Things were simple in the 70s – even politicians (exhibit 1: Gerald Ford). This wonderful synthetic decade brought us Glam Rock, Pet Rocks and Punk Rock. Even bank clerks wore purple flared suits, had their hair permed, grew a Zapata moustache and had group sex in a hot tub with the accounts department.
Coming directly after the white heat of the Sixties (a time of believable dreams and unbelievable disappointments) the early Seventies was the bill with service not included; Unemployment, three-day weeks, strikes, Northern Ireland, poverty. Even the Apollo program blew up in our faces.
If we had known then what we know now about pollution, whales and the ozone layer, life would have been complete . . .
The ideas and philosophy of the 60s became mainstream in the 70s – sexual freedom, the end of the draft, legalisation of abortion, gay liberation, breakthroughs in women’s rights. . . you name it.
A decade where adverts for tobacco featured semi-naked women chasing a bald bloke down the street and cigars were advertised by rampant women swinging through the jungle.
The psychedelics had chuffed off and the Woodstock generation had gone their own ways, pausing only to cash the cheque. The Vietnam War had killed off all those naïve ideas about youth culture changing anything as surely as if the napalm had been dropped on them, and now the world belonged to the pop star, the football star and any local lad with a Raleigh Chopper or Ford Capri.
In Britain, everything had ended, as it had started, with The Beatles – They split up and, as they did, so too did the rest of youth culture. John sat in bed. Paul did a spot of farming. George went off and saved Bangladesh, and Ringo, bless him, just sat on the platform and waited for Thomas The Tank Engine to pull in.
School dinners showed little sign of improving, while glitter and glam permeated everything we touched: Clothes, music, cars, sweets and even the telly.
At no time had the pace of change in all aspects of life been so rapid and so complete over just ten years. In Britain, the early 70s were also about power cuts (blackouts) – England was not having the best of times.
Everyone (but everyone) went on strike at some stage or other and Brits called on the ‘spirit of the blitz’ to get by without electricity, petrol, heating, coal, milk, television, hospitals or having their bins emptied.
The economic crisis led to a three-day working week and as a result, domestic electricity supplies would frequently cut off without warning. Candle shops had a boom time and petrol stations were all operating a rationing system. Everything and everyone seemed to be out to polarise opinion and the 70s was not a decade for compromise.
The US and Britain in the seventies did not prosper as they might have done and it was not an easy time. The besetting problems were not solved; inflation, unemployment, low productivity, and a generally rising crime rate were all with us in 1970 and were still with us (often more so) in 1979.
The IRA bombed themselves into disgrace with carnage in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. The CIA engineered a coup in Chile. War eventually shut down in Vietnam but opened in lots of other theatres: Cambodia, Lebanon, the Middle East, Cyprus and Rhodesia.
It seemed that everything in the seventies became an ‘issue’. Suddenly we discovered that we had been inflicting dreadful harm on our planet. There were protests at nuclear plants, fuelled by the Three Mile Island disaster in the USA. President Nixon licked his lips and assured Americans that he was honest, but the sweat broke out again as the facts of the Watergate affair became known. In 1974 he became the first US President to resign from office.
But the Seventies were also very much about having a good time all of the time. People were too busy having sex, getting drunk and/or stoned, eating fish and chips, smoking Woodbine and posing in front of their bedroom mirrors with tennis racquets to worry about the underlying problems.
It was a decade of excess. More was very definitely more – more hair, more height, more glitter, more guitars, more drugs, more “More” (long, thin, black cigarettes favoured by Telly Savalas in Kojak). Moderation had ceased to exist. It was a crazy time.
The key to the Seventies was ‘freedom’, and some of its bizarre crazes were the first real manifestations of the advancements made courtesy of the social revolution of the previous decade.
In the 70s, people invented strange gadgets which crept along the ground or rose perilously into the air. There were moon buggies and skylabs, pictures from Mars, oil from the North Sea, and babies from test tubes.
People changed their sex, or at least their avowed sexuality. There were gay rights, women’s rights, ethnic rights, kids’ rights and animal rights to be considered, and many found that very hard indeed.
Never again could naked models recline on the bonnets of gleaming cars at motor shows without fear of saboteurs spoiling such sport. British women would no doubt have felt it satisfying that by the end of the decade, the incumbent at 10 Downing Street was one of their own number.
Conservatives would count it as progress that a decade which began with Labour in power, ended with a Tory administration as Edward Heath took Britain into the European Common Market (seeing as de Gaulle was no longer there to say “Non”). Liberals may well have thought it miraculous that their party survived at all.
But environmental and conservation groups could claim progress at the close of the seventies – certainly they were being taken more seriously than ever before.
As the decade progressed our focus turned at various times to Space Hoppers, Klackers, ABBA, Mood Rings, The Bay City Rollers, roller skating, Vans with airbrushed murals, Star Wars, Bean Bags, Flares, The Bugaloos, Disco, Jaws, Iron-on T-shirt transfers, Happy Days, Kung Fu, K-Tel albums, The Six Million Dollar Man and Punk . . . Phew. Far out, man!