More Britain In The 1970s

Trends in the decade …

As people yearned to get on the housing ladder, they also yearned for the latest furnishings and gadgets of the time. This was despite the fact that most people could not afford all the so-called luxury items becoming available but help was at hand in the form of the trusted credit card and as mentioned in the first part of this review, the decade saw a dramatic rise in debt. This was coupled with rampant inflation but the credit card was seen as a means of obtaining things at any cost.

The furnishings of the time were hardly going to stand out as design masterpieces or even stand the test of time. It was the beginning of the throwaway era which, sadly, is all too commonplace nowadays. Products were no longer being built to last generations but simply to last a few years in the anticipation that people would return to buy new replacements. One of the most expensive items adorning many people’s homes was the colour television, something that, in the UK, had only been around since 1969 and still commanded a premium price. Anyone reading who is old enough to remember early colour broadcasts will recall either garish resolutions or rather washy images. It seemed almost impossible to obtain a clearly defined picture on the screen, with some makes of tv displaying colours running into each other. Whilst my home did not benefit from colour television until 1974, I remember watching the investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon Castle on 1 July 1969, courtesy of a neighbour who had one of the first colour tv sets available. A snippet of the investiture can be found on YouTube which shows just how poor the pictures were compared with today!

The all-in-one compact music players of today, albeit now in rapid decline, were but a dream. Many people had fairly cumbersome gramophone players but the first combined record player, radio and cassette player was just around the corner. This was a decade long before the advent of the compact disc and even cassette tapes were relatively new, an innovation from Philips in the Netherlands. This company also introduced the boombox or ghetto blaster as it was affectionately known. This was essentially a portable device which fused the booming sound of home stereo systems with the convenience of cassette players … all in a small, black but heavy box. The youth of the era could be found roaming the streets with these heavy boxes held up to their heads! As the demand for deeper and louder base increased, so did the size of the ghetto blaster, rendering it almost anything but portable.

Although the first commercially available microwave oven was available as far back as 1947, the item we know today did not really enter domestic markets until the 1970s. Yet again, a microwave was an expensive luxury and actually took considerable time to be adopted as an everyday utensil.  Telephones were still connected by fixed wires to the exchange box inside houses so there was none of the hands-free portability we use today. All phones were the property of British Telecom so the availability of choice was very limited. In fact, the plug-in sockets in use today were only introduced in November 1981!

So what makes of car were people driving? Some of the current big names were obviously around such as Ford and Vauxhall (GM to overseas readers), but modern giants such as Volkswagen only had a limited share of the market. Other marques included Rootes Group products and those from the Austin Rover Group which was formerly British Leyland. Japanese manufacturers were only just beginning to make inroads into the UK domestic market so their popularity was yet to gain momentum. Top sellers of the decade based upon registrations were the Cortina, Escort, Capri and Granada from Ford, the Viva from Vauxhall, the Mini, Marina, Allegro and 1100/1300 range from Austin Rover, and the Avenger from Hillman, part of the Rootes Group. Looking back, many of these vehicles were extremely unreliable and badly made. Compared with the cars of today, most were only equipped with so-called basic levels of comfort.

Tobacco consumption was still very high and in 1971 the government introduced the first printed warning message on the left side of cigarette packets: “WARNING by H.M. Government, SMOKING CAN DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH”. Over time, this began to have an impact and consumption has declined considerably since these first warnings. Nowadays, the warnings are far greater with graphic illustrations of what damage smoking can actually cause. Diametrically opposite this, people were beginning to adopt new eating habits and yoghurts became much more popular in the 1970s. We were still a nation of beer drinkers although lager was adopted by many younger adults. The consumption of wine, however, was low due mainly to an absence of choice and our insulation as an island. In other areas, sales of the tea bag escalated and duvets or continental quilts became the must-have for the bedroom. People began to embrace new technology, albeit on a far lower scale than today, as pocket calculators and digital watches swamped the market place.

The 1970s were certainly a decade of change and new ideas although technological advancements were very much in their infancy. The most compact camera one could use was the Instamatic from Kodak and users of modern day photo-editing apps will see just how poor images actually were. Televisions didn’t come with remote control so one actually had to exercise simply to change the tv channel. On the subject of channels, there were just three to watch … BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. Even Channel 4 was not around as this was launched in November 1982. BBC local radio started as an experiment in the late 1960s but did not expand until the early 1970s at which point Independent Local Radio was also granted licences to broadcast. Despite some of the advances in the decade, it was a time of economic strife and Britain’s position amongst world powers diminished. Some things really don’t change …!

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