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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Crisis? What Crisis?: Britain in the 1970s
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on 28 November 2014
Really enjoyed it.
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VINE VOICEon 22 October 2008
Not only is it a foreign country, but in certain aspects of society, it may as well be another planet. Revisiting 70s Britain, a time ruled by pipe-smoking PMs and trade union bogeymen such as Scargill and Gormley, a time when the nation huddled each evening around 3 TV channels, rubbish mountains piled up in Leicester Square, when the whole country seemed close to collapse, seems like entering a parallel universe and is portrayed well in Turner's book.

Is it true, as has been advanced by many commentators, that here in the early part of the 21st century, we are repeating history and returning to the upheavals of the 70s? A read through of Crisis? will show the reader that the real mood of despair and havoc wreaked by the turmoil of the 70s is still much worse than the current situation (I hope!). But if you think we could be returning to those dark days, then a read through of Crisis? may well be good primer for what to expect.

As well as the political and economic aspects of the decade, Turner takes time to guide us through the cultural life of the 70s, from what was on the box, songs in the charts and the books we were reading. In this respect, one of amazing things I learnt was that Mary Whitehouse's campaign to clean up the media was fuelled by a belief that obscenity in the media was a communist strategy driven and funded by Moscow to ultimately overthrow British society, inspired by what her husband had read in the Old Testament!

The one major shortcoming of the book was that I felt it needed the influencing hand of a good editor - chapters that were supposed to be on certain subjects, started to wander off into other areas, before clumsily returning to the relevant subject matter, rather in the manner of a 1977 Austin Princess skidding about on an icy road!

But after recounting all these negative aspects of the 70s, let me end by recalling one piece of research conducted in 2004 that Turner quotes on his 1st page; namely that people in Britain were happier in 1976 than at any time since. Makes you think, doesn't it?
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on 25 March 2010
Looking for a definitive potted history of UK politics in the 1970s, originally I had intended purchasing "When The Lights Went Out". However after reading the reviews of the two books, I decided that "Crisis? What Crisis?" would likely be a better start point. And I'm glad that I did.

The book is well-structured and relates the political jostling and manouevring so symptomatic of the 70s to the various cultural changes afoot during that time. The increasing "permissinveness" of society appears to be a steady theme throughout the book - if the 1960s were when everything changed, then this book goes into the forces that resulted in increasing militancy towards the permissiveness that was being engendered during the 1970s.

Another implied theme, though not explicitly suggested, is that the broad political spectrum at the time with the respective right and left leaning figures of Enoch Powell and Tony Benn, was to inevitably lead to the eventual move to the centre ground that we see today. Extreme views appeared to be a way of life during these times and as the country lurched from one crisis to another, revolutionary music and fashion of the punk scene, and increasingly violent (though not perhaps by today's standards) TV shows like The Sweeney appeared to be a by-product that was to have a lasting legacy in the evolution of music and drama for years to come. These are the themes that are explored in this book and are eloquently put.

Whatever your politics, there are certain comparisons that can be drawn between then and now. A definititive and authoritive, and fairly easy to follow guide to the politics and low culture of the times.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 February 2010
Both these books cover some of the same ground but equally find much to say that is not covered in the other volume. I have therefore decided to do a joint review that will appear under both books.

"When the lights went out" (WTLWO) is the more in depth of the two, significantly longer and has many interviews with some of the main participants which cast a modern eye on the events of the seventies where hindsight often proves, as always, 20-20. It concentrates on the political machinations of the time and brings in more of the outside world and how this affected Britain and how Britain affected the world than "Crisis what crisis?" (CWC). This means that I, as someone who was born in 1960, see this book almost like a straight history book of a period in which I spent my formative years. There is lots of stuff in here that I was not aware of and it is written in a witty and engaging style so that it is easy to read but offers plenty food for thought. It does not, however, engage me on the personal level as much as CWC does because it barely mentions things like sport, TV shows and pop music, indeed most of what makes up the interests of a teenage lad. And this is where CWC scores.

If anything there is too much reliance in this book of the author stating how the issues of the day were reflected in novels, pop music and TV programmes in particular. James Herbert's "The Rats" is surely given too much attention as a comment of the times - indeed rats of various types are a recurring theme. The author's obvious interest in the music of the time informs the chapter titles, and many of the conclusions he draws. He also spends a lot of time showing where sitcom characters in particular pass comment on current events. This is informative, often very funny and a good yardstick of the times. It does however lead to a certain shallowness of view so for example there is nary a mention of North Sea Oil and little is said of how other world events affected Britain. This was surely a deliberate choice of the author as he has clearly decided that he will cover the seventies almost by using the media of the time as his reference point.

And the outcome? Well neither book ends up giving complete satisfaction on its own. If you read these books in isolation you will feel, like me, that there is a load left out. This is of course true of most single volume histories of such a wide timescale so what to do here?

Read them both of course. It is perhaps to both books' detriment that they in effect fail to cover a lot of common ground but if you take them as two parts of the same history then you get a very full, entertaining and interesting take on a misunderstood and often misremembered period of history.

So both books get 4 stars on their own, but if read together the whole is worth 5 stars. Well worth reading
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on 18 August 2009
I finished this a few weeks ago, and I've waited a while before writing the review. As they say in therapy circles, it brought up a lot of stuff for me. I grew up in the 1970s and this was the period when I formed my political outlook.

This is a good overview, but I'm not sure how balanced it is; at the time of reading it felt fair, but on reflection I'm not so sure. Like a lot of commentators the author is keen to point out Tony Benn's character flaws (the silliness with his "Who's Who" entry) but less keen to do the same with others - Thatcher's physical makeover and voice coaching. Incidentally, his dips into popular culture are enjoyable but very partial, and how come he didn't notice the resemblance between Thatcher and Margot Leadbetter from 'The Good Life'?

There's very little social/household history - even when there was power, our homes were colder, darker and had much less stuff in them. These were the days before ATMs, PCs, mobiles, VCRS, etc - maybe that's why street activism seemed so appealing.

It's a salutory reminder of how far away the 1970s are - in both good and bad ways. Then, casual racism was more or less the order of the day, and attitudes towards woman (let alone gays) were very different in ways that can only seem primitive now. On the other hand real wages were much higher, housing was much cheaper, working hours were much shorter, and there was still and sense that another way of organising society was possible; that was part of the appeal of Tony Benn. It's interesting that there is no discussion of his (failed) workers' co-ops.

Definitely worth a read, if not an uncritical one.
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VINE VOICEon 20 November 2014
I have now read three histories of Britain in the 1970s in the last couple of years. The other two were When The Lights Went Out by Andy Beckett and State of Emergency by Dominic Sandbrook. Of the three this by far the shortest (the other two are at least 700 pages thick and one of them only goes up to 1974!) but still covers all the ground and even after reading the others there were still parts of this that offered different views or new quotes that I didn't come across in the others.

It covers the westrminster politics of course, but also tries to tie in elements of popular culture like music, TV and books and general social change.

There were large chunks of deja vu in there as the book contains a lot of examples that the other books used - like mentioning specific episodes of Doctor Who that seemed to be making comments on current industrial relations. It also draws on a lot of the same sources, Maybe in both cases it is because there are only so many examples and sources to go around.

A case in point is that we get a lot of what Peter Hall, Kenneth Williams, Peter Hall and Tony Benn thought in ll the books - because they all kept and published diaries from those times, and we have to remember that maybe they were not entirely representative of what everybody thought.

There is a danger that the many similarirites in content and treatment mean that historians are coming to a consensus of what the 70s were all about leading to everybody accepting that common narrative and not questioning it at all. The danger being that it will all get over-simplified to suit a narrative.

What is interesting here is the author sort of does that, but then questions some of those assumptions in a sort of afterword, even if he is questioning impressions that he has just spent 200 pages re-inforcing.

All in all this is an enjoyable read, despite the fact that you read it with a growing despair because you know it is all going to end with Thatcher.
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on 27 June 2011
This book is a brilliant and rollicking expose of how Britain fell and lost her way in the 1970s. Turner draws on a range of source material based on films, tv programmes, novels, newspaper headlines and other relevant sources. The book is well written, very witty and accessible to read. It is a must read for serious historians and amateur devotees of 70s nostalgia. The writer has an incredible knowledge of the period and uses a range of different source material to convey the changes, eccentricities and madness of 70s Britain. I would recommend this book for history, sociology and general enthusiasts of how and why Britain lost her way in this very troublesome and exciting decade.

5 stars - great stuff.
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on 12 May 2009
The seventies was a cathartic period for Britain. The economy was in chaos, industrial unrest was at its height, the swinging sixties had left a hangover of moral dilemmas and, with the loss of empire, the country had also seemingly lost its place at the international top table. Many of the debates and issues which still set the news and political agenda in Britain to the present day became established as prominent themes during the decade, making the seventies an essential period to study if one wants to understand modern Britain.

Alwyn Turner's study of the period is perhaps not an 'academic' work but it gives a good insight for the layman into the events, issues and themes of the time. What makes it eminently readable is the wealth of anecdotes and quotes not just from politics, but also from popular culture: television, film, music, the press and fiction, demonstrating how the political and social environemt influenced the cultural output of the period and was in turn influenced by it. In doing so it shines a light not only on the main themes of the book but also on the way they were percieved and experienced by the general public through the media.

A thoroughly enjoyable read.
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on 12 June 2008
Context is all, and in this much needed reappraisal of the 70s, Alwyn W Turner has managed not only to put it firmly within its context sandwiched between the tectonic social shifts of the 60s and the ghastly me-me greed of Thatcher's 80s but also within itself. It's not another glossy of recycled pictures of Abba, whacky fashions and weird convenience foods - the things drawn out for those inevitable 50 Best shows on Saturday nights - but as Turner says,'an attempt to depict both the high politics and low culture of those times'. And it is a very successful attempt, written in an elegantly transparent style with occasional flashes of sly wit.
Any student of modern social history, anybody writing about the music or politics of the time, and anybody who lived through that oddly uneasy decade should read this book. Context is all.
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on 27 November 2013
Crisis? What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s by Alwyn W. Turner is a good overview of this most tumultuous of decades. It is well-written and opinionated but perhaps lacks an overarching structure to hold the narrative together. While lacking some of the detail and depth of other works covering similar ground and the same period, it is nevertheless a good general history and a fine introductory volume. All in all an interesting book.
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