Keeping Up With the Seven Up

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Simon as seen in 49 UP, a film by Michael Apted.

(4 of 7)

The changes are greatest in the early episodes, from childhood (seven) to adolescence (14) to early maturity (21). Later, the adventures are mostly domestic: the accretion and shedding of spouses, the raising of nuclear and post-nuclear families. You see waistlines growing, hairlines receding. You meet their children at birth, seven, 14 and 21. The series becomes less a window into their lives, more a mirror into ours. For it is only through the severest denial that we can think that they have grown older, been cramped diminished by life, while we have stayed miraculously young, rich in achievement, richer in promise.


If you're new to the series and want to get a hint of the density of lives rushing past, see the first two episodes (they're just 40 and 52 mins., respectively), then 28 Up and 49 Up. Here's a bit of what you'll find.

Tony, the endearingly mouthy Cockney, rode horses, got married, drove a London taxi (as did his wife Debbie), did some TV bits as an actor, survived a marital crisis (due to his "regretful behavior") and made enough money to buy a holiday home in Spain for his wife, their children and three grandchildren. Tony's one regret is that the East End "changed"; it went brown. "Other cultures," he says, in one of the few overtly political comments on what has become a very domesticated series, "are buying all my old traditions up."

Jackie, who has rheumatoid arthritis, was married and divorced is now raising a son. Sue, another single mother, is doing the same. Lynn worked as a children's librarian out of a mobile van; she now helps mentally challenged children and worries about the end of government funding. Suzy, the posh girl, has a successful marriage.

Of the rich boys, Andrew went to Charterhouse and Cambridge, as he predicted; became a solicitor, as he predicted; at 35 a partner; at 49 took a job as an executive at an industrial gas company. John became a Queen's Counsel, married the daughter of an ambassador to Bulgaria and devotes himself to charities for Bulgarian children because, he says, "Who wants to be the richest corpse in the graveyard?" But he hasn't lost his corrosive upper-crust wit: "I reckon if I shoot the horses, shoot the wife, and only drink Bulgarian wine, I may be able to retire at age 94 or something."

Simon, one of the two boys from a charity home, works as a baggage handler near Heathrow Airport. He has wed twice. The first marriage, to Yvonne, produced five children; in the second, to Vianessa, he become a foster parent. Simon's and Paul's histories suggest that they weren't schooled in ambition. "I'm very laid back," he tells Apted. "As [my wife] always says, if I go any further back I'll fall over." Paul, the second charity case, went to Australia and worked as a laborer. He married Susan, a hairdresser, and had two kids, one of whom went to university, the other of whom gave them two grandchildren. Paul never gained a sense of self; in one episode he asked, "Why would Susan want to be with someone as boring as me?" And when Apted quizzed Susan on what attracted her to Paul, she replied, "His helplessness."

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