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I found this a slight disappointment after the truly excellent State of Emergency, but I suppose that was to be expected, partly because so much recapping was needed, but also because I actually clearly remember the events covered, so there were fewer surprises The other slighly irritating aspect of the book was the rather small number of sources used to add colour to the account Some added something, such as Peter Hall s gradual disillusionment with Socialism as his theatre was crippled by continuous wildcat strikes, while others were either the same as in the previous volume, or not obviously relevant to the themes of the book.All in all, though, an excellent account of a turbulent period in British history, which I recommend highly. I ve developed a serious addiction on Sandbrook s sprawling history of postwar Britain SEASONS IN THE SUN profits to this American non sports fan s mind by having little about soccer or cricket and lots about high ranking politicians plotting murders The Jeremy Thorpe scandal is amazing has that been turned into a movie Could we get Hugh Laurie to star as Thorpe Obviously the high point of the book is when Thorpe is on trial for murder while Wilson in retirement is giving wackadoo interviews about the CIA I want to quote the relevant passage in full, just because it made my eyes pop out of my head I see myself as the big fat spider in the corner of the room Sometimes I speak when I m asleep You should both listen Occasionally when we meet I might tell you to go to Charing Cross Road and kick a blind man standing on a corner That blind man may tell you something lead you somewhere It s like something from the Nixon tapes Of course, most of the book is not about posh people murdering their lovers or Harold Wilson s secret army of blind informers, and s the pity But Sandbrook s gift is that he can sell the drama of Jim Callaghan tackles inflation or Margaret Thatcher takes over the Conservative Party as well I think it s this love for the cut and thrust of politics, the acerbic ripostes in Parliament and dramatic speeches at party conferences, that makes the books so addictive.There is a strong end of empire vibe that at times seems overstated, particularly when it comes to crime See Steven Pinker s graph on murder rates for an example Even leaving aside the dramatic difference between my frame of reference and the UK frame reference, the increase in murder rates is pretty mild This makes the 90% support for the death penalty in 1975 interesting particularly since American support never climbed that high And while Sandbrook s use of absolute numbers w r t unemployment obscures this, it appears that the unemployment rate never climbed above 4% until the Tories took over which makes the collective concern over unemployment a little hard to understand In fact, I was surprised to find some of the Thatcherite proposals not only reasonable but obvious Of course an economy with high inflation and low unemployment should cut spending and restrict the money supply the failure to see this is analogous in my mind as the failure to see the folly of austerity when unemployment is high and inflation is at historic lows The proposal to include no strike clauses in essential services also strikes me as perfectly reasonable And if productivity was as dire as Sandbrook says, then surely some kind of structural reforms were necessary Of course it is entirely possible that I fell for the biased argument of a Tory historian, and I would be interested to learn where to find a convincing opposing viewpoint Having said that, the Thatcher quote that struck me the most is when she described as shattering the lack of income inequality in Great Britain Needless to say, this did not strike me as being particularly shattering I think it struck me as an ironic indication that the neoliberalism that took hold after the end of the postwar consensus contained with it the seeds of its own destruction as well More than the other volumes, SEASONS IN THE SUN has the sense of one world ending and another one coming into being and precisely because I m used to this story being told with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan I appreciated the reminder that it s bigger than any one person or country. I learned so much from this book I had known there was some kind of financial crisis in the 70s, but I didn t know the circumstances around it or any of the players This book is long, but gives so much detail about the era I was so impressed that I ordered the rest of the series. And so Dominic Sandbrook s history of the sixties and seventies as well as a little bit of the fifties comes to an end Well, I say that, as it does seem to be his intention to end it now and the arrival of Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister is a logical end point However, given these books have been building virtually since the first volume to the arrival of the Iron Lady, it is in a way peculiar to end this series now If you want an imperfect analogy it would be like ending The Third Man the moment Harry Lime appears Mrs T has been growing clearer on the horizon the whole way through, now she s finally here, it feels a peculiar move to close the scene.Compared to the earlier volumes, this is a lot focussed on the politics of the day But for those of us who have a slightly geeky interest in political history, it s a fertile period there s the paranoia of Wilson, the duplicity of Benn and James Callaghan trying to steady the ship Sandbrook really does make a great case for Callaghan being truly underrated as Prime Minister Further there s The Winter of Discontent and trade unions behaving in a way that seems unimaginable in Britain today As such I found this all rip roaring and entertaining stuff, although those who have been entertained