Chris reminisces on his earliest memories from the 1980s
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
The 1980s was a critical decade in 20th-century history. You will, of course, have your own memories of the period, assuming you were even alive then. These are mine.
People sometimes say, “if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there.” Well, in my case I really wasn’t “there” (or indeed, anywhere) during the 1960s and remained absent for most of the next decade too. I don’t remember the 1970s at all. There is a good reason for this: at the start of 1980, I had been three years old for exactly ten days. My very earliest memories all date from around that time. The first concrete news event I remember was the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in July 1981. Typically, for an easily distracted four-year-old boy, I remember the local street party held to celebrate the occasion far better than the televised ceremony itself.
1981 was a big year for my family. My father got a new job and we moved away from our smaller, perfectly pleasant 1970s home to a much bigger, older house with a large garden, much closer to the city centre.
I was lucky. My family’s position generally improved during the course of the decade. In 1980, we had our first ever family holiday abroad in Spain. By the end of the 1980s, we had also holidayed twice in France and once to the Netherlands. Two planes, a coach, two cars and four car ferries were involved in these trips (the Channel Tunnel was not open then). One of the cars broke down.
However, we were well aware that not everyone was as fortunate as us. As it happened, 1981 had been a very hard year for the nation with a severe recession and unemployment surging upwards towards the three million mark for the first time since the 1930s. There were riots. Margaret Thatcher’s government was then deeply unpopular until the Falklands War victory of 1982 turned her fortunes around. Important as it was, I have no memory of the conflict at all: I was still only five.
Everywhere, some people did well, while others struggled. When I was six, we got our first ever video recorder. Later, we would get our first microwave oven, CD player, Soda Stream and remote control for our TV. Unemployment remained high, however, and over time it became obvious that the health service was struggling. More and more people could also now be seen sleeping rough on the streets. Crime also rose dramatically. We, ourselves, were burgled when I was 12, the same week the Berlin Wall came down about two months before the 1980s came to an end.
I had a generally pleasant childhood. I read books and comics and spent lots of time attempting to write and draw my own books and comics. I already enjoyed history and liked memorising the names of historical figures and important dates. I was not sporty, but I was never overweight. I rode my BMX bike, swam, went to the Cubs and watched lots of TV. I played with Action Men, Star Wars toys, Zoids and Transformers.
Technology was very different then, of course. My primary school had one computer shared between all 200 pupils which we mostly used to play a Maths-based game called Cat and Mouse on, under supervision from the teachers. At home, we had an Atari 800XL (and later, an Amiga). The games on the Atari would doubtless seem ridiculously basic to children today. Often the computer would crash through the sheer effort of attempting to load them. I was, of course, one of the last generations of children to grow up without the intrusion of the internet or mobile phones.
I am old enough then, to remember one-pound notes, ½ penny pieces and the launch of Channel 4. On TV, the 1980s ended with Clive James doing a special show on BBC One. I had just become a teenager. A new era had begun.