Jack shows his generation how to bite the brat pack

Related Topics
IF TINY ROWLAND, 76, wants another good laugh after fighting off the attack of 55-year-old Dieter Bock he should go and watch Jack Nicholson in Wolf.

Wolf is a modern parable sent to cheer the ageing. Last week when I settled down with a pack of popcorn before it everyone of 35 and over was shrieking and howling in unison with Nicholson. The twentysomethings' big eyes were blank, their smooth, not to say characterless, faces expressing nothing but bafflement as wrinkled Jack cavorted and survived.

The key to this age divide is the fact that the villain of Wolf is not the hairy and ancient Mr Nicholson, but James Spader as the recently weaned, wide-eyed glad- hander in pursuit of his job: full of energy, insincerity and ambition, an archetype, a young wolf draped in Bambi's skin.

Wolf's audience appeal lies in the fact that every member of the post-war boom generation has now, in middle age, one of these at his back - if not, heaven help us, already ahead in the pack. The shadow of redundancies and mortgage debt hangs over the Sixties generation. In the US, the boys who once feared the Vietnam draft now most fear the mixture of debt and joblessness that reduces middle-class Americans to living out of their cars. The fears of their British peers have braked recovery for the past few years. And they feel more threatened by a new, strange phenomenon of youth.

At 25, in boom time, the Sixties kids had the luxury of looking for free love and pot, not promotion. The self-seeking drive of middle- class Nineties youth, brought up through college to expect to compete for scarce jobs, the predatory networking dinner parties, the deliberate buttering up of useful elders they dislike, sickens the Sixties generation. No wonder they cheer when Nicholson pees on Bambi's expensive shoes in the company urinal. 'Just marking my territory,' he drawls. The twentysomethings watching looked disgusted. The rest of us laughed.

No wonder there is admiration for the old wolf, Tiny Rowland, who has hung on to pounds 5m worth of power and perks as joint chief executive at Lonhro at 76. Rowland, like Nicholson, stays cool and wily as younger members of the pack challenge the grey muzzled leader.

'At my age you don't really expect me to be seriously worried about anything,' he said before he narrowed his eyes and stalked into the boardroom. 'I can understand that young men are ambitious and I'm an old man. It stands to reason that young men will try to see me leave . . .' And then, a glint: 'I don't think it will happen.'

Rowland is a survivor at an age when the best prospect for most of us is a life on the Costa del Sol contemplating embalmment. His victory, like Nicholson's, gives hope that experience matters more than energy. It may be an unrealistic hope, but to the fortysomethings whom this recession shook out of jobs in favour of younger, cheaper colleagues, and to friends who watched, any hope will do.

Some of them are, like Nicholson, beginning to bite back. Two weeks ago the Financial Times reported the case of Brian Winch of Knapton, Norfolk, now in his fifties, made redundant three times. He found that some recruitment consultants ruled out the over-45s, let alone the over-50s. He also found personnel departments a main source of prejudice against his age. Now he's back as MD of a manufacturing company he does not hire the consultants who would not use him. More than that: 'My first action in a company is to declare redundant the whole of the personnel department and not replace them,' he said.

Now is a tough time for those who remember Woodstock. The power of youth was a concept they created. Now they look in the mirror, and the locks are grizzled, and the teeth are yellowing. Against their will, they are changing shape. Jack Nicholson looks over his shoulder and sees the dazzling vacuity of Hugh Grant. Peter Palumbo, who once stood for youth and radical architecture, glances behind where his handsome son, James, paces his track, lawyers at his heels, pursuing him over cash.

The rest of us have our ears back, listening to the Government saying that 40 per cent of employers admit discriminating on grounds of age, some of them against workers over 30 years old.

The only hope for the generation which invented teenage rebellion is that somehow it can remake age in its own image: potent, radical, unfettered. They are trying. The oldest of the babies born at the end of the Second World War are approaching 50 now. 'At 50,' says Erica 'Zipless' Jong in her book Fear of Fifty, published in Britain by Chatto this week, 'the madwoman in the attic breaks loose, stamps down the stairs and sets fire to the house.'

It is a prospect nearly as cheering, if unlikely, as Wolf. Are the baby boomers going to protest to the end? In 30 years' time will the old folks' homes be shaking to the old tunes? 'One, two, three, four, what are we fightin' for? . . . Open up those Pearly Gates - whoopee] We're all gonna die.'

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'