1970s Nostalgia Part One: Toys, Games and TV


Yours Truly in 1970...waiting for the decade to begin

Most of my novels are set in the 1970s – LITTLE BASTARD is set during a six-month period in 1977 while LOVE, GUDRUN ENSSLIN’s sub-plot covers 1968-1972 in considerable detail. Even when my novels are not overtly set in the 1970s they invariably deal with the influence of the era: RUDE BOY features a protagonist who became a Punk (which had its hey-day between 1976-78).

Yours Truly in 1979 as the decade ended...note original Vans trainers

Not all of my novels will involve the 1970s (I promise!) but I do find the 70s especially fascinating. It was the last pre-internet / pre-IT era for humanity…and those of us who lived through it will (by default) have witnessed the cusp of a truly global technological change that will never be repeated. In my opinion, that fact alone makes the 1970s uniquely fascinating. Furthermore, the students I teach today, who are all aged between 16-19, have no concept whatsoever of life before computers – and that will be true for all successive generations.

6th birthday party (1971): note Paisley shirt and flares!

The 1970s were the landscape of my childhood – the era in which I grew up and, by the very tail end of that decade, became a teenager. It is a time that, having (literally!) gained some (temporal) distance, is now ripe for nostalgia and reassessment – which is its foremost and intrinsic attraction for me as a novelist. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one…my whole generation is now looking back on the era and revaluating it in books, films, documentaries, stage plays and other works of art.

First ever bike...from this to the Chopper!

So, in the dual spirit of nostalgia and re-evaluation I have decided to post an occasional series of 70s nostalgia-themed blogs – starting with this one (…which I have both cunningly and imaginatively titled ‘Part One’!)

My Raleigh Chopper - best bike ever...if it had been a Mark 1, that is!

The theme of Part One is TOYS, GAMES, HOBBIES and TV. It’s not an extensive post on this topic – mainly because I didn’t have time on this occasion to scan in (or photograph) any of my own contemporary 1970s goods and belongings that I would otherwise ideally have used as illustrations of the era (a task I may complete at a later date amigos!) and thus I could not source images for everything I wished to cover.

The Clangers - a 70s kids' TV classic

However, this post should hopefully still give those who actually recall the 70s a bit of a nostalgia trip…and those who are too young to have known the age of Paisley shirts, medallions and purple velvet flares a small flavour of the time. Future posts on this topic will look at the food, music, films and fashion of the 1970s – not to forget the literature of course!

Hector's House: another 70s TV classic for younger kids

I’ve also tried to add a bit of the personal touch by including a few snaps of Yours Truly – as a kid of five as the decade began in ‘70 and fourteen as the decade ended in ’79.

So, what did we (as children) do in the 1970s for fun when there was no internet and no computer games (other than ‘Pong’…about which more in a future blog)?

In short, the answer is: outdoor pursuits (cycling, skateboarding, Space Hoppers, Clackers and messing about with stuff from the local joke shop), board games (Monopoly, Totopoly, Cluedo, Sorry, Haunted House, Buckaroo, Operation, The Mouse Trap Game), ‘action’ toys (Scalextric, Hornby train sets, Subbuteo, wind-up Evel Knievel stuntman and motorbike sets) and TV (for the younger kids there were slightly bizarre – and, frankly, slightly trippy – shows such as The Magic Roundabout, Trumpton, Chigley, The Clangers and Hector’s House…whereas for older kids there were Gerry Anderson’s unfailingly brilliant series such as Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds and UFO). And yes, Dr Who was around then too – Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker occupied the post back then. Top Of The Pops was our version of youtube.

Captain Scarlet......indestructible man!

The other thing we used to do was read! (Remember that anyone?!) UK comics (Beano, Dandy, Whizzer & Chips, Warlord, Commando) vied with the perceived glamour of imported US comics like MAD, Plop! and Captain America) as well as full-length cartoon books such as Tintin and Asterix (which were absolute staples) as well as more obscure titles like Lucky Luke (which was a personal fave).

Tintin and Asterix were great faves

The era was also huge for sitcoms – Dad’s Army, On The Buses, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Steptoe and Son…and the classic Fawlty Towers. There was a distinctly quirky, scatological, surreal and anarchic brand of humour that was very 1970s too – Monty Python, The Goodies, Derek and Clive, The Kenny Everett Show.

The Goodies - even the lettering on the show titles was definitively '70s'

Raleigh Chopper bikes and Space Hoppers have come to symbolise the toys of the era. I had both (of course!) I didn’t much care for the Space Hopper – but the Chopper was fantastic. I wish I’d kept mine (I eventually swapped it for a racing bike when I thought I’d ‘outgrown’ it…dumb move I regretted almost immediately!)

And Now For Something Completely Different!...

I was always hugely fed up I didn’t manage to get a Mark 1 Chopper – the truly classic model; identified by the longer saddle and the long ribbons flowing from the handlebars. By the time I’d saved up enough pocket money I had to make do with a Mark 2. Still, it was silver with a red T-bar gear shift and, although it was harder to do ‘wheelies’ on it than a Mark 1, it was still a proper Chopper!

I was quicker off the mark with skateboarding though. I had a Benji board (the laminated wooden board from the company Marc Bolan invested in) with blue Kryptonics and a classic G&S fibreflex with red Kryptonics (later upgraded to Sims Snakes) and Tracker trucks. And if those descriptions mean something to you…you already know the 1970s. If not, look it up on wikipedia – after all, we’re in the age of the internet now!

F.A.B.....Thunderbirds are GO!

Until next time – ciao amici!

THE Mark 1 Chopper...note extra-long saddle

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2 Responses to 1970s Nostalgia Part One: Toys, Games and TV

  1. Craig Warlow says:

    That was a great article to read Simon. I might have written it myself it was so alike my own childhood. (I was born in 1971) I actually have a large print of that exact Tintin book on my living room wall! I also have collected old annuals since my twenties. I have all the Dandies from the seventies and eighties, and a lot of beanos, Toppers, etc too. (I reckon they started to go bad at the end of the eighties so don’t collect past 1990.) I never got into skateboarding for some reason, but I had the Chopper and being a few years younger than you a blue and yellow BMX ‘Afterburner’ in the early eighties. All great memories. Thanks, Craig.

    • Simon says:

      hi craig. thanks for posting on the blog. very glad you enjoyed it. i’ve also blogged about the 80s and am now researching (reminding myself!) about the 90s…so i should post about that era soon too. cheers simon 🙂

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