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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 June 2007, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
The 'Me' decade
City trader, 1987
There were winners...
The Magazine is compiling a people's history of modern Britain - featuring your written memories and photos. We started with the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s and continue this week with the 80s.

It was the decade of Thatcher, yuppies, chunky mobile phones and BMX bikes.

But among the hundreds of written memories you e-mailed to us, it was clear that the way society changed was key to your recollections of the 1980s.

Margaret Thatcher suddenly made it easier to borrow money and buy homes, while injecting the economy with a vigour centred on London's Square Mile.

This new-found freedom led to an explosion in credit, consumption and private enterprise, in which the individual, rather than the state, was king. That has shaped the UK we live in today.

But was this something to cherish or regret? Here is a selection of your comments.


The 80s in England was the decade when just being a nice affable person wasn't enough. We became driven by the need to succeed.
Ian Hanley
Never saw our kids, cancelled weekends away with our wives, moved away from our roots and all for that essential step up the career ladder. Divorce became nothing out of the ordinary, rather like the music, once punk rock had died away, and social climbing along with conversations about house prices became the middle class national obsession. There was definitely an affluence about the decade though and a real big sense that a cultural revolution was happening. At least swirling wallpaper, teak veneer and orange and blue flowered carpets disappeared.
Ian Hanley, Ankara Turkey

I grew up under Maggie Thatcher and thanks to her I brought my first house at 19, something my parents weren't able to do. I do however recall the organised gangs that reigned over the football terraces and turned the game into a battlefield. I also remember X3Ri being the car to have and the introduction of the Yuppy - I loved the 80s, I look back with very fond memories
Liz Robson, London

It was a fantastic time particularly the early 80s. I was born in the late 50s and the rebellion fostered by rock music reached its zenith with the 80s, great bands, fashion (I was living in London at the time), a leader we could demonise. Thatcher's Britain, we hated her, we shared visions of revolt, of revolution.
Mike Stapleton
Hanging out with the underdogs of this new capitalist revolution we saw all too well the pitfalls of indulging man's inherent greed, witness the stock market crash later in the 80s. And right at the end of this decade we saw something my generation truly believed we'd never see, the downing of the Berlin wall and the beginning of the end of the USSR.
Mike Stapleton, Bristol

My first job started just as the property boom hit the South coast where I was living: the monthly increase in the price of a typical 1-bedroom flat, at about 400, was more than my monthly pay! I had three choices: move back up north, train for another job, or wait...in the end I did all three. I also remember the Square Mile for a different reason to the one mentioned by Andrew Marr. 1/4-million of us marched through it demonstrating against Cruise missiles. Twice (June 1984 and June 1985).
Candy Spillard, York, UK
We got married in 1981 and bought our first flat in 1982: it cost 25,000 and we were worried we might not be able to make the payments. It was that worry that stopped us spending an additional 4,000 for a brand new flat, even though with the explosion in credit, we were offered the money. That new flat was in Docklands, then a vast building site, and we couldn't see who'd want to live there, nor that any flat there would ever gain in value. I'm not a financial advisor, you'll be unsurprised to learn.
Neil Murray, London, UK

K Boswell, 1988
A truly awful decade, in which Thatcher's government encouraged the selfishness in people and created the culture of 'me, me and only me matters'. Spiralling house prices, spiralling debt, job insecurity, envy, sudden wealth for those willing to trample on others to obtain it, dog eat dog. And it's still with us.
K Boswell, 2007
It's true that Thatcher had a vision, and was able to realise that vision - she had an amazing grasp on what made people tick and how to manipulate them. I just wish she had wanted to encourage the better side of human nature and then maybe this country would not be in the social and moral mess it is in now. I'd like to wipe out the 1980s and start again.
K Boswell (right, in 1988 and 2007), Dudley, UK

