Sunday 29th April 2012
56 UP will be broadcast on television next month, giving us an eighth look at the lives of a group of people director Michael Apted has been following since they were seven-year-olds.
The series came top in a 2005 poll of The 50 Greatest Documentaries. By curious coincidence, in second place was Touching the Void, one of the producers of which was Charles Furneaux, who appeared in the first three Up programmes.
Furneaux is one of only two participants who have withdrawn completely. The remaining dozen, admirably and voluntarily, have continued to give frank interviews on the ups and downs of their diverse lives.
“Every seven years that little pill of poison is injected,” as one subject wryly describes the approach of another reunion with Apted and his camera crew.
Social class, upbringing and educational opportunity have been significant in the careers of those chosen to represent British children of the 1960s: the East End tearaway who became a cabbie; the prep school boys who went to Oxbridge and became lawyers; the daughter of wealthy divorcees who dropped out of school to head for Paris and is a bereavement counsellor; the Liverpool lad who, homeless and depressed for several years, received emotional and practical support from another participant, a teacher, who had earnestly declared in Seven Up:
“I think we should give most of our money to the poor people.”
Apted regrets having chosen fewer girls – only four of the fourteen – the initial selections having been based on probable careers, in the days before feminism.
Nicholas, first seen striding along country lanes and herding cattle in a Yorkshire village, revealed:
“When I grow up, I’d like to find out all about the moon and all that.”
Now teaching engineering at an American university, he always finds the interviews disturbing…
“You’re asked to discuss every intimate part of your life. You feel like you’re just a specimen pinned on the board.”
…but concedes he feels:
“Very privileged to have been part of it.”