The Up Series

The Up Series is a series of documentary films produced by Granada Television that have followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old. The documentary has had seven episodes spanning 49 years and the documentary has been broadcast on both ITV and BBC.

The children were selected to represent the range of socio-economic backgrounds in Britain at that time, with the explicit assumption that each child’s social class predetermines their future. Every seven years, the director, Michael Apted, films new material from as many of the fourteen as he can get to participate.

Filming for the next instalment in the series, 56 Up, is expected in late 2011 or early 2012, with a scheduled premiere from 13–15 May 2012. In 2005, the Channel 4 programme The 50 Greatest Documentaries saw the series topping the list in first position.

Creation

The first film in the series, Seven Up!, was directed by Paul Almond, and commissioned by Granada Televisionas a programme in the World in Action series broadcast in 1964. From 7 Plus Seven onward the films have been directed by Michael Apted, who had been a researcher on Seven Up! and chose the original children withGordon McDougall. The premise of the film was taken from the Jesuit motto “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”, which is based on a quotation by Francis Xavier. The 1998 programme was commissioned by BBC One, although still produced for them by Granada.

Participants

The fourteen subjects are Bruce Balden, Jackie Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk and Tony Walker.

The participants were chosen in an attempt to represent different social classes in Britain in the 1960s. Apted admits in the commentary track of the 42 Up DVD that he was asked to find children at the extremes. Because the show was not originally intended to become a repeating series, no long-term contract was signed with the participants. The interviews since Seven Up! have been voluntary, although the participants have been paid an unknown sum for their appearance in each film, as well as equal parts of any prize the film may win, says Apted. Each subject is filmed in about two days, and the interview itself takes more than six hours.

John, Charles and Andrew

These three boys were chosen from the same pre-preparatory school in the wealthy London suburb of Kensington. They are introduced in Seven Up! singing “Waltzing Matilda” in Latin. At the age of seven, when asked what newspaper he reads, if any, Andrew stated that he reads The Financial Times (although he later revealed he was in fact just repeating what his father had told him when asked the same question), and all three could say which prep schools, public schools and universities they planned to attend (Oxford/Cambridge in all cases); two named the specific Oxbridge college they intended to join.

John Brisby, who was vocal on politics by 14, attended Oxford and became a barrister. He married the daughter of an ambassador to Bulgaria and devotes himself to charities related to Bulgaria, and hopes to reclaim family land there that had been nationalised. He said in 35 Up that he only does the films to give more publicity to his chosen charities.

Charles Furneaux did not make it into Oxford, although at 21 he said he was glad to have avoided the “prep school-Marlborough-Oxbridge conveyor belt” by going to Durham University instead, later attending Oxford as a post-graduate student. Charles has worked in journalism in varying capacities over the years, including as a producer for the BBC, and in the making of documentary films, including Touching the Void. He chose not to appear in the series after 21 Up, other than with a single photograph in each new film. During an on-stage interview at London’s National Film Theatre in December 2005, Apted revealed that Charles had attempted to sue him when he refused to remove Charles’s likeness from the archive sequences in 49 Up.

Andrew Brackfield’s academic career culminated in his matriculation at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Andrew subsequently became a solicitor, married, and raised a family. He is the only one out of the three to have been in all the Up films.

Suzy

Suzanne (Suzy) Lusk comes from a wealthy background, and was first filmed at a boarding school. Her parents divorced around the time of 7 Plus Seven. She then dropped out of school at the age of 16, deciding to travel to Paris. By 21, she had formed a strong negative opinion about marriage. Her husband Rupert Dewey is a successful solicitor in Bath and they have three children; two boys and a girl. She became a bereavement counsellor. In 49 Up, she indicated that she did not plan to participate in future releases of the series.

