If you were a middle-class Boomer kid in the 1960s or 1970s, there were certain magazines and easy to read books that set out to teach you about the world. Magazines like World of Wonder and Look and Learn. And then the vast Ladybird book series that covered everything from how to knit to Richard the Lionheart.
We had no Google to help us search for knowledge. And no smartphones for easy access to any number of research databases. No, if you were knowledge-hungry kid in the 70s, then you greedily thumbed your way through World of Wonder!
These publications stuffed your head full of facts. Whereas young people now tend to specialise and stick to their areas of interest, we couldn’t avoid being exposed to a much wider range of learning. Because we had far less choice in terms of information sources, we sucked up everything on offer. If my father brought home an encyclopaedia, I read the whole damned thing. Over and over again.
So the weekly edition of a magazine like World of Wonder was like manna from heaven for a Boomer child. It was from that mag, that I first learned about the 1500-year-old Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. And when Look and Learn ran a series about photography, this Boomer kid nagged his Dad until he had a Polaroid circa 1974.
My love of history began as a young child. What certainly helped to fuel it was the Ladybird book series. I’m still in awe of the cover illustrations, which have now become iconic and even mocked in satirical versions of the Ladybird books. Think about it though – the artist had only one shot at engaging a Boomer kid in some aspect of the world. When I saw these two books on medieval history, my addiction was firmly established and continues to this day.
Though I was no fan of Margaret Thatcher back in the 1980s, one thing she understood was that people needed to believe capitalism was THEIR system. So, she set out to give people a stake in the system. Today, in sharp contrast, millennials seem to have almost no stake whatsoever in capitalism. And guess where that leads? Yep, disaffection with the aforementioned capitalism.
Thatcher wanted to end the ‘mixed’ economy of post-war Britain. That’s where the state owned vast swathes of the economy including energy, telecoms, utilities and transport. She presented the sale of state assets as something liberating, a chance for the public to own a slice of the economy. Some people would have said that they already did through state ownership. But Thatcher wanted people to have shares – and believe in financial capitalism.
The Wider Share Ownership Council was set up to “create a nation of well-informed capitalists, enfranchised in the economic life of the country and supportive of a free-market system”. It didn’t matter that as industries were privatised, wealth inequality actually grew despite the increasing number of shareholders. And many held the shares more like Premium Bonds than equities. They didn’t go on to develop sophisticated stock market portfolios as Thatcher might have hoped. But many Britons bought into the myth of ‘popular capitalism’. And I suppose that’s all that mattered.
I was a financial journalist in the 1990s and people in the City privately mocked or pitied those members of the public who did try to play the markets. Lambs to the slaughter was the usual analogy. At the end of the so-called ‘dot-com boom’ around 2001, there was a 90% club of shareholders who had lost that percentage on the average share in their portfolio. Same thing happened in 2007/8. Private investors got fried every time. Institutional investors bailed out way before.
Millennials and post-millennials don’t tend to have share portfolios – not the ones I know anyway – and neither have they bought their own council house. Because those were sold decades ago in another of Thatcher’s popular capitalism moves. And many can’t afford or don’t want to take out a mortgage. Even if they tried, they’d probably be turned down. So no stake for millennials in the property or equity market.
And now, post-Covid, many millennials have a further reduced stake in capitalism on account of having no job. Young people who thought being a gym trainer or working in the ever expanding hospitality sector was a career for life have been cruelly disabused. Some have even resorted to back-breaking labour on farms to make ends meet.
And pity the poor ‘strategist’ or ‘creative’ – who now finds capitalism doesn’t need their strategic insight or creative flair. In recent years, I’ve met so many people claiming to be strategists that I call myself a ‘tactician’ with pride.
The dream, or nightmare, or myth of popular capitalism has definitely crashed and burned. There is no 1980s privatisation giveaway. There’s no keys to your own home. And now it’s a P45 and good luck for the future. So when I hear some people wondering why capitalism is in the dock – well ask yourself: what stake do millennials have in the system? And then the answer should be clear to you.