I lived in Germany until 84 and admired Mrs T from afar. Coming home in the mid 80s it became clear how divided our country was. If you were a 'have', you got more, the 'have nots' were labelled as lazy and inadequate and of course there was public enemy number one - The Single Mother - the cause of every ill in our society. England in the 80s was greedy and selfish. And the music was pretty rubbish too! Poll tax riots; the death of John Lennon; the birth of my children. Apart from my children, not a great decade and not one to remember with pride.
Wendy Lamb, Bergerac, France

I was nine in 1980 in Birmingham and for the first time we had some money in the house, a new supermarket which opened in Selly Oak meant that we could finally buy cheap and varied food and we started going on holiday in sunny Spain rather than dreary Tenby. It was glorious to have so much choice, so many tastes and so much fun after the misery and grime of the 70s. The music was fabulous although I am not convinced by the current revival of 80s fashion. Mrs Thatcher's government paid for my assisted place at the local independent school, which lifted me out of the poverty I was born into and allowed a bright but poor boy to go onto Cambridge and a profession in the law, for which I will be eternally grateful.
Tom, London, England

Cardboard city
...and there were losers
My memories of the whole decade are of huge and bitter contrasts between the culture and values of those who did well out of the 'Thatcher Revolution' and those who lost out. Coming from South Wales but going to art college in London, I saw both sides of 80s Britain, and my abiding memories are of new extremes of behaviour and action across the board. Some snapshots of the 'losers' first: Going to Ebbw Vale in the early 80s and finding the steelworks that was the physical and emotional heart of the town (which stands at the head of a narrow, steep-sided valley) completely gone; vanished, leaving only a big, irregular field of graded earth and rubble fringed with terraced houses. Economically inevitable perhaps, but it looked like Hiroshima. And the miners' strike. I remember driving down the M4 with a friend, to find that the southern side of the motorway between Llanwern and Port Talbot had been completely closed, and was occupied by an endless convoy of 8-wheel lorries full of imported coal and dozens of police cars (of several different forces) 'riding shotgun'. The whole machinery of the state at war with the NUM; still shocks me to think of that scene. And my upside? Amazing creativity and luxury in London. Great clubs, great art, music, design and film and lots and lots of dressing up. Boy, did we dress up, not those awful new romantic frills, but as 40s jazzmen, 50s beatniks, 30s Soviet workers, Cecil Beaton debutantes, Gothic cowboys, anything we wanted. We ransacked the culture of the 20th Century and played out all our favourite fantasies in clubs and parties. London was an amazingly open place; clubs would appear for just a night in abandoned warehouses in the East End, art events would take place on waste ground awaiting redevelopment into 'Docklands'. There was always someone with a good idea, and someone with some money to finance it.
Nicholas Shaddick, Rye, England

As a young adult it was a decade of "firsts" for me. First love, leaving home and starting my career as a nurse. I also remember it as an intensely political decade, where it seemed, people either passionately supported Mrs Thatcher or vehemently opposed her... privatisation, public service cuts, the miners strike and the Falklands war. For me ,it was a decade that formed most of the values I hold today.
Sue Lowe, Upwell, Cambs
Brilliant decade! The country finally chucked off all the gloom and depression that I remember from my childhood in the 70s. Wine bars and restaurants boomed, property became more accessible for ordinary folks, foreign holidays took off in a big way. People who say that it was an era of selfishness also forget to say that it was the era of Band Aid and TV Telethons.
Adrian Lee, London, UK

For me, the 80s were full of marvel and maelstrom. Radical social change was required of course, but the cost at a personal level to so many people was horrendous. I'll never forget the poll tax riots, the Falklands and the hairstyles but just wish the fear, greed and selfishness that went with it all could have been prevented.
Ken Logan, Liverpool

Thatcher, New Romantics and yuppies, greed is good and Gordon Gecko. The end of community. The nationalist curriculum. Thatcher sowing discord where there was harmony. Selfishness as a religion. It was all so depressing after the 70s. Locke's vision of life as nasty, short and brutish made real.
Shaun Silson, Penrith

