The BBC's Life on Mars series about the 70s is about to spawn a spin off, Ashes to Ashes, set in the 80s and featuring Life on Mars' back to basics DCI Gene Hunt. I have to admit no great personal liking for the decade of Loadsamoney and Thatcherism, but it seems increasingly that the 80s is becoming retro, so perhaps now is the time to introduce it to Retrowow.
Like Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes picks a particular year, 1981, for its setting. Like 1973, the choice for Life on Mars, it is an interesting one. Margaret Thatcher swept to power in 1979, amongst the chaos of the 'Winter of Discontent', promising to bring harmony where there was discord. 1979 could be taken as year of sea change in Britain. The union power of the 70s was about to come to an end. However, some characteristics of 80s life, such as the housing boom and the Big Bang in the City had yet to take place.
1981 was a year of difficult economic times. Britain was struggling to survive in a world recession. There were riots in Toxteth in Liverpool and Brixton in London. It seemed that Britain might be falling apart. Later in the decade we all became capitalists when British Telecom, British Gas and a host of other nationalised industries were sold off to the public. Those in the City became richer than ever and sparked a new trend for Porsche driving Yuppies with brick-sized mobile phones.
1981 is best remembered as the year in which HRH Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer.
The early 80s was the time when the high tech world of computers and microchips came into our homes. Sir Clive Sinclair launched the ZX81 in 1981, promising to make the computer affordable to everyone. LCD digital watches were also much cheaper and no longer the status symbol they had been in the 70s, as were credit card sized pocket calculators. The 80s was also the era of microwave ovens and video recorders.
In the world of fashion, Japanese designers were setting the pace in the early years of the 80s. There was a trend towards looser fitting, layered clothing. Later in the 80s, power dressing and big shoulder pads influenced by the glamorous American soap, 'Dynasty' took over. On the streets in 1981, there were probably a few punks still to be seen, but for most people there was probably little change from the last years of the 70s, although flares were very much out.
David Bowie's 'Ashes to Ashes' was number one in 1980. As we entered the 80s New Wave bands such as Blondie and the Boomtown Rats were still having chart success. Blondie's 'Atomic' was a number one in 1980. At the same time Mod groups, such as the Jam who were inspired by the 60s, were popular. The Jam had a major hit with 'Going Underground' in 1980. Ska music was represented by the Specials, whose hit 'Ghost Town' in 1981 reflected the effect the of the economic climate on the West Midlands and Coventry in particular.
Swedish super group Abba continued to have hits in the early years of the 80s. By then the group's marital problems were reflected in songs such as 'The Winner Takes it All' and 'One of Us'. Their style of music was more suited to the previous decade. New groups such as Adam and the Ants set the tone for the years to come with their flamboyant style of dress and make-up. In 1981, Britain had a rare Eurovision Song Contest win with Bucks Fizz' 'Making Your Mind Up'.
The aftermath of the 80s was high interest rates and a house price crash. Why does that make you think history is about to repeat itself?
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