British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Watching Seven Up

The Seven Up series of TV documentaries by Michael Apted has followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964 at seven yearly intervals, with the next edition planned for screening on ITV later in 2012. On 8 May 2012 there will be a special screening at BAFTA in London of 56 Up, the new film in the series, followed by a Q&A with director Michel Apted. For further information, and details on booking, visit the BAFTA website at: Below, Susanne Hammacher of the Royal Anthropological Institute looks at the history and impact of the films.

About the Author: Susanne Hammacher is the Film Officer of the Royal Anthropological Institute. and coordinator of the RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film since 2002. She read anthropology, economics and history of art at the University of Basel, Switzerland. She worked for over ten years as head of education and public programmes at the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, and as exhibition officer at the Museum of Childhood, V&A, London. She has been conducting fieldwork in Mexico since 1982 on aspects of trading and market systems, gender and migration, textiles (silk production, platting, weaving), community museums and audio-visual indigenous media. She is curating and facilitating various screening and outreach projects in London as well as working on the digitisation of the RAI collection.

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.

In 1964 Granada decided to air a forty-minute documentary called SEVEN UP! for their new current affairs strand World in Action. Its first series editor, the Australian Tim Hewart, abandoned the studio and interview format of such rivals as Panorama and This Week and aimed to exploit the journalistic potential of the new lightweight 16mm cameras and synchronised sound equipment. As Claire Lewis, a researcher and producer on later editions of the programme, remembers: ‘Hewart was horrified by the rigidity of social class in Britain in the 60s and wanted to make a film about how constricting it was and whether or not someone could escape it’. The resulting programme was directed by Canadian Paul Almond, the two researchers were Michael Apted (a Granada graduate trainee, who became the director of the follow-up editions) and Gordon MacDougall. It aimed to show what the future of Britain would hold, under the motto: ‘The shop steward and the executive of 2000 are now seven years old.’ 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’.

Jackie, Lynn and Sue in 'Seven Up!' (1964 © Granada, courtesy of Network DVD)

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