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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 June 2007, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
Making ends meet in the 70s
Chris Hann
The Magazine is compiling a people's history of modern Britain - featuring your written memories and photos. We started with the 1950s and the 1960s and now focus on the 70s.

It was the decade of strikes, electricity shortages and piles of rotting rubbish on the street.

But among the hundreds of written memories you e-mailed to us, it was clear that the industrial unrest was only one part of the story.

For many of you the decade was defined by the music and the fashion. Or childhood freedom enjoying long, hot summers on Chopper bikes and Space Hoppers.

For others, such as those comments submitted here, the 70s is also recalled as a time when people were just trying to make ends meet in difficult economic conditions.


Power cuts, all huddled in the lounge with a car headlight and home made paraffin lamps as the only sources of illumination. The car headlight was the only part of the car we had, engineers like my father couldn't afford luxuries like cars.
Chris Hann
Years of unemployment as the Japanese undercut British heavy industry, sadly the financial wizards in the west have no idea how to fight an economic war. Miners trying to run the country by blackmail. Government who didn't care about anyone. My mother desperately saving every penny so she could feed us. The long hot summer of 1976 and the huge thunderstorms that ended it, one night we stood at the windows and watched the flashes to the north as Edinburgh, 100 miles away, got theirs. The next night it was our turn, it went on for so long we eventually got bored and went to bed. Late in the '70s my parents could finally afford to get central heating, as it neared completion (cobbled together from fire sales and salvaged parts by my father) I used to stick my hand through the letter box when I came home from school, one night it was actually warmer inside than out. Factories closing. Walking miles and miles, no money to do anything else.
Chris Hann, Bay Area, CA (from Gateshead)

A very exciting and inventive time. I was at art school. It could not have been better. I know nostalgia is not what it used to be, but the 70s showed all that was good about Britain: individuality, in essence. Once everyone discovered money, it was over. I lived in a squat in Battersea, paid 50 pence a week and, when it got cold, threw the odd chair into the fire. Now London has swallowed New York wholesale, everyone's a millionaire and is desperate to wear the same clothes and buy the same car ... or rather, a more expensive model.
Mason Line, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

OTHER 1970s MEMORIES
Having read peoples' memories of the 50s and 60s, my memories of the 70s (I was born in '69) are not so different: warm 1/3 pint bottles of milk at school every day - yuck!; pre-fabs across the street; a rag-and-bone man complete with horse-drawn cart; a man who came round to sharpen knives; an under-heated house; baths in front of the fire; no bathroom and only an outside loo until about 1975!! I don't think we had any running hot water till then either - God knows how my parents managed. And this was in London, not some rural backwater!! The only part of the political situation I remember is the black-outs. I liked having the candles and thought it was all very exciting.
Vicky Nelson, then Greenwich, London, now Abu Dhabi, UAE

Oh how I remember those days. I froze in my bedroom; there was ice on the inside walls of our house! My parents got by on pitiful pay-checks and often didn't eat dinner themselves in order to save money. The list of undignified standards that we were forced to live in sounded like it came from a third world country, not the UK. These times are so easily forgotten by so many people and are not known at all by the current young generation of voters. Woe betide the same people who forced Margaret Thatcher from power after she and the Conservative party had fixed these issues, woe betide those same people who now force Tony Blair from power, the saviour of a totally defunct party, a party that will surely descend into mediocrity once again. I hope the country never has to return to the dark days of the 1970s.
Mark, Atlanta GA USA

Mason Line, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Married for 6 years by 1970. Constant slog to try to get ahead. Continual industrial action. Trying to raise two kids on a policeman's salary. Some of the reasons we decided to emigrate in 1972.
Alan Plaistow, Cape Town, South Africa

Having read peoples' memories of the 50s and 60s, my memories of the 70s (I was born in '69) are not so different: warm 1/3 pint bottles of milk at school every day - yuck!; pre-fabs across the street; a rag-and-bone man complete with horse-drawn cart; a man who came round to sharpen knives; an under-heated house; baths in front of the fire; no bathroom and only an outside loo until about 1975!! I don't think we had any running hot water till then either - God knows how my parents managed. And this was in London, not some rural backwater!! The only part of the political situation I remember is the black-outs. I liked having the candles and thought it was all very exciting.
Vicky Nelson, then Greenwich, London, now Abu Dhabi, UAE

