Walking on Sunshine

Andy Beckett – When the Lights Went Out – 2009/42

When the Lights Went Out

When the Lights Went Out


The Back of the Book: The seventies.  No decade in Britain’s modern political history has been more important, more compelling and more condemned.  The seventies saw strikes that destroyed governments, the rise of Margaret Thatcher, the IMF crisis, the three-day week and the Winter of Discontent.

Yet the seventies have often been misunderstood and misrepresented.  When the Lights Went Out moves beyond the traditional bleak view of the decade and shows the seventies afresh.  It includes candid interviews with key political players, many of them now dead, from Edward Heath to Jack Jones to Arthur Scargill.  It also unearths the stories of the forgotten figures away from Westminster who gave the period so much of its excitement and significance – from the Gay Liberation Front to the first British environmentalists, from early feminists to hippy anarchists.  And it shows a decade full of new possibilities as well as disasters and dead ends.

Acclaimed author and journalist Andy Beckett travels from the once-famous factories where the great trade-union battles took place to the suburbs where Thatcherims was created, and to the cold North Sea territories where the discovery of oil made British politicians dream that the country could escape its problems fo a very different future.  His intimate portrait of the decade is alive with revelatory stories and details:  the minister who met strikers while still in his pyjamas; the retired major who ran a secret strike-breaking operation from deep in the Cotswolds; the crucial IMF crisis meeting held in the back room of a London tailor’s.

When the Lights Went Out tells us what life feels like when politics really matters.  It restores to the British seventies their true vividness and complexity.  And it casts a new light on the British crisis of today.

Review: It’s taken me a long time to read this book.  On and off, I’ve been working on it since September and, now it’s finished, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.  I don’t ‘do’ modern history.  I don’t ‘do’ politics.  And I certainly don’t ‘do’ modern political history.  Nonetheless, I have read this book – and surprised myself in doing so.  I do think though that the credit should go to Mr Beckett who has produced and eminently readable account of the decade.


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