in the previous volumes by the material about culture or society may feel slightly disappointed As a whole, this series has been an excellent slice of populist history Sandbrook is an accessible and intelligent writer who really does bring the likes to Reginald Maulding, Tony Crossland and Hugh Scanlon hitherto, to me, dull looking men in suits who appeared in black and white photos to life I also liked the way that Doctor Who is used as a cultural reference point throughout most of these volumes Of course you d have to have an interest in modern British history to really persevere with these books, but if you do then these are an incredibly entertaining read The Britain I was born in truly does look like a completely different world. [ KINDLE ] ☳ Seasons in the Sun ♷ Dominic Sandbrook s magnificent account of the late 1970s in Britain the book behind the major BB2 series The Seventies The late 1970s were Britain s years of strife and the good life They saw inflation, riots, the peak of trade union power and also the birth of home computers, the rise of the ready meal and the triumph of a Grantham grocer s daughter who would change everything Dominic Sandbrook recreates this extraordinary period in all its chaos and contradiction, revealing it as a turning point in our recent history, where, in everything from families and schools to punk and Doctor Who, the future of the nation was being decided Reviews Magnificent if you lived through the late Seventies or, for that matter, even if you didn t don t miss this book Mail on Sunday Sandbrook has created a specific style of narrative history, blending high politics, social change and popular culture always readable and assured A splendid book Stephen Robinson, Sunday Times Sandbrook has a remarkable ability to turn a sow s ear into a sulk purse His subject is depressing, but the book itself is a joy Sandbrook is, without doubt, superb Seasons in the Sun is a familiar story, yet seldom has it been told with such verve Gerard DeGroot, Seven A brilliant historian I had never fully appreciated what a truly horrible period it was until reading Sandbrook A N Wilson, Spectator Nuanced Sandbrook has rummaged deep into the cultural life of the era to remind us how rich it was, from Bowie to Dennis Potter, Martin Amis to William Golding Damian Whitworth, The Times Sharply and fluently written entertaining By making you quite nostalgic for the present, Sandbrook has done a public service Evening Standard About the author Born in Shropshire ten days before the October 1974 election, Dominic Sandbrook was educated at Oxford, St Andrews and Cambridge He is the author of three hugely acclaimed books on post war Britain Never Had It So Good, White Heat and State of Emergency, and two books on modern American history, Eugene McCarthy and Mad as Hell A prolific reviewer and columnist, he writes regularly for the Sunday Times, Daily Mail, New Statesman and BBC History.
While this is no doubt the authoritative book on the period, is he being paid by the word Several anecdotes are repeated over and over it all seems to be about Wilson being uninterested and moribund as a leader Benn is little than a cartoon figure The Thorpe chapter though is a hoot I d have liked social history and less politics That said there s not really a better writer for the era. Update on finishing it, I bumped my rating up a star, because it did have some better points For example, as I mentioned in the comments, the section on Grunwick was well done But I still don t like his attitude, and most especially the tiresome way that he draws heavily on Tony Benn s diaries yet can t resist making a snide comment every single time he mentions him.I haven t finished this yet about halfway through , but I m reviewing it anyway Sandbrook s trilogy of doorstops on Britain in the 50s, 60s and 70s has had rave reviews, so I chose this for reading on 10 hours of train journey to and from Madrid I have to say that so far I m quite disappointed First because it s turned out to be political than social history Secondly, and importantly, because it takes a Whiggish approach of starting from the premise that Thatcherism was the answer to all Britain s woes Now, what was the question Let s select our evidence to fit our thesis In the preface, he even claims that there is no getting away from the fact that this is generally regarded as the lowest point in British history Seriously Worse than the 1930s Worse than 1914 18 or 1940 And that s just the 20th century It may be regarded as such by his well off Thatcherite friends, but it is far from a universally acknowledged fact.As I read, I kept thinking, Well, anyway, you weren t there he was born in 1974 Now I accept that of course you can write history without having been there And if you lived through the events in question, it s tempting to rely on your own anecdotal experience, which may not be typical Particularly if you were young at the time I was a student in London during the time period covered by this book But he seems to rely far too much on secondary sources Some of the evidence is positively feeble If you are writing serious history and resorting to Basil Fawlty, Dr Who, and Rigsby from Rising Damp to back up your assertions about the mood of British people in 1976, something is wrong somewhere Elsewhere, letter writers to the Express and the Daily Mail, and the famously snobbish and right wing diarist James Lees Milne are held up as proof that the country was going to the dogs These people aren t typical either Despite extensive discussion of economics, the oil price crisis of 1973 barely gets a mention if you believe Sandbrook, all of Britain s economic problems in the1970s were caused by trade unions, abetted by Labour governments.Lots of people had fun in the 1970s despite the problems If you were a member of one of the powerful unions, you