Mark Dexter, 1986
I bought my first flat for 60000, aged 21, in 1989, because it seemed I had to buy to get on the property ladder at any cost. As it turned out I bought right on the brink of the crash. Two years later it was worth 30,000, which was the same as the mortgage I had. Taught me a lesson in keeping an eye on the economy before jumping in again, but I have never really recovered from that early capital hit.
Mark Dexter, 2007
I rented the flat out to pay the high interest mortgage before eventually selling it for a 15,000 loss some time later. Although a relatively high earner I have not amassed the sort of property wealth that a lot of my contemporaries seem to have done.
Mark Dexter, Knutsford

I remember that the biggest status symbol at work was not engine size badge on your car for all to see in the staff car park. I was whether it had a carphone aerial stuck to one of the back windows. Having that little aerial showed that people needed to be in touch with you, at all costs!
Phil, England
Being a photographer I remember being one of the first with a mobile phone . I used to go into dark corners to phone ,as you were heartily despised as being a yuppie. Things have changed somewhat!
Mike O'Dwyer, London

I don't really think the 1980s were any more selfish than any other time. I do think people had to run much harder to stand still, such was the huge pace and scale of change in every facet of life. Coping with all this change took a lot of our energies, even though we might not have recognised it. The result was, I think, we all moved a little further apart. That cosy community feel of the 1950s had been vanishing slowly for the two previous decades, the 1980s finally killed it off in a rush. Mobility had a lot to do with it. I joined a cricket club in 1976 and was just about the only team member not born and bred in the local area. By 1990, there were very few locals left and the team came from as far afield as Australia. Everyone had come to the area to work in London or the surrounds. Many had their origins in the North or Midlands. The economic centre of the country shifted south during the eighties. We had to do what Norman Tebbit said and get on our bikes to find jobs, we often left our roots and communities behind; to our cost, I think.
Mac Eddey, Beaminster

The 80s for me were just great, I was in my 20s and living in Soho, making money and having a great partner, what else was there, Soho was just coming out of a seedy past with the vice, and gangs that ran it, but things were changing, new businesses, and a vibrant new life was evolving, and a lot of what happened then is still around today, I'll never move away I still Love it.
Warren, London
My abiding memories of this decade are of grasping opportunists jockeying for position to gobble up shares in nationalised industries, of proud mining communities being decimated by a vengeful Thatcher refusing to provide investment in collieries, a 10-year period of social inequality. Good riddance, Maggie!
Laurence McCall, Glasgow

The 80s to me were when I started work - on 2265 per year!! I was rich! Domestic banking was just starting to be automated, but in 1984 we still had to print every cheque book by hand with a huge stamping machine, computers were about as large as an old-style Mini car, and cashiering was done behind old heavy wooded reinforced glass counters. None of this computerised flat screen stuff there is now!
Nina Bunton
How it changed quickly, though, by the end of the decade - the City Banks in London, the yuppies, the mobile phones as large as bricks, soaring house prices, conspicuous consumption for those lucky enough to have the jobs. Those of us who didn't regrettably looked on enviously, but I ended up with a long-term job when all the City-types got made redundant in the early 90s!! By then I had escaped work to go to university anyway and have made more progress than any of the people I worked with.
Nina Bunton, Bristol now, Aylesbury then

Thatcherism, greed is good, individualism, citizen seen as consumers, buy your own home, water, gas shares. End of democratic consensus, society and the unions and rise of the free market and inflation. War in the Falklands and civil war in the UK with race riots, the Miners' Strike and the IRA. Yet, despite all this the 80s were a vibrant and exciting decade to live in if you were a teenager like me at the time, seeing life as angrily as Paul Weller could write A Town Called Malice . Makes the 00s seem so dull and watered down by comparison.
Tony Wilson, Glasgow

