Life in 1973 – Part One

I have been writing about life in England nearly fifty years ago, reflecting on how our lives have changed. Can you help me?

I’d love to receive comments (below) on how you remember aspects of growing up in the early 1970s. What did you eat then? Where did you go on holiday? What was it about 1973 that impacted you?

Jean McGill, Jane Grendon, Stephen Grendon, Kit Seymour, Sophie Neville, Claude Whatham, Simon West, Lesley Bennett, Suzanna Hamilton, Ronnie Cogan~ photo: Daphne Neville
Jean McGill, Jane Grendon, Stephen Grendon, Kit Seymour, Sophie Neville, Claude Whatham, Simon West, Lesley Bennett, Suzanna Hamilton, Ronnie Cogan in 1973

My husband remembers long hair, flared trousers and shirts with massive curved collars. I always longed for an embroidered t-shirt with wide sleeves or a cheese-cloth shirt but loathed the feel of acrylic jumpers and ribbed polo-necks. Stripy ones.

Mum wearing a fluffy Donny Osmond hat

The food was pretty applauding. My friend Suzanna has just reminded me about the innovation of Italian cooking. Spaghetti was the highlight of our lives; a treat that we might have on Saturdays or for a party when red candles would be pushed into wine bottles and checked paper table cloths could enhance a Bistro image. However prawn cocktail was the pinnacle of popular aspiration, although us children preferred picking of the shells off prawns ourselves.

At parties you’d be offered chunks of cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks stuck into a half a melon that had been covered in tin foil. I always rather longed for the melon.  Homemade beer was regrettably all the rage, along with freezing your own runner beans. The process was quite fun (we enjoyed sucking air out of the freezer bags with a straw) but the beans were stringy and disgusting.

My family thought having to bring-a-bottle to parties was a great idea but we loathed the fact that cigarettes were smoked everywhere you went.

Dick Emery

Colour televisions were only just beginning to arrive in people’s homes. They were terribly expensive. We had to make do with our crackly black and white screen, watching Blue Peter, Animal Magic and Tony Hart  presenting Vision On with cartoons such as Marine Boy until Childrens’ Television ended with The Magic Roundabout just before Daddy came home from the Works in time for the 6 O’Clock News.

We were allowed to stay up to watch  Dick Emery , Benny Hill, and ‘Titter ye not’, Frankie Howerd along with dramas such as The Onedin Line.  There was one sit com starring Wendy Craig entitled Not in front of the Children, which of course we all wanted to watch. What influence did this have on our young minds?

Mummy worked for HTV West presenting an afternoon programme called Women Only with Jan Jeeming. She also read the letters on Any Answers?, which was produced by BBC Radio Bristol by Carole Stone. I was so impressed – amazed – to meet a female radio producer.

Women Only
HTV West Christmas Show presented by Bruce Hocking, Jan Leeming & Daphne Neville

Our holidays were spent camping in Wales when we used an orange dome tent and yet slept on fold-up sun-loungers. Sailing was all about Mirror dinghies, which you could buy in kit form and make out of plywood. We couldn’t afford one. but in the late 1970’s Dad bought a fibre-glass  Topper, which was the height of cool. He called it Earwig.

My family were very keen on taking home movies. Dad usually took slides when we went on holiday, which were viewed along with the supper-8 footage at Christmas time when he pushed the furniture back, took down a painting and projected our memories onto the wall.

What have I forgotten? Do post your own recollections, especially of sailing and camping in the early seventies, in the comments below.

Dick Emery ~ walking social history


Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

11 thoughts on “Life in 1973 – Part One”

  1. Hi Sophie – My 11th birthday was in 1973, which I think is one reason I still enjoy the film S&A so much; being of the same generation of the cast makes me feel a twinge of nostalgia whenever I’m watching it, for some reason.