were in clover, with inflation busting pay rises and closed shops to protect your job Even if you weren t, it was much easier than it is now to find a job if you wanted one every long vacation I and my friends could easily find jobs to top up our generous by today s standards student grants The women s movement was flowering and we had great music to dance to Of course better off people with investment incomes or savings were pissed off because inflation and heavy taxation were eating away at their resources, and the pay deals gained by the unions were not sustainable in the long term and had to be stopped somehow But public services worked pretty well, and there were far fewer beggars and homeless people on London streets than there are now.He also takes at face value the opinions of leader writers in right wing papers, notably on the subject of Tony Benn, that devil of the tabloids he is careful to refer to him frequently as Wedgwood Benn to emphasise his patrician background , while Harold Wilson is painted as a maudlin alcoholic and Marcia Williams as a loony well, this last may be accurate This is far from an impartial history I also can t help wondering how much real research he can have done, churning out three 600 page doorstops in a few years while making television programmes at the same time Much of this book is probably recycled from other books on the period.It s not all bad But with all that to say, I can see I might not finish it One person was so annoyed by it that he set up a blog to go through the book page by page pointing out the bias and factual errors Unfortunately he must have got fed up too, because he seems to have stopped in November Still, it makes entertaining reading. This is a fascinating book for anyone that lived through the 1970 s in Britain or anyone that wishes to see how badly the people of Britain have been served by their political masters Sandbrook does an excellent job of deconstructing both the Labour Government of the day and the role of the trade unions in both a humorous and sardonic fashion However, the implication that political incompetence and left wing socialism led to a perfect storm that could only be resolved through Thatcherism is rather simple minded Sandbrook tends to consider the 1970 s in isolation, cherry picking a particular decade This is history as sound bite , interesting but lacking depth and context A compelling read but not great history Think of Britain in the mid to late 1970s and a number of grubby images are conjured up militant trade union intransigence, republican and loyalist paramilitary terrorism, currency crises, angry punk rock, revolting brown colour schemes It is an era of disappointment and disillusionment , of stagnation and muddling through , that Dominic Sandbrook excavates in Seasons in the Sun It begins in 1974 with Labour creeping back into power under the clapped out, exhausted leadership of Harold Wilson, and concludes in 1979 with Margaret Thatcher s consensus shattering election victory Seasons in the Sun is at its best when Sandbrook examines the forces of the new conservatism that began to simmer in the mid 70s, before they propelled Thatcher s Tories to power at the close of the decade Sandbrook is excellent on how the various strands of The New Right coalesced in the 1970s, whether they be the free market libertarians like Milton Friedman and Keith Joseph, the often paranoid anxieties of the middle classes, or reactionary colonialists like Sir Walter Walker the ludicrous would be fascist strongman who was purportedly going to rescue Britain from anarchy.But, this also represents a major flaw running through Seasons in the Sun for a book supposedly concerned with the fierce ideological divide convulsing Britain in the 1970s, Sandbrook is only really focused on mapping the motivations behind the Conservative middle class side of that divide The great villains of Seasons in the Sun the trade unions exist only as bogeymen, and the reasons behind their militancy go largely unexplored by Sandbrook Similarly, while Sandbrook gives space to every middle class anxiety and neurosis, we hear little about the plight of the working classes in the rapidly deindustrialising North Sandbrook is also leaden footed when discussing British popular culture in the 1970s He ruins an otherwise decent chapter on punk with the nonsensical claim that punk eroded the skills base of British musicians , and by then introducing a strawman argument that punk s impact is over rated because it was not as commercially successful as the pop music of the day a claim I cannot remember punk s staunchest defenders ever making over the last 40 years.Sandbrook s analysis of the Northern Ireland conflict is also problematic After a reasonably measured account of the 1974 Ulster Workers Council Strike, he abruptly dismisses the possibility of any British Army involvement in the Dublin Monaghan bombings in one sentence, and then claims the Sunningdale power sharing agreement amounted to a plot to sell out Ulster Protestants Even gallingly, Sandbrook expresses admiration for the new interrogation techniques introduced by the hard line Secretary of State Roy Mason techniques which the European Court of Human Rights later ruled were tantamount to torture After 1974, the Troubles are then little than a footnote in Seasons in the Sun and this during a period 1975 9 when over 200 people a year were losing their lives in the conflict Seasons in the Sun is badly hampered by an over reliance on a narrow range of secondary sources The shrill, jaundiced editorial columns of the Daily Mail and Daily Express are requoted continually, and there is an overwhelming dependence on the diaries of the former Labour policy advisor Bernard Donoghue such is Sandbrook s reliance on Donoghue s diary as a source that you d be tempted to cut out the middleman and