In the second half of the 1970s, Punk Rock exploded into our teenage lives as Boomers. It lifted two unpatriotic fingers up at the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations. Pilloried pop stars way beyond their sell-by date as “dinosaurs”. And stuck the boot into a whole generation of comedians who had traded on racist or lame humour.
So, is the current toppling of statues and comedians just another Punk Rock explosion?
History repeats itself, first time as tragedy and second time as farce. So wrote Karl Marx. Watching the current purge of comedians from YouTube and Netflix reminds me of the death knell that Punk sounded for many cultural icons in the 70s. Punk Rock was an aggressive cultural laxative that flushed out a lot of rottenness by making it look pathetic. Its influence swept across music, the arts, comedy and fashion.
Punk Rock pillories old pop stars
On the music scene, we had one famous pop star who had drunkenly endorsed the racist politician Enoch Powell at a gig. Look it up on Google. I’m not getting sued. Others had played gigs in apartheid-ruled South Africa. While plenty more popsters had just become complacent and very rich with it.
Punk declared Year Zero in music. And I remember going down to Small Wonder Records in Walthamstow and begging the owner to give me a pittance for my early 70s prog rock, triple-sleeve LPs so I could buy some punk albums. You almost had to deny having ever listened to certain bands. And I remember the lead singer of Yes – replete with kaftan and flares – asking on the front cover of Melody Maker why he was hated so much.
Punk Rock gave birth to alternative comedy
The new punk purge today is claiming the scalps of some comedians, over doing “blackface” for example. It all seems terribly unreasonable to those comics who’re now seeing their shows coming off Netflix and YouTube. But some of these laughter mongers began their career by slaying the comic talent of the 1970s.
Out of the Punk ethos sprang the alternative comedy scene in the early 80s and soon TV shows like The Two Ronnies were looking very out of date. On reflection, I’ve got nothing against The Two Ronnies but their dominance of TV comedy made them a target to topple. What was offensive were shows like The Comedians on ITV, which aired in the early 70s.
I remember sitting at home as a kid watching The Comedians and feeling very uncomfortable as the anti-Irish gags got told. My Dad is Irish. I learned from the “talent” on this weekly show that I was genetically stupid and prone to doing dumb things.
At my first secondary school, I was called “Paddy” so much that I ended up on the school register with that name. Much to the horror of my father at a parent-teacher evening when my form tutor said: “Paddy’s school report was quite good this term”.
Toppling statues and comedians = Punk Rock for millennials?
When history repeats, it does so differently. Context and language changes. In the 70s, Punk Rock was a roar against the stagnation of the mid-70s. The post-war economic boom had ground to a halt. Britain was in visible decline. Pop had lost its vitality and become turgid and pretentious. And if millennials think us Boomers are backward – the older generation in 1976 was antediluvian!
Punk Rock was about causing maximum offence – to shock the bourgeoisie (as the French say). Whereas today’s movement is about not being offended by ‘problematic’ content. Although the end result is surprisingly similar.
Since 2008, many Boomers have wondered when the new Punk Rock would arise. Well, here it is. It may not be taking an agreeable form for older folk but then Punk Rock horrified the establishment in the 70s. Today’s movement is the spirit of 1968 and Punk Roll plus more besides rolled into one.
Ironically, even though we Boomers are often the target of millennial hatred – their actions smack of our revolts forty and fifty years ago. So, don’t judge them harshly.
Coronavirus could lead to an Economic Depression on a scale not seen since the 1930s – according to the International Monetary Fund. We’re already seeing people going without food and being kicked out of work. And when the virus subsides, it’s not going to be a return to business as usual. The damage that’s been done is way too severe.
Millennials experienced the 2008 crisis as a brutal coming of age. A long, deep recession that trashed people’s life chances. For Boomers, I’m losing count how many economic recessions we’ve been through now. Sterling crisis of the 1960s. Oil crisis of the 1970s. Manufacturing collapse under Margaret Thatcher. Housing market collapse in the early 1990s. And here we go again!
