This is a T-shirt from the 1982 People’s March to London that saw thousands of young people converge on the capital to make the point that all over Britain – but particularly in the north – teenagers were out of work with no hope and no future. That outstretched hand sums up the desperation many were starting to feel. I lived near Toxteth in Liverpool in 1984 when 90% of those aged between 16 and 25 were out of work. Grim times indeed.
One million young people found themselves on the dole in the grim recession that gripped Britain at the start of the 1980s. Jobs Not Dole was a familiar slogan at the time. Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – Out, Out, Out – a very familiar cry on the countless demonstrations. The monetarist economic experiment had resulted in mass unemployment – but for the Tories, it was the price that had to be paid.
Young people are on the dole all over Europe once more – 50% of young people in Spain without jobs. It’s all a horrible echo of the 1979-81 economic downturn in the UK during the first term of the Margaret Thatcher government. I was at university in Liverpool from 1981 to 1984 and jobs were things that very lucky people had in that city. Disused factories and warehouses were everywhere.
So bad was the situation that a bleak humour arose – evidenced by this front cover of the satirical magazine Private Eye in 1980. Here we have arch-Thatcherite Keith Joseph saying it’s not so bad – he’s spotted at least one job.
I found a Pen Pals column in a magazine from 1981 with teenagers asking other teens to write to them.
This was an era before Snapchat and Instagram. But it does show that even the pre-digital age, teens were hooking up with total strangers over long distances. However, this kind of hooking up was seen as a broadly positive thing in the 70s while its digital equivalent today causes concern and anxiety.
The Pen Pal ads, pleading for new potential friends to write, tell us so much about who we were back then. Let me give you a random sample:
“Male futurist requires good looking girl interested in Spandau, Duran, Depeche Mode and Human League. Other interests include extra-terrestrial beings (UFOs).”
“Four girls want to hear from four boys. Likes: Madness, Specials and all ska. We dislike heavy metal and punk.”
“18 year old mod needs cheering up by nice girl.”
“Hey there all you male headbangers! We are three female headbangers who love all heavy metal groups, especially Rainbow, Motorhead, Sabbath and Quo.”
“Ethel (16) in to Duran Duran, Trebor Mints, Seamus Meaney, Salsa, Depeche Mode, Dali, The Royal Family, vanity and lots more.”
Punk and its aftermath was all about transgression – embracing things that shocked or violated normal codes of behaviour.
And just three to four decades after World War II, you could always rely on employing Nazi references to shock and disgust public opinion.
Whether it was Sid Vicious wandering around off his head with a Nazi emblem or bands adopting names that related to the Third Reich – anything to do with Hitler still touched a very raw nerve.
There was also an embarrassed fascination for Nazi style and art. Far from being seen as vulgar, philistine and oppressive – the fascist aesthetic was viewed as stirring and provocative by people whose political views might actually be quite liberal or left-wing.
So, you had the band Joy Division – naming itself after the sex slavery wing of Hitlerite concentration camps. Heavy metal bands were never shy about using the Iron Cross or stylised eagles. Artists might casually praise the buildings or films of that era. And David Bowie’s wave to fans was characterised by some as a fascist salute – vehemently denied by the man himself.
When one New Romantic band decided to call itself Spandau Ballet, that sent a journalist at the Record Mirror into a spin:
Unfortunately, the element of this project which I find disturbing, threatening and worthy of debate lies not in the music itself, but in the premise upon which our young warriors have erected their grandiose musical/lyrical edifice.
The journo went on to note that the album was white-on-white with a muscular naked form. And the scribbler was rattled by a quote inside the record sleeve – “…the soaring joy of immaculate rhythms, the sublime glow of music for heroes…stirring vision….journeys to glory…”
The Record Mirror fumed that this linked Spandau Ballet to an ‘Aryan Youth ideal’ reminiscent of the Hitler Youth. The review then went on to make it clear there was no linkage to far right groups being suggested just a deep sense of unease.
The journalist suggested to readers that they play ‘Muscle Bound’ back to back with ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ from the movie Cabaret and observe how the ‘mood’ is the same.
“Tread very carefully for all our sakes,” the magazine warned the band.