    1973 was a big year for me – the start of “big school” – and I vividly remember so much of that time. We were always keen on holidays in our family and I remember wonderful trips to the Scottish Highlands, the Cotswolds, Cornwall, the south coast (always staying in small and slightly primitive caravans)… They were big adventures for us as we lived in Durham and travelling long distances in a Vauxhall Viva with plastic seats was an endeavour not to be taken lightly. I hadn’t yet experienced “abroad”. That was to happen a year later when we went to Brittany for the first time and what an amazing, exotic holiday we had. These were the days of pre-globalisation, when everything in the shops was different to home, telecommunications were at best dodgy, and it really did feel like stepping into a 1960s French textbook.

    Our family favourites on TV included The Waltons (which was still quite new then – we now have most of it on DVD!), Alias Smith and Jones, The High Chaparall, and (my personal favourite) Colditz. My friends and I also loved Blue Peter, Magpie (which we preferred as it was a bit less polished!), Dad’s Army, and Scooby Doo. We didn’t have colour TV – they were still too expensive, but I had a friend who did. Often I’d go to his house to play Subbuteo football or cricket, or battle it out with our Airfix Napoleonic soldiers, but of course the main reason I went was to watch his colour telly. Scooby Doo was the first programme I watched in colour!

    Yes, food wasn’t our strongest point as a nation back then, but we were actually more exotic than many of our friends – my dad had served in the army in Malaya during the 1950s and came home with quite an educated palate, so we thought. So we weren’t averse to having a Vesta curry on a Saturday night, which was probably about as nutritious (and salty) as a pot noodle!

    I’m a bit of a Boring Dad when talking about the 1970s to my own teenage children, although there are two aspects that still interest them greatly about those days: rock music and football, both of which were much more interesting then than nowadays (their words, not mine!) And my younger daughter loves many of the old films – including, of course, Swallows and Amazons!

    Best wishes

      1. I remember when Airy Neave died because I had read his book (‘They Have Their Exits’). Also, the Record Breaker man was one of the McWhirter brothers.

        You have reminded me that their were some very dark times in the 1970s too!

        1. Of course! We used to be fascinated by Blue Peter items on ‘The Future’ and how marvellous it would be. Certainly shopping malls were projected aloing with the prospect of flying everywhere. Now we are in the future, I’m not so sure if it is an improvement on 1973. We do fly more. Cars are more reliable and comfortable now, but then there are more of them. And less buses – certainly in rural England.

          1. And there was the fuel crisis: doing my homework by candlelight, and the 50 mph limit on the roads.

            1. Dad bought an oil lamp, which was exciting. We were given candle making kits for Christmas – you could make trendy striped ones. Until the 1970s you’d only see fat candles in church. The ones we made could stand alone. Gonks were in. I was given a plaster of paris set with rubber molds so I could make them too.

  2. Didn’t we join the Common Market around then? I remember that the fish & chip shop in Exeter offered a range of exotic European foods such as duck & l’orange and spaghetti bolognaise ‘to celebrate the Common Market’.

    Cord jeans were the rage, and we used to insert a strip of coloured material above the hem – how cool, we thought….. And floor-length skirts, and kaftans….

    1. Yes! You could add lenghth to your drainpipe cords and make them into bell-bottoms at the same time by inserting triangles of flowery material at the dies and having a cuff along the bottom. I wore dungarees of varous dreadfullness. It was difficult to find a decent dress in the shops, apart from ones at Laura Ashley – but they were quite expensve.

  3. Hello Sophie, just encountered your blog. I was ten years old in 1973 and living in Hanham, near Bristol, so I have fond memories of HTV! I especially remember Alan Taylor and his puppets Tinker and Topper. I received a badge from his programme “Tinkertainment”. I was easily pleased in those days!!! Thanks so much for all the memories, I hope you are well and I wish you a very happy New Year

  4. I remember Colditz and Dad’s Army. I also remember Airey Neave and his sad death. My childhood covered the 1950s and ’60s. I started married life in the 1970s so it was a particularly happy decade for me; apart from raging inflation and the 3-day week!

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