Forty years on from the party from hell, we’re just as toe-curl­ing as they were!

Abi­gail’s Party — with its cheese and pineapple sticks and shag­pile — was a bit­ing satire on so­cial pre­ten­tion. But, says MATTHEW BELL...

Irish Daily Mail - - The Red Carpet - by Matthew Bell

WE’RE about to hit a great cul­tural land­mark: the 40th an­niver­sary of the most ex­cru­ci­at­ing drinks party in his­tory. April 1977 saw the stage de­but of Mike Leigh’s de­pic­tion of the ag­o­nies of the sub­ur­ban soiree in Abi­gail’s Party, later turned into a BBC TV Play For Today.

Set in the front room of an Essex cou­ple’s home, the host­ess plies guests with cheese and pineapple nib­bles, frets over the lack of sherry and dances across the shag­pile.

It’s a bit­ing satire about the ten­sions and pre­ten­sions of hav­ing to keep up with the Jone­ses. The dread­ful host­ess, Bev­erly Moss, is des­per­ate to im­press new neigh­bours Tony and An­gela, and an­other guest, Sue, who’s wor­ried about a party her teenage daugh­ter, Abi­gail, is hold­ing next door. Need­less to say, both par­ties de­scend into may­hem.

In 1977, prawn cock­tail was the height of ele­gance and av­o­cado was such an ex­otic food that bath­room firms man­u­fac­tured suites in that par­tic­u­lar shade of green.

How tastes have changed. But are we any less pre­ten­tious than Bev­erly and her hus­band Lau­rence? And isn’t the so­cial angst about get­ting it right still as deeply felt?

Here, we com­pare the typ­i­cal Seven­ties’ drinks party with today’s gath­er­ings, that we per­suade our­selves are oh-so-so­phis­ti­cated...


BEV­ERLY serves lit­tle cubes of cheese and pineapple on cock­tail sticks, laid out in a fan on porce­lain plates, along with salted peanuts and crisps in a two-com­part­ment steel snack dish.

Lau­rence in­sists on of­fer­ing olives, but none of the guests likes them (‘They’re hor­ri­ble, aren’t they?’ sneers Bev­erly).

Today, there wouldn’t be a cock­tail stick in sight — so fid­dly and un­en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly! In­stead, she’d be serv­ing chunks of fo­cac­cia on a wooden board with bowls of hum­mus and ex­tra vir­gin olive oil for dip­ping.

Crisps have sur­vived through the decades as a party food, though cheese and onion flavour wouldn’t be served today be­cause every­one knows they give you bad breath. Bal­samic vine­gar or sea salt are quite punchy enough.

Here are typ­i­cal party nib­bles from the Seven­ties and their mod­ern equiv­a­lents. THEN: Twiglets (pic­tured). NOW: Grissini (Ital­ian bread­sticks). THEN: Quiche Lor­raine. NOW: Caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tartlets. THEN: De­frosted prawn vol-au-vents. NOW: Smoked sal­mon and soured cream bli­nis. THEN: Cock­tail sausages on sticks. NOW: Nigella Lawson’s honey and soy glazed cock­tail sausages, eaten with your fin­gers. THEN: Pick­led onions. NOW: Fresh radishes. THEN: Prim­ula cheese on Ja­cob’s Cream Crack­ers. NOW: Beet­root, parsnip and sweet potato crisps. THEN: Salted peanuts. NOW: Cashews, pis­ta­chioes or mixed macadamias and al­monds. THEN: They’d be called nib­bles. NOW: Hors d’oeu­vres or tapas.


BEV­ERLY looks mag­nif­i­cent in an or­ange maxi dress with a plung­ing neck­line and bare back, ac­ces­sorised with turquoise eye­shadow and plenty of jan­gling jew­ellery.

‘Were we meant to wear long?’ asks Ange ner­vously, glanc­ing down at her frumpy blue out­fit. ‘No, no, it’s just in­for­mal,’ Bev­erly re­as­sures her. But, of course, the host­ess has scored the point in the one-up­man­ship stakes.

