Saturday, February 29, 2020

THE UP SERIES (1964-2019, GREAT BRITAIN)

Given me a child when he is seven and I will give you the man.-Jesuit proverb

The featured players of the Up series
at different life stages

In 1964, Granada television in Britain chose fourteen seven-year-old subjects for a television special about what it was like to be that age. This original film was directed by Paul Diamond and was originally supposed to be a one and off special. The subjects of the film were chosen by a young researcher named Michael Apted, who saw the potential for something really special here. Apted took over as director of the project and filmed the children again at age fourteen in 1970. He then filmed all the subjects in the film every seven years (all that would participate) all the way until 63 Up in 2019.

I had heard about this series over the years, but never watched it. We got the 56 Up! DVD at the library a couple of years ago, but really wanted to see the films from the beginning. In recent weeks, I noticed Britbox had all the episodes and my wife and I decided to plunge in and watch them.

I don't binge watch shows often, but The Up Series is definitely one I'd recommend going that route with. I feel like I just met these seven-year-old kids a couple of weeks ago and watching a show a night, they quickly are all reaching retirement age. It acts like an only slightly less speedy Picture of Dorian Gray with the featured kids.

We see the participants make schooling decisions, marriage decisions, career decisions and family decisions. Through the episodes, the extended family of the participants become players in this drama as well. Other participants keep their family out of it entirely. We also see past shows cleverly edited into each new show to give the viewer perspective.

One of the elements in the choosing of the original subjects is class. You have the prep school boys, seemingly born with silver spoons in their mouth and poorer East End kids that have to struggle for everything. The truth is of course much more complicated than that.

Here are the subjects for the film:

John, Andrew and Charles on the couch
in 14 Up

The Three Prep School Boys on the Couch
John Brisby, one of the upper class kids, was seemingly on the path to being a barrister from age seven. He likes to point out in later episodes that he had to struggle a lot more than what is portrayed in the earlier films.

Andrew Brackfield was one of the funniest of the seven year old kids, going on about he read The Financial Times on a daily basis. He later became a solicitor, but seems to spend a lot of time in his garden as the years go on. He appears to have one of the happier marriages and families in the film.

Charles Furneaux is the third of the Prep School boys. Charles didn't participate in any films after 21 Up, despite later becoming a documentary filmmaker himself!

Jackie, Lynn and Sue on the slide at age seven

The Three Working Class Girls on the Couch
Jackie Bassett is one of the three girls in the film that are usually filmed together. Her life has had her ups and downs with marriages, kids, work and health. She often seems to have a love/hate relationship with director Apted. I find her one of the most interesting subjects in the film.

Lynn Johnson was one of Jackie's friends who definitely had her ups and downs. She married young and had a family early, but kept her marriage together throughout her life. I certainly like the fact that she worked at libraries and a bookmobile for many years. She had many health issues over the years which she talks about in many episodes. She died in 2013 at the age of 57.

Sue Davis is the third of the three girls filmed together in episode one. She had her ups and downs with marriage and divorce over the years. She also had a potential singing career that she points out she was never able to follow through with. In later years, she is seen as being happily engaged to the same man for 21 years!

The Charity Boarding School Classmates
Symon Basterfield was the only participant of mixed race in this film. He worked at various jobs over the years which the viewer gets to experience vicariously (There's Symon on the fork lift again!). He married and had five kids only to divorce. His second wife was a strong presence in 49 Up and 56 Up.

Paul Kliegerman was also one of the funniest of the kids at seven. The clip that they show about his fear of marriage because his wife might serve him greens makes me laugh every time they show it. In actuality, Paul has had the same wife since 21 Up, and we see many of their travels through the outback and raising of their family over the years. One of the most likable participants in the film, we see Paul reunited with his classmate Symon in 49 Up (or was that 42 Up?)

The entire group together at 21 Up

The Academics
Bruce Balden may be the person I identify the most with in the film. Always concerned about social issues and injustice early on, he becomes a teacher in the inner city and in Bangla Desh for awhile. It didn't seem like he would ever get married, but did in 35 Up in a ceremony conducted by fellow Up participant Neil Hughes.

Nick Hitchon started out on a farm and went to boarding school before going to Oxford and eventually becoming a professor specializing in Nuclear Fusion at the University of Wisconsin. Nick's first marriage is documented in 28 Up, but that didn't last and seems happy with his second wife in later episodes. 

I just want to promote me band!
Peter Davies was a Liverpudlian youth who in 21 Up said some negative things about the Thatcher Administration which he got some criticism for and decided not to participate in the series again until 56 Up to promote his folk band!

This is pointless and silly!
Suzy Lusk had a most interesting evolution on the show. She went from being one of the rich kids in the beginning to being from a broken home and deciding the project was "pointless and silly" by the age of 14. At 21, she was an angry chain-smoking young lady who would never want to have kids and was mad at the world. By 28, she married someone who seemed to change her worldview for the better and has appeared to have a happy life (with kids!).

Tony Walker at 7 Up and 56 Up
The breakout stars
Tony Walker-"I want to be a jockey when I grow up. I want to be a jockey when I grow up!" I always quote Tony's seven-year-old aspirations to my wife before we start a new episode. Tony is one of the lower East Side kids who did indeed become a jockey for awhile before becoming a taxi driver among other things. The fast talking Tony seems to be one of those people who can probably get away with a lot just by talking his way out of things. Married at 28, his wife was featured in all the subsequent episodes and they are not afraid to speak openly about the highs and lows of their relationship.

Neil Hughes at 56 Up and 7 Up

Neil Hughes was the Liverpool youth who had aspirations, yet never seemed to find his way. He was often depicted throughout the run of the show as homeless or suffering from a form of mental illness-yet always finding a way to survive. He later became a local councilman and even a preacher (performing the marriage ceremony for Bruce Balden).

I think for the most part the participants haven been shown in a positive light. I mean there aren't any villains in this piece (Maybe Charles, only because he wouldn't participate after 21 Up) and I hope the lives of all of them continue to improve through 63 Up, 70 Up, 77 Up...

2 comments:

  1. It's hard for me to overstate how much I love these films!!

    I had heard about them for years before having the opportunity to see any of them but when 42 Up was released I took advantage of working in a video store at the time and watched the whole series up to that point before going to see it and was instantly captivated.

    I've been anxiously awaiting each new chapter since. I haven't had the chance to see 63 Up yet due to the fact that my older sister, who was born the same year as the group and therefore has an even deeper connection to the films, and I have made it a tradition to watch each new film together and we haven't been able to coordinate our schedules yet! But I'm looking forward to it enormously.

    Though as the years go on there is always a sense of trepidation mixed with that anticipation as well. It was so devastating when Lynn died and with that mortality entered as a possibility now with each chapter. By now you feel a real connection to these people and dread anything happening to them.

    I find each story fascinating but I think it's natural for each viewer to have their favorites. I LOVE Suzy and always have!! Her journey, and internal conflict each time with participating, has been so complex but gratifying. She seems like a genuinely nice person as well,though all of them seem to be decent people.

    I agree about Tony, my sister's favorite, he's wonderfully magnetic and so open and appealing. I can see him talking his way out most anything and it's been gratifying to see the success he and his wife have achieved. She's great and surely responsible in large part for keeping him on track.

    And of course my heart goes out to Neil. His struggles are often hard to watch but he just keeps going and at least up to the last film had found a place that he seemed to belong at last.

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    1. Thank you for your comments. It is definitely something you'll think about days after you watch it.

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