A charming essay. As an American, I remember complaining (perhaps too much) about some of the author’s earlier Unherd essays about America. I felt that, despite his years spent in our country, he didn’t really understand America. The current essay is certainly authentic and beautifully written, and a window into one aspect of UK society.
I remember the seventies, too, and they feel like a different lifetime, perhaps a different universe.
I agree, only for me it is reminiscent of traveling around rural California of the sixties.
I would choose a 70s childhood over a 21st century childhood any day.
Yes, the 70s were dreary, the economy was awful and the politics worse. Our national pride seemed to be circling the drain but there has never been a better period in human history to be a child than England in the 1970s.
To calibrate, my family did not go on cultural bus trips and we often ate our sandwiches — cold chicken drumsticks, even — in public behind a breezy windbreak on the beach at Ramsgate. We did not go to Butlins either because, according to mum, Butlins was for posh people and we couldn’t afford it anyway. I did not go abroad until I was 18 and headed for the Falklands.
Kids of the 70s had a freedom that has been lost from human civilisation. I often remark that the current generation is the first generation in human history to grow up indoors while my generation of kids roamed almost without limit.
I toured London on my first Red Bus Rover when I was 10 and took my 8-year-old neighbour with me. We went to Trafalgar Square, St James’s Park and Hamleys. It took two buses and 90 minutes to get there and my Nan told me the name of the pub in Woolwich to look out for where we would catch the Number 53 to take us on the second leg to Charing Cross. I spent the whole of the 70s outdoors returning home only for dinner before escaping back out into the night.
My kids grew up in a different time, on a different continent and in a different class than I did. I crossed the generation gap, the class gap and the Atlantic. In California, my friends were professors, doctors and venture capitalists while, back in the England of my youth, I did not know a single person with a degree — except my doctor and dentist — until I joined the navy. I’ve travelled from the bottom decile to the top decile but, still, I would choose my childhood over my children’s.
I grew up in the 50s and everything the author says about the 70s applied then, only with bomb sites.
Many socio-economic studies have suggested that 1976 was the year that Western society enjoyed it’s peak quality of life, across the class/income groups. I was a teenager and I would agree.
We preferred “what works” in the 70s, because things didn’t work.
And we had come to accept the chaos and decline.
Good article, brings back memories of a much less sophisticated time. More fun too, despite the travails.
I quite enjoyed the 70s; I didn’t miss what I didn’t have (a lot) and appreciated what I did have (not that much). I was young and just starting out on my own so it was all excitement and fearfulness, however, I wouldn’t have been seen dead on a coach tour – nothing to do with the other potential passengers, it just wasn’t cool.
Straight out of Miss Marple! Two friends of mine whose houses are open to the public, commented to me that, post covid, they never ever thought that the sound that they missed most was that of coaches bringing ‘ the pipl’, crunching on the gravel of their long empty car parks!
I remember the music of the 70s – David Bowie, Roxy, Lou Reed, T Rex, Deep Purple, Queen, then later Punk. It was incredible.
And football violence and school. But mainly the music, much of which still holds up today.
I couldn’t agree more with the commentator noting how free we were in the 70s. Almost all gone now.
I loved every word of this. It must’ve been about 10 years in his column in the Radio Times that I read two essays by Mr Webb which revealed that his childhood in Bath was incredibly similar to mine in next door Bristol. I mean in terms of cultural references etc. I was SO surprised because I knew him as an urbane voice on the radio the BBC man in America,sophisticated and well connected. My Mum and Dad had no money then and Mum took us on coach days out. I so remember the mixture of heaven and hell they were.