OTHER 80s MEMORIES
Around 1985 the country seemed to turn a corner almost overnight. The economy took off, and for the first time in my life I was aware of what is now called social mobility. Council house tenants could buy their homes, regional accents were heard on city trading floors, women entered the workplace in numbers and it seemed like everyone either had or planned to have their own business. I was temping for a bank at the time, processing payments for the new British gas share flotation (how very 80s!). We all used to go to the pub most lunchtimes and often after work as well, the amount people used to drink back then seems phenomenal compared to now, you just wouldn't get away with it at work nowadays. I remember "yuppies" for the first time in about 1987 - 30-somethings in a Porsche wearing flash suits, and a guy talking on a mobile phone in a posh hotel bar causing a bit of a fuss. Everyone just wanted to emulate that flash, consumerist lifestyle at the time. I wasn't well paid by any means but like most people in work, I enjoyed what seemed a good standard of living at the time, eating out once a week, buying a lot of clothes, and having a very active social life. It was the start of the credit card culture and, like a lot of people my age I got my first plastic and went a bit wild I guess. For me it was an enjoyable time, a very hedonistic period with life seeming a lot less restricted and controlled than it is now.
Matt Munro, Bristol, UK

My memory of 1976, was when I wanted a mortgage to buy my new build home, which cost 6,000. I was the first single woman to apply for a mortgage with my building society. I was just 22 at the time. Neighbours thought how strange for a woman to be buying a house as an unmarried person, but it was something I dreamed of since a child of six years playing Monopoly with my younger brother, and getting houses on Park Lane!!
Alison Maynard, Nantwich, Cheshire
I two things that spring to mind for me about the 80s were: 1) A decade of Thatcherism and the beginning of the transformation of Britain into the commodity-hungry country it is today. Suddenly people could buy there own council houses (wow!) and sign up for BUPA medical insurance. 2) The New Romantics, especially Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet - but there was also Level 42, Wham, Living In A Box (remember them?), Go West and ABC. Flares became Bags and hair became BIG.
Paul Norton, London

Malcolm Rich
I remember the 80s as a time of change, Thatcher came in and shook up the country, I moved from Cardiff to London to start an apprenticeship at 18 in 1983 and it seemed that unemployment was ever rising. The changes that occurred in the eighties were amazing, the fall of communism and the iron curtain, new countries appearing out from under the Soviet Union, mobile phones and PC at home, the internet and more TV channels. But the quality of life seemed to diminish as everybody seemed to be in a hurry.
Malcolm Rich, New Ash Green, Kent

Suddenly everyone was afraid to leave work on time. It seemed that if you didn't put in extra hours free of charge you were considered as not committed to your job. People endless talked about how much their mortgage was costing them or how much their car was, were they were going /had been on holiday, how stressed they were. It was all very much the I, I, I society, selfish and uncaring for those in need. I refused to conform and did not care what I had or where I went on holidays - as long as I was happy that's what mattered and I never worked overtime unless I got paid!
D Avery, Bushey

I was only 15 when the 1980s started, and it was definitely the decade of Margaret Thatcher. I remember her being elected and her promising to do "something to curb the power of the unions". Which of course she did do - she completely smashed the unions, but (thankfully) they did not go away completely. There was a very negative side to Thatcher's Britain, because she made one section of the population very rich at the expense of the others. Her nickname the "Iron Lady" was very apt, but one thing I did like about her was that she did not want Britain to be like a "nanny state" which it is now. I must confess that I look back on the 1980s with mixed feelings.
Gill Price, Risca, South Wales

I worked at LIFFE as a lowly data inputter at the height of the 80s boom. I knew nothing of high finance but the behaviour of the guys working on the floor was appalling, there was a close link between the mentality of the dealers on the floor and the organised football hooliganism of the time. I remember vividly the first time a black person worked on the trading floor - all the guys there started making monkey noises, it was unbelievable really. The money being spent - I remember this one girl who was working as a data inputter and she had been going out with one of the traders for just a fortnight when he bought her a BMW for her birthday. Black Monday (after the big storm of '87) was very exciting, come-uppances were dealt out left right and centre. It really seemed like divine justice to see these creeps lose millions in a day and get the sack. I left LIFFE at Christmas 1987 and went on to "Get a Liffe" elsewhere. Ah, happy days.
Pauline McGrath, Dublin

