The nostalgic whiff of the seventies evokes memories of loons and disco, Abba and Fawlty Towers. However, beneath the long hair it was really a theme park of mass paranoia.
‘Strange Days Indeed’ tells the story of the decade that a young Francis Wheen walked into having pronounced he was dropping out to join the alternative society. Instead of the optimistic dreams of the sixties he found a world on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown, huddled over candles waiting for the next terrorist bomb, kidnapping or food shortage warning. Whether it was Nixon's demented behaviour in the White House, Harold Wilson's insistence that 'they' (whoever 'they' were) were out to get him, or the trial of Rupert Bear, it is a story almost too fantastical to be true. With his brilliantly acute sense of the absurd Francis Wheen slices through the pungent melange of mistrust and conspiratorial fever to expose the sickly form of a decade in which nations were brought to a sclerotic halt by power cuts, military coups, economic anarchy and the arrival of Uri Geller.
Since the Great Crash of our generation barely a week passes without some allusion to that distant decade. As we are consumed by the heady stench of our own collective meltdown, there is no better guide than Francis