tue 16/07/2019

56 Up, ITV1 | reviews, news & interviews

56 Up, ITV1

56 Up, ITV1

Life is slowing down for the 7 Up generation who are still pursuing hopes and dreams

Back for good? Peter returns to '56 Up' after 28 years and three episodes away to promote his music

For most of us, life is what happens to you when you’re looking the other way. For the participants in 7 Up it’s what happens in seven-year segments between the visits of Michael Apted. First interviewed in 1964, they are all 56 now, and as usual the questions loom. Who is still turning up for these things? Who has thrown in the towel or, as will now become a more urgent issue, has anyone shuffled off their mortal coil?

Television’s magnificent grand projet crops up every seven years to rebuke modern broadcasters with the accusation that they don't make documentaries the way they used to. The original idea was to follow a group of (mostly male) seven-year-olds towards the year 2000. Having shot way past, we are now into the pre-arthritic phase when the likelihood is that nothing new is on the horizon beyond retirement, decrepitude, and the awfully big adventure.

The changes from one tranche to the next are becoming less and less pronounced

Paul, a quiet boy who escaped a childhood in care to live in Melbourne, jogs and pedals away from the inevitable even as his now fully receded hairline advises him otherwise. In other news, he remains happily married and still lets his garrulous wife Sue do all the talking. Which makes for a slightly unsatisfactory visit, but that is his reality: Paul has come to terms with his diffidence and so must we. Nowadays surrounded by armies of grandchildren, they both work in a sunny retirement home. “Is the chemistry still there?” asked Apted. “We like to keep it private.” Thanks for turning up at least.

Also underpinning one’s innate optimism about things always turning out all right in the end is Sue (pictured on the right), an East End schoolgirl who married, divorced and brought up two children as a single mother. At 56, she’s been engaged for 14 years and couldn’t be happier. She works in a senior administrator at a school of law in London, flashes that lovely smile a lot and nowadays even does a spot of acting. “I’ll never be able to travel the world,” she advised, but life has eventually chosen to be kind. Which is good.

As a human being following this series, happiness is what you all want for the participants. As a television viewer you crave a bit of drama. It was promised in this first episode with the return of Peter, a Scouser who dropped out after the tabloid pasting he received as a young teacher slagging off Mrs Thatcher’s government in 28 Up. He’s back with a full head of silver hair, a wife and two teenagers because, he explained, “I feel a lot happier with my own skin”. Plus he has a band to promote. And why not? We watched a slightly dour employee of the Department of Work and Pensions and his blonde helpmeet crooning country-flavoured tunes in the front room. They call themselves The Good Intentions and recently won some sort of award. Look them up, why don’t you? Or not. At 28 he looked forward to leaving this life “knowing that I’ve left some sort of imprint”. Even deep into middle age, it's reassuring to see the flame still burns.

Overleaf: 'It shouldn’t be a masturbation about which nobody knows anything'

The risk of following a life like Peter’s is that it’s not a headline act. Having deprived the programme of his company for 28 years and three instalments, his journey down the track turns out to have been wonderfully lacking in big stuff unless you count Liverpool winning the European Cup, marriage, procreation and a cautious kind of contentment. But then the truth emerging in this Up is that the changes from one tranche to the next are becoming less and less pronounced.

Bringing us to Neil (pictured above left), who in the grimmest sense has been one of Up’s stars from the moment he announced his aspiration, aged seven, to be an astronaut. A first-term university drop-out who went on to work on a building site, he has lived in a squat, endured homelessness in Scotland, moved to a council estate in the Shetlands, before at 42 he cropped up against the odds as a Lib Dem councillor in Hackney. For the first time in this series, we found Neil in the same place as last time. In Cumbria he’s still an active Lib Dem and now also a lay minister in a surplice. “People don’t want to be marginalised,” he explained of his life wearing a yellow rosette and fighting to save community toilets. By people he meant himself.

Neil is still in the same place in the other sense, and you know now that probably he always will be. He lives alone, is still penniless, has no career. The relationships come and go, never ended by him. He puts it all down in writing for which he can find no reader. “Despite appearing in this programme, nobody has ever shown any interest. It shouldn’t be a masturbation about which nobody knows anything.” The thing is prospective publishers out there know enough about Neil to guess that it will be unreadable.

“Perhaps we’re most happy when we’re not aware of it,” he mused, bravely attempt to shield yet again the look of awful pain that these seven-yearly visits require him to parade to the nation. Apted asked Neil about death. He doesn’t plan to be around much beyond 70 Up. “That’ll be quite enough for me.”

He lives alone, is still penniless, has no career. The relationships come and go, never ended by him

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Comments

Check your facts: Lynn did not divorce and raise children as a single mother. She married Russ at 19 and they were still together in 49UP.

Thank you for your intervention. I'll change the copy (and curse Wiki).

You're so right - are we losing a serious documentary tradition for ever? Look out for the Russian 21 Up: that project will be installment three. It brilliantly captures changes of society and individuals. I believe Granada cut back its principal characters from original 15 to half that number which, sadly, rather speaks for itself

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