56 Up

Why is this show so compelling?

The participants said we think we know them and how they feel but we don’t. Several said we see a minute snapshot with the producers taking a perspective, or an angle.

Yet we are seeing real people however small the snapshot. To see the arc of their lives, the narrative, is as engaging as reading a memoir.

It’s touching. I teared up at the fellow who moved to Australia. Mr S couldn’t understand it, “But it is happy.”

Yes, but he was so vulnerable. And sliding doors, I don’t think he would have had such a happy life if he’d remained in England. And how Aussie is the grandkid – Shano? An English documentary maker couldn’t have hoped for more stereotypical Aussies.

Some people seem to be hit with bad luck; drama, illness, unemployment, misadventure, all compounded by poor choices. But for me, it is the happier stories that are so touching.

I love seeing the changing fashions. The makeup on the women. The hair on the men. God, the 70s and early 80s were not kind to men with all that hair. And 80s make-up never heard the word subtle.

The increasingly compelling part is that nothing like this can ever be made again. Our view of the media has changed and this would affect the filming from the start. OK, some participants have come on in this or in previous episodes to promote something, a band or a charity for example, but reality TV and social media have changed the way we use and present ourselves. And the simple presentation, gentle editing and pace, would not be the style of a modern documentary maker.

There have been some short-lived versions from other countries. But they appear so derivative.

As the years roll on, my fear is no one will participate. So it becomes more compelling – will this be the last one? As we’ve come to know the people – we want to know what’s happened, like we do with old school friends who we “know” and are FB friends with. We know we don’t know what is really going on in their lives, we don’t know all they hold important, what they value, but we want to know what they’re up to and how they’re travelling.

What about class?

Although all the participants decry the concept of class that they say is the producer’s point, class is clearly a determining factor in their lives.

Class isn’t money. But the effect is evident in the life choices.

Of course, options are vastly different for whatever class you are born into than they were a century ago. Children may go to university, participants be the first to own their own home.

Representatives from different social groups may be tokenism, but it holds largely true.

But the saying, “Give me a child …” isn’t just about class. We see the personalities come through. Worried little 7 year old Paul is still worried at 56. Sparky Tony is still sparking.

Why do they agree to continue?

I am so grateful that they do. It must be interesting to have a kind of record. Yet strangely disturbing to see the years go by so quickly.

The wife of the lawyer said she gets to see the physical changes of her husband and compare them to her sons. But that’s hardly a reason for her husband to continue.

The posh country girl said she feels a responsibility to return but hates it. I am glad she feels that responsibility.

What’s the real lesson?

Family, significant other relationships, purpose. Those three things are most important for happiness, feeling satisfied and content, and getting through the rough patches. Irrespective of class.

12 thoughts on “56 Up

  1. I met the Aussie guy, Paul, once at Bunnings! He lives in an outer-Melbourne suburb near where we used to live. I was so happy to see him happily pottering around Bunnings. He’s probably checked out the worm farms more recently 🙂

    I’m super sad to hear that Lynn has died since the filming of the last episode. What a great legacy she leaves in the recorded history though.

  2. I have always loved this series and to a lesser degree the Australian version with the girlls – Bridesmaids in the title but I can’t recall it all. I lived in London as a child – born in Dublin and arriving here in 1969. My husband arrived from Dublin the same year – he is 61 so close in age to the participants. I love the snapshot into their lives and seeing just how they have matured and changed from those little 7 year olds. I agree about the fashions too but as a person who has always loved history and how it relates to the everyday man and woman this show brilliantly captures each era and the changes brought about. I love that the show covers the whole spectrum and I’m grateful they have continued to return to those willing to participate – after each one I think it will be the last as most of them find it fairly intrusive. But what a gift to leave for their children and grandchildren! I wonder if it is available on DVD – I would so enjoy watching it from 7 Up again. So much better than any reality show being produced today.

    • Ah yes, I remember the Australian one. Without the regularity, it didn’t have the same impact.

      That is a good point, Bindii. The view of the everyday person. Not someone famous.

      There is a DVD. I borrowed them from the library once. Maybe available from whoever sells SBS items now. If there’s anyone? JB HiFi. I take it you are in Australia?

      And welcome. A friend has asked that I ask where or how you found me.

  3. Just found the Australian title – produced by Gillian Armstrong and beginning in 1976 – each series has a different title and started with Not fourteen again in 1976. Gillian hasn’t been quite as good as Michael Apted in going back regularly- apparently there are 14 years between a couple of series, but as a teenager of 16 in 1976 I found the series quite interesting- I remember watching in 1989 when I had three young children and found it very honestly portrayed the girls lives.

  4. After seeing your post, Lucinda, I binge watched the series on SBS over the long weekend. They have all of them available at the moment, from 7UP onwards, and I’d thought about starting to watch when it last came around 7 years ago, but missed my chance. I wanted to jump on it this time.

    Watching them all back-to-back like that got a little repetitive after a while, with the reuse of footage. I think I got part way through 49UP and then skipped ahead to 63UP, expecting at least two of the latest episodes to be available, but I had my dates wrong! It was a shock to see them in 7 year breaks and then to skip (for some) 21 years! And now I await the final two episodes of 63UP.

    Memoir is my favourite genre of books, with fictional inter-generational family sagas coming a close second, so it doesn’t surprise me that it has taken me in so. I’ve definitely had tears at times.

    • I once watched three episodes back to back. It was too repetitive. But a week between two is good. I have to hop on SBS catch-up as I missed it on the telly as I was out.

      I love memoirs too.

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