Growing up in the 1980s: Despite the bombs and dole queues it was a great decade to be young

It was the era when big business, aided and abetted by computers, muscled in on childhood, turning us into adults before our time. William Cook visits a new Eighties exhibition and leaves with mixed feelings

Thursday 11 July 2019 16:15
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Tina from Ealing at the Batcave, off Carnaby Street, in 1984
Tina from Ealing at the Batcave, off Carnaby Street, in 1984
I

n the Willis Museum in Basingstoke, pop culture curator Matt Fox is telling me about his new exhibition, I Grew Up 80s. He’s funny and engaging but I’m finding it hard to pay attention. I keep getting distracted by all the fascinating stuff around the room. This gallery is crammed with 1980s ephemera, things I haven’t seen for half a lifetime, not since Snickers was called Marathon and Starburst were called Opal Fruits – long forgotten toys and gizmos, and obsolete confectionary (junior shandy and sweet cigarettes – I wonder why they disappeared?) It conjures up that lost age before we retreated into cyberspace – when we lived our lives in the real world, rather than online.

Mention the 1980s to most people under 40 and they tend to run for cover, thinking you’re about to bore them rigid with grim tales of woe about the Miners Strike or the Falklands war. OK, for a lot of adults the Eighties were no fun at all, but if you were lucky enough to be a child it was an invigorating and optimistic era, as Matt Fox’s life-enhancing display confirms.

“If you look back at the newsreel footage, it seems like it was a fairly dreary decade – but it was an incredibly exciting time if you were a kid in the Eighties, and I wanted to celebrate that,’’ he tells me. And he has. His feelgood show evokes an era when girls (and boys) just wanted to have fun. “It was a brilliant time to grow up,’’ says Matt. I couldn’t agree more.

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