1978: Winter of Discontent, review: strikes, a cost-of-living crisis and Angel Delight

Union strikes in 1978 - Channel 5
Union strikes in 1978 - Channel 5

When was the last time you had a bowl of Angel Delight? It’s still in the shops, you know. Or perhaps you were too middle class to eat it in the first place. I had a terribly nice friend at primary school, whose parents were barristers. Invited to her house for tea – prepared by her nanny – I was alarmed to be presented with a leafy salad followed by a square of dark chocolate for dessert. The following week she came to my house, and was given a bowl of strawberry Angel Delight. The look of, well, delight on her face as she tasted it for the first time remains strong in my memory.

This popped into my mind while watching 1978: The Winter of Discontent. It was one of those social history programmes thrown together by Channel 5. You know the type: archive footage, celebrity talking heads, and a desire to pad out the serious stuff – strikes, inflation – with nostalgia.

So as well as a vintage Angel Delight advert, mention of the Space Invaders arcade games and ABBA appearing on Mike Yarwood’s Christmas special, we had clips from Saturday Night Fever accompanied by journalist Carole Malone recalling her teenage trips to Tuxedo Junction nightclub in Newcastle, and Esther Rantzen telling us that John Travolta was “the sexiest thing you’ve ever seen”.

The strikes covered here included Ford workers – one of them was interviewed – and BBC staff, with BBC One and BBC Two going off-air for two days in December while radio stations were merged into one.

The programme served as a trip down memory lane for those old enough to remember it, and a serviceable primer for any young person who would like to understand why people keep drawing parallels between 1978 and now. The narrator spelled it out here: “A nation crippled by strikes, rocketing prices and a cost-of-living crisis – you’d think this was 2022.” Things did seem a good deal worse then, though. And if you need an illustration of how times have changed: David Hamilton recalled that his BBC pay was so low that he supplemented his Radio 2 income by DJing at a pub on the Old Kent Road.