Friday, January 15, 2021

Can there be a 70 Up without Michael Apted?

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I remember an English lesson in the lower sixth when we had all watched 21 Up the evening before. The lesson was, for some reason, taken by the head of department rather than our usual teacher, and we spent all of it talking about the programme. Thanks to the wonder of Wikipedia I can date it to 10 May 1977.

Michael Apted, the man behind the Up programmes, died last week. Beginning with 7 Up in 1963, this series followed a series of people through their lives. It may have begun as an exercise in sociology, but it has turned into something extraordinary. What engaged me intellectually when I was 17 can now move me to tears because of the themes of promise, poor health and redemption that have developed.

A New York Times article asks if there can be a 70 Up without Apted. We all hope there can be - "70 and 7 do have a good symmetry," as one of his team says - but the article brings home that if the participants in the Up programmes have grown old then the team that made them has grown even older.

One of them, we are told, remembers:

“Every seven years we’d get a new commissioner and a new executive producer, and they all come into the program thinking they’re going to make some change. Michael saw them all off,” at first politely and then with a colourful two-word phrase.

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