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"Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." Jesuit maxim

The Up Series comprises (at present) seven television documentaries following 14 English people's lives from the age of 7 upward. Beginning as an episode of the Granada Television World In Action series in 1964, "Seven Up!" aimed to show the different attitudes and prospects of children from different social classes. It proved so popular that the children were revisited seven years later, and every seven years after that. Film director Michael Apted[1] was involved with the original programme as a young researcher and chose the child participants, and has made every subsequent instalment over the decades since.

The films so far are:

  • Seven Up! (1964)
  • 7 Plus Seven (1970)
  • 21 Up (1977)
  • 28 Up (1984)
  • 35 Up (1991)
  • 42 Up (1998)
  • 49 Up (2005)
  • 56 Up (to come in 2012)

The people featured are:

  • Three upper-class boys from a posh pre-preparatory school in Kensington: John Brisby, Charles Furneaux and Andrew Brackfield.
  • Suzanne (Suzy) Lusk, also from a wealthy family, attended a posh private school
  • Bruce Balden, also privately educated
  • Two middle-class boys from Liverpool, Neil Hughes and Peter Davies
  • Nicholas (Nick) Hitchon, who grew up on a small farm in Yorkshire
  • Three girls from working-class London: Jackie Bassett, Lynn Johnson and Susan (Sue) Davis
  • Tony Walker, from the East End of London
  • Symon Basterfield and Paul Kligerman, from a children's home in London. Symon was the only non-white person featured; he had a black father and white mother.

Tropes associated with the Up Series:

  • A Touch of Class Ethnicity and Religion: The original documentary's hypothesis, based on the quote at the top of this page, was that the UK's class structure is so strong a person's life path would be set at birth: at seven years old, the children's lives would already be representative of what they would grow up into. The assumption is that those born into the 'higher' classes of society will do better for themselves than those from the 'lower', who will struggle to progress up the social ladder. (The producer of the original programme had at one point thought to line 20 children up on the street, have three of them step forward and narrate "of these twenty children, only three will be successful"... an idea which was not used, perhaps mercifully in hindsight.) The idea of class immobility held up in most, but not all, cases as the series has progressed: the children from the working classes have by and large remained in those circles, though Tony seems to have become more middle class.
  • Australian Accent: Paul, after his father takes him to Oz in his youth.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Tony and Symon, aged 7 at least.
  • British Brevity: Probably the best example: ten episodes in 42 years...
  • The Bus Came Back: John didn't appear in 28 Up but returned for later editions to publicise his Bulgarian charities. Symon missed 35 Up as he was going through a messy divorce; he returned for the later versions.
    • Peter dropped out after 28 Up after his comments about Margaret Thatcher cost him his job. He's finally returning in 56 Up.
  • British Accents: Pronounced, to the point that the DVDs really should have subtitles.
    • Neil and Peter have Scouse accents reminiscent of The Beatles.
    • The public school kids speak classic Received Pronunciation ("Stop it at once!").
    • Yorkshire: Nick, of course. Elements of which is still detectable in later life in America.
    • East London: Jackie, Lynn, Susan and Tony
  • British Education System: Forms a major part of it, as the creator, Michael Apted, initially wanted to show the unfair privileges private education granted.
    • The Good Old British Comp: Jackie and Susan attend one
    • Oxbridge: John, Andrew and Nick all go to Oxford. Charles didn't make it, and said he was glad in a sense to have avoided the "prep school-Marlborough-Oxbridge conveyor belt". Neil didn't make it either, leading to a Heroic BSOD.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Peter vanishes after 28 Up. He had criticised Margaret Thatcher's government and a tabloid newspaper campaign led to him losing his teaching job.
    • Charles dropped out after 21 Up, and attempted to sue Apted for using some of the footage of him in later films.
    • Nick's wife refused to be interviewed after 28 Up after many fans said she didn't deserve him.
  • Driver of a Black Cab: Tony
  • England Is Only London: Ten of the 14 were Londoners or boarding in London when the show was made.
  • First-Name Basis: The participants' surnames are never mentioned.
  • Follow the Leader: Many versions followed, in the USSR, USA, South Africa, Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Netherlands...
  • Funny Background Event: Seven Plus 7 has perhaps the most memorable shot of the whole series, where Suzy's dog chases down and kills a rabbit in the middle of her interview, then presents her with it. Complete with Apted saying "I think your dog has something for you."
  • London Gangster: Apted suspected that Tony would become one, and filmed him driving around "rough" areas in 21 Up for use in later films. However, Tony went on to achieve law-abiding success.
  • Long Runner
  • My Nayme Is: Symon
  • Parental Abandonment: At 7, Symon and Paul were in a children's home; Symon's mother was clinically depressed; Paul's father's reasons are not given.
  • Porn Stache: Paul
  • Shrinking Violet: Nick and Suzy in Seven Plus 7 make almost no eye contact with the camera.
  • Token Minority: Symon is the only non-white (although, in fairness, 1 in 14 is far higher than the actual proportion of non-whites in 1960s England).
    • To a lesser degree, the female participants fit here as well. Only 4 of the 14 children were girls -- while the programme aimed to show children from different class backgrounds, equal gender representation was not particularly considered in 1964. Apted has stated since that one of his regrets is that they did not take feminism into account, and consequently included fewer girls and did not select them on the basis of any possible careers they might choose.
  • Walking the Earth: Neil, to an extent, in 28 Up
  • The Woobie: Paul's wife claims this is what attracted him to her
  • Your Cheating Heart: Tony admitted he was feeling tempted to cheat on his wife at 35, and by 42 he had actually done it. The marriage survived, and both he and his wife are remarkably willing to talk about it to the cameras.
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