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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 March, 2004, 13:12 GMT
Was 1976 all it's cracked up to be?
By Phil Longman

Man in platform shoes
Those shoes really can't be comfortable
1976 was, according to a new report, the year when we were happiest. But as the sun shone, the economy was crumbling along with the dried-up riverbeds. The seeds of the winter of discontent were sown. And it was the year when the party really was over.

It was the year of the endless summer, when we danced to Abba, could walk the streets in safety, and have a good night out for a fiver and still have change.

They were happy times, as confirmed by the New Economics Foundation which has named the year as the best for quality of life, based on indicators such as crime rate, pollution levels and public sector investment.

I LOVE 1976...
Driest summer since 1772
Water restrictions in place for months
Drought followed by flooding
It's the weather that stands out in most people's memories. Day after day of temperatures in the 90s, as people rolled up their flared trousers to sunbathe in the park.

That had its downside, of course, with a drought leading to scorched earth and hundreds of thousands of people dependent on standpipes for their water supply.

There was even a Minister of Drought, Denis Howell, who within days of his appointment became Minister of Floods, as the heavens opened.

Henry Kelly, who was on the radio even then, recalls the heatwave: "As a radio reporter I covered the old chestnut of a man frying eggs on the pavement near Oxford Circus."

There was, for him, a considerable upside of the simpler times - fear of crime was low, people were less suspicious of others, and "traffic flowed freely and, by and large, British Rail was just wonderful".

But.

1976 was also a year of strikes and raging inflation. The full scale of the economic failure the country was facing became evident, as Britain was forced into the humiliating position of asking international bankers to bail it out to the tune of billions of pounds.

Oh the times we had
Strikes in public services were just something people had to deal with. The standard rate of tax stood at 35 pence in the pound. Inflation raged at around 17%.

The industrial unrest and economic crisis led within a few years to the winter of discontent and then the Thatcher revolution.

In terms of individual wealth, we were certainly poorer. The average wage was around 72 a week. Only half of us had phones - landlines, that is. No-one had a computer. Far fewer of us owned our own homes and it was much more difficult to get a mortgage.

It was also the year that, for many, the music died, with Abba and Elton John being elbowed aside by the rude young men of pop, including the Sex Pistols and the Clash.

By and large, British Rail was just wonderful
Henry Kelly
Fears of a younger generation with a safety pin through its nose stalked society; what punk might do to the country was a serious concern for many - not least the punks themselves.

In the heat of the summer, riots broke out at the Notting Hill carnival. 100 police officers were taken to hospital after they tried to break up rioters armed only with dustbin lids and milk crates.

And in sport, it was hardly a year of triumph to be cherished as a golden era.

On the cricket field England were walloped by Australia and the West Indies. Our much vaunted athletics team at the Montreal Olympics came back with just one bronze medal between them.

Only dashing racing driver James Hunt saved the day somewhat by winning the Formula One championship.

And yet despite all the downside, it's the sunny memories which seem to have lasted. Henry Kelly for one thinks it was indeed happier than today, despite all the mod cons of the 21st Century.

"The main thing is we were all so much younger then," he says.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

But for many of us, it was also the year that the music came alive with the (rude) young men of pop, including the Sex Pistols and the Clash.
Guy Hancock, Britain

Yes, 1976 did seem a happy time despite all the economic problems. People were generally more considerate and the youth still had some respect for themselves and others. The 'media' has gradually changed all that over the years. Every little issue in life is now 'in your face' and this causes so much anxiety and insecurity in people. That's why we look back on fond memories,of happier times, as it it more paletable than an uncertain future that it so heavily portrayed today. Information overload - time for a change - WE don't need to know all there is to know about every little item of news there is today. Switch off the TV - stop reading the papers. Start to enjoy YOUR life and stop dwelling on things that don't necessarily affect you and things you can't change!
Jon, England

76 was great - for an 11-year-old like I was. Perfect Summer holiday when it was nice to spend all day everyday outside - what was the point of being inside with only 3 TV Channels which mainly showed a testcard during the day! No computers, no mobiles, no designer rip-off clothes, no money to buy them anyway! Drugs meant aspirin or penecilin. The single most valuable and sought after object for someone my age was a bicycle - 2nd hand of course! I wouldn't trade that time for growing up now-a-days.
Graeme, England

1976. I remember it well as the year I took my O' levels. It was far too hot to study though so I spent the days sunning at the local swimming pool. I passed my exams anyway. It was also the year somebody decided to stub a cigarette on my arm for being a punk. It was the year I got beaten up but my attackers ran away because I laughed at them. It was the year the Navy turned me down.
Alcuin, UK

There were fewer lager louts and it was safe to go out clubbing on a Saturday night. There was less pressure for children and teenagers to live up to their peers -'keeping up with the Jones'. Children played in the parks and streets instead of becoming couch potatoes or computer geeks.
Tina Daniels, England

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