In 1964, a film crew interviewed seven-year-old English kids: five or six from privilege, a Yorkshire farm lad, East-End girls, and boys from a children's home. Every seven years, Michael Apted re-interviews those willing (two declined this time). At 42, careers are stuck or flourishing; marriages are strong, shaky, or over (and Bruce recently married for the first time). They're dealing with parents' dying, and children coming-of-age. One is a single mom with young sons. One is remarried, but how are the five children from his first marriage? Lyn and Jackie face health problems with down-to-earth lucidity. Neil, on the margin at 28 and 35, has a glorious story of friendship at 42. Written by
Fourteen English children from various parts of society, all born about 1957, have their lives looked at every seven years by Michael Apted and his TV camera. This episode brings us up to 1999 and 42 years old. All are still alive and eleven out of the original fourteen are still participating. (Ironically, one of the drop-outs is a prominent BBC TV producer.)
The two continuing themes are 1) the Jesuit saying `give me the child before he is seven and I will give you the man' and 2) the power of the British class system to determine outcomes. Although the Jesuits suggest that by the age of seven it's too late, some of the kids from lower class backgrounds have done surprisingly well. Nicholas, a Yorkshire dales farmer's son has become a Professor of Physics. Tony, a cockney kid who wanted to be a jockey has finished up owning several cabs. Three working class girls have all finished up with better jobs than their parents though their marital relationships have been rocky. Even the shy son of a single mother has finished up happily married and employed. None of the better-off kids has failed either, though one or two went through rough patches in their early 20s. The three seven year old `upper class twits' (only one of whom still participates in the program) are all professionals and have all succeeded professionally - a QC, a solicitor and the aforesaid shy TV producer. Bruce, a kid with a flair for mathematics, after a varied career, has settled down as a fine teacher in a city high school. They only real stray has been Neil, the dreamy little kid from Liverpool, who after a lengthy period as a down-and-out has popped up as an elected official no less, a Liberal Democrat councillor in the London Borough of Hackney.
All the subjects tell their stories fairly fluently to the camera, even Paul, a very shy kid who migrated to Australia as a teenager. Several have now lost one or both parents and there have been several failed marriages. Apted is a gentle interviewer but there has obviously been a lot of pain with the gain.
This is a unique series and the group is not really a random sample (too many toffs and working class kids) but it can be said it shows the persistence of the class system: only one kid has really beaten it, the physicist, and he's left the country. There are no cockney accents in the courtroom except from the witness box. The standard of living in general has increased markedly since the 1960s and `trickle down' economics has ensured that the working class (what's left of them) is better off. Women have done better too, in terms of independence and money, but at a considerable emotional cost in some cases. For them the changes in the social landscape have made it harder than for the boys; the role of women in society has completely changed whereas men plod on much as before.
The one good indicator of future employment success is education, which is notoriously class-based in England (Scotland is a little different). If the (shy) QC had gone to the local council school instead of Charterhouse it is not likely he would he exercising his tonsils today in the High Court. Tony, our successful cabbie might have become a solicitor if he had come from a different social class. Some of the subjects say that class isn't what it was, but it, and the educational system it operates through, are still pre-ordaining outcomes. Perhaps it's the same in most countries (Paul has noticed a class system in Australia); it's just that the British class system stands out a bit more.
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