I was a student when Thatcher was PM and I had little money. My boyfriend was finishing college and was handsome and wealthy - two attributes that would assure his success in Thatcherite Britain. It seamed that all you needed was a designer suit, the latest accessories, late night drinking in stylish bars, which were popping up every where in London and a taxi ride home, a bus would look shabby. For a woman you had to be confident, sexy, assertive and glamorous and were expected to use all this in getting ahead. Subtlety, meaningfulness, truthfulness, honesty, living within your means, intelligence and sincerity was out of fashion, even babies and family not necessary. Credit cards, designer clothes, taxis, fashionable addresses, bars, easy sex was all in. It didn't matter who you were or where you came from as long as you went with the flow. The pushier and louder and more vulgar the better. For me as a student it seemed that I did not count unless I could fit in. These were unpleasant and difficult times. The off-shoot now is that debt is the norm and Thank God there is no debtors' prison as Charles Dickens father had to suffer as so many did then. Most of Britain would be in it now.
Susana, Ross-shire

In the early 80s I joined a money brokers in the City and began to experience the life so often shown in documentaries about the City after 'Big Bang'. Champagne flowed freely nearly all the time but there was still the underlying feeling that one had to continue to 'do the business' to stay in a job, as it should be really. I dealt in Japanese Yen and this was the era when the Japanese banks became kings of the money markets.
James McNair
Huge amounts of business was there to be done if one could get hold of one or two of these banks. I myself did reasonably well but there were many more who were doing far better, making much more in profit for their company and for themselves. Although I was paid handsomely so cannot complain. Thursday evening was the big night to go out , a few drinks in the City first then taxi's down to Covent Garden for cocktails and champagne, and if you were lucky, girls!! Many a time I simply left the bar or club we were in to come straight back to work knowing that I had the weekend to recover! They were indeed great days!!!.
James McNair, London

In 1980 we had been married 3 years and our first daughter was born. In 1983, after the birth of our 2nd daughter, we took advantage of the evolving new mortgage market and bought our first house with the wonderful new sales concept "first time buyer package" of paid fees, choose your kitchen & bathroom and free carpet and curtains....wow! In 1984, as a police officer (now retired), did three 1 week "tours" in Nottinghamshire policing the miners strike. The extra pay was phenomenal. 1985 3rd daughter born so in 1986 having now outgrown our first home we moved to our second (and current) much bigger home. We experienced the 15% mortgage rate - it wasn't nice not knowing how long we could hold out before being forced to sell but fortunately we survived.....just, and we now have a house valued around four times the price we paid. How times change!
Barry, Wickford Essex, UK

I was a university student at Oxford in the early and mid 1980s. I got involved in voluntary work with disadvantaged children and decided to train to be a primary school teacher.
David Barclay
I well remember the atmosphere of the "milk round" of banks and financial institutions coming to Oxford to recruit the next crop of whizz kids. People came back from interviews cracking open the champagne and telling everyone how they were going to be in Chicago on 50K as part of some finance team at Credit Suisse or First Boston or some such. Whether these people had any understanding of the needs of finance and business seemed immaterial. More significantly for me, I remember how it felt saying that I wanted to be a primary school teacher and how many of these looked on that as a mug's choice. Meanwhile, politically, Mrs Thatcher and her tribe were reinforcing the feeling that only a mug - or the enemy within -would work in public services.
David Barclay, Worcester

