Rose tinted 70s spectacles
Ah, the good old days! The golden era!
Regardless of how aware we might be of our natural tendency to nostalgically distort memories of days gone by, it’s increasingly hard — especially when living through times of tribulation — not to look back on our past experiences through rose-tinted glasses.
Many — myself included — can even be lulled into reminiscences of times we never really knew from before we were even born: taken in by the sheer otherness of it; that sense of familiar-but-different that makes us yearn for a nostalgic heyday we only ever experienced through television reruns and old movies.
Rewatching shows like ‘The Good Life’ in my role as show host for my podcast — the Sitcom Archive Deep Dive Overdrive — I recognise my own recent family history. I guess it’s why, like so many, I naturally feel a warm and cosy affinity with the show.
Through my rose-tinted, backwards-glancing spectacles, I can see an aunt’s chintzy front room furniture in Margo and Jerry’s settee. I can smell the smoke of a parent’s 40-a-day habit in the scenes with Jerry’s after-work gin and tonics. The knick knacks and ornaments in the characters’ homes can be placeholders for accessing memories.
This is a sense of home that never existed in reality. My recollections of the Good Life era are almost exclusively second hand, absorbed through the Chinese-whispered stories of a close-knit family, or a collection of old photographs housed in albums of varying states of decay. I have only ever viewed the show as a repeat, initially through the eyes of a child of the 80s (a good 10 years after the programme first aired), watching stories unfold that I struggled to fully understand at the time, but would happily rewatch over and over.
The slapstick prat-fall of Margo in a sou’wester and the running around and general silliness of Tom and Barbara kept me coming back. The titular Goods seemed excitable and childlike, appealing both to 1980s little-me and the child within me now: my love for the show undiminished.
While television itself remains as popular as ever, the parameters of watching television have altered greatly over the past 40 years. Where once the nuclear family would sit around a huge box in the corner of a front room trying to decide between just three channels; the modern TV addict can be overwhelmed by choice thanks to the countless platforms boasting a veritable smorgasbord of options, all accessible through a screen kept in your pocket. This is a future ‘Tomorrow’s World’ wouldn’t have dared to dream!
Like most children of the 1980s, I had to watch whatever the rest of the family were watching. Grand shows and ‘specials’, especially episodes aired around Christmas time, were a huge event: you laughed when your dad laughed and you laughed at your dad laughing, without ever really understanding why.
Countless rewatches through the years allowed me to unpick the comedy and discover exactly what it was about that particular word, glance, or the flow of a sentence that made it funny. Shows like ‘The Good Life’ shaped and guided my humour; I often imagine showing my parents and grandparents things today that have made me laugh and I know they would have enjoyed them too, through this shared cultural connection.
The mere thought of ‘The Good Life’ transports me instantly back to time spent with my grandparents and the period they existed in my life as a couple, from 1979 to 1993 — albeit a brief sliver of their own existence. Rewatching television shows I watched around then, ‘The Good Life’ being a wonderful example, offers a metaphorical DeLorean ride back to their riddled-with-the-1970s front room.
The small coffee table with a tiled top, where I used to play at being ‘Delia Smith’, brandishing a pan of potato peelings and half a pound of Outline margarine; the sideboard filled with odds and sods, which I would rifle through each Sunday morning, stomach satisfied by a cheese toastie. I would gleefully play ‘1970s Bingo’ with the contents of this treasure trove: a Buttoneer, the Mastermind board game with the coloured pegs and the universally confusing Quality Street tin filled with bobbins, pins and sewing scissors, instead of colourful chocolates.
It always struck me that Tom Good — fresh from making his decision to quit the rat-race and try his hand at sustainable living — heads straight to work tilling his land while still wearing a shirt and tie under his ‘outside’ jumper. I remember my grandad working on odd jobs in the garage in a shirt and tie, rounded off with a zip up cardigan. Was this just a hangover from earlier decades where you did everything in your smarts? Or was it perhaps, particularly in Tom’s case, a matter of clinging to official work attire to reflect the importance of what he was doing?
The aesthetics of the 1970s — particularly the prints, fonts and logos on shop fronts — are often so bold and memorable that they have become permanent motifs for the decade, and remain instantly recognisable today. I am drawn to these, and fascinated by the colour palette of photographs and film from this era. These visuals often feel like the index cards to my memory, and frequently serve as the catalyst for day-dreamed episodes of misty-eyed nostalgia.
By the 1970s, Victorian architecture with ornate facades and delicate window frames had been sidelined in favour of bold, brutal concrete and plastic. Often described, lazily, as ugly and a blight on the landscape, this style symbolised growth and success in town centres at the time. When I see an Arndale Centre now, I am instantly transported back to being a child, wheeled around in a red and white striped buggy past the indoor shop fronts of Freeman, Hardy and Willis or C&A.
Sadly, the end of the 1970s seemed to coincide with the wane of the mid-century, mythical promise of a future that never really came to exist: that post-war celebration of all things space age and labour saving, and the possibility of robot home help and flying cars.
Despite this, the popular and recognisable motifs of the 1970s — clashing colours and bold prints — are front-and-centre in the Good Life. Take the Leadbetter’s garden furniture: at the time probably quite ordinary, the loud patterns positively scream 1970s at us through our 21st century filters. The Leadbetters were middle class spenders: stylish and well informed about what was en vogue. Such brightly patterned deck chairs are now iconic items, despite being de rigueur at the time, and I can remember sitting on similar furnishings at barbeques and family parties!
The same original chairs, now marketed as ‘vintage’ on auction sites, often fetch upwards of £50 each and remain popular, sought-after items for that very reason: connection to a forgotten past: making the intangible tangible.
Unlike certain items from the 1970s, nostalgia will never go out of fashion. It may not always represent memories faithfully, but it is undoubtedly a powerful currency, which brings me full circle.
The first series of our podcast — dedicated to deep-diving each and every episode of ‘The Good Life’ — is now available to listen to in its entirety right here on our website or wherever you listen to podcasts: just click the button of your choice below and join us for a trip back to those “good old days”, where — let’s be honest — everything probably wasn’t perfect, but it can be in our memories, for half-an-hour or so!