Don’t look back in anger

Last year I got my hands on all three series of All Quiet on the Preston Front on DVD. They were shown (and never repeated) in 1994, 1995 and then the final series in the late summer of 1997. For anyone who’s never seen it, the programme is a comedy/drama following the ups and downs of members of a Terratorial Army platoon in a small town in Lancashire. Lloydy’s signature phrase of ‘mecks me laff!’ was the Britpop ‘Garlic bread!’ It’s the new shape for the 90s. Round and deep. Northern. The world of Preston Front is the working class idyll inhabited by Fred Dibnah, Selwyn Froggitt and the bald or brill-creamed stars of World of Sport wrestling, where Ray Mort would turn up as a cowboy in All Creatures Great and Small and every comedy seemed to be set in either Yorkshire or some Northern neverneverland, a world later populated by Peter Kay and to a degree the world of Life on Mars. A world built on memories of the Silver Jubilee and Raleigh Choppers, Space Hoppers and the original Star Wars films, for people who the year 2000 was a milestone that over the pages of an Asterix book, or lining up Airfix soldiers on the carpet to re-fight World War 2 or at the controls of Astro Wars seemed an infinity away. It’s Last of the Summer Wine country for the Oasis generation. ‘Some might say’ and the long summer of 1997 when Be Here Now was drip fed to us, with Compo transmuted into a Stone Island wearing, Madchester-loving football hooligan full of witty swagger. Lloydy epitomises the man who has grown up into this world. The Bruce Lee-obsessed teenager who took karate classes in the Mapplewell Working Mens’ Club and North Gawber Miners’ Welfare. You have offended my family, you have offended the Shaolin temple… Who played back yard cricket in the Coronation Street terrace snickets of Harrow Street in South Elmsall pretending to be Beefy Botham. An Arcadia of Best Bitter and Black Pudding that has for its Grandfather Brian Glover in The Fishing Party. Who spits out TV catchphrases transformed by irony or ridiculousness or well-timed satire into things of beauty. Because the 1990s was the first truly post-modern decade. When everything from the past century – and the final forty years of it in particular – were scooped up and dusted off to be re-lived again. We wore the clothes and aped music and were desperate to cling to the past’s confident ethos of cool. We were going to live forever. And sometimes it seems that outside the world of technology, nothing new has happened since. It feels that we’re living in a cultural groundhog day.

 

Watching the Preston Front DVDs I was shocked by how quickly and silently that world had slipped into the past. That it no longer lived here and now. The price of petrol (62p per litre) on the board outside Diesel’s garage was a stunner in itself. And I was reminded of places that had imprinted themselves on my mind during that time and that are now associated with back then so strongly that I feel that to revisit them I would slip through a wrinkle in the time/space continuum and find myself in some Clark’s desert boots and Levis white tab. As if suddenly I’d slip back fifteen years to be driving over Midhopestones past the parched reservoirs with ‘Roll with it’ playing, or stepping out of the Oval tube station in the hot late summer the day before Diana’s funeral. Except the feeling would leave me after a moment and dump me back here leaving the past even farther behind than it was before. Like it did when I watched the Preston Front DVDs for the first time.

 

I also recently bought Scully on DVD. Set in Liverpool and written by Alan Bleasdale. First shown on Monday evenings between 14th May 1984 and 25th June 1984 as the Miner’s Strike and Frankie Goes to Hollywood were in full flight. And we watched it as part of our English lessons. This was the days of the cold war when we were being prepared in classes by Mr Savage and Cozy Powell for Barnsley being sandwiched between the thermonuclear hits on Sheffield and Leeds. We’d get the fallout apparently. Hurricane force winds hitting us. Tumours popping quicker than our incipient acne. Obviously this is all Nostalgia TV. Preston Front, Scully, Bergerac, Lovejoy, all of it. Even the film stock and the colour spectrum are of their time. The colours either washed out or over bright (Adidas waterproof). Then there’s the mullet haircuts, the slang (‘ace!’). The square cars. I remembered Scully as being somehow more expansive in my mind’s eye. But you used to get more out of thirty minutes in those days and as you age the exchange rate of experience into time gets you less for your money. At school the picture came through hazy VHS on a TV the size of a Gameboy screen but we still managed to have Gilly Coman in our sexual fantasies. What hit me when I watched it for the first time in a quarter of a century, like when I watched Harry’s Game, was the difference in production values between now and then. There’s a marked contrast. And the lack of ambient noise. No eerie strings sound-tracking every moment. No quick cutting of the camera angles. No wobbly shots to pretend it’s all gritty and exciting. No drum and bass or moody electronica glossing over the shoddy script and the crap acting. The director just let the drama happen. Scully was made at a time when Channel 4 had taken up the baton from the BBC in producing original screenplays. In the tradition of Play for today. It also made One Summer that I watched at school. Another drama set in Liverpool. If the 1970s had largely been Yorkshire’s, the 1980s belonged to Liverpool. One Summer also had the scene with the tidy blonde lass in it that gets her top off. Or doesn’t. It’s amazing what your memory will do to you. And frightening. Especially when you try to go back.

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One comment

  1. Brenda · September 14, 2010

    Thanks for explaining all that. I was wondering.

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