,
even the shame with which it was associated in the mid-'80s.
But this happens to be a story with a hero.
One man who understood the seriousness of the threat
and was determined to do something about it.
And he turned out to be the unlikeliest person imaginable.
Norman Fowler was Mrs Thatcher's health secretary.
On the surface, with his slick suit and Brylcreemed hair,
he seemed the archetypal Thatcherite minister.
In 1986, Fowler went to San Francisco,
where AIDS had struck first and most devastatingly.
And he returned determined
that nothing like it must happen in Britain.
Over the next few years, the priority must be public education,
it must be getting the message through to the general public
and, perhaps most of all, to those groups most at risk
about the dangers of AIDS itself.
Fowler designed a public relations strategy
on a genuinely national scale.
'There is now a danger that has become a threat to us all.'
He masterminded a deliberately hard-hitting
TV advertising campaign...
'It is a deadly disease and there is no known cure.
'If you ignore AIDS, it could be the death of you.
'So don't die of ignorance.'
..accompanied by some astonishingly direct leaflets.
This is a mock-up of the front cover, and as I say,
that will be going out to every household in the country.
Norman Fowler's leaflet wasn't just forceful, it was downright explicit.
You see, Fowler and his officials believed that if you really wanted
to educate the public about AIDS,
then you couldn't spare their feelings. You had to be blunt.
You had to get down to, as it were, the nuts and bolts.
So the leaflet tells you exactly what AIDS is and how you get it.
It talks about your number of partners,
whether or not you wear a condom, oral sex, anal sex,
and all this without so much as a hint of moralising or disapproval.
Now, by '80s standards, all this was pretty strong stuff.
Too strong for Mrs Thatcher,
who was worried about its effect on impressionable teenage minds.
But it was, I think, to his credit
that Norman Fowler stuck to his guns.
Radio 1, meanwhile, launched its own campaign to reach younger listeners.
'Radio one!' AIDS. Frightening, isn't it?
You just can't tell who's got the AIDS virus and who hasn't.
Certainly not by looking at them.
The problem, of course,
is that many people didn't want Government leaflets
or BBC disc jockeys lecturing them, or indeed lecturing their children,
about how to put on a condom,
let alone about the finer points of oral and anal sex.
And this is a condom.
It is rolled over the man's hard penis
before sexual intercourse begins.
Despite the objections, the AIDS information campaigns hit home.
Within just three years, AIDS diagnoses were in steep decline.
The campaign had made it possible for the British public to talk about
AIDS and about sex in an entirely new way.
# I bought you drinks, I brought you flowers
# I read you books and talked for hours
# Every day, so many drinks Such pretty flowers, so tell me
# What have I, what have I
# What have I done to deserve this? #
But challenging the prejudice against people with AIDS was a very
different matter. And it was a very different public figure who did most
to demonstrate the power of human compassion.
In the late 1980s,
this clinic in east London became the first hospice in Europe entirely
dedicated to caring for patients with AIDS-related illnesses.
Now, at the time, that made it
the target of considerable local suspicion, but then one day,
the most photographed woman in the world
came walking through the doors.
# I'm so in love with you
# I hear you calling... #
And to the press and public alike,
her first visit here was nothing short of a sensation.
# Give a little respect to... #
'Although the unit provides care for the terminally ill,
'the cheerful atmosphere emphasised that both staff and patients regard
'this as a place for living, not dying.'
Princess Diana came to Mildmay 17 times before her untimely death.
If you can give an AIDS patient back his will to live,
then I think you've achieved one of the greatest gifts
you can give any human being.
Remember that this was a time when many people were frightened even to
touch patients with AIDS.
So the spectacle of Princess Diana coming here
in full view of the TV cameras and actually hugging people with AIDS
could hardly have been more powerful.
It might have taken Norman Fowler's leaflets
to change the way people thought about AIDS,
but I rather suspect that it took a member of the Royal family
to change the way that people felt about it.
The panic about the advent of AIDS reflected a wider anxiety about the
shifting landscape of the mid-'80s.
MUSIC: Mad World by Tears for Fears
Britain was very obviously changing.
Gay men and lesbians were becoming more visible
and ethnic minorities more vocal.
And one group of left-wing idealists was particularly keen to celebrate
the new age of diversity and multiculturalism.
Their critics called them "the loony left".
If they had a headquarters,
it was here on the South Bank of the River Thames,
home to the Greater London Council, or GLC,
led by a young, left-wing firebrand called Ken Livingstone.
The newspapers, of course, couldn't get enough of Red Ken,
his colourful allies and their crazy antics.
