Dominic Sandbrook on the Early Seventies

Michael Gerber
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Not-so-Great Britain.

Today I happened across something I think Dullblog readers might like: “The Weird World of Seventies Britain,” a lecture by the Oxford historian Dominic Sandbrook. (You’ll also dig it if, like me, you’re a fan of “The Crown.”) The details Sandbrook relates—cue Paul’s “Power Cut”—are interesting and enjoyable. Spurred by our conversations about the British nightclub scene, I’ve gotten Sandbrook’s histories of Britain from 1956-63, and 1964-70. I will read them and report back with Interesting Beatle Facts.

Britain in the Seventies is usually considered to be dystopic in the extreme, and it was certainly a rude comedown from a decade earlier, when anything British was the epitome of cool. Both conservatives wishing to paint Margaret Thatcher as a much-needed revolutionary, and punks reminiscing over their time in the limelight have a vested interest in painting that defenseless decade as blackly as possible. But Sandbrook’s take is different and persuasive.

As you watch/listen to the talk, pay particular attention to the bits about British mores at the time, which occur about halfway through; those of you ever-simmering on the topic of John Heart Paul will be surprised at just how reactionary Britain still was in 1973 regarding sex, race, and class. (As reactionary, it seems, as some segments of the US and UK are today.) To understand John and Paul, one must understand where they came from, what and who they were surrounded by, and how that impacted their behavior. The early Seventies may have produced Ziggy Stardust, but they were not today.

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