In the summer of 1981, I got a place at Liverpool University. In July of the same year, the Toxteth district of that city exploded in riots over unemployment and a breakdown in community-policy relations. At the same time – Prince Charles married Princes Diana in front of three generations of the Royal Family.
The front page of the newspaper featured here sums up the mad contradictions of that long hot summer. Britain was convulsed with rioting in every major city – particularly Liverpool and London. While at the same time, millions tuned in to the “fairy tale” wedding of Charles and Diana – which ended up being more of a horror story.
This was the massively divided Britain of the early 80s. Half the country north of the Watford gap took the brunt of a two-year economic recession that decimated manufacturing industry. While the south-east – I think it’s fair to say – coasted through. At least that was the impression I got at the time.
Something snapped that summer. Youth jobless rates had gone through the roof. The government was bent on a monetarist economic policy that had turned a recession into a disaster. And there’s no getting away from the polarising affect that Margaret Thatcher had on people. She was either idolised or vilified. There really wasn’t much by way of a middle ground.
What this newspaper front page reports is the sole death that occurred during the Liverpool riots – in the Toxteth area of the city. It’s a very sad story. A disabled guy, David Moore, unwisely decided to take a closer look at the rioting near where he lived and was crushed under the wheels of a police van.
As Charles and Diana said “I do”, David died in hospital.
When I turned up to university, I was totally unaware that my halls of residence had just been used as a police dormitory for officers drafted in from all over the country to quell Toxteth. I only found that out years later.
The recent Coronavirus lockdown in many countries will have come as an unpleasant shock to millions of people – especially the young. To have bars, clubs, shops and meeting places closed by order of the government must seem very disturbing. But to us Boomers, there’s a ring of the familiar. And here’s why…
Because in the early 1970s we endured regular government authorised power cuts. This was a measure in the United Kingdom by the Conservative government of prime minister Edward Heath. He was locked in battle with the National Union of Mineworkers – an episode dramatised in the Netflix series, The Queen.
In order to conserve coal stocks and face the miners down, Heath ordered that energy consumption needed to be reduced. To achieve this – at a time when coal-fired stations provided most of our energy – he demanded that at certain times of the day, the lights should go out.
And I wrote about this in my Holiday Diary in 1972 (aged 8 or 9) – a journal we were ordered to keep by our teacher at school. Amusing to read how my piano lessons were cancelled (oh the horror!); the local swimming pool was freezing and we couldn’t go to Sunday school.
The latter was a particular relief – not being browbeaten by nuns in order to get my First Communion. Because I went to a state school – or “Protestant” school as our local parish priest called it – I had to endure an hour of the Sisters of Mercy (inappropriately named) every week. Thankfully, they couldn’t bully us without the lights on for some reason.
Then there were all the TV shows I had to miss. A serialisation of Ann of Green Gables – which clearly had me hooked. But mercifully, they still managed to screen the Cliff Richard Show with the UK’s Eurovision Song Contest entry for 1972 – The New Seekers singing Beg, Steal or Borrow. We lost that year.
What I don’t mention in the diary below is going to the local library and the whole place being illuminated by candlelight. Could you even imagine that being allowed now? Rows of highly combustible material with candles flickering on the shelves alongside. Different time.