Apted: '7 Up should have had more girls'

Jackie, Lynn and Sue with pictures of their younger selves in 2002 7 Up subjects Jackie, Lynn and Sue with pictures of their younger selves in 2002

Director Michael Apted says it was a "horrible error" to have only four females in a cast of 14 when making the original selection for the 7 Up documentary in 1964.

He made the comment at a screening of 56 Up, the eighth episode in the long-running social documentary series.

Apted said that the role of women in Britain was the biggest societal change in the lifespan of the show.

But he and his colleagues had totally "missed it", he remarked.

56 Up is as engaging as the previous seven series.

It brings up to date the stories of a group of ordinary people who are individually unique but collectively represent Everyman.

Michael Apted Michael Apted (left) started out as a researcher on 7 Up, but has directed and narrated all subsequent instalments

Taken as a whole, the eight documentaries rank among the finest ever made. And, according to Michael Apted, they are far from finished.

He added that it was the first film he worked on (as a researcher) and it would likely be the last.

To varying degrees, all the characters have enjoyed good times and endured bad times; have won and lost; struggled and succeeded.

As a survey of the British class system, it confirms both that there was one in 1964, and that it is still alive and well in 2012.

But what it really shows us is, that when all is said and done, what really matters to people is friends and family.


Asked if he thought the Jesuit maxim "give me a child until he is seven years and I will show you the man" was borne out by the Up series, Apted said he thought it was.

The Up films

  • Original 7 Up broadcast in 1964 as one-off World in Action special
  • 14 seven-year-olds, chosen from different backgrounds, talked about their lives and hopes
  • East Ender Sue, Liverpudlian Neil and Nick from the Yorkshire Dales were just some of the children featured
  • Follow-up films documented the same subjects every seven years, from 14 Up, 21 Up and so on...
  • Up director Michael Apted went on to make Hollywood films such as Gorky Park and The Chronicles of Narnia

He added that personality traits evident in the cast when aged seven were still clearly recognisable at 56. Bruce, a maths teacher who said in the very first episode in 1964 that his "heart's desire was to see my daddy", corroborated the director's point of view.

Thirteen of the original 14 characters have taken part in the latest iteration of the series with only one declining to do so. Peter has returned to the fold having opted out after 28 Up due to what he felt was unfair and unnecessarily negative press comment.

He said he did so in part to promote his band: A successful strategy, as it turned out, with several shots of the musicians rehearsing and performing included in the final edit.

Apted felt there were other reasons at play for the on-going collaboration of the cast. He cited the trust shared between his team and the subjects portrayed, and to the participants' loyalty to the project.

He added that he thought it highly unlikely that such a series would be commissioned today.

56 Up will be shown on ITV on Monday 14 May at 21:00 BST

Will Gompertz Article written by Will Gompertz Will Gompertz Arts editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I remember watching 35 Up in 1991 at school & was very interested in it.

    Since then I've watch all the following programmes.

    Wasn't at least once shown on the BBC (42 Up?), & didn't Channel 4 do a series on children born around the time it started?

    Harry Enfield's spoof of 7 Up with Wayne Slob & Tim Nice But Dim is very funny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I left school in the 1960s. The state grammar school I'd been at until my O levels consistently advised that there were no jobs available for girls in science. I was lucky - I moved to an army school where they allowed me to do the subjects I wanted, and I'm now about to retire from a very rewarding life in science. I think we forget just how different things were back then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    The bias is still going on - for example, look at the male:female ratios on BBC comedy shows. "Just a minute" rarely has female guests, "Have I Got News" sometimes has a token female, "QI" almost never.
    I don't think many expect exact 50:50 ratios, but it's rare enough to be a surprise when a female is involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    24. LeroySchwarz
    "It's actually pretty mind-blowing no one realised the gender of contributors should be split 50/50"

    There's no reason for it to be split 50/50, whatsoever, apart from cultural Marxism and the complaints of feminists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I have never seen the series although was aware of it (I am now 45). I think now would be the time to get all 8 episodes and watch them back to back. The concept sounds facinating and I am intrigued to see how society people have developed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Girls( post 6th form) were still only just beginning to recognise that there were more career choices for them than being a nurse,teacher or social worker ie Caring professions. The choice of candidates for this farseeing programme was representative of the actual (not theoretical) opportunities for women at that time. BBC records would support this discrimmination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    As someone who was born 6 years after the 1st programme was made, My parents watched this during the 70's and 80's, and I watched (much to my surprise) once I left home.
    Its one of the most powerful pieces of film making that the UK has produced.
    Just as it drops out of the national conciousness, the 7 years comes around & another slice of life is on display.
    Love it & cant wait to see it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Surprising that as late as 1964 this imbalance had not been realised, as female emancipation had evolved considerably by the 50's, largely due to the changing role of women during WW2. But perhaps less surprising when you see the portrayal of women in early TV advertising; the glass ceiling of today was then quite opaque.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Reality TV ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Born in 1967 and having a child in 2000 I was more interested in Prof Robert Winston' "copy-cat" series 'Child of our Time'. What has happened to that btw....?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    British TV innovation at its best! A shame that a rolling series of a new group every seven years was not commissioned! Well-done ITV for continuing to support this venture!

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    fluffymuffy; Wise Up! You .......'Always resented......................NO! You have just jumped on the anti-feminist bandwagon, and expressed a load of lies. When were you at school, what year were you 'forced' to watch this innovated and ground breaking project??

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    We were forced to watch this at school. I always resented that we girls were deemed so unimportant we hardly featured. It's not that the world has changed so much - there have been women in important roles for a long time - it's a reflection of the misogyny of those who made this series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    It's actually pretty mind-blowing no one realised the gender of contributors should be split 50/50, or did Apted's crew think women would make comparatively boring TV? Women's lives may have changed but unfortunately that kind of machismo is still prevalent. Just look at the fate of older female newscasters for a start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    An interesting experiment, however, the very fact that these people were being filmed means that their lives have turned out different to what they otherwise would have been.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    When you think of all the instantly forgettable TV programmes that succeed in getting made, and what ITV and the BBC achieved, when they were both much smaller and more impoverished institutions, its clear that the medium has lost a lot of its ambition and courage in the pursuit of ratings and safe wins.

    ITV deserve credit for sticking with the series and the BBC should aim higher and be braver.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I remember all of the programmes in the series. At the time of the early ones, Seven Up and Fourteen, they were thought to be groundbreaking. We studied them intensively on a social work course I was doing many years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Looking forward to it. They're like family!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Why is this story filed under "Entertainment and Arts"? That the BBC hasn't got it as number one story in Education is bizarre.

    7-up and its successors should be required watching for all teachers and Secretaries of State (and academics). This shows the real power of broadcasting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I first started watching in 1972 as a project in English at school. We watched 7 Up and 14 Up and studied the children to see whether the Jesuit saying had any truth. I then forgot about the series until 21 Up was aired while I was at Uni. and I became hooked. I have grown up with these people and feel almost an affection for them. It has been a pleasure watching this series of documentaries.


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