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30 years ago this year ~ that was when…

December 29, 2013

1983_flashdance

What a feeling: the pop culture sensation of the year belonged to up-and-coming Hollywood producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, cute-as-a-button popster Irene Cara and the body of Jennifer Beals – it could only be the ultimate movie sleeper hit that was Flashdance

So you know how the media (TV, newspapers, magazines, radio and, yes, the Internets) are full right now of all sorts of different reviews of the year about to conclude? Well, I’m all for them (reflection on what’s been is often useful and interesting so we can chart where we are) and this year, yup, George’s Journal will be verily getting in on the act, but with a twist – for over the next three posts to be posted over consecutive days it’ll be reflecting on the highlights of specific years 10 years apart from each other from the ’80s, the ’70s and the ’60s. Effectively then, the twelve months that occurred 30, 40 and 50 years ago. Oh yes.

So, up first, mes amis, it’s 1983, which, when you immediately cast your mind back, may seem like not the most eventful year, but oh you’d be very wrong…

 

CLICK on each ‘event title’ for a video clip…

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January 17/ February 1 1983 ~ that was when…
… the Beeb and ITV gave us breakfast television

1983_breakfast_time_and_tvam

So 1983 kicked-off with a move by the UK media that, for me as an impressionable young ‘un, felt like it had dragged Blighty into the modern age – yes, breakfast television. The US had had it for years, of course, and as ever back in the ’80s, it’s introduction (like the glitz of ’80s Hollywood blockbusters) seemed to highlight just how much Blighty had been/ was lagging behind. But on that fateful morning in January, the Beeb finally put on something not just worth watching, but also fresh, bold and stylish with which dynamically to start each day. Well, sort of, given BBC’s Breakfast Time hosts included Frank Bough and David Icke. Still, at least on board too was the fashionable and coolly sexy Selina Scott – whom nowadays lives in Yorkshire and sells socks. And just a couple of weeks later, ITV got in on the act with TVam and its eggs-in-cups end-titles-icon. TVam lasted 10 years until it was replaced by GMTV, having survived near oblivion just two years after its launch when it was saved by the unleashing on to the world of Roland Rat, while nowadays BBC Breakfast’s a cosy, Middle-England affair with mumsily sexy Susanna Reid on the presenters’ couch. Ah, how things evolve – or revert to comfy type.

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February 28 1983 ~ that was when..
half of all Americans watched the M*A*S*H finale

1983_mash_final_episode

On US TV screens, this was easily the biggest deal of 1983. In fact, it could be argued it was US television’s biggest deal of the entire decade, given it managed to secure the highest viewing figures of any broadcast in the country’s history until the 2010 Superbowl. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. For Goodbye, Farewell And Amen (the two-and-a-half-hour-long finale to CBS’s comedy drama adapted from Robert Altman’s 1970 Korean War satire, which ran for 11 seasons) managed not just an enormous 77% audience share of all viewers at the time, but was also watched by an utterly staggering 60.2% of all American households. By these more exacting statistics, it’s easily still the most watched broadcast in all American TV history. But what of the episode itself? Well, it was written – along with many other contributors – by its star Alan Alda (Hawkeye the prankster surgeon), whom also directed it. And, like many US sitcom finales down through the decades, it has a suitably moving conclusion, as the characters at last leave their Korean mobile field hospital for home, but – like all episodes of M*A*S*H – has its sledgehammer-like, darker moments too (one of which sees Hawkeye almost go insane). Indeed, its an encapsulation of just what an outstanding effort the show it concluded was – explanation maybe then of why so many Americans dropped everything to catch it.

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March 16 1983 ~ that was when…
… Michael Jackson moonwalked for the first time

1983_michael_jackson_moonwalk

One of the absolutely iconic moments of the 1980s this one, as in a few brief seconds of his performance of latest (and still brilliant) hit Billie Jean on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today Forever TV special broadcast from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Jacko chicly shuffled across the stage as if he was being pulled backwards while wanting to move forwards. Dressed as he was in the dazzling black jacket and one white glove outfit that would become his defining look for always, he (surely unwittingly) managed to execute for some the coolest thing they’d ever seen – and maybe have ever seen. Looking back it seems like it was the thunderclap that triggered the tsunami of essentialness that Jackson became thereafter throughout the ’80s and maybe the watershed for the new MTV-driven hyper-commercialised American zeitgeist – although the first broadcast of that other Jackson-derived moment, the Thiller video, on MTV on December 2 the same year certainly rivals in those stakes.

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April 15 1983 ~ that was when…
Jennifer Beals (Flash)danced up a storm

1983_flashdance

Critics absolutely loathed it (and still do), would-be star Jennifer Beals didn’t actually do much of the impressive dancing her character does and the best of its publicity was far from orthodox, yet upon release Flashdance quickly became an utter phenomenon and trendsetter for the decade to come. A highly unlikely Cinderella story of how a female-steel-mill-welder-by-day and strip-club-dancer-by-night succeeds in becoming a dance conservatory student (although it may actually have been based on a real-life story – no really), the film gained notoriety thanks to film-clip-featuring videos of its songs being played on hip new youth channel MTV (Irene Cara’s Oscar-winning Flashdance… What A Feeling – see bottom video clip – as well Michael Sembello’s Maniac and Laura Branigan’s Gloria). Moreover, it was the first flick to be produced by the prodigiously successful pairing of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and kicked-off the (often Simpson and Bruckheimer-backed) ’80s craze for music video-like flashy visuals in movies. If all that weren’t enough, Beals apparently won the lead thanks to a Paramount Pictures big-wig asking 200 blokes working on the lot which of the three potential actresses (also including Demi Moore) they’d prefer to shag. Ironically then, not exactly a bastion of female empowerment it turns out.

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May 25 1983 ~ that was when…
… Return Of The Jedi concluded The ‘Wars

return_of_the_jedi_mark_hamill_as_luke_skywalker

Remember the days when George Lucas wasn’t a villain for ruining Star Wars, but a hero for bringing us the most satisfyingly complete three films of our young lives? When Yoda didn’t reappear as a younger self looking more like a Muppet cast-off, but instead tear-inducingly passed on before Luke’s and our eyes? When we hadn’t become head-scratchingly embroiled in the intergalactic politics of Coruscant, but instead Endor, the forest party moon of the Ewoks, was where it all ended? And not when Hayden Christensen lined up in a Ready Brek kid-like blue glow alongside Obi-Wan and Yoda, but when middle-aged Annakin simply and nicely did so? Yes that was back in ’83, when the original, innocent and fabulous Star Wars trilogy come to a close with the charmingly silly but still utterly awesome Return Of The Jedi. Prequels (and a whole other trilogy to come too)? Pah, who needs ’em.

Read – and see – more on Return Of The Jedi‘s 30th anniversary here

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June 9 1983 ~ that was when…
Thatcher got back in with a landslide

1983_thatcher_re-election_landslide

Quite frankly, were this not to have happened, the ’80s would not have been the ’80s in Britain. Mind you, there was little chance of it not happening, given the dubious bounce Thatch received from Blighty apparently whupping the Argies’ collective arse in the Falklands the year before and Labour deigning to drop into free-fall by turning to ultimate old-school socialist Michael Foot to lead them into near oblivion in the run up to this election. As noted, the consequences of Election ’83’s result were enormous – Thatcherism and its drive for fiscal rejuvenation through an increasing free market economy yet also an increasing social imbalance; the rise of The City’s significance and thus the emergence of the yuppie; privatisation and coal mine union take-down; Maggie and Ronnie snuggling up (ironically with Gorby) to tip the scales of the Cold War in The West’s favour; the adoption of iconic moderniser and/ or ‘The Welsh Windbag’ Neil Kinnock as Labour leader and, slightly less importantly, Spitting Image (1984-94) invading middle-England’s TV screens of a Sunday night. Hello to the ’80s, indeed.

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July 14 1983 ~ that was when…
Mario and Luigi came to arcades

1983_mario_bros_arcade_game

Along with Donkey Kong (1981), the first video game to feature Nintendo’s ubiquitous character Mario, the Mario Bros. arcade game was one of the very first ‘platform games’ – and the very first in which the dumpy, blue-and-red-dungarees-wearing Mario and his brother, the taller, thinner and green-dungarees-wearing Luigi, appeared as sole protagonists. Although only a modest success in Japanese arcades and crossing the Pacific to North America during the early to mid-’80s video game recession, it undoubtedly made its mark, spawning as it did one of the most enduring pair of pop culture icons of the last 30 years in the shape of its two Italian-American plumbers (whom here have to fight creatures emerging from New York City’s sewers). Two years later, Mario and Luigi switched to the home video game Super Mario Bros. and have since moved from mere ‘platform games’ to go-kart-racing, tennis, golf, role-playing and recently Wii games – in fact, Mario himself (the Mickey Mouse to Nintendo’s Disney) has to date astonishingly appeared in more than 200 video games. Just don’t mention the turkey that was the Super Mario Bros. movie (1993) – especially not to Bob Hoskins.

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July 27 1983 ~ that was when…
Madonna brought back dance music

1983_madonna

Amazingly, for the album that perhaps more than any other heralded the sound of Western chart music in the ’80s, Madonna’s eponymous debut long-player only hit a high of #8 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in October ’84 – well over a year after its release in the summer of ’83. However, thanks to her driving ambition and musical intuition, the 23-year-old – and a number of key collaborators (some of whom were former and current lovers, such as the marvellously monikered John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez) honed an upbeat synth disco sound for the album, while through its tunes – especially the not insignificant singles Borderline (US #10), Lucky Star (US #4) and, of course, the runaway success that was Holiday (US #16/ UK #2 – click on entry title above) – effectively came up with the sunny, perfect pop sound that practically every US and UK pop act wanted to emulate for the rest of the decade. There was more to it than that, naturally – the charisma of Madonna’s heartfelt, often soaring vocals, her New Wave-esque tomboyish sex kitten appearance and the sheer danceability of the tracks (thanks in no small part to her association over the last few years with some of New York’s hottest clubs) made Madonna‘s sound simply irresistible – it was hopelessly hip chart pop that teens and twentysomethings could dance to once more after the recent demise of Disco, as well as the kick-starter to the sound of the ’80s.

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And finally…

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December 11 1983 ~ that was when…
women took centre-stage as the Greenham Common protest turned ugly

Greenham Common

Although in sheer numbers, the 70,000 women whom formed a 14-mile-long human chain from Greenham Common to the Aldermaston nuclear weapons base on April 1 ’83 was the bigger event, the total encircling of Greenham Common on this day in December ’83 by 50,000 women has maybe gone down in history as the more memorable event. Why? Because this was the one that resulted in – unique for the time – the multiple arrests of female-only protestors. The whole shebang had begun two years before when a mere 36-strong Welsh group of women peace protestors decided to walk to the Common, following the decision in 1979 by NATO to ground cruise missiles at the RAF site. By ’83, an all-women peace camp had been established, with the intention it would remain there in defiance of NATO’s stance for the next two decades. On December 11, the thousands of women not only encircled the Common then, but also started to cut through its fence in a move deliberately orchestrated to get maximum media – and especially TV – coverage. It worked; by the end of the year there was nary a woman or man whom hadn’t heard of what was going on there. Sure, protest against The West’s drive to build nuclear weapons had been constant throughout the Cold War, but these protestors (and the fact they were all women) highlighted both the controversy of the Reagan/ Thatcher doctrine to heat up the delicate détente with the Soviet Union and the slow evolution of feminism (this major all-female protest being tied in philosophically with the role of the mother as chief child-carer facing down a potentially world-ending threat). Believe it or not, the peace camp only officially broke up in the year 2000, meaning it actually did endure at the site for almost two decades.

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US top 10 box-office 

1. Return Of The Jedi $252,583,617
2. Terms Of Endearment  $108,423,489
3. Flashdance $92,921,203
4. Trading Places $90,404,800
5. WarGames $79,567,667
6. Octopussy $67,893,619
7. Sudden Impact $67,642,693
8. Staying Alive $64,892,670
9. Mr Mom $64,783,827
10. Risky Business $63,541,777

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UK top 10 best-selling singles

1. Karma Chameleon  Culture Club
2. Uptown Girl Billy Joel
3. Red Red Wine UB40
4. Let’s Dance David Bowie
5. Total Eclipse Of The Heart  Bonnie Tyler
6. True Spandau Ballet
7. Down Under Men At Work
8. Billie Jean Michael Jackson
9. Only You The Flying Pickets
10. All Night Long (All Night) Lionel Ritchie

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In memoriam…

Dick Emery (February19 1915–January 2 1983)
George Cukor (July 7 1899–January 24 1983)
Billy Fury (April 17 1940–January 28 1983)
Karen Carpenter (March 2 1950–February 4 1983)
Sir Adrian Boult (April 8 1889–February 22 1983)
Tennessee Williams (March 26 1911–February 25 1983)
Hergé (May 22 1907–March 3 1983)
Donald Maclean (May 25 1913–March 6 1983)
Umberto II of Italy (September 15 1904–March 18 1983)
Anthony Blunt (September 26 1907–March 26 1983)
Gloria Swanson (March 27 1899–April 4 1983)
Buster Crabbe (February 7 1907–April 23 1983)
Muddy Waters (April 4 1913–April 30 1983)
Norma Shearer (August 10 1903–June 12 1983)
Chris Wood (June 24 1944–July 12 1983)
Luis Buñel (February 22 1900–July 29 1983)
David Niven (March 1 1910–July 29 1983)
Ira Gershwin (December 6 1896–August 17 1983)
Ralph Richardson (December 19 1902–October 10 1983)
John Le Mesurier (April 5 1912–November 15 1983)
Slim Pickens (June 29 1919–December 8 1983)
Dennis Wilson (Decemner 4 1944–December 28 1983)

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