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The Up Series: Documenting Lives Seven Years At A Time

Entertainment | April 11, 2022

Source: (Lettrboxd).

In 1964, Seven Up! aired, the first film in what would become the Up series. Seven Up! was created as part of World in Action, a series for Granada Television. Directed by Paul Almond, Michael Apted became closely involved with the series, as he searched schools to find 14 youngsters to participate in the film. Apted, who was a researcher who had graduated from Cambridge, continued with the series after the initial film, directing each new installment every seven years. The subsequent films were named based on the ages of the subjects at the time, with the second one being called 7 Plus Seven, but each of the remaining using the names 21 Up and so on with the final film, 63 Up, coming out in 2019, as Apted died in 2021. 

Source: (IMDb).

They Intended To Examine The Immobility Of British Social Classes

The initial concept of the film was based on the belief that an individual’s life path was determined when they were born, taken from the Jesuit statement, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” It started as a political documentary, but it became a film about human nature and existentialism. Over the course of the films, they address questions about religion, family, class, and psychological states. They also talk about the future.

At the beginning of the original film, the aim of the series is stated: “Why did we bring these together? Because we wanted a glimpse of England in the year 2000. The union leader and the business executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old.” The subjects are introduced on a group trip to the London Zoo, and the narrator explains “We brought these 20 children together for the very first time.” Apted tried to find participants at the extremes in the British social classes.

Source: (MUBI).

The Wealthiest Remained Wealthy

Because the film was not intended to be a series, the participants did not sign long-term contracts, but the participants who opted to continue were paid for their appearance and they received equal parts of any prize the film won. To make the films, each of the participants was filmed over two days and interviewed for more than six hours.

There were ten females and four males. Andrew Brackfield, Charles Furneux, and John Brisby were chosen from the same school in Kensington, a wealthy district in London. All three of the boys knew which university they planned to attend, naming Oxford or Cambridge. Andrew studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, became a solicitor, married, and had a family. Charles did not get into Oxford, at first but later went as a post-graduate student. He worked in journalism. John also attended Oxford and became a barrister. He has criticized his portrayal as part of the privileged upper class since his father died when John was nine and his mother had to work so he could attend elite schools. 

Source: (IMDb).

There Were Only Four Females

Suzy Lusk also came from a wealthy background but dropped out of school at 16. Despite an initially negative view of marriage, she married a barrister and worked as a bereavement counselor. The other three girls, Jackie Bassett, Lynn Johnson, and Sue Davis came from the same school in a working-class neighborhood in east London. Jackie married at 19, divorced, held a number of jobs, remarried, and, as of 56 Up, had been on disability for 14 years due to rheumatoid arthritis. Lynn married at 19 and became a children’s librarian at 21, and later, a school librarian. She died in 2013. Sue did not go to college but became a university administrator for Queen Mary, University of London.

Tony. Source: (IMDb).

Tony Found Moderate Success

Tony Walker attended a primary school in the East End of London and wanted to be a jockey. After the opportunity passed, he became a taxi driver and found modest success as an actor. By 49, he owned two homes, including one in Spain. Paul Kligerman and Symon Basterfield were both from a charity-based boarding school. Paul moved to Australia and remained a member of the working class. Symon, the only mixed-race participant also remained within the working class but expressed regret over his lack of formal education. 

Neil. Source: (IMDb).

Neil Followed An Unpredictable Path

Nick Hitchon was educated in a one-room school close to his home in Arncliffe. He became a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1982. Peter Davies and Neil Hughes also attended the same middle-class suburban school in Liverpool. Peter became a schoolteacher, then became a lawyer and moved back to Liverpool. Although he dropped out of the series after 28, he returned to promote his band in 56. Neil’s life was a bit unpredictable. He dropped out of college, lived in a squat in London and worked on building sites, and spent time homeless in Scotland. He then became involved in local politics and by 63, he was a lay preacher as well. Bruce Balden, who wanted to become a missionary, attended a prestigious boarding school as a child and studied mathematics at Oxford. He became a teacher in London’s East End, which exhausted him, and eventually left to teach at a prestigious public school. 

Nick in 42 Up. Source: (POV).

The Critical Evaluation Of The Series Has Been Mixed

Roger Ebert has praised the series which he has said is among his top ten films of all time. He has said that it is “an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium.” Apted won an Institutional Peabody Award in 2012. However, that praise has been mixed with significant criticism, from both ethnographers and the participants. Apted himself has noted that the causal relationships between a person’s past and present may not exist. 

Tags: documentary

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Linda Speckhals


When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.