Keeping Up With the Seven Up

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

(6 of 7)


I wondered about the subjects' participation in the series. Here are some answers from Wikipedia: "All interviews since have been voluntary, the participants are paid, and only their first names are used in the programme." In fact it's a shock, almost a violation of trust, to see the subjects full names listed as the stars of the Up DVDs on

Apted has to be considerate of their feelings, in part because without them the series ends, in part because he thinks of them as friends. He keeps in touch with them during their civilian years, he says, then gets down to business about a year before the next show's airing. When he makes the I'm-baaaack call, he told AP in 2004, "They all try to torture me and say they don't want to do it." But he's aware of the show's "tremendous invasion" in their lives. "They have to kind of step up and be judged by a pretty large audience, because it's a huge matter in Britain when these films come out. It can't be easy to have your last seven years judged by the nation."

The producer of any successful film knows how hard it is to get the original cast back for sequels, and Apted has had to engage in plenty of negotiation with his subjects. Again per Wikipedia, "Paul only agreed to take part in 35 Up if Michael Apted arranged for him and his family to visit England as part of the filming of their segment." Nick was flown back from Wisconsin to Britain for 35 and 42. And John "would only appear in 35 Up under the condition that a member of the Up Series crew other than Apted interview him." (John took a vacation for 42, then returned for the latest installment.)

Peter, who had been at school in Liverpool with Neil, dropped out after 28 Up; he became a lawyer and plays in a band called The Good Intentions. Another of the public school boys, Charles found a career in journalism and BBC documentaries. But after 21 Up he bowed out of the most famous documentary series in British history. In 2005, Wikipedia informs us, Apted "revealed that Charles had attempted to sue him when he refused to remove Charles's likeness from the archive sequences in 49 Up."

In 49 Up Apted foregrounds the issue of his subjects' uncomfortable celebrity. Suzy finds the experience "very difficult, very painful; not an experience I've enjoyed in any way.... We were all landed in it and most of us have, for whatever reason, chosen to go through with it.... Hopefully I'll reach my half-century next year, and I shall bow out." Lynn speaks of Russ, her husband of 30 years: "He's my soulmate, he's my partner. We respect each other. Hence, he's not here, and you will not see him on this film, because he has always always felt that the intrusion into our private life that this causes is too much."

Jackie assumes the role of the shrink's shrink when she chastised Apted: "You will edit this program as you see fit. I've got no control over that. You definitely come across as 'this is your idea of what you want to do, and how you see us,' and that's how you portray us. This one may be, may be, the first one that's about us rather than about your perception of us.... There are a lot of the times that I sit and cringe when I watch those programs, not just for me but for other people. ... Other people, quite of their own free will, will talk about their marriages or their divorces, or the state of their lives. I don't think you should be into that." Then, as if she were a character in a novel and her storyline didn't fit the author's plan, she tells Apted, "I don't think you ever really expected me to turn out the way I have."

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