The strange 1970s
Like many FT readers of a certain age, I have been reading the stories about ‘The Haunted Generation’ and scary kids’ programming with some interest [ FT354:30-37, 357:74-76, 359:72, 361:76.] I was a child of the 1960s near Coventry, and a teen in the 1970s in Manchester, so I feel well qualified to chip in with a couple of observations.
Firstly, this was a time less than 30 years from the end of WWII. Britain still bore many of the physical scars of that conflict and Britons often bore the psychological scars. I used still to see bomb and bullet/shrapnel scars on many buildings in the centre of Coventry, and I played in an area known locally as ‘The Wreck’, which I was unaware at the time was in fact a series of massive clay pits and ponds created by the bombed out remains of some giant factory. Every adult I knew over the age of 30 was a war child, or like my father a former combatant, and carried with them to a greater or lesser extent the effects of that conflict. That included most of the teachers.
Secondly, it was also the time of Cold War. I recall having ‘nuclear’ bomb drills at infants’ school in the early 1960s, where we sat under our desks with our hands over our ears, eyes tightly closed and our mouths open. That sort of thing sticks in your mind. The Cold War fears started ratcheting up again in the 1970s, and were accompanied by a feeling that Britain was on the verge of social collapse as we hit the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1979, with power cuts, stories of the dead not being buried, and garbage mountains on the streets becoming the big background stories of many lives. So perhaps it’s no real surprise that many FT readers are recounting strange feelings of disquiet from that period.
By the way, I always recall the TV show Noggin the Nog (19591965 and 1979), especially the black and white episodes, as having something of a strange edge to them. Something about the voice-overs at the show’s introduction “Listen to me and I will tell you the story of Noggin the Nog, as it was told in the days of old”, or the other episode introduction “In the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the Men of the North lands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale…” used to make
me shiver. The soundtrack by Vernon Elliott was affecting as well. Great stuff! Andy Kelly Blackpool, Lancashire
I’d like to belatedly add my appreciation of Bob Fischer’s article on the haunted generation, a generation with which I enthusiastically identify. I grew up in Townsville, Australia, in the 1970s, but I felt the same sense of melancholy and unease at times, especially as I reached my mid-teens. Children of the Stones
and Sky in particular left a strong impression on me. I was always a Doctor Who fan, but the other show I vividly recall was The
Tomorrow People. The writing and some of the acting could be pretty dubious (a later story featured a sock puppet called Thing), but at its best it visited some pretty vivid and trippy fortean themes like psychic invasion and magic – stories like The Blue and the Green have a very Wyndhamesque feel, and The Doomsday Men is still relevant today.
I devoured books as avidly as I watched TV shows, and became familiar with fortean staples like the Bermuda Triangle and the Berkeley Square horror (which terrified me), through various Pan, Fontana and Sphere books. The first book about fortean topics I can recall reading was CB Colby’s Strangely Enough, which set me on a course I have never really left. In the later 1970s I read books like Lee Harding’s Displaced Person, Roger Eldridge’s Shadow of the Gloomworld and William Corlett’s Gate of Eden trilogy – books which were both intensely emotional, and dealt with loss and despair. In Displaced Person, the narrator slowly becomes ghostlike and forgotten as he fades into a grey realm where he encounters lost objects and people, as the greyness closes in. I was also attracted to school poetry anthologies that reflected this unease.
Then I discovered early 1980s rock – I was happy to see John Foxx name-checked, as Ultravox really grabbed me with Vienna, along withVisage’s Fade to Grey and Mind of a Toy. It took a while to get hold of John Foxx era songs but My Sex, Just For a Moment and his solo song The Garden to this day recall the melancholy that haunted my childhood, and his Belbury Circle material captures the same sense of hauntology and longing. I don’t think I really felt it again till stumbling across
Fortean Times in the early 1990s, coinciding with The X-Files, which had its own take on nostalgia and contemporary folklore. Matt Cardier By email