When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies, by Andy Beckett

Born in 1969, my memories of the 1970s are limited, but I do recall the National Front at their peak; being forced to choose between Arsenal, my local football team, and Spurs, supported by my dad; glue sniffers allegedly controlling the council estates; my parents’ finding punk so totalling incomprehensible; power cuts; and hot summers with plastic car seats that burnt your arms and legs. And it all ending in tears, with the election of Thatcher.

Andy Beckett’s biography of the decade rings true and explains so much. This is a book to gorge on.

Journalistic, rather than scholarly, When the Lights Went Out nevertheless benefits from an incredibly broad research base and author interviews with a great many key players like style and culture gurus, workers who featured in newspapers during the three-day week, politicians of every hue, strike makers and breakers and would be militiamen. Strangely, with each visit the subject appears to still be living in the past.

Naturally, there are parallels with today, but these are too easily overstated. By the end the 1970s appears ever so foreign, truly a different country.

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