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When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies [Paperback]

Andy Beckett
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Feb 2010

The seventies encompass strikes that brought down governments, shock general election results, the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the fall of Edward Heath, the IMF crisis, the Winter of Discontent and the three-day week. When the Lights Went Out goes in search of what really happened, what it felt like at the time, and where it was all leading. It includes vivid interviews with many of the leading participants, from Heath to Jack Jones to Arthur Scargill, and it travels from the once-famous factories where the great industrial confrontations took place to the suburbs where Thatcherism was created and to remote North Sea oil rigs.

The book also unearths the stories of the forgotten political actors, from the Gay Liberation Front to the hippie anarchists of the free festival movement. This book is not an academic history but something for the general reader, bringing the decade back to life in all its drama and complexity.

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When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies + Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979 + State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974
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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (4 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571221378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571221370
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 27,774 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`Excellent political history.' --Guardian

'Required reading for anyone who grew up in what were, as this enthralling and enjoyable book explains, defining times.' --Observer

`His energetic account of that seedy decade will jump-start hazy memories for those who lived through it.' --Independent


(A) fabulous book. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
117 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An authentic history of the 1970s 24 April 2009
By Alan Pavelin VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
On page 2 the author writes "I was born in 1969". As someone who took a keen interest in current affairs throughout the 1970s, I prepared myself to spot lots of mistakes from a writer who was only a child. However, the nearest I came to spotting one (not that I was particularly looking for them) was the omission from the index of Ian Paisley, who has a single mention (page 96).
This book turned out to be a thoroughly and scrupulously researched history of that derided decade, mostly political but also touching on matters like pop festivals. It is a detailed analysis, with the benefit of hindsight, from the beginning of the Heath era to the beginning of the Thatcher one. Beckett's list of sources, including books, articles, and TV and radio broadcasts from the time, runs to no less than 25 pages, and the book took 5 years to write. He personally interviewed several major players of the era, including Ted Heath, Denis Healey, Jack Jones (recently deceased), and Arthur Scargill. These interviews, with fascinating descriptions of the characters 30 years on, are particularly delightful. So any idea that someone who had just turned 10 by the end of the decade is unsuited to write such a book must be rejected.
The book is in 4 parts, entitled Optimism, Shocks, New Possibilities, and The Reckoning. The chapter titles are sometimes obscure until the reader has read several pages; "The Great White Ghost" refers to Heath, "Margaret and the Austrians" refers to Thatcher's espousal of the so-called Austrian school of monetarism, while "William the Terrible", which completely mystified me until almost the end of the chapter, refers to the US Treasury Secretary in 1976.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible work of research 24 April 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It's difficult to believe that Andy Beckett was a child during the period he writes about so effectively. The social history of the Seventies has been well documented. This is not an addition to that canon, despite the cover hinting that it might be.
This is a fascinating book of political history with voices in the pages that have already passed from us. Beckett was insightful enough to realise that age might not necessarily prevent effective reflection and a sizeable chunk of the book is bolstered by the reflections of the late Sir Edward Heath - Beckett must have been one of the last people to interview Ted.

As I write this, the trade unionist Jack Jones has just passed away. Within these pages is an account of how Heath and Jones first met during the Spanish Civil War - Ted the observer, Jack the soldier. It's interesting to reflect on how the respect formed at that time possibly informed political and union negotiations thirty five years later.

I was delighted to discover well-written, insightful accounts of events that my in-laws had been involved with - events barely chronicled elsewhere but recognised by Beckett as being pivotal at the time.

This book was a long time in the writing and it shows - there are no woolly passages, no reverting to cliches. Andy Beckett diligently sought out the right people to speak to, revisited the scenes of events in an attempt to understand what happened years ago and to provide their modern context.

I loved this book. I can't imagine me writing that about many books of political history but it is true of this one.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living History 24 April 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If The Sixties meant we'd never had it so good (as the Prime Minister told us) then The Seventies were where we paid for our pleasures. But memories of coal strikes, inflation and rotting rubbish in the street on the one hand, and flared trousers and T-Rex on the other don't really count as history - just as memory (and in some case, bad memories). Having had my memory of the period awakened by watching The Red Riding Trilogy I was pleased to read this wide-ranging and thoughtful history of the period. Like all good recent history it resorts the memory of those who lived through it, it adds some perspective to events, and it challenges their inevitability. I had forgotten whole sections of these events and misordered others.