Most famously, they accused London's schools of banning the nursery rhyme
Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,
a claim which turned out to be almost completely untrue.
I think that's ridiculous.
My mother's been singing it before me,
they've been singing it for generations.
And it's ridiculous to decide just now that it's racialist.
But not all the stories were similarly exaggerated or invented.
Kennington schoolchildren were banned
from taking part in competitive sport
and even taught how to write protest letters in their English classes.
And Lambeth Council banned the word "family",
because it was, of course, discriminatory.
And there was plenty of money to back up the earnest rhetoric.
Councils offered special funds for businesses run by black residents.
They handed out money to women's groups
and encouraged gay and lesbian activists
to hold events using council facilities.
Since Labour had already lost two elections to Margaret Thatcher,
the party leadership were understandably anxious
about how all this would play with the public.
Alas, most people were less than overwhelmed
by the left's new-found commitment to diversity and multiculturalism.
The truth is that most people either howled with outrage
or howled with laughter.
The alternative comedians of The Comic Strip
had tremendous fun with the loony left.
They made an entire film about the GLC
with Robbie Coltrane
playing Charles Bronson playing Ken Livingstone.
For those of you that don't know, my name's Ken Livingstone.
And I'm looking for councillors
who ain't afraid to get their hands a little dirty.
You, I want you to take care of the black minorities.
Set up theatres, sports centres.
-And equalise some women.
You, start a new movement, call it Gay Pride.
Let's get those gays out of the closet.
-Oh, yes, sir!
-All right, let's move it out!
-Come on, let's shake this city up!
Meanwhile, Labour activists
were very publicly at each other's throats.
It's not the media who says we've got to ban Baa, Baa, Black Sheep and
ban wendy houses, and all the other sort of nonsense
that takes away the attention from the dole queues in the north.
If you believe that, Joe, then, I'm sorry,
you probably will believe anything that you see in the newspapers.
No council has banned Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.
You tell me the story and I will tell you it is a lie.
Loony as the loony left may have seemed at the time,
its enthusiasm for diversity looks rather less outlandish today.
And behind all the controversy was the plain,
unarguable reality of Britain's changing racial and ethnic make-up.
By the 1980s, a new generation of black and Asian children,
born right here in Britain,
were coming of age and they were demanding to be heard.
And one voice in particular stood out.
At the beginning of the 1980s, a young man called Hanif Kureishi
was hard at work on his first screenplay.
It's the story of a young Pakistani man
who falls in love with a white street punk
and it tackles some of the most controversial issues of the decade,
from racist hate crime to interracial homosexuality.
All in all, then, hardly Hollywood blockbuster material.
And on top of all that, it had a really weird title.
I've had a vision of how our place can be.
Why don't people like launderettes?
Because they're like toilets.
This could be a Ritz among launderettes.
A launderette as big as the Ritz!
My Beautiful Launderette was remarkably explicit,
breaking one taboo after another.
Many Asian viewers were more shocked than most.
What the hell are you doing?
We were shagged out.
Much of the appeal of My Beautiful Launderette comes,
I think, from the fact that
although the film's characters are definitely outsiders,
the script never presents them as losers.
As Hanif Kureishi himself put it, this was a new idea of being Asian.
Not your traditional notion of victims cowering in the corner.
My Beautiful Launderette was far from being a box office hit,
but the critics loved it.
And Kureishi's script was nominated for an Oscar.
It marked the arrival of a new wave of black and Asian voices
in our popular culture.
Where the hell are you going?!
But I think it was Britain's sporting heroes
who did most to challenge the prejudices of the past.
-That's a fabulous individual goal.
The '80s was a golden age of televised sport,
and for telly addicts like me,
it was through sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup
that we discovered our sense of patriotism and national identity.
But by the mid-1980s, the people that we were cheering
looked very different from the sporting icons of the past.
Many of these new patriotic heroes were the children of men and women
who had come to Britain from the Commonwealth in the '50s and '60s.
And to the tens of millions of us cheering them on,
they weren't immigrants, they were just British.
There was the Olympic javelin champion, Tessa Sanderson,
boxing's amiable giant, Frank Bruno,
football's extravagantly gifted John Barnes...
..and then, of course, there was the mighty Olympian, Daley Thompson.
# Ain't nothing gonna break my stride
# Nobody gonna slow me down
# Oh, no, I've got to keep on moving
# Ain't nothing gonna break my stride
# I'm running and I won't touch ground
# Oh, no, I've got to keep on moving... #
'Daley Thompson has proved yet again that he's the world's greatest
all-round athlete. He already holds two Olympic gold medals,
now he has three Commonwealth gold medals.
Thompson wasn't just a winner,
he smashed the world decathlon record no fewer than four times.
