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Radio On (1979)

| Drama, Music, Mystery | 1979 (UK)
Set in 1970's Britain, a man drives from London to Bristol to investigate his brother's death. The purpose of his trip is offset by his encounters with a series of odd people.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
David Beames ...
Sandy Ratcliff ...
Andrew Byatt ...
Sue Jones-Davies ...
Just Like Eddie
Sabina Michael ...
Katja Kersten ...
German Woman
Paul Hollywood ...
Adrian Jones
Cyril Kent
Bernard Mistovski
Nina Pace
Joseph Riordan
David Squire


Set in 1970's Britain, a man drives from London to Bristol to investigate his brother's death. The purpose of his trip is offset by his encounters with a series of odd people.

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Drama | Music | Mystery


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1979 (UK)  »

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Did You Know?


Featured in Radio On Remix (1998) See more »


Sweet Gene Vincent
Written by Ian Dury (uncredited) and Chaz Jankel (uncredited)
Performed by Ian Dury & The Blockheads
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User Reviews

Top drawer
12 January 2014 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I was born the year after this film released, and have lived pretty much ever since in Bristol, where a large part of it is set. It's very strange to watch a film that you really feel you can identify with (unless you're born in LA). The movie has the feel of my childhood, things hadn't changed much by the time my memories begin, Thatcher's socially divisive reign lasting from 1979 to 1990 coming straight after the economic disaster of the rest of the 70s which had lead to the humiliation to the national pride of Britain borrowing money from the International Monetary Fund.

People were angry back then, they bit given half the chance, strangers in the street or in the park, or the pub, would bite. Some of it hasn't changed at all, young men joining the army because it's less humiliating than working in a factory or going to jail, then they come back from dubious wars unable to reintegrate into society, like the hitch hiking soldier in the movie. The threat of Irish Republican terrorism stayed until I was an adult. My guess is that there was actually an IRA bomb exploded in Bristol during the filming of this movie (17 December 1978); it was the second time the IRA had targeted Christmas shoppers in Bristol. Not anyone I knew, despite all the murders, really had any understanding as to what it was all about, no doubt it had to do with more young men who found doling out violence more attractive than low status lives.

The film is great at hinting at the political storm about to come, and really gets kudos for its clairvoyance. It was very confusing to me growing up as to why only one party (the Tories), were subject to big sleaze exposes in the newspapers. After all, aren't all politicians corrupt and vice-ridden? The radio news story early in this film refers to a group of prostitutes threatening to reveal the names of their clients from the realms of politics and the clergy, as there was a debate going on about whether to relax laws regarding soliciting for sex, and the hypocrisy of some of the participants angered them. The point was that the Tories would publicly speak out in favour of family values all the time, and then go and have a drugs binge with their favourite rent boys. Other politicians did this too, but it didn't make them hypocrites, so the press didn't hound them.

It really was an age of hypocrisy, of adults who had strange bloodthirsty and austere ideas who often didn't practice what they preached. The ugliness of this austerity is shown by the middle aged Anglo-German lady who rants about how the young have no respect, and are selfish because they live without fear, ignoring the feelings of the young woman looking for her child, something that a fellow mother should have found easy to connect to. In this respect there has been some progress, we're more likely to be able to put ourselves in the other person's shoes, and I don't see people walking around angry all the time any more. Hypocrisy is a word I haven't had to use for some time.

At the time the film was made we hadn't quite had such a thorough Americanisation. Robert is refused entry into a club because of his leather jacket, nowadays a pound is a pound, whoever's mitt it's in, and only people who are clearly going to cause trouble (already drunk) are refused entry. A lady I used to work was still upset about going on honeymoon with her man and being refused a room at a hotel because they were wearing leather jackets, about the time this film was made.

Radio on is a disturbing hodge podge of huge social problems, but there are moments of clear beauty, particularly a shot of a lady in a laundrette, whilst a piece of transcendent Kraftwerk plays. The idea of a road movie in the UK is a slightly unusual one given that it doesn't take very long to get from any one place here to the other, so the plot is a little contrived to that end. A very minor complaint in what is an absolute triumph of a movie.

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