just read them instead of Seasons in the Sun.Sandbrook is an unabashed cheerleader for the Thatcherite project, but while he puts the boot into the familiar Tory tropes of uncompromising union barons , trendy teachers and the permissive society, he is reasonably fair in his treatment of the Labour government of the late 1970s He is very sympathetic to that cautious and pragmatic fixer Jim Callaghan a surprisingly effective Prime Minister, and certainly a much straighter one than his predecessor He sees Callaghan as reviving both the Labour party and the economy after the listless drift of the Harold Wilson years, and he believes that even if Callaghan was never likely to win the 1979 General Election, he could have run Thatcher close were it not for the catastrophic effects of the Winter of Discontent It was this latter meltdown in British industrial relations that not only shredded the remaining credibility of the Labour government, but also banished Labour from power for almost two decades Sandbrook is quite astute, however, when he argues that union militancy during the Winter of Discontent was driven much less by working class solidarity or utopian socialism than it was by a ruthless determination to maintain basic living standards in the face of hyper inflation.Although the excesses of the Left were manifest in the 1970s and Britain often was in a state of economic and political calamity during that era Sandbrook is far too eager to overlook the positive developments of that age The fact that economic inequality in the UK reached an all time low during the 1970s, or that huge progress was made in the areas of gay rights, women s rights and sexual liberation, seems to be of no consequence to Sandbrook All of this probably makes it sound as if Seasons in the Sun is an infuriating read And it all too frequently is, but it is partly redeemed by Dominic Sandbrook s entertaining and lucid prose style Yet, as a work of historical analysis, Seasons in the Sun is flawed, and readers looking for a rounded view of a fascinating era in British politics would be best advised to seek out Andy Beckett s When the Lights went out. The road to 1984 This is great a history book about something that happened in my lifetime The jumbled but recognisable details emerging clearer and funnier out of the day to day drizzle and the grey pallet of memory The sights and sounds the follies and fad s A view of a pre tech world where 22m million people would watch the same thing each night because if they had a telly there was nothing else on The two Ronnies talk to the nation The period that saw the second act of a youthful hippy zeitgeist of anti establishment ideas which were marching through the institutions and into the mainstream There is a good sequence on the emergence of polytechnics It was also the final act of a post 2nd world war consensus that said that full employment was the aim of government and for that to be within the gift of elected politicians then control of the means of production was the method by which this was achieved A kind of awkward accommodation with nationalised socialism if not out right communism In the tactical land grabs and the bitter in fighting it turned out that unemployment wasn t the biggest threat to prosperity, big though it was, but inflation Inflation was the dirigiste killer virus of all industry, all savings and all prospects It was still a time when economic thinking still bizarrely entertained the idea of a fully state controlled money system and the mighty union barons would take the government to ransom for 25 30% raises.This would have only one end The government eventually had to go cap in hand to the IMF This sequence is fascinating, not for the history but for the relevant thinking on government debt The section that s missing is the pages from Moscow on the whole era It has been suggested that prime minister Gaitskill was offed by the kgb Jack jones, the most powerful man in Britain was a Moscow agent and plenty of others were giving comfort to the Queens enemies if not actually the Queens enemies Funnily enough though Tony Benn wasn t He was considered too stupid to be an agent Gordievsky a decorated and high level defector said he was an unnecessary simpleton, who told left wing fairy tales and falsified stories GR reviews have seemed to pivot on what the reader originally thought of Tony Benn Either he was the moral conscience of the people, the selfless sage of fairness or he was a complete twit An egotistical, back stabbing hypocrite who viewed every chaotic drama through the prism of his own vanity This, if I can digress, is from Benn s Auto biog Had a long talk to the Chinese First Secretary at the embassy a very charming man called Liao Dong and said how much I admired Mao Tse tung or Zedong, the greatest man of the twentieth century He said that I couldn t admire Mao than he did I asked him how Mao was viewed now He said Mao was 70 per cent right and 30 per cent wrong the Cultural Revolution didn t work He said he had been named after Mao it was amusing Journal entry for 6 June 1996 in Free at Last Diaries, 1991 2001 2003 p 371 Would we tolerate this kind of nuttiness from anyone other than pipe smoking Wedgie Mao once said We are prepared to sacrifice 300 million Chinese for the victory of the world revolution If you think that that is a cherry picked quote from when he d had a few and didn t mean it then look up his views on world population control When he says prepared he means prepared Any way, how did I get here oh yes, Tony Benn The book doesn t labour the point but I came to it thinking he was a useful idiot so I wasn t disappointed There are loads of great episodes of strikes and culture and economics and politics, seen and unseen, from a world that is still visible, the impacts and lessons of which are still being played out today.Enjoyed.