Jackie, Lynn and Sue

These three girls were chosen from the same primary school in a working class neighbourhood of London. Jackie Bassett and Susan (Sue) Davis eventually went to a comprehensive school, while Lynn Johnson attended a grammar school. Jackie and Lynn both married at 19, Sue at 24. Lynn became a children’s (and later, school) librarian at 21 and has remained in that career since then. Jackie and Sue each went through several different jobs, got divorced, and raised children as single parents.

Tony

Tony Walker was chosen from a primary school in the East End of London. He wanted to be a jockey at 7, and was at a stables training for as one at 14. By 21 his chance had come and gone, after riding in three races before giving it up, and was proud to have competed against Lester Piggott. He then “did ‘The Knowledge'” and made a comfortable life for himself and his family as a London taxi driver. His later dream of becoming an actor has met with modest success; he has had small parts as an extra (almost always playing a cabbie) in several TV programmes since 1986, including Winston Churchill: The Wilderness YearsThe Bill, and twice in EastEnders, most recently in 2003. In 35 Up Tony admitted that being in a monogamous relationship was becoming a strain, and by 42 Up he had actually committed adultery, though he and his wife have got past it and are still together. By 42 Up, he had moved to Essex and by49 Up, owned two homes, including a holiday home in Spain.

Paul

Paul Kligerman was at a charity-based boarding school at 7, his parents having divorced and he having been left with his father. Soon after Seven Up! his father and stepmother moved the family to Australia, where he has remained in the Melbourne area ever since. By 21, he had more presence, long hair, and a girlfriend whom he later married and remains with today. After leaving school he was employed as a bricklayer and later set up his own business. In 49 Up he is working for a sign-making company. In both 21 Up and 49 Up, Paul was reunited with Symon, who had attended the same boarding school; portions of their time together are included in both films.

Symon

The only participant with a non-white background is mixed-race. Symon Basterfield was chosen from the same charity home as Paul. He was an illegitimatechild, who apparently never got to know his black father, and had left the charity home to live with his white mother by the time of the 7 Plus Seven filming; her depression is alluded to as the cause for him being in the home. As the filming for 35 Up was taking place, he was going through a divorce from his first wife and mother of his five children, and he elected not to take part in that film. Symon returned for 42 Up and 49 Up, remarried with one son and one stepdaughter. In 49 Up, he and his wife had become foster parents.

Nick

William Nicholas (Nick) Hitchon was raised on a small farm in Arncliffe, a tiny village in the Yorkshire Dales. He was educated in a one-room school, and later at a boarding school. He went to Oxford University and then moved to the United States to work as a nuclear physicist. He married another British ex-pat, who participated in 28 Up but was displeased with how her comments were received by viewers, many of whom apparently concluded that the marriage was doomed. She declined to appear in 35 Up and 42 Up. By 49 Up the couple had divorced and Nick had remarried. Nick is currently a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

Peter

Peter Davies went to the same middle-class Liverpool suburban school as Neil, who like Peter wanted to be an astronaut. Peter drifted through university, and by age 28 he was an underpaid and seemingly uninspired school teacher. Peter dropped out of the series after 28 Up, when he lost his job as a teacher following a tabloid press campaign against him after he criticised the government of Margaret Thatcher in his interview. In the director’s commentary for 42 Up it is stated that he later divorced, took up study of the law, has become a lawyer, re-married, had children and moved back to Liverpool. He is in a Liverpool-based country-influenced band called The Good Intentions.

Neil

Neil Hughes turned out to be the most unpredictable of the entire group. At seven he was funny, full of life and hope. By the time of 21 Up he was homeless in London, having dropped out of Aberdeen University after one term, and was living in a squat and finding work as he could on building sites. During the interview he is clearly in an agitated state, and it becomes apparent that he has mental health issues and is struggling to cope with life; he mentions he had had thoughts of suicide. At 28 he was still homeless, although now in Scotland; by 35 he was living in a council house on the Shetland Islands, off the north coast of Scotland, writing and appearing in the local pantomime. By the time of 42 Up he had finally found some stability in his life (with some help from Bruce — he was living in Bruce’s apartment in London and Bruce had become a source of emotional support) and was involved in local council politics, as a Liberal Democrat in theLondon Borough of Hackney. By the time of 49 Up, he is a District Councillor in the Eden district of Cumbria, in North West England. Neil stood in the 2010 general election as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Carlisle where he finished third, receiving 6,567 votes (result).

