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A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s Paperback – 17 Apr 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd (17 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781312370
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781312377
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 4.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 46,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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“Superb. I was a journalist throughout the 1990s, but did not notice a tenth of what Turner has seen or write about it half as well.” 

(Nick Cohen, author of What's Left?)

“John Major may have struggled to create a country at ease with itself, but Alwyn Turner’s seductive blend of political analysis, social reportage and cultural immersion puts him wonderfully at ease with his readers.” 

(David Kynaston, author of Austerity Britain)

"It was refreshing to dip into A Classless Society, the third volume of Alwyn Turner’s history of Britain since the 1970s… I enjoyed it a great deal."

(Toby Young Spectator)

“Alwyn Turner comprehensively explodes the notion that knowing so much about the 20th century makes a coherent historical account impossible. A Classless Society is an illuminating, admirably inclusive and perhaps essential guide to understanding what just happened. An invaluable English document.”

(Alan Moore, author of Watchmen and From Hell)

"Tremendously entertaining... As a historian Turner is probably his own worst enemy — which I mean as a compliment. His book has plenty of acute insights, as well as a sensible thesis that the 1990s saw the establishment of a new post-Thatcher settlement, based on economic and social liberalism. But the stories are just so good, and often so funny, that you keep forgetting about the argument... How often, after all, do you read a book that has equally interesting things to say about Britain's exit from the ERM, the advent of Loaded magazine and the rise of Alan Partridge?"

(Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times)

"Rich and encyclopaedic... A particular pleasure of this wonderful, hilarious book is Turner’s contempt for politicians, who are ‘perverts, liars  and conmen’, on the whole."

(Roger Lewis Daily Mail - 'Book of the Week')

"He is amusing, perceptive and reminds the reader of the TV programmes and musical artists they have loved and then forgotten."

(David Aaronovitch The Times - ‘Critics Choice’)

"Isn’t it too soon for a history of the Nineties - their recentness carrying an inherent danger of not seeing the wood for the trees? Turner’s solution is to anchor his narrative firmly in the era’s politics, splitting the decade into the Major and Blair years — resulting in a very credible first draft… Turner has a good ear too for political gossip — Major’s flirtatiousness (to Margaret Beckett: 'Would you like a nibble of my mace?') and Blair’s impatience (on Roy Hattersley: a 'fat, pompous bugger')."

(Andrew Neather London Evening Standard)

"One of the great strengths of this ... very readable and enjoyable book is Turner’s use of the telling vignette. An early one is the story of how Major, a few weeks after becoming PM, crossed the floor of the Commons to kneel beside the old leftie Eric Heffer, who was obviously dying but had left his sickbed to vote against Britain’s involvement in the first war against Saddam Hussein. This sweet and most un-Thatcherite gesture provoked applause in the House, a bipartisan and possibly unprecedented breach of protocol... Reading A Classless Society is like a safari through vaguely familiar country, illuminated by a shrewd, fair-minded guide with an elephantine memory."

(Matthew Engel Financial Times)

"A tremendous book ... takes you there, and reminds you of the taste and feel of those times ... proves beyond doubt that the Nineties were a very important decade. One day, there will be lots of books about this period. I suspect that the first may well be the best."

(Dan Atkinson, co-author of The Gods That Failed Mail Online)

***** “The field of instant history now attracts some of this country’s liveliest and most intelligent writers ... Alwyn W. Turner ranks high among them: ravenously inquisitive, darkly comical and coolly undeceived... Turner is a master of the telling detail... His research is phenomenal. There seems to be no haystack through which he has not rummaged in search of every needle... Turner has a talent for zooming in and out from the general to the particular and back again. This means he is able at one and the same time to see both the wood and the trees... A Year In Provence, Squidgygate, the Chippendales, Cool Britannia, Black Wednesday, Swampy, Robert Maxwell, ‘Something of the Night’; Alwyn W. Turner conjures them all up, as vivid and eerie as a dream.” 

(Craig Brown Mail on Sunday - 'Book of the Week')


(D. J. Taylor Independent)

"Ingenious... valuable and entertaining... Turner’s compellingly readable account of a decade that we ought to remember as if it was yesterday reminded me of plenty I had forgotten. There are details here that will bring a warm rush of nostalgia or make you groan with embarrassment. And beneath this teeming surface of telling details there is a profound analysis of the broader themes of the decade before the one before this. This 600-page history of the 1990s manages to be a page-turner. It also weighs less than a 1990s mobile phone."