I left school in 1979 at the same time Maggie came to power. During the next eleven and a half years I watched her career. As unemployment grew massively, Thatcher battled on until saved by the Falklands she won a huge victory in 1983. I can remember Maggie's battle with the coal unions, how it seemed like a revolution and every available police officer was drafted to the hotspots, leaving places like Salisbury seriously understaffed. Then came the yuppies and the spend, spend, spend mentality with all my married friends rushing out to buy new bigger houses for their growing families. But suddenly the big credit/housing bubble burst resulting in negative equity, high interest rates, repossessions and the dreaded recession (something your programme didn't cover very effectively, I might add!). I recall how Maggie, overconfident from previous victories, pressed ahead with the poll tax and that led to her demise in 1990. She had been at the head of this country's government all my adult life and things seemed strange without her as the political pygmy, known as John Major, became prime minister.
David Hinsley, Salisbury Wiltshire

My experience of the 80s was living in a council house, not being able to afford to go out or on foreign holidays, and just about scrimping and saving enough money to buy my first car. Ahhh - those were the days.....
Jon, Nottingham
My wife and I were made poorer by the Thatcherite policies so we emigrated to Spain where life was once more affordable and pleasant.
Thomas Lowry, Leeds, UK

My memories of the 80s is of period that changed from 'won't do' to 'can do'. The UK from being the 'poor man' of Europe regained self-respect and the respect of other countries. I do not recall any circumstances Marr's assertion that Mrs T's government would have been over after only one term if it hadn't have been for the Falklands war etc. I think electorate saw in Mrs T someone who spoke her mind and had a very clear vision of where she wanted to take the country. I would also say that most of us bought into it at the time and that she would easily have been re-elected.
Steve Morgan, Watford, UK

I was on the picket line many times at the Bilston colliery near Edinburgh during the miners' strike. I was not there to support a "deluded insurrectionist" as Andrew Marr so offensively and inaccurately called Arthur Scargill in his programme on the history of the 80s. I was there to support the miners and their families, whose livelihoods were threatened by the most vicious and uncaring UK government I have ever known in my lifetime. Andrew Marr says we are all Thatcher's children. I beg to differ. I knew Britain before people slept in cardboard boxes on the streets of London; before unbridled greed became a positive virtue. I knew Britain before the leader told the nation to rejoice because 321 young Latin American men died in agony (the sinking of the Belgrano) -when even the Conservative Foreign office wanted a peaceful solution. It is true that we live with Thatcher's legacy, but that does not make us all Thatcher's children. We have not all given up. History is not yet over. There is still time confront the Thatcherite agenda of violence and greed. Yes, Mrs. Thatcher, you have not won. Even if the Blair Government doesn't know it yet, there IS an alternative.
Phil Flanders, London

While this is a very crude way of putting things, I remember thinking to myself at some point in the 80s, the gist of Thatcherism is this: 'if you don't work, you don't eat'. Given the softly-softly approach to welfare and NHS reform, my slogan doesn't map onto the reality of Thatcherism. But I do think it gets close to its spirit. The British, exhausted and bankrupted by two world wars, reeling from the loss of empire and prestige, and (in - many cases - victims of welfare-driven moral hazard) needed an urgent wake-up call. But something ugly was unleashed by Thatcherism. This was very apparent among many of the students with whom I studied in Exeter University in the late 1980s - having worked in the welfarist NHS in the first half of the decade (where I would tell patients that they were experiencing 'socialism in action'). I remember one student waiting to go into a lecture saying - on seeing a cleaner walk by: 'there's a member of the working class. Let's shoot him'. He then raised his umbrella as if it were a rifle. His friends - including females in pie-crust collars - thought this was terrifically funny. I mustn't, however, be too censorious. About a year later (1989), I remember a beggar with a pencil-thin dog asking me, in Taunton, for some money to buy food. My response was to suggest that he put the dog between two slices of bread. Where did that come from? 'If you don't work, you don't eat', (I guess). The Thatcherite medicine seemed to work for a while. The procession of middle-aged men who managed decline during my childhood and adolescence, were supplanted by a titan. But let's not kid ourselves: Britain is a spent world-historical force on its way to becoming a sprawling footnote.
Richard Mullender, Newcastle-upon-Tyne





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