State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-74

Dominic Sandbrook

State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-74

In the early 1970s, Britain seemed to be tottering on the brink of the abyss. Under Edward Heath, the optimism of the Sixties had become a distant memory. Now the headlines were dominated by strikes and blackouts, unemployment and inflation. As the world looked on in horrified fascination, Britain seemed to be tearing itself apart. And yet, amid the gloom, glittered a creativity and cultural dynamism that would influence our lives long after the nightmarish Seventies had been forgotten. In this brilliant new history, Dominic Sandbrook recreates the gaudy, schizophrenic atmosphere of the early Seventies: the world of Enoch Powell and Tony Benn, David Bowie and Brian Clough, Germaine Greer and Mary Whitehouse. An age when the unions were on the march and the socialist revolution seemed at hand, but also when feminism, permissiveness, pornography and environmentalism were transforming the lives of millions. It was an age of miners’ strikes, tower blocks and IRA atrocities, but it also gave us celebrity footballers and high-street curry houses, organic foods and package holidays, gay rights and glam rock. 4.0 out of 5 based on 10 reviews
State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-74

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History
Format Hardback
Pages 768
RRP £30.00
Date of Publication September 2010
ISBN 978-1846140310
Publisher Allen Lane
 

In the early 1970s, Britain seemed to be tottering on the brink of the abyss. Under Edward Heath, the optimism of the Sixties had become a distant memory. Now the headlines were dominated by strikes and blackouts, unemployment and inflation. As the world looked on in horrified fascination, Britain seemed to be tearing itself apart. And yet, amid the gloom, glittered a creativity and cultural dynamism that would influence our lives long after the nightmarish Seventies had been forgotten. In this brilliant new history, Dominic Sandbrook recreates the gaudy, schizophrenic atmosphere of the early Seventies: the world of Enoch Powell and Tony Benn, David Bowie and Brian Clough, Germaine Greer and Mary Whitehouse. An age when the unions were on the march and the socialist revolution seemed at hand, but also when feminism, permissiveness, pornography and environmentalism were transforming the lives of millions. It was an age of miners’ strikes, tower blocks and IRA atrocities, but it also gave us celebrity footballers and high-street curry houses, organic foods and package holidays, gay rights and glam rock.

Reviews

The Literary Review

Simon Heffer

Sandbrook perfectly captures every aspect of this frustrating but important era in our history. He is especially magnificent in conveying the characters of the large cast of sociopaths, rogues, charlatans, chancers, spivs and wide boys who populate his narrative. The humour and care that are the hallmarks of his style make this an extremely readable history, despite its depressing content. Anyone who was there should read it: and so should anyone who was not.

01/09/2010

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The Sunday Times

Nick Rennison

[His] portrait of Heath and his government does not entirely convince, yet there is so much to enjoy and appreciate in State of Emergency that it scarcely matters. Neatly interweaving his interpretation of the political and economic history of the Heath years with insightful reflections on everything from racism in television (The Black and White Minstrel Show was still being aired as late as 1978) to the rise of self-sufficiency, football hooliganism and the inexplicable popularity at the cinema of Robin Askwith sex comedies, Sandbrook has produced a memorable portrait of Britain in an era of angst and upheaval.

26/09/2010

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The New Statesman

John Gray

Reading Sandbrook is always an enjoyable experience, partly because of the unforgettable vignettes that are to be found on practically every page… Sandbrook's narrative is not the only way of retelling the Seventies - Andy Beckett's When the Lights Went Out (2009) presents a compelling alternative - but no one who reads State of Emergency will think of the decade in quite the same way again.

04/10/2010

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The Observer

Francis Wheen

[A] thrillingly panoramic history of the day before yesterday... The fact that he scarcely remembers the 70s makes his achievement here all the more remarkable: he vividly re-creates the texture of everyday life in a thousand telling details.

26/09/2010

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The Spectator

Ferdinand Mount

[A] compelling, amusing and exact history… Among the most redolent quotations he naturally includes Reggie Maudling’s cri de coeur on the plane back from his first visit to Northern Ireland as Home Secretary: ‘For God’s sake bring me a large Scotch, what a bloody awful country.’ One could say much the same of the period as a whole.

02/10/2010

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The Daily Telegraph

Philip Hensher

Occasionally Sandbrook gets the popular culture slightly wrong, as people do if they haven’t lived through it. The Bay City Rollers did not take the place of Marc Bolan and T Rex in popular esteem. It was fans of the Osmonds who took to the Rollers in such screaming numbers... On the other hand, Doctor Who proves a surprisingly vivid witness to the period. Sandbrook is quite an enthusiast, given the number of references here, but he comes up with gold when he discovers a 1972 episode written as an allegorical reference to Britain’s entry into the Common Market.

01/10/2010

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The Economist

The Economist

Splendidly readable… Some readers will find the way the author flits about tiresome, but given that he was born only in 1974 his almost pitch-perfect ability to recreate the mood and atmospherics of the time is remarkable.

23/09/2010

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The Independent

DJ Taylor

[A] shrewd and well-researched book… Full of spirited quarrying in ancient TV programmes (Dr Who is revealed as a vehicle for eco-prophecy) and sage contemporary judgments which time, alas, has not supported (the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was "a welcome contrast to other African leaders and a staunch friend to Britain," reckoned the Daily Telegraph), State of Emergency is, above all, an exercise in determinism. Not one of its protagonists – Tory minister or Labour opponent, free-market agitator or state socialist, trades-union chief or CBI pundit – could deny, having read it, that Mrs Thatcher had to happen.

01/10/2010

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The Financial Times

Brian Groom

This book has the strengths and weaknesses of his previous works, Never Had It So Good and White Heat, on the 1950s and 1960s. Mixing political, social and cultural history, it is vivid but also long… Sandbrook is at his best describing a society caught between past and present, yet often more stable than it looked.

04/10/2010

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The Independent on Sunday

Christopher Bray

It is nice to be reminded of how acute Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais' scripts for Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? were, or how Leonard Rossiter made even dull gags shine in Rising Damp, but I am not sure such stuff gets us very far in understanding what was happening to Britain at the time. All history is abstraction, but it may be that the years 1970-1974 are not best inspected through a national lens.

03/10/2010

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