Andy Beckett doesn't just give us the politics: Harold Wilson in his Gannex mac, Grocer Heath's almost tragic mismatch between personality and belief, Sunny Jim Callaghan and a perhaps not yet quite Iron Lady, but certainly galvanised. He also takes us through social change like the rise of Women's Lib and Gay Lib and of environmentalism. Yet at the end of it all one wonders what it was that snapped Britain out of that left-wing consensus into (within a few years) a right-wing semi-consensus. Was it North Sea Oil? Was it just a "changing of the guard"? Or is all politics and economics simply a tidal sea in which trends wash in and wash out.

A very enjoyable and thought-provoking book.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars misleading title 12 April 2010
By Barry B
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I suppose I'm in a minority, but I found this a rather predictable and plodding account of the decade and ended up skimming it from about a third of the way through. I agree with the other reviewer who called it 'pooterish'. Everytime he has been off to interview one of the people he cites, we have to read about what the weather was like, his journey (who cares if Beckett got picked up at Oxford station and driven in a Mercedes), and some cringe inducing, cliched descriptions of his interviewees faces, eyes, hair etc. The author continually tells us 'I was there, I spoke to Ted Heath, I sat in his garden picking my nose ...' and habitually he drones on about his journeys and the shallow observations they provoke 'I went back to the site of this 1970s event in 2005 and - hey, guess what - the building, landscape, road, people had changed. Well, I never! Profound'. All this waffle and we don't really get very much about the title 'When the lights went out' - those strange, dark days, full of rich tales still to be told. This is history lite, 'researched' from the most accessible sources. And, everything just kind of happens and unfolds. As others have said - there is no analysis, no insight, no critical reflection. It's really 'memories of the 1970s as recounted to me in 2005-06' and mainly by the predictable list of politicians, trade union leaders with very little about the experiences of ordinary people. If you lived through it, and worked in a factory, warehouse and office as I did, I think you'll be disappointed that the experience of the decade from that vantage point has, as usual, been neglected. I can't see this book telling you anything that has not already been said many, many times. Still, it's plastered in quotes from all the book reviewing luvvies in the intelligent person's newspapers, so who am I to quibble?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars This chap is a shocking writer
Probably the worst book I have ever read.

His recent article on the north east of england sums this bloke up. Read more
Published 2 months ago by David Buckley
4.0 out of 5 stars Seems like yesterday
Was it only forty years ago when we were ruled by The Brothers in the Trade Unions building a Utopia in the dark with the rubbish mounting
Published 3 months ago by Peter Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Crisis, what crisis?
Arguably the worst decade the UK lived through since the austerity years after 1945. Nothing went right and the political establishment was baffled by events. Read more
Published 4 months ago by R. M. Ravitz
5.0 out of 5 stars Really good read, informative and easy to follow.
I really enjoyed this book and it is really good way of looking at the issues of the 70s. Recommended.
Published 7 months ago by vicartubbs
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Insight into The 70s !
If you grew up in the 70s, as I did, and seek an in depth insight of why things happened as they did, this book has all the answers........an absorbing informative read ....!
Published 7 months ago by Monaco Blue
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of detail
This is a fabulous history of the 70s , a period often discounted by historiand and public alike.It was such an intertestin and often alarming time to live through but the author... Read more
Published 10 months ago by DavidOrlo,London
5.0 out of 5 stars From a decade when I grew up, the politics of Britain in a different...
An interesting analysis of the horrors of the Heath and the miners' strike, Wilson fading from view, the IMF bailout of 76, the Winter of Discontent, Callaghan choosing not to go... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Miss Walsh
5.0 out of 5 stars Important themes and sharp detail
Beckett provides an incisive analysis of the decade's main social, political and economic themes with admirable detailed gained in part from interviews with both the main players... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mr. Thomas G. Brown
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative
I was in my late teens and early twenties in this era. Everything is made so much clearer from the distance of thirty years.
Published 13 months ago by Mrs C Theobald
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping account, but ends with half-baked conclusion
The UK has changed drastically since the 1970's:
- Universities are no longer Marxist breeding grounds
- We no longer have to buy candles in the Winter to light our... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Bobster
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