The Up Series
I recently came across the wonder that is the Up documentary series. If you haven’t seen it then go find it. Now. Spend the next week in your pyjamas watching it and don’t emerge until you’re done.
The enlightened amongst you will know that the series follows the lives of 14 people in Britain, starting at the age of 7 and revisiting them every 7 years. We’re now up to age 56 which finished airing on ITV on Monday. Originally a social-economic experiment, based on the Jesuit motto “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”, the programme aimed to highlight class immobility (*high 5!*). It served this purpose so easily (obviously) that the programme actually became more interesting as it transformed into an existential study of humanity.
I don’t want to say much about any individuals, mostly because I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I do want to encourage everyone to watch it and here’s why:
1) The series has made me feel more than any other programme has for a very long time. In a single episode I’ve felt anger, joy, utter sadness and I’ve laughed so hard that it hurt.
2) You get a whole new family to love and root for (and you will – even for the participants that you don’t like). Of course you don’t really know them - the participants are all keen to point out grievances about the ways in which they have been portrayed and Neil in particular discusses letters that he has received from viewers mistakenly claiming to understand him – but you do learn a whole lot about people. The lovely Nick makes this point very nicely in 56 Up:
“The idea of looking at a bunch of people over time and how they evolve – that was a really nifty idea. It isn’t the picture really of the essence of Nick or Suzy; it’s a picture of every man. It’s how a person, any person, how they change… It’s not an absolute accurate picture of me, but it’s a picture of somebody. And that’s the value of it.“
3) In a weird way the series is really comforting. Realising how much these people’s lives change in 7 years makes me realise that I really don’t need to be worried about what I have or haven’t done by the age of 26 (but maybe you’ve all worked that out already). There’s something extraordinarily uplifting about a 56 year old lady, sitting in her flat in Motherwell shortly after the birth of her first grandchild, saying “I think my life’s gonna be good“.