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The 1980s

What were the 80s? . . . Bueller? . . . Anyone?

New Wave, Big hair, Pac-Man, the Sinclair ZX computer, Dallas, Dynasty, Thatcherism, the Phillips 2000 VCR, Ronald Reagan, skinny ties, Hands Across America and starving Ethiopians saved by pop stars.


The 80s was a decade where young folk wore fluorescent, neon clothing and business folk wore double-breasted suits with shoulder pads and believed “Greed Is Good” . . . and when Prince sang about partying “like it’s 1999” it seemed so far away!

Dallas and Dynasty ruled the airwaves, Transformers were more than meets the eye, leggings under a short skirt was considered a stylish look, Michael Jackson was still black and ‘by the power of Greyskull you HAD the power!

Then, of course, there were Gremlins (1984), ET (1982), Dukes of HazzardKnight RiderALF, Strawberry ShortcakeThe A-Team, Care BearsFraggle Rock, Cabbage Patch Kids, Australia winning the Americas Cup . . . was that all really three decades ago?

Day to day technology that we take for granted today seemed like Logan’s Run in the early 80s: The silicon microchip was now served with everything to further the technological revolution, providing pocket calculators, word processors (like the Sinclair ZX home computer of the early 80s, or the Amstrad PCW 9512 of 1987), home video recorders and more advanced electronic games.

Fibre optic cables began to replace telephone cables, and compact discs, camcorders, cordless phones, cellular phones, faxes, email, watches you didn’t need to wind, the internet and drum machines all began to appear.

aids1Casio-riddled pop songs dominated the music charts, while concern grew over ecological and environmental issues such as acid rain, chemical emissions, and the effect of CFCs on the ozone layer.

True romance may not have worked for Charles and Diana, or for Andrew and Fergie, but their weddings were two of the highlights of the 1980s, watched by over 700 million people worldwide.

The world had become a global village, but a village that became increasingly vulnerable to a new disease identified in 1981 – the AIDS virus.

AIDS was introduced to the public as a sexually transmitted disease of plague proportions that would put paid to the trendy permissiveness of the Sixties and Seventies.

Meanwhile, at home and in the playground, people were struggling to master Rubik’s Cube – the biggest craze of the early part of the decade, a block of movable coloured squares named after its Hungarian inventor, Erno Rubik.

Video games were the hottest new innovation as video arcade game machines began to replace pinball machines in amusement arcades across the Western world with Pac-Man and Space Invaders leading the pack.

Sophisticated equipment for leisure and pleasure became increasingly affordable as incredible advances in technology continued, and the eighties soon also became the decade of gadgets.

The most remarkable changes in the international political scene came as a result of the accession of Mikhail Gorbachev to the leadership of the Soviet Union in 1985. The young premier brought with him an astonishingly fresh approach to the domestic and international problems of the Soviet Union.

The words Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika  (reconstruction) entered the international vocabulary as the West fell in love with Gorbachev – The first cuddly, user-friendly Soviet leader, who launched his crusade for economic revitalisation and freedom from the shackles of the Brezhnev years, and one entrenched Communist regime after another collapsed in Eastern Europe in the closing months of the decade.

In Britain, the country’s first-ever woman Prime Minister gave her name to a political movement. The effect of “Thatcherism” on the fabric of British society was denied by no-one.

Proclaiming the battle against inflation as her government’s primary objective, Mrs Thatcher launched a campaign to regenerate Britain’s recession-hit economy through control of the money supply, restraint of trade union power and a far-reaching program of ‘Privatisation’ of nationalised industries. Her controversial policies were blamed by many for producing high levels of unemployment and a sharp divide between the haves and the have-nots.

Thatcher also played a significant role on the world stage, most conspicuously in 1982 during the Falklands War with Argentina.

Thatcher promoted a ‘return to Victorian values’ in Britain, which was matched by a new conservatism in the USA under Ronald Reagan, who was voted in as president and served the maximum eight-year term in office.

In the USA, the policies of President Reagan sought to effect a similar rebirth of national self-esteem after the setbacks of the 1970s, and ‘Reaganomics’ were born.

In 1984, Yuppies appeared on the scene. An acronym for Young Urban professionals, it became synonymous with upward mobility, greed, and selfishness. But then the 80s was the decade of Self; self-improvement, self-motivation, self-help manuals . . .

“There’s no such thing as society. The individual is all”, Margaret Thatcher said. And appropriately enough, Sony launched the personal pocket stereo cassette player – The Walkman.

The Yuppies wore designer clothes, drove hi-tech cars, had high-speed jobs and went nowhere without the one essential item – the Filofax, a portable information system, (we used to call them diaries and address books) held together in a leather-bound ring binder.

The stock market crashed; Kylie Minogue became huge; Michael J Fox was the darling of America; the space shuttle seemed to blast off into space almost weekly; Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands prompting a war with Great Britain; Communism fell (as did most Television Evangelists); Oliver North took the heat for the US Government; Yuppies filled their Filofax‘s with dinner dates (‘nouvelle cuisine’ of course!) and in Australia “The Dingo took my baby!” . . .

The 80s brought an outbreak of shootings; It seemed to start when JR was shot in Dallas – but while millions tuned in to the most popular soap of the decade to find out whodunit, other shootings were all too real. Ronald Reagan and The Pope both survived their shootings. John Lennon and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat were not so fortunate. And as the decade drew to a close, things looked bleak.

The space shuttle Challenger exploded on take-off killing its crew of seven and a few months later a catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor became the worst nuclear accident in history. October 1987 saw the collapse of the world stock markets and an end to an era where “Greed Is Good” became the catch-cry of the young and upwardly mobile.

The final year of the decade seemed to top it all off when the Chinese Army massacred protesting students in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

And yet the decade ended on a bright and hopeful note when, in November 1989, the Berlin Wall finally came down.

Not in secret as it had been constructed, but before the eyes of the entire world on live television amidst Europe’s biggest ever street party. East met West for the first time since 1961 and the Cold War was over.