Th­ese days, less is more, and a sim­ple but ex­pen­sive look­ing out­fit would trump a cock­tail dress. Un­less, of course, you’re chan­nel­ing the Seven­ties look — in which case go all out to ape Bev­erly.


THEN: Tight-fit­ting three-piece brown suit and knit­ted tie. NOW: A crisp blue shirt, with the top one or two but­tons un­done, and chi­nos. Def­i­nitely no tie. THEN: Hairy chest. NOW: Shaved or waxed chest. THEN: A medal­lion. NOW: A col­lec­tion of ‘man bracelets’ — sil­ver and eth­nic leather or beaded bands to show you’ve trav­elled the world and are in touch with your spiritual side.


INEVITABLY, Ange brings up that peren­nial din­ner party sta­ple — house prices. They also dis­cuss cars. Ange and Tony drive a yel­low Ford Es­cort. Es­tate agent Lau­rence says he gets a new Mini ev­ery year. (Today, he’d drive a flash Audi.)

Today, Ange and Tony might still own a Ford but it would be white.

In the Seven­ties, peo­ple prided them­selves on hav­ing paid for their motor out­right. Now the trend is for buying cars on one of a va­ri­ety of loan schemes. THEN: Boast about your car­a­van. NOW: Bang on about how much you love ‘glamp­ing’ or stay­ing in your camper-van at Glas­ton­bury. THEN: Plan a group hol­i­day to Corfu. NOW Plan a group hol­i­day to Bali. THEN: Dis­cus­sion about TV drama Bou­quet Of Barbed Wire, with themes of in­cest and sex­ual jeal­ousy. NOW: Talk about Game Of Thrones, with themes of in­cest and sex­ual jeal­ousy.


ANGE is wowed by Bev­erly’s brown leather three-piece suite. ‘Ooh, that’s nice!’ she ex­claims. Today, it’s cool to have one huge L-shaped sofa, rather than in­di­vid­ual pieces. That’s be­cause we spend more time watch­ing TV than

en­ter­tain­ing guests, so there’s no need to face each other. And it’s vi­tal that every­one has a good view of the 48 in telly. THEN: Bold pat­terned wall­pa­per. NOW: Pale grey painted walls. THEN: A rub­ber plant. NOW: Spiky-leaved suc­cu­lents. THEN: Shag­pile car­pet. NOW: Lime-washed oak floor­ing. THEN: Can­de­labra. NOW: Jo Malone Lime Basil & Man­darin multi-wicked can­dles. THEN: Valpo­li­cella raf­fia-cov­ered bot­tles as lamp bases. NOW: Fairy lights strung jaun­tily round a plant or halo­gen spot lights set into the ceil­ing. THEN: Wicker pea­cock chair. NOW: Leather re­cliner. THEN: Scratchy Izal toi­let pa­per. NOW: Aloe vera-in­fused quilts.

THEN: Un­read books on cof­fee ta­ble — Bruce Chatwin’s In Patag­o­nia, Ja­cob Bronowski’s As­cent Of Man.

NOW: Un­read cof­fee ta­ble books of Scan­di­na­vian in­te­rior de­sign.


WE ALL think we know a Pinot Noir from a Chardonnay, but in 1977 wine was con­sid­ered ex­otic.

When posh Sue brings a bot­tle of Beau­jo­lais, Bev­erly com­mits the so­cial faux pas of putting a red in the fridge.

How­ever, fash­ion has come full cir­cle — and today wine buffs rec­om­mend that light reds such as a Beau­jo­lais should be chilled.

THEN: Beau­jo­lais Nou­veau, rushed to lo­cal shops in Novem­ber just weeks af­ter the grape is har­vested.

NOW: Much classier Gigondas from the Rhone val­ley.