Getting a mortgage was an endurance test. You had to have a savings account with the Building Society and they had a quota they could lend each month. If they had filled their quota you had to wait in the queue until it was your turn. We waited four months for our application to be considered. Then we had to have an interview with the Manager, who was a real little dictator. He had power and he meant to use it. After that, if he approved, you had to wait another couple of months for the money. Things are a bit different today! Income Tax was horrendous. In 1978 I earned a big bonus and my gross pay for the year was about 25,000. I got to keep barely 10,000 of it. We went out to dinner to celebrate when Maggie won the 1979 election.
Mac Eddey, Beaminster, Dorset, UK

I was a student 72 to 75 and political unrest on the campus followed those in Paris from 68 and had a world view. A heady mix of angst at deepening global social injustice, the Vietnam war, pitiful unliveable grants for students all in a context of unabridged freedoms for men and women to express themselves in new ways - including of course interpersonal. Actually a time of optimism that the world could be a better place if enough people took individual action.
Nick Southern, Manchester, UK

The public sector workers, in local authorities and in the NHS, were appallingly underpaid. I recall one year - I think it was 1978 or 79 - in which I got four pay rises. One was a salary increment, one for promotion and two for cost of living; I ended the year being paid almost twice as much as when it began. While employees in private industries had gained some big pay advances, it was the public sector that had borne the brunt of the government's pay policies, cash squeezes and spending cuts. Were Healy and Callaghan over-enthusiastic? The IMF had us by the short and curlies - there really wasn't much room for manoeuvre. On the bright side, they got us out from under quicker than we'd ever achieved before. On the downside, it was the most vulnerable who suffered. Marr is right to say a lot of it was whipped up by the press, who were truly desperate to get rid of a Labour government - and this was the era of Peter Wright's 'Spycatcher', with a group of people who were undermining the government from within. Was 'the enemy within' truly to be found in the unions or in the Establishment? How close was the deployment of troops to Heathrow and places in the capital actually to an attempted coup?
Ruari McCallion, Shaftesbury, UK

Started catering college in 1971, started work as a trainee chef at a hotel in Eastbourne, (poorly paid 6:50 per week live in) and most of my wages would go on fashion and train fare home to see my girl friend, on my one and a half days off. Ben Sherman shirts, Levi 'stay press' and Harri Jackets. A 'Crombie' overcoat cost me 20:00 which was a small fortune to me. But they were fantastic times, Motown, Reggae, Rod Stewart and the Faces, David Bowie, T Rex etc. The Seventies were fantastic, and have so many happy memories for me.
Mik, Burgess Hill

I was teaching in the 1970s in Southampton. During the 'three-day week', I remember getting up in the dark, no electricity, cycling to school and finding no electricity at school either. Four years later, after graduating with an honours degree, the only work I could find in London was part-time teaching. I couldn't find anywhere passable to live either, so ended up squatting in a Victorian house in East London, in a street with about fifty or sixty other squatters. The Asian supermarket down the street was always being attacked by neo-Nazis and swastikas adorned bridges and walls everywhere. I participated in several big anti-Nazi marches and rallies, including one where Joe Strummer of The Clash told some of his skinhead fans, "Take off your swastikas!" That was a pivotal moment. But London was grim and frightening. I left England in 1978 and emigrated to Canada in 1979.
Brooke Lydbrooke, Toronto, Canada

What I can remember of the seventies as I grew up in the latter part of the decade certainly isn't the flares and fun image the media are still keen to portray it as. This was the era of punk rock( no future UK), hyper inflation, high unemployment and a feeling that Britain was finished, along with the misery of endless strikes. Anyone who lived through this period will know how run down and depressed Britain had become by the end of the 70s. However, the television was far better back then and at least you had great comedies to laugh at to take your mind off the winter of discontent. Also bands like Queen and the ELO were making fantastic music, which we seem to lack now.
Glenn Aylett, Whivehaven, Cumbria

I left school in 1969 - liberation day - and got my A Levels at our college of further education. I joined 18+ Club and International Voluntary Service (mostly doing gardens and decorating for the less well off referred by Social Services - jobs would be allocated on Monday nights at our weekly meeting) and got "housekeeping experience" when mother was in hospital for a major female operation. There were some great films - "The Italian Job" and "The Lion In Winter" and a few years later "Death In Venice" - and it was a good time for pop and discos for those who enjoyed that sort of thing. On the downside jobs were very hard to get with increasing unemployment, far too much fuss was made about changing to decimal coinage (I had no problem) and we had more than enough of strikes - the rail strike in 1973 paralysed the sorting office where I did Christmas work for a day and the "winter of discontent" coincided horribly with a particularly bad winter in our area. Experience of two-party government has made me a Lib Dem (saving Maggie Thatcher's grace -she had moments of genius)and inflation starting badly around 1971 has made me a careful housekeeper!
K Watson, Stockport





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