(David Stenhouse Scotland on Sunday)

"His many-tentacled frame of reference is staggering... Scarcely a paragraph goes by without a killer detail or illuminating anecdote... the value of this book lies, above all, in the extraordinary amount of material it synthesises. It’s easy to see it becoming still more essential as time goes on."


"Detailed and expansive... readable and accessible to a degree that may make the sniffier critics suspicious... this is a diverting book that induces a kind of nostalgia for those times without a jot of desire to relive them. On almost every page, you encounter a name from the past with the evocative twang of an old pop song or TV theme, be it Nigel de Gruchy, Swampy or the Maastricht Treaty."

(Stuart Maconie New Statesman)

“Like his previous histories of the Seventies and Eighties, A Classless Society is an extraordinarily comprehensive work. Turner writes brilliantly, creating a compelling narrative of the decade, weaving contrasting elements together with a natural storyteller’s aplomb… engaging and unique.”

(Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting and Skagboys Daily Telegraph)

"This was the decade dominated by Sir John Major and his Tory government's slow walk to electoral annihilation: a time of rows over Europe and over traffic cones, of a political promise to restore Victorian values and then a rash of Westminster sex scandals. It was the decade of New Labour's gilded rise... Yet these developments, Alwyn Turner argues compellingly, were not the point of Britain's fin de siècle. What mattered was happening elsewhere... meticulously and magnificently described."

(The Economist)

“Tremendous! His judgements on Blair and Major are brilliant. The conclusion, on the gap between the meritocratic instinct of both compared with the anti-establishment tone of the decade, is masterly. The book deserves to become a classic”

(Edwina Currie)

"Excellent ... this trilogy is about the most authoritative account of the late 20th century as you are likely to get."

(Choice Magazine)

"I was captivated, almost smothered, by the incessant flow of facts, opinion and conclusion. Turner, as he proved in the other two books, can sew events together seamlessly... This is a wonderful panorama of the 1990s, as fluid as a mountain stream with encyclopedic ripples, a strict adherence to the facts, and all 600 pages as readable as a letter from your mother."

(Illtyd Harrington Camden New Journal)

"Describes, with sanity and a light touch, more or less everything that took place between Thatcher leaving Downing Street and Nick Bateman's departure from the Big Brother house."

(Leo Robson Evening Standard - 'Books of the Year')

"[Turner has] immense gifts as a chronicler and historian - as a first take on a decade whose wounds remain partially open, this is essential reading."

(Daily Telegraph - 'Books of the Year')

"Lively and illuminating ... To read Turner's book is like looking back over the recent past through a new set of eyes."

(John Preston Daily Mail - 'History Books of the Year')

"Turner is at his strongest when scrutinizing what he feels became the growing interdependence between politicians and the media."

(K. Biswas Times Literary Supplement)

"To Alwyn W. Turner this was a decade of adaptation and realignment, in which the British began to acclimatise themselves to a series of moral and behavioural shifts, technological revolutions and a brand of politics in which 'managerialism' had kicked ideology into touch... His eye for the salient quotation is horribly acute."

(D. J. Taylor Prospect)

About the Author

ALWYN W. TURNER is the author of Crisis? What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s and Rejoice! Rejoice! Britain in the 1980s, both published by Aurum Press. An acclaimed writer on post-war British culture, his other books include The Biba Experience, Halfway to Paradise: The Birth of British Rock and My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER on 5 Sept. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I remember the 1990s well and reading this superbly written account of those years brings so much of it all back, almost as if I was living those years again, only with the great advantage of knowing how it turns out. (I wish I had known that on the day interest rates hit 15% when the UK left the ERM) I had forgotten about the cones hotline though, and Pavarotti in the park - there is so much here to remember or to learn about

This is social history at its best - the key political figures and events in a decade dominated by John Major, which forms the first part of the book, and then from 1997 by Tony Blair, which forms the second part, are covered in entertaining and enjoyable chapters. There is lots here too about how our lives changed in the 1990s - the rising popularity of reality TV, the vast sums of money coming into the football premier league, and the arrival of players from all over the word, society's changing attitudes to homosexuality, the reactions across the country to the death of Princess Diana, along with much more, are covered in this fascinating book,which manages to hit, for me, just the right balance between readability and weightiness.