THEN: Blue Nun, the ubiq­ui­tous semi-sweet Ger­man white wine. NOW: Sauvi­gnon Blanc, the dry-ish white. THEN: Ma­teus Rose in that ubiq­ui­tous oval bot­tle. NOW: Fancy rosé from Provence AND FOR AF­TER DIN­NER: THEN: Ir­ish cof­fee, topped with thick cream. NOW: Her­bal teas (prefer­ably with fresh mint): ‘They help me sleep’. WE’RE STILL CRAZY


ANGE is en­vi­ous of Bev­erly’s pea­green-tiled kitchen and her ro­tis­serie.

Th­ese days, the big­ger and whiter the kitchen is, the bet­ter. And no self-re­spect­ing host­ess is with­out a veg­etable spi­ral­izer, which turns cour­gettes and sim­i­lar into a sorry-tast­ing spaghetti sub­sti­tute. THEN: In­di­vid­ual av­o­cado dishes. NOW: Ir­ri­tat­ingly-shaped din­ner plates; square or rec­tan­gu­lar — any­thing but round. THEN: Gi­ant pep­per mill. NOW: Mar­ble pot of pink Hi­malayan salt. THEN: Vol­canic Or­ange Le Creuset. NOW: Coastal Blue Le Creuset. THEN: Teas­made ma­chine. NOW: Cap­puc­cino ma­chine. THEN: Oven Ro­tis­serie. NOW: Aga. THEN: Ken­wood mixer. NOW: NutriBul­let to make smooth­ies. THEN: Chest freezer. NOW: Up­right Amer­i­can fridge-freezer. THEN: Host­ess Trol­ley. NOW: Ca­sual kitchen sup­per. THEN: Soda stream. NOW: Soda stream (they’re back!).


THEY never ac­tu­ally get round to eat­ing in Abi­gail’s Party, but we can imag­ine what Bev would have served. Prawn cock­tail fol­lowed by beef tourne­dos (lit­tle round steaks), then prof­iteroles. The richer the menu, the bet­ter, with lots of heavy sauces. Even sal­ads were slathered in salad cream.

Now a din­ner party menu is all about fresh­ness and fancy in­gre­di­ents — pome­gran­ate and chia seeds — and ex­otic dishes from around the world. THEN: Con­sommé. NOW: Bone broth. THEN: Sal­mon en gelée. NOW: Sal­mon en croûte. THEN: Black for­est gateau. NOW: Pas­sion fruit souf­flé. THEN: Thou­sand Is­land Dress­ing. NOW: Bal­samic glaze. THEN: Iceberg let­tuce. NOW: Rocket leaves, pre-washed in spring wa­ter. THEN: Nescafe In­stant. NOW: Ne­spresso cap­sules. THEN: Wait­ing for prawns to thaw. NOW: Wait­ing for Ocado delivery. THEN: Boiled ham. NOW: Air-cured ja­mon. THEN: Tri­fle. NOW: Fresh fruit plat­ter. THEN: Cel­ery sticks in a glass. NOW: Spi­ral­ized veg­eta­bles.


IT ALL goes hor­ri­bly wrong in Abi­gail’s Party, as Bev­erly gets more and more drunk and flirts out­ra­geously with neigh­bour Tony. Then hus­band Lau­rence has a heart at­tack. In panic, she shrieks at him while blow­ing smoke in his face. Th­ese days, the fact any­one was smok­ing in­doors would be con­sid­ered out­ra­geous. THEN: Park on Tar­mac drive. NOW: Park on block paving that’s re­placed the front grass to avoid hav­ing to pay for park­ing per­mits.

THEN: Get barked at by the Al­sa­tian.

NOW: Get slob­bered on by the over-friendly Cock­apoo. THEN: Every­one smokes in­doors. NOW: All guests are non-smok­ers apart from one guilty vaper. THEN: Flirt­ing in the kitchen with some­one in­ap­pro­pri­ate. NOW: Flirt­ing af­ter­wards via in­ap­pro­pri­ate ‘friend­ing’ on Face­book.

Hor­ror of a host­ess: Ali­son Stead­man (sec­ond left) as Bev­erly

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.