The 80s with Dominic Sandbrook

According to Dominic Sandbrook, the key to understanding Britain in the 1980s lies with one woman. A woman who was determined to drag us ‘kicking and screaming into the new decade’, instigating ‘little short of a revolution’ in her wake. Her name? Delia Smith.

Do you see what he did there? But it isn’t just a cheap gag – Sandbrook’s hypothesis in this entertaining pop-history doc is that Margaret Thatcher didn’t so much drive the winds of change in the 80s as react to them, and that the real authors of Britain’s revolution were us, the British people. Helped, of course, by the likes of Delia who, incredibly, had to go on telly to show us how eat spaghetti, lest we accidentally try to shove it in our ears or something.

It’s a philosophy that gives equal weight to the arrival of Thatcherism and the chicken kiev, both of which helped usher in a decade that saw Britain transformed from an industrial landscape of mills, mines and factories to an island of Enterprise Zones and US-style shopping malls; a revolution fuelled by globalisation and easy credit in which we went ‘from the roar of the blast furnace to the ring of the cash register’.

This is social history viewed through a cultural prism, in which monetarism, the Brixton riots and the Brighton bomb are inextricably entwined with snooker, Space Invaders and Roland Rat. Sandbrook even goes so far as to suggest that breakfast telly had a bigger impact on Thatcher’s 1983 re-election than the Falklands War, and that the miner’s strike was less about Thatcher v Scargill than miner v miner: a conflict between traditional postwar solidarity and a new breed of more domestic, inward-looking worker that reflected ‘the faultline that ran through 80s Britain’.

I’m naturally suspicious of anyone who tries to construct a defining narrative from the random mess of events that make up our national life: from microwave cookery to the death of socialism in one easy bound. But Sanbdrook’s thesis is as persuasive as any and, even when it fails to convince, it rarely fails to entertain.

He should probably lose that hooded parka, though.


TV extra:



When I saw an advert for an original new Channel 5 comedy on the side of a bus, I nearly fell under it in surprise. A mockumentary following the work of a bunch of dysfunctional customs officers, Borderline is basically an attempt to do The Office in an airport. It falls some way short of that particular aspiration, obviously – and is no Twenty Twelve / W1A either, come to that – but it’s a decent enough stab at the genre, with a strong cast of largely unknowns led by the terrific stage actress Jackie Clune.


Kate Humble: My Sheepdog and Me

This documentary combined three great British obsessions – dogs, the countryside and sex – as Kate Humble attempted to find a mate for her beloved Welsh Sheepdog Teg, while also seeing if she could turn the pampered pooch into a proper working dog. But in order to help reverse the fortunes of this endangered breed, she first had to establish exactly **how** Welsh Teg was by exploring her family tree. What followed was basically Who Do You think You Are?, but with more bottom sniffing. (By the dogs, not Kate. Obviously.)

Published in Waitrose Weekend, August 18, 2016

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