Electric Dreams – justifying the BBC license fee

We had to re-tune our TVs in the UK 30th September (some technical preparations ready for the digital switchover) and I can no longer get channels on the ITV and Channel 4 multiplexes.

I haven’t quite decided yet whether this is such a bad thing as it’s eliminated scrolling through a lot of – shall we say ‘rubbish’ – channels that I can live without. I know I can live without TV anyway; I did so for eight months before deciding to buy my current digital TV, in 2007. It’s a computer and the web I can’t live without.

Last night, I got hooked on BBC4; first A Poet’s Guide to Britain on Sylvia Plath who took inspiration, like the Bronte’s, from the moors around Haworth. This interested me as, when I lived in North Yorkshire, I used to love driving over to Haworth to visit the desolate wild moors and experiment with my old Pentax K1000. Later on, there was my all time hero, David Attenborough on Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life.

Seventies Wallpaper – in fashion again?

But the most outstanding programme in a long while was Electric Dreams. A family of two parents and four children ‘went back’ to 1970: their home’s contents and décor, and they themselves, were kitted out as it would’ve been in 1970. Then, with each passing day, they would fast-forward a year and a new item of technology or a new product was introduced. So, six days later they were in 1975 and had a ‘new’ domestic freezer and teas-maid set.

Ok, it was reality TV but this was more of a social documentary on the evolution of technology and domestic appliances and how we interact with them (emerging consumerism) than cheesy reality TV.

I grew up in the 1970s and watched in nostalgic amusement, fondly reminded of my parents’ black and white TV and restricted viewing hours, electrical powercuts, chopper (and chipper) bicycles, space hoppers, brown patterned furnishings and curtains (my parents had a long-haired chocolate brown carpet in the living room and dining room!), our beloved and well-used Dynatron record player and my mother’s laborious twin tub washing machine, not to mention the introduction of Casio pocket calculators and the naughty words you could type in numbers, like 80085.

Family in St Annes

One bit that touched home for me was when it snowed heavily and the father struggled in to work, 1970s style. He was the only one who made it into the office as everyone else was working via VPN from home (which he couldn’t) and had received an early morning email advising employees not to struggle in. Growing up on a village street, we lived opposite the person responsible for roads and snow ploughs at the local borough council. Suffice to say our street was always cleared of snow, promptly. Still, a massive effort was made not to allow the weather to disrupt your routine.

Remembering those experiences so vividly, it’s hard to imagine what it was like without instant communication tools, or even the person I was (how I behaved?) 30+ years ago. It really was a different age.

I felt for the son who started off embracing the retro challenge – he liked the touchability of music in vinyl record format as opposed to digital downloads but it all went wrong quickly for him, when he was late home from town one evening. Ordinarily, he would’ve texted his mother but in his 1970s life, he took a chance and didn’t keep her informed of his movements and arrived home late. He was in trouble with his worried mother and was sent to his room (devoid of its PC and contemporary devices) without supper.

Many children in the 1970s did paper rounds to earn their pocket money, though I didn’t start mine – a much-coveted evening round – until around 1980. In Electric Dreams, the son got up in the early morning darkness to deliver newspapers around the neighbourhood on his chopper, before school; a 1970s trend that has since declined as parents in the 2000s are less inclined to allow children out on their own.

For the most part, 1970s children went out to play, independently. There was undeniably a certain naivety (perhaps too soon after the sexually liberating swinging sixties?) and unawareness of paedophilia and child abuse then. But claims that the streets are less safe today are – in my opinion – unfounded. We’re now more aware and consequently, more protective.

So it was good to see the family spending evenings together, watching their black and white TV, listening to records and playing games like buckaroo! I watched with a perma-grin, fondly remembering experiences and things I archived a long time ago in my old fashioned memory. And, while I’m on tenterhooks for the next episode set in the 1980s – my beloved New Romantic teenage era – I wouldn’t swap this day in 2009 for any day of old. Not when Gary Numan’s just released a 30th anniversary edition of his 1979 revolutionary album, The Pleasure Principle (pioneer of electronic music) all digitally re-mastered with previously unreleased extras. That’s progress.

Electric Dreams is TV at its best: no adverts, just 60 minutes of thought provoking, well produced BBC entertainment. For programmes like this, the annual BBC license fee is well-deserved.

~ Electric Dreams – BBC page
~ Children of the Revolution – Guardian article


One Response

  1. […] Principle Gary Numan released a 30th anniversary edition of The Pleasure Principle in September (mentioned a month ago) and is currently touring, playing all the old tracks – initially recorded as Tubeway Army – […]

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