It's official: TV has fallen in love with the 70s
With Danny and the Human Zoo and Cradle to Grave, we're in for a nostalgia-fest of great music and bad clothes this week
Wouldn't you just know it. You wait years for an autobiographical drama based on the early life of a much-loved middle-aged British entertainer and what do you know, two come along in the same week.
Danny and the Human Zoo (today on BBC1), written by Sir Lenny Henry, is a faintly fictionalised account, written by Henry, of growing up in Dudley in the West Midlands and his first, tentative steps on to the showbusiness ladder.
While Cradle to Grave (Thursday BBC2) stars Peter Kay in a taupe cardigan and with a wrong-footing gorblimey Cockernee accent as broadcaster/DJ Danny Baker’s wheeler-dealer docker dad, Spud, paterfamilias of the tumultuous Baker family in east London.
Both are set in the early 1970s, and are thus full of great music, terrible clothes and even worse decors. Ah, the 70s, that misty childhood wonderland of the current middle-aged, a brown time filled with fun and exploration, of cheerful gangs of gauche pals and a life lived to the soundtrack of T Rex and Mud. Days seen through the prism of Tiger Feet were just so carefree and fantastic.
Or so you’d think, watching Danny and the Human Zoo and Cradle to Grave. Oh, and women, you mustn’t feel left out, The Kennedys, based on the autobiography of comedian Emma Kennedy, will shortly arrive on BBC2. It, too, is set in the 1970s and is a childhood memoir.
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Clearly the decade is the latest television frontier, ten years upon which everyone has a view, even if they weren’t even born then. To anyone who lived through them, I can see how they can seem dreamy and rather magnificent from this distance. The telly was better back then – the two Dannys’ families are avid telly-watchers, rejoicing in Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em, The Generation Game and, of course, particularly for young Danny Fearon/ Lenny Henry, New Faces, the talent show that gave him his first break.
The music was peerless – Led Zeppelin’s bombastic opus Stairway to Heaven runs like a golden thread through Cradle to Grave while Danny... is packed with school disco delights. (Yes, of course, Tiger Feet. I bet you can still remember that weird one-foot-across-the-other dance you used to do to it, can’t you?)
Then there are the cardigan-ed 70s dads; Lenny Henry plays Danny’s distant father while Kay is anything but as lairy Spud, a man who wades into the lives of all of his kids. It’s a great Kay role, complete with sideburns and false teeth. I have no idea if he’s anything like Baker’s real father, but this doesn’t matter because it’s Peter Kay and you’ll want to like him.
Of course there is no time in TV dramas for those almost forgotten boredoms of a 70s childhood. Sitting around a beef dripping candle in the dark for hours after the power is turned off during the three- day week; trying and failing to read by its pathetic light; the horrors of O-level maths and the insoluble mysteries of calculus; and getting to grips with the Enclosure Acts.
These days were long ago and far away; before revenge porn, microwave meals and goat’s cheese (hey, I’d never heard of it till I moved Down South).
But there you go. It’s now the 1970s’ turn to assume mythical status, like the lost civilisation of the Incas. Those of us of a certain age can sit back and lose ourselves in someone else’s formative years, someone who clearly had more fun growing up then than we did.
Danny and the Human Zoo is on BBC1 tonight (Monday 31st August) at 9.00pm, while Cradle to Grave begins on BBC2 this Thursday