Bruce

Bruce Balden was an idealist who was concerned with poverty and racial discrimination and wanted to become a missionary. He was attending a prestigious boarding school. At the age of seven, he said that his greatest desire was to see his father, who was a soldier in Rhodesia, and he seemed a little abandoned. Bruce studied mathematics at Oxford University and used his education to teach children in the East End of London and Sylhet, Bangladesh. Before 42 Up, he married, and Apted broke the seven-year structure of the films to film Bruce’s wedding, which was also attended by Neil. Eventually becoming burned out with teaching in the East End, Bruce currently teaches at St Albans School, Hertfordshire, a prestigious public school. Between 42 Up and 49 Up, he had two sons, and is happily married to a fellow teacher.

Influence

The series has received extraordinary praise over the years, the epitome of which may be Roger Ebert’s comments that it is “an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium”, that the films “penetrate to the central mystery of life”, and that the series is among his top ten films of all time. Attempts have been made to repeat the series with subjects in the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan, and South Africa. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmesdrawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, 28 Up was placed 26th. The series has also been satirised; The Simpsons’2007 episode “Springfield Up” is narrated by an Apted-like filmmaker who depicts the past and current lives of a group of Springfield residents he has revisited every eight years.

The original hypothesis of Seven Up! was that class structure is so strong in the UK that a person’s life path would be set at birth. The producer of the original programme had at one point thought to line the children up on the street, have three of them step forward and narrate “of these twenty children, only three will be successful” (an idea which was not used). The idea of class immobility held up in most, but not all, cases as the series has progressed. The children from the working classes have by and large remained in those circles, though Tony seems to have become more middle class. Apted has said that one of his regrets is that they did not take into account feminism, and consequently had fewer girls in their study and did not select them on the basis of any possible careers they might choose.

Although it began as a political documentary, the series has become a film of human nature and existentialism. In the director’s commentary for 42 Up, Apted comments that he did not realise the series had changed tone from political to personal until 21 Up, when he showed the film to American friends who encouraged him to submit it (successfully) to American film festivals. Apted also comments that this realisation was a relief to him and allowed the films to breathe a little more.

Criticism

The Up series has been criticised by both ethnographers and the subjects themselves for its editing style. Mitchell Duneier has pointed out that Apted has the ability to create causal relationships between a character’s past and present that might not actually exist. Apted has acknowledged this fact, pointing out that in 21 Up he believed Tony would soon be in prison so he filmed him around dangerous areas for use in later films.

Influence on participants

Over the course of the project the programme has in varying degrees had a direct effect on the lives of its participants. The series became popular enough that the participants often speak of being recognised in public. Their opinions of being involved in the series are often mentioned, and vary greatly among the participants. John refers to the programme as a poison pill that he is subjected to every seven years, while Paul’s wife credits the series for keeping their marriage together. Michael Apted has commented that one of the big surprises between filming 42 Up and 49 Up was the impact of reality television. The subjects really wanted to talk about how they saw their contribution to the series in the light of reality TV.

Paul and Nick were flown back to England for the filming of 35 Up and 42 Up respectively; the trips were financed by Granada. Paul was flown back again for 49 Up and visited Symon. Bruce was affected by Neil’s plight and offered him temporary shelter in his home shortly before 42 Up, allowing Neil time to get settled in London. Despite Neil’s eccentricities during his two-month stay, they clearly remained friends, with Neil later giving a reading at Bruce’s wedding.

Via The Up Series

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