How quickly the Angry Young Men have grown old

Share
Related Topics

There is a very curious programme which has appeared on BBC TV in the last few months called Grumpy Old Men, the last one being a Grumpy Old Men Christmas Special, in which a selection of quite well-known men appeared on screen and were grumpy about Christmas. People like Jeremy Clarkson and Will Self. Andrew Marr was another, as too was political correspondent John Sergeant. Rick Stein was there and so was poet Lemn Sissay, and rock musician Rick Wakeman. The best represented profession, however, was stand-up comedy, with Felix Dexter, Arthur Smith, Rory McGrath, Tony Hawkes and others weighing in with their general dislike of the Christmas Day tradition.

That's all they did. They said how much they disliked the whole Christmas thing. They said how much they disliked advent calendars, and carol singers, and shopping, and nodding reindeer on people's houses, and sending Christmas cards, and they said this for an hour, and then they stopped. They weren't very funny or witty. They were just grumpy. But as the programme wasn't called Grumpy, Funny, Witty Old Men, I suppose you can't fault them on their lack of fun and wit.

You can't fault them on the "Men" bit either, as there was not a woman among them.

But the "Old" bit is slightly more worrying. None of these guys was remotely old. Some, like Arthur Smith and Will Self, looked a bit raddled and worn, but none of them is what you or I would call old. I would guess that very few were over 50; many seemed barely 40.

However, the programme had tried to guard against this criticism by saying in advance that the 36-54 years age group in Britain is the most bad-tempered section of society. They made no attempt to justify this, but that is what they were calling "old". Anything between 36 and 54. Remember that figure.

Right. Now let's go back to 1957. That is the year in which a book appeared called Declaration, which tried to get as many "Angry Young Men" as possible to state their credoes. This was tricky, because there really wasn't an Angry Young Man movement. It was a journalistic invention, which is probably why people like Kingsley Amis refused to contribute. But people at the time thought that writers like Amis (b 1922), John Wain (b 1925), Kenneth Tynan (b 1927), Colin Wilson (b.1931), Allan Sillitoe (b 1928) and John Osborne (b 1929) were all "Angry Young Men".

By 1957 the oldest of them, Amis, was already 35 years old, and all but two were in their thirties. This means that if so-called Angry Young Man Kingsley Amis had been a year older, he would have been 36 and thus qualified to be a Grumpy Old Man on BBC-2 today. There is only one year between being called an Angry Young Man in 1957 and being called a Grumpy Old Man in 2003.

How do we account for this strange shift in our perception of what age is?

It is a mystery.

Unless, of course, you could go on being young for longer in the 1950s because all the old people (judges, politicians, etc) were so much older than they are today, which made everyone else look that much younger.

Unless, of course, the people in charge of programmes at BBC TV today are so much younger than they used to be that people like Rick Stein and Andrew Marr, or Arthur Smith and Will Self, really look old to them.

Unless, of course, they tried to get hold of some genuine oldies, people like Richard Ingrams or Barry Humphries, Clive James or Alan Coren, and found they were really far too grumpy to want to play ball.

Or unless (and I myself favour this theory), unless they couldn't get hold of any really old stand-up comedians.

The big difference between the roll-call of the "Angry Young Men" of 1957 and the Grumpy Old Men of 2003 is surely not one of age or sex or anything else. They are all men. They are all more or less the same age. No, the difference is that in the 1957 list of Angry Young Men there is not a single stand-up comedian, whereas the line-up of Grumpy Old men is swarming with them.

In those days, when we wanted ideas, we looked to writers to provide them. Nowadays we look to comedians. And when I say "we", I mean of course not us but the programme-makers.

Tomorrow: a brief look at how serious broadcasting has been delivered into the fatuous hands of the comedians.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teaching Assistant required in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
F D R and Eleanor, both facing camera, in Warm Springs, Georgia in 1938  

Where are today's Roosevelts?

Rupert Cornwell
 

Now back to the big question: what's wrong with the eurozone?

Hamish McRae
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam