What does it sound like?:
I guess most people know the setup. In 1963 ITV took 14 seven year old English children from various backgrounds and decided to follow their lives, returning to them every seven years and see how they were getting on. In doing so they would explore the extent to which class and background influenced how they turned out, and the extent to which our DNA means the person we are is already there in the seven year old child.
Remarkably, 56 years later, eleven of them are still taking part – two declined this time, and one sadly died five years ago.I don’t know if I have a particular empathy with the participants because I am just one year younger than them. The life changes they’ve been through I’ve been through at the same time, not to mention the hairstyles, the fashions, and the widening girths. But I find it immensely moving televison.
The answer to the influence of background and DNA, is, of course, ‘quite a lot’ in both cases. But the programme also quietly subverts lazy assumptions, not least in the way many of the working class kids have turned out – the two girls who left school without higher education and went on to teach literacy in a library service, and work in a university’s admissions department for example.
But as it’s gone on the programme has become as much simply a beautiful illustration of the cycle of our lives. It is an immense credit to Michael Apted, the director throughout, and the participants themselves.
When it started there was some controversy about the idea of involving real peoples lives in a programme like this. It’s a question some of the participants address. Many admit they find it really difficult and stressful every seven years. But they also feel proud of the programme, and, rightly, consider it worthwhile and important. The contrast with subsequent ‘reality’ tv show couldn’t be greater.
What does it all *mean*?
Above all I think the message is that these people are like most of us – fundamentally decent people doing the best to live their lives – with faults and mistakes, tragedy and turbulence along the way, but actually by and large making a pretty decent fist of it.
Goes well with…
Your own life
On ITV hub now
Might suit people who like…
Thoughtful intelligent TV documentaries the like of which we rarely see now.