Only this time it will be very different. It’ll be way more catastrophic in terms of the impact on jobs and markets. And of course it’s happened not because of economic cycles or government policy but – a biological virus. You’d surely have to go back to the Black Death of the fourteenth century to see a disease hit our economy at such a scale.
Economic depression – all about oil in the 1970s
As Boomers, we’ve seen economic recessions with very different characteristics. The 1970s saw short bursts of recession that despite the reputation of the decade for crisis and gloom, actually saw the economy bounce back into positive growth pretty quickly. The psychological impact though was huge because we’d basically been booming since the end of the Second World War and suddenly, we experienced a taste of what our grandparents had lived through in the 1930s.
The cause of recession in 1973 was the decision by oil producing countries to quadruple the price of ‘black gold’. Basically, they weaponised oil and were punishing the UK, US and other nations for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War. I remember the news bulletins were always relaying the latest bad news from the meetings of Arab oil producers. And Sheikh Yamani – the Saudi oil minister – became a household name. Here he is blithely informing us that oil is now a weapon…
Monetarism turns economic recession into depression
1979 saw Margaret Thatcher become Prime Minister in the UK and she implemented what was called a “monetarist” policy in the face of an economic downturn. That meant Austerity-Max with public spending cut and state support to manufacturing industry reduced. What Thatcher wanted to do was break the trades unions, reduce inflation and privatise the state-run parts of the economy. So, a political agenda as much as an economic policy.
The result between 1979 and 1981 was benign if you lived in the south east. But in Scotland, the north and the Midlands of England – industries collapsed like dominoes. I went on a canal trip at the end of secondary school on the Cheshire Ring canal and we were gobsmacked as middle class southern kids to see mile after mile of closed factories. It was a scene of devastation that led to a summer of riots in cities across the UK in 1981.
Thatcher remained in power until 1990 – when she oversaw another, often forgotten, recession. Like 1979 to 1981, the recovery took way longer than the downturns of the 1970s. We’d had the yuppie boom of the late 80s when markets soared. But then 1987 saw a stock market crash on Black Monday with the FTSE falling nearly a quarter in two days. Two years later, the aftershock hit the ‘real economy’ with unemployment rising sharply all over the country.
What I recall the most about the early 90s recession was the collapse in house prices. There were a lot of what were termed ‘voluntary repossessions’ where people chucked their own keys through the letterbox and walked away from their own home. And there was a boom in auctions of empty properties.
I was a financial journalist at the time and the other thing I reported on was the massive amount of financial corruption that was exposed as the economy slowed down. From Lloyd’s of London to independent financial advisers on the high street – the reality of the 1980s Yuppie era revealed itself in one scandal after another.
Back to the 1979 to 1981 recession. Here is the Toxteth riot of 1981 – what happens when you let youth unemployment skyrocket…
In the 1960s, you divided between the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. In the 1990s, you either liked Blur or Oasis. But in 1972 – your sister was either screaming at David Cassidy or Donny Osmond. And how they screamed…
David Cassidy came to prominence as the older son in a fictional TV sitcom called The Partridge Family. This was normally broadcast on a Saturday morning – on ITV if I recall correctly. The Partridges, led by their widowed mother, embark on a musical career managed by the affable Reuben Kincaid. Erm….and that’s the plot basically. It was enough to keep it going from 1970 to 1974.
While Donny was the second youngest son in a group of brothers called The Osmonds who performed as barbershop singers on The Andy Williams Show in the 1960s. Then in 1972, Donny had a hit with a cover of Puppy Love and Britain was gripped by the weirdest pop hysteria I’ve ever seen. He was clean cut, not quite out of puberty and voice still breaking. And girls just went wild.
To this day, I have middle-aged female friends who still define themselves by which side of the David/Donny divide they sat on. It split sisters and it split my eardrums as my sister hollered at the TV whenever Donny appeared. In 1973, thousands of girls descended on Heathrow Airport as the Osmonds landed from the United States and part of a balcony on a roof garden collapsed causing serious injuries.
