This is a one off topping of my own post, but reading will explain why…
by Allan Fish
(UK 1964/1970/1977/1985/1991/1998/2005 715m) DVD1/2
Aka: 7 Up, 7 Plus 7, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up
Give me the child for seven years and I shall show you the man
p Michael Apted, Derek Granger, Margaret Bottomley, Steve Morrison, Ruth Pitt, Clair Lewis, Bill Jones, Stephen Lambert d Paul Almond, Michael Apted narrated by Derek Cooper, Wilfrid Thomas, Michael Apted,
Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Simon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk, Tony Walker, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon,
The beginnings were humble, a programme in the weekly TV current affairs show World in Action which wanted to take a look at the executives and shop stewards of the year 2000 by looking at a group of seven year olds. They were taken from a vast range of backgrounds, from highly upper class prep schools to urban primary schools in London and Liverpool, and even to a one room school in the Yorkshire Dales. There was only meant to be one film, but through Michael Apted it became a life’s commitment for both him and his subjects. Every seven years Apted would take a few months out to catch up with them, and filming those who agreed to be filmed.
There is a strange irony that lay at the heart of the show. In looking ahead to the people of 2000, what 7 Up actually did was point the way to the reality TV obsessions of the new millennium. Here was reality TV before the term was invented, and there’s no doubt that for the subjects it has been a double edge sword, priceless as a record, a testimony, a family album on film for posterity, but agonising in its invasions of privacy and in dredging up events in their pasts they would perhaps like to draw a line under. Apted’s intentions are undeniably honourable and he must be commended for his incredible desire to see his baby through, taking time off from his movie career to return to his Granada home every seven years, but one senses a change, a shift in focus of the series in the recent updates. It was once a political notion to see what advantages an upper-class upbringing and education afforded some children. Though the class system remains, the surety of people’s futures does not, and thus the series has, to these eyes, become more interesting as a study of people, of individual concerns, frailties and aspirations, and coming to see whether they realise them or fall short. It even at times changes Apted, and he’s forced to come to terms with the fact that he may not be presenting these people as they are, but as he wants to see them. What we thus get is an enterprise as much uplifting as it is dispiriting, and in coming to realise perhaps the very futility and transience of life itself. As one of our protagonists observes, they just want to know they’ve “left some sort of print, rather than just live out my life.”
One was reminded of Tim’s final words to camera in The Office; “life isn’t about endings, is it? It’s a series of moments…if you turn the camera off, it’s not an ending is it? I’m still here. My life is not over. Come back here in ten years. See how I’m doing then.” That in essence is exactly what 7 Up did. All the names listed above as ‘cast’ members deserve our plaudits, and yet it’s one everyone remembers. Just as in tapestry novels or plays adapted for TV, there’s always one who falls on hard times, and Up’s Charles Stringham, Sebastian Flyte, call him what you will, is Neil Hughes. His descent to homelessness and depression was literally heartbreaking. So imagine my surprise when, only yesterday, I sat down on a train to Blackpool and found Neil diagonally opposite. I didn’t bother him; he’d doubtless had people staring and thinking “aren’t you?…” all his adult life. He looked fidgety, melancholy, fingering in his pocket for a half-eaten Mars bar, taking only one bite before replacing it. I got up to get off ten minutes later without saying a word, but as I passed him, while he was looking out of the window and not even noticing I was even there, I thought to myself “you’re an inspiration.” You can keep your directors and stars on the red carpet, none of them would be travelling standard class. I’d seen a real hero, and that was more than enough for me. TV has never been the same since 7 Up.