Very enjoyable
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By D M FITZGERALD on 13 Dec. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In his introduction to A Classless Society Alewyn W. Turner writes that he both explores the high politics and the low culture of the nineties because “the latter not only reflects but often pre-empts the former.” To illustrate, he reminds the reader that the infamous meeting between Brown and Blair at the Granita was not the reason why the paparazzi gathered outside the restaurant: the media was far more interested in actor Susan Tully, then playing Michelle Fowler in EastEnders, who was seated at a front table.

Turner's explorations into the nineties have produced a stimulating, eye-opening and entertaining read. He divides it into two main sections, the first of which moves from the fag-end of Thatcher's premiership to the end of Tory rule in 1997, where he begins the second.

Each section is sub-divided into chapters all of which begin with a selection of quotations, such as Peter Baynham on New Labour, “A media-friendly, highly electable platoon of smiling, capitalist thugs.” This structure, coupled with his stated intention above, allows Turner to paint a vivid picture of nineties life.

The breadth of his research is impressive. It encompasses quotations from Bernard Manning, a reference to “the Mull of Kintyre test” that was used for female soft porn magazines and he reminds us that at the introduction of the National Lottery a Tory MP thought “Flogging criminals live on television before [it] will create a great impact.”

Turner devotes an appropriate amount of words to the two major politicians of the nineties, John Major and Tony Blair. He is kind to the former, presenting a revisionist stance on the man that inspired Andy Hamilton's John Major-ogram: “They send round a bloke in a suit.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rob Prior on 14 Feb. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I wish I could write like Alwyn Turner. He makes seemingly dry subjects like the Maastricht Treaty something you actually want to read about. I took this book on holiday with me last year, having already read the preview version "Things Can Only Get Bitter", as I'm a sucker for social history like this (Dominic Sandbrook is another favourite of mine). I didn't want it to end. Turner perfectly captures Britain in the 1990's and while the content leans heavily on the political, it is in no way dull and the book's forays into popular culture are well paced and expertly chosen. I came away from this book with my views altered in a number of ways, not least (and surprisingly) a more favourable attitude to John Major and his struggle to gain favour in his own party following the downfall of Thatcher. Tony Blair comes off worse than I expected and justifiably so. I remember the writer of Our Friends in The North back in 1996 warning people to be careful what you wish for. I think he was spot on, much like Alwyn Turner is with A Classless Society. Thoroughly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
Having loved Turners book on the 70s I skipped the 80s and went onto this. The 90s. The 90s, an odd decade reflected in the books thematic ups and downs. The books themes and content are significantly bigger ( though at times smaller) that the 70s. Perhaps its because he lived through them or the wealth of news and opinion available makes it meatier. Yet at times despite being there I felt very distant reading this book, Turners arc is really this - John Major came along with lads, new lads whatever they are called, Major hung around with little or no clue, Britpop, tony Blair, disappointment. I guess I reflect some of this , John Majors Government seemed to hang around for ever waiting to be kicked out, there was a long time from Black Wednesday to Tony Blair's victory. Somehow though my Arc is different and hence why I felt distant. I realised that Britpop in its entirety really didn't mean anything to me...and perhaps many others. I don't have an opinion on what Lads, New lads, bad lads were because I don't understand or care. For me they were typified by sneery middle class pervs who either ignored their privilege and education by talking about women, beer and football or ..well that was it really. Turner touches on this but not my other 90s issue the representation of Oasis as being stereotypical mancuninan working class. They never spoke for or reflected my reality.
Gulf War-John Majors long goodbye-Tony Blair's Long Hello- Media representations of politics...all are covered off here wonderfully. Turner is the master of Pop culture, Eldorado ( though not the demise of Rainbow !), Diana...
In the end Turners conclusion is that our two main protagonists made little if any difference, this of course makes the 90s similar to the 70s. Politicians losing their grip but it being filled by TV, tabloid agendas and titillation.
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