May 5, 1964: Seven Up! follows 14 lives every seven years

The Up Series is a series of documentary films produced by Granada Television that have followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old. So far the documentary has had eight episodes spanning 49 years (one episode every seven years) and the documentary has been broadcast on both ITV and BBC. In a 2005 Channel 4 programme, the series topped the list of The 50 Greatest Documentaries. The children were selected to represent the range of socio-economic backgrounds in Britain at that time, with the explicit assumption that each child’s social class predetermines their future. Every seven years, the director, Michael Apted, films material from those of the fourteen who choose to participate. The aim of the series is stated at the beginning of Seven Up! as: “Why do we bring these children together? Because we want to get a glimpse of England in the year 2000. The shop steward and the executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old.”

The first film in the series, Seven Up!, was directed by Paul Almond and commissioned by Granada Television as a programme in the World in Action series broadcast in 1964. From 7 Plus Seven onward the films have been directed by Michael Apted, who had been a researcher on Seven Up! and chose the original children with Gordon McDougall. The premise of the film was taken from the Jesuit motto “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”, which is based on a quotation by Francis Xavier. The 1998 programme was commissioned by BBC One, although still produced for them by Granada Television.

The subjects are first seen on a group visit to London Zoo, where the narrator announces “We brought these 20 children together for the very first time.” The series, however, only follows fourteen: Bruce Balden, Jackie Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk and Tony Walker.

The participants were chosen in an attempt to represent different social classes in Britain in the 1960s. Apted states in the commentary track of the 42 Up DVD that he was asked to find children at the extremes. Because the show was not originally intended to become a repeating series, no long-term contract was signed with the participants. The interviews since Seven Up! have been voluntary, although the participants have been paid an unknown sum for their appearance in each film, as well as equal parts of any prize the film may win, says Apted. Each subject is filmed in about two days and the interview itself takes more than six hours. In an interview with the BBC’s Will Gompertz shortly before the broadcast of 56 Up, Apted said that it had been a poor decision to include only four female participants. [Wikipedia]

Watch highlights at vimeo.com.

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