Long wave television


I don’t watch very much television – and catch up with a significant proportion of what I do watch on the Internet, but this week brought 56 up, the latest instalment of a programme that started in 1963 charting the progress of 14 children who were 7 at the time.  As Michael Apted, a researcher on the initial programme and director of the follow-ups, has said, the very choice of 10 boys and 4 girls now looks very dated.   Still, the result makes compelling viewing, tracking the long waves of the subjects’ lives over the decades.

It’s hard to judge from 15 minutes devoted to each participant, and from their demeanour in front of a TV camera, but the overall impression from the episode broadcase this week is of people who may have been troubled in the past, but who are now comfortable in themselves and with their lives.  Anybody who has been following the series for five episodes (that’s four seven-year gaps, so 28 years) will remember Neil as a very troubled character in his 20s and 30s, but he now comes across as content and composed.

And it was good to see Peter, who doesn’t particularly stick in my mind from previous programmes because he last appeared 28 years ago. I’m genuinely surprised that his remarks on politics in 1984 generated such a vitriolic response: Margaret Thatcher, like many other political leaders who achieved electoral success, was particularly despised by those who didn’t support her, and rightly or wrongly the sentiments expressed by Peter on that occasion must have been fairly common currency in school staffrooms at the time.

One thing that sticks in my mind from last time round – 49up – is Nick, the physicist who became a professor in the US, and somebody who has done very well professionally, regretting that he wasn’t as well known for his work as for his participation in the series.  Judging from a brief clip of him aged 7 at the end of this week’s programme, he’s remained remarkably close to his childhood ambitions.  We’ll find out more on Monday on ITV1.


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