I caught up with Michael Apted's amazing documentary series this week. Don't miss it.
Back in 1983 Anne Long gave a series of sociology lectures at St John's College, Nottingham and used the series, at that stage 7 Up, 14 Up and 21 Up to illustrate and start discussion. I was hooked and have watched it ever since. I guess being within twelve months of the age of the studied people makes a difference to one's enthusiasm for it. It could have been me.
The conceit was that at seven years old it would be possible to see what sort of adult the subject would turn into. 'Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man', was the catchphrase.
Although a normal value judgement in 1964 Apted accepts the criticism that he would have chosen more girls and ethnic minorities. The social mix of the 20 chosen in 1964 looks awkward today.
What is fascinating is that some lives have gone in very predictable directions whilst others have had unexpected journeys. Divorce has been incredibly common but death has not reared its head yet. Of the fourteen chosen to study from the original twenty all are still alive. Some of the people have dropped out from time to time but for 56 Up thirteen of the fourteen are available.
Apted is in his seventies now, his voice remaining a distinct and reassuring link between the programmes. 56 Up may have been his last one. He may choose someone to whom he passes the baton.
With the benefit of hindsight it might have been good to choose a new group of seven year olds to follow every seven years so that we had a constant comparison to make. Maybe that would have been too much to bear for the subjects who report that journalists make their lives a misery for a few months every seven years; not something they signed up for.
If you haven't seen the latest instalment then watch it here.
There is a good background article on Wikipedia.
I note what I would have been, with the possible comments of the documentary makers after:
7 Pupil at a boys primary school, Chigwell House, Edgbaston - fee paying (privileged)
14 Pupil at King Edwards, Edgbaston - fee paying but got a free place (predictable)
21 Clerk at Eagle Star Insurance (documentary would say under-achieved)
28 Training for ordination, married for six years, two children (dramatic change)
35 Doing a second curacy in Chester-le-Street, still married (predictable)
42 Living in Leamington Spa, heading up youth ministry for a para-church organisation, still married, teenage children (predictable)
47 Leamington Spa, Still married. About to leave para-church organisation to become part-time minister and part-time writer. Struggling with health. One son at university, one returned to living at home. (Not quite as expected)
56 Back in full-time parish ministry, living in Nailsea, sons left home. Married thirty-five years. (Turned things round a bit)
Possibly the documentary makers would have delved into issues of faith, financial struggles (especially in early years of ministry) and health. At some points in my ministry answering direct questions about such things too honestly might have cost me my job.