By the mid-'80s, he was a household name.
And for me, he's probably the greatest sportsman
that Britain has ever produced,
combining supreme athletic prowess with a cool,
What I really need is some really good class competition
to bring the best out of me, because I'm sure that I'm capable of
breaking the world record at the moment.
It's just a case of getting some nice weather
and some really good opposition.
Daley Thompson is, I think, a richly symbolic figure.
Born to a Nigerian father and a Scottish mother,
he was sent as a boy to an institution
for difficult and disruptive children.
So in other circumstances,
he could easily have ended up on the scrapheap.
But what he became was not just a sporting hero,
but the swaggering standard bearer for a new country.
More tolerant, more racially diverse, and yet, nonetheless,
Around the world, though,
one person above all embodied Britain in the mid-'80s.
Margaret Thatcher was probably the most influential peacetime
Prime Minister in our modern history.
But things could have been very different.
On the night of the 12th of October 1984,
the Conservatives were here in Brighton
for their annual party conference.
In the Grand Hotel over there,
the Tory bigwigs danced and drank into the small hours.
In the Prime Minister's suite,
Mrs Thatcher was, of course, still working.
The time was 2:54 in the morning and she reached for one last paper -
and it was then that the bomb went off.
'The front of the hotel was blown apart.
'Stone and glass and debris was lasted across Brighton front.'
# Such a shame to believe
# In escape... #
The target, of course, was the Prime Minister herself.
The IRA had been bombing Britain for more than a decade,
but never before had they struck such a devastating blow at the heart
of the political establishment.
'The Prime Minister, along with the home and foreign secretaries,
'were all in first-floor rooms.
'The 20-pound bomb was planted in a fifth-floor bedroom.'
You hear about these atrocities, these bombs,
but you don't expect them to happen to you.
But...life must go on, as usual.
Now, whatever you think of Mrs Thatcher,
one thing is undeniable.
She was a fighter.
And that morning, Margaret Thatcher,
the Prime Minister who defined herself through conflict,
woke up as usual, tidied her hair,
put on her trademark blue suit
and walked out onto the conference stage,
a picture of defiance, to take her place on the moral high ground.
'A few hours later, Mrs Thatcher was back in the hall for her big speech.
'Security men were everywhere.
'As Mrs Thatcher declared her defiance of the bombers.'
The fact that we are gathered here now, shocked,
but composed and determined,
is a sign not only that this attack has failed,
but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.
Of course, party leaders always get standing ovations at their annual
conferences. But this was different.
Because for once, this was an ovation that resounded
well beyond the conference hall.
Even Mrs Thatcher's bitterest enemies,
even people who opposed everything she stood for
agreed that this was her finest hour.
This Government will not weaken.
This nation will meet that challenge.
Democracy will prevail.
The Brighton bomb went off just two years after the Falklands conflict.
Margaret Thatcher was at the height of her powers.
And so it's tempting to wonder just how different Britain might be today
if the IRA had succeeded.
Maybe Britain would still be a country of mighty unions
and flourishing coalmines. An island fortress,
holding out against the advance of technology
and the march of globalisation.
But then again, maybe not.
Now, of course Margaret Thatcher was the political face of the 1980s,
the strident embodiment of an age of conflict.
But I think the deeper changes,
the social and economic and cultural changes that really mattered,
those had been gathering pace for decades.
Foreign imports, home computers, sexual tolerance, ethnic diversity.
Those things were always coming.
Margaret Thatcher or no Margaret Thatcher,
the sheer momentum had become unstoppable.
And I think it was in the 1980s that we at last understood that the days
of splendid isolation, of holding out against the tide of change,
those days were over.
Next time: '80s Britain embraces money markets and mobiles,
our continental cousins, and the cult of Gazzamania.
MUSIC: The Sun Always Shines On TV by A-Ha
The second episode sees mid-1980s Britain wrestling with two contradictory impulses: the rise of a strong nationalist sentiment and the emergence of an increasingly globalised world.
By the middle of the decade, Britain felt like an embattled nation, facing threats from enemies within as well as out - a nation struggling to establish an identity on the global stage, and also trying to re-establish what it means to be British. This was the period that forever marked the 80s as a decade of conflict and division. But not all those conflicts were obvious. Some were fought with bullets, others with money, some were fought in our homes, others in our heads.
This episode examines everything from the invasion of the Falkland Islands to the invasion of the home computer and the moral panic surrounding 'video nasties', from the Americanisation of our popular culture to the picket line skirmishes playing out nightly on our televisions, and from the spectre of Aids and the threat of the IRA to immigration and identity politics.