Regular readers of this learned and erudite blog would be forgiven for thinking that I am perpetually preoccupied with the most abstruse matters of metaphysics and constantly immersed in a philosophical trance from which few worldly concerns could distract me. Fortunately, that is not the case at all. To survive in academia, you have also to be able to switch off from the day job and find some diversion that allows you to clear your head.
I am well qualified in that respect since I grew up in a non-academic household surrounded by all that popular culture could offer and which left an indelible mark on my consciousness. My family home contained no books, and I won’t claim that to be any advantage, but nor do I regret the interests I developed in football, TV, music and comics. When I now need a rest from work, I can still set free my inner child to indulge those youthful delights.
My continuing love of football is no secret since I have written a book on it, and a few others on sport generally. But that all stems from a more innocent time. We had our first colour TV delivered in the early 70s and I would stare wide-eyed at the kaleidoscopic sensations the occasional televised match would provide. I remember vividly the 1974 FA Cup Final between Newcastle and Liverpool. Those red strips, and the black and white striped shirts, popped out against the green, green grass of Wembley. And the crowd noise formed such a spectacular backdrop. Even greater pleasures awaited since that was also a World Cup year. I cried when Cruyff’s Holland lost the final. That Dutch team were like rock stars!
And there were rock stars too, filling my TV screen. The first band I loved, while still a little kid, were Sweet. They too made the most of colour TV, showing off their outlandish costumes. And the music was so catchy. Teenage Rampage is one of their best but it seemed they were on Top of the Pops almost every week with some new hit.
My formative years were spent in a tiny farming village just outside Wakefield. Very little happened there but television gave me a window on another world: sometimes literally! The first Doctor Who story I remember watching was Carnival of Monsters, with Jon Pertwee as the doctor, so I know I would’ve seen it on January 27th 1973. Later that year I bought the Radio Times Dr Who 10th Anniversary magazine: a prized possession that I foolishly sold in adulthood. It was TV too that alerted me to the existence of Marvel Comics, an advertisement leading me to get Mighty World of Marvel #1 when it came out on September 30th 1972. My imagination was stretching way beyond the village boundaries.
It is all too easy to disparage popular culture. Rarely is it high art. But to those of us who neither lived near, nor could afford, the theatre or opera, nor had an environment in which the reading of books was encouraged, these mass market and disposable forms of entertainment gave colour to our lives. Perhaps it was escapism, yes, but we had something that needed escaping. I was fortunate to go through the golden age of comprehensive education in Britain. Social mobility was still a thing but a precondition of it was the realisation that another life was possible. I often tell my kids that the 1970s were the greatest decade of all to be young in this country. Primarily, that was down to a thriving popular culture without which I would not be what I am.