Sadly, David Cassidy had alcohol problems later in life and gave permission for his own struggle with dementia to be filmed prior to his death in 2017. Donny is still around with a loyal fanbase to this day. So – was your sister a David or Donny aficionado?
Young and old – the year 2020 saw us all go through the hell of the Coronavirus.
It’s experience that has impacted every one of us. On social media, I’ve seen people I know grieve for a grandparent – one aged 90 years old – who succumbed to the virus. But also children and teenagers have been felled cruelly before their lives had really got going. Not since the Victoria era have we seen the tragic site of little coffins being carried at funerals.
At the height of the Coronavirus, families came together to support each other and the divisions of Boomer, Gen-X, Millennial and Post-Millennial seemed so irrelevant for a while. Young health workers strove to save the lives of elderly patients while parents took their children back into their homes to keep them safe. We all needed to pull together.
However, all was not sweetness and light. There were some on Twitter who promoted the hashtag #BoomerDoomer and other similar unpleasantries – hoping that the virus would wipe out our generation. How did they justify this? Oh, well, apparently anybody over the age of 55 was to blame for global warming, poverty and right-wing populism. Therefore we had it coming to us.
The inert and non-judgmental nature of a virus was lost on these people. Instead they reverted to some medieval idea that disease and pandemics are some kind of righteous punishment on the wicked – namely Boomers in this instance.
Many of those pushing this inter-generational hatred are “Doomers” – a nihilistic sub-set who overlap with InCels and other social misfits. They have a highly pessimistic view of society and its future and an exaggerated sense of what they know – and what anybody born before 1964 doesn’t know.
Like typical 4Chan sad sacks they troll folks on social media celebrating the Coronavirus, for example, as some kind of apocalyptic end of times for Boomers. Presumably when we’re all wiped out, they will emerge from their fetid bedrooms, lay down their tepid takeaway pizzas and inherit the earth. Glad I won’t be here!
Now I know most young people have no truck with that kind of Doomer hate speech. And they realise that this is an attempt to divide us all along generational lines. After all, if we spend time beggaring each other and chucking insults, we’ll forget the real enemies of democracy and social justice.
And I couldn’t help noticing that many of those pushing the #BoomerDoomer hashtag had five followers and appeared to be based in Macedonia or Russia. Hmmmm?
Not that there hasn’t been some friction between Boomers and Millennials online. One side calling Millennials snowflakes and the other side retorting with the snarky rejoinder – OK Boomer. That was the flavour of debate in 2019. Pretty unedifying really.
So – I think it’s time to fully lift the lid on what Boomers are really all about – before the Grim Reaper scythes us. Let’s answer the myths and misconceptions that frankly do my head in.
Fortunately for all of you – I’m a terrible hoarder. I have a massive “archive” of political, cultural, musical, school, college and clubbing stuff that will show you how we revolted, demonstrated and with punk in the 1970s, stuck two fingers up at all that was wrong with society.
This blog will give you a real sense of the sounds, sights and maybe even smells of the post-war era. It’s a tale of youth cults, political upheaval, demonstrations, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And I’d like you to contribute with your own stories from that era.
We transformed the world. The 1960s signalled the start of a struggle for racial and sexual equality and the recognition of LGBT rights. The 1970s was when the fight got going in earnest. The 1980s was both a reaction against the radicalism of the previous two decades but also a time when social progress continued regardless. And the 1990s was one victory after another for a more equal society.
I’m not going to bore you with lectures – but entertain you with images and stories that will bring the above to life. The post-war decades were bursting with optimism and a belief that change was possible. Maybe if we want to recover our sanity – we should all reach back into those times and find the strength and ideas to move forward.
Now – for your edification – some of you may want to know the difference between a Boomer, Doomer, Bloomer and Zoomer. So – to enlighten you on these terms and the toxic generation war politics they encourage – here is a very good YouTube video that sets it all out.