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Authors: Graham Stewart

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Bang!: A History of Britain in the 1980s

BOOK: Bang!: A History of Britain in the 1980s
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Also by Graham Stewart


Burying Caesar: Churchill, Chamberlain and the Battle for the Tory Party

His Finest Hours: The War Speeches of Winston Churchill

The History of The Times
(Volume VII):
The Murdoch Years

Friendship and Betrayal: Ambition and the Limits of Loyalty

Britannia: 100 Documents That Shaped a Nation

Published in Great Britain in 2013 by Atlantic Books, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.

Copyright © Graham Stewart, 2013

The moral right of Graham Stewart to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

Every effort has been made to trace or contact all copyright holders. The publishers will be pleased to make good any omissions or rectify any mistakes brought to their
attention at the earliest opportunity.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Hardback ISBN: 9781848871458

Ebook ISBN: 9781782391371

Paperback ISBN: 9781848871465

Printed in Great Britain.

Atlantic Books
An Imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
Ormond House
26–27 Boswell Street

For my good friend, Jean-Marc Ciancimino



List of Illustrations



1 Jim’ll Fix It

Waiting at the Church

Floating or Sinking?

Crisis? What Crisis?

The Ayes to the Right

2 Hello Maggie!

Marketing Maggie

Five Weeks that Shaped a Decade?

A Woman in Power

3 The Centre Cannot Hold

The Joy of Monetarism

The Pain of Monetarism

‘Wets’ and ‘Dries’

Trouble for Tina

4 Ghost Town

Breadline Britain

Long Hot Summer – The Brixton and Toxteth Riots

The Hunger Strikes

5 The Alternative

The Democracy of the Committed

Gang of Four – Bright Dawn over Limehouse

The Donkey-Jacket Tendency

Breaking the Mould?

6 The Empire Strikes Back

The Last Good-Old-Fashioned War?

White Flags over Whitehall

Towards the Abyss

Sink the

White Flags over Stanley

7 Resurrection

The Resolute Approach


The North Sea Oil Bonanza . . . and Where It Went

8 Two Tribes

Protest and Survive

Protect and Survive

Cold Thaw

9 Culture Shock

Paying the Piper

Next Programme Follows Shortly

You Have Been Watching

The British Are Coming . . . and Going

10 Style Over Substance?

After Modernism

Po-Mo – The Spirit of the Age

11 Electric Baroque

Are ‘Friends’ Electric?

Ridicule Is Nothing to Be Scared of

Money for Nothing

The Rise and Fall of the Indies

Welcome to the Acid House


12 Moral Panic

No Such Thing as Society

Law and Disorder

Don’t Die of Ignorance

Faith, Hope and Charity

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity?

13 The Workers, United, Will Never Be Defeated

Which Side Are You On? – The Miners’ Strike

The End of the Street – Revolution at Wapping

On the Waterfront

United They Stand?

14 Creative Destruction

Rolling Back the State

A Tale of Two Cities

The Predators’ Ball

Greed Is Good

Loaded, Landed, Leveraged

15 An End To Old Certainties

Ten More Years! Ten More Years!

Whitehall versus Town Hall

The Diet of Brussels

Scrapping the Iron Lady

16 Legacy





Note on the author



Britain in the 1980s does not lend itself easily to dispassionate analysis. It was a time of primary colours, clashing ideologies and divisive personalities. Any effort now to
dodge contentiousness by painting it in gentler, pastel shades can only miss its vibrant power to shock, disturb and excite. Rather than skirt around its arguments, the historian can only join

At the same time, I am conscious of the dangers of allowing personal experiences of the decade to cloud judgment. For this reason I have tried to let neither my own partial and perhaps
hindsight-contaminated recollections (I was a Scottish teenager for almost all of the eighties) nor the possibly unreliable memories of those who shaped the period, rather than merely grew up in
it, assume undue influence. Wherever possible, it is always best to garner the evidence from what is recorded during, or soon after, the events.

For their help in gathering this material I should particularly like to thank Eamon Dyas and Nick Mays at the News International Archive and Record Office and the staff at the London Library and
the British Library for all their assistance. Any historian of the politics of the period is also indebted to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, whose exemplary website provides an easily accessible
treasure trove of primary material.

Among the secondary sources that have most influenced this book, I should like to single out John Campbell for his remarkable two-volume biography of Margaret Thatcher, Francis Beckett and David
Henche for their history of the miner’s strike, Ivor Crewe and Anthony King for their work on the SDP, Simon Reynolds on early-eighties pop, Matthew Collin on the late-eighties dance scene
and David Kynaston for his magisterial study of the City of London. The responsibility for the interpretations drawn from these and other works of scholarship listed in the bibliography is, of
course, entirely my own.

At Atlantic Books, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had Toby Mundy as my commissioning editor, while James Nightingale expertly saw the book through from manuscript to printing
press. As ever, my agent, Georgina Capel, has been a tireless advocate and supporter.

Finally, for their kindness, encouragement, ideas and stimulating conversation during the writing of this book I would particularly like to thank Nicholas Boys Smith, Jane Clark, Mark Craig,
Thomas Harding, Daniel Margolin, Duncan Reed, Luke Rittner, Cita and Irwin Stelzer, Paul Stephenson, Eleanor Thorp, Edward Wild and Nicole Wright. Jean-Marc Ciancimino has been a very good friend
over many years and it is in recognition of this that I should like to dedicate this work.


First section

Second section

Third section

Fourth section



The paradox of the eighties is simply put. Everywhere we look around and see its profound influence and yet the decade itself – its tastes, obsessions and alarms –
is beginning to seem remote to the point of becoming exotic.

The realization that Britain in the eighties did not, in fundamental respects, resemble the country of today presents an opportunity worth grasping. It suggests that we are gaining distance and
critical detachment from events and personalities that divided opinion to a degree that seemed remarkable even at the time. Of course, it is the extremes and peculiarities of any age that tend to
be remembered while the quiet continuities remain unexamined or taken for granted. Some Britons rioted and went on protest marches while others hung patriotic bunting and bought shares in British
Telecom. Impervious to stereotype, a few may have done all four. Many more did none of these things; history may be shaped by trendsetters but is not just inhabited by them. With the help of
selective, and at times repetitive, archive footage to accompany television and newspaper commentary, shoulder pads and striking miners are portrayed as emblematic of the eighties. At the same
time, sales of denim jeans held up pretty well and millions of employees simply got on with their work and, every once in a while, won promotion.

BOOK: Bang!: A History of Britain in the 1980s
3.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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