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Meeting old friends - 49 Up

Posted at 5:58 PM on October 12, 2006 by Euan Kerr

I have an abiding memory of sitting in chemistry class when I was a teenager listening to my pal Nick Inglis do a hilarious imitation of a young man he had seen on TV the night before. It was of an upper class twit of a fellow who at age 7 was able to describe his assured path through a succession of exclusive private schools and on into a specific college at Cambridge University. He was just the kind of twerp we loved to hate, and Nick's savage impression had us all roaring.

I didn't know it but I had just been inducted into the "Seven Up" cult. Michael Apted made his first program for the British "World In Action" current affairs show in 1964. The idea was initially to look at class through the eyes of children, but Apted went back seven years later, and then seven years after that, and made a film each time. Then came "28 Up," "35 Up," and "42 Up."

The clip with the twit made it into every one.

In some ways I have marked my life with the viewing of the Seven Up films. It's been fascinating watching these people grow and develop in different ways. The marriages, the children, the new jobs, the new countries, blend with the old problems, and the divorces. Change is the only constant.

There have been frightening moments as Neil, the chirpy youngster who found life overwhelming as an adult. He was seriously depressed, and living alone in the Shetland Isles at one point. There was a period where you felt he might not make it another seven years.

Now "49 Up" is set to open, and once again everyone has grown up a little. Up till now, each one of these film seems to contain a surprise. This time round the twist may be there is no twist. It seems to be that everyone has been through hard times, but despite that they feel OK with life.

Apted talks to them about what it's been like to be in the films over the years. A couple of them tell him in no uncertain terms the exposure has hurt them.

One accuses him of manipulation, and trying to make her appear a sad character because she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.

Some of them indicate they feel they have fulfilled whatever obligation they may have had and this will be their last involvement.

They say it in a low-key way though. They have come to terms with their demons. They're middle-aged. They're tired. For people my age, they're us.

And the upper class twerp? The one that irritated Nick all those years ago. That would be Nick who, like the twerp, went to Cambridge. It looks like he's not such a bad guy after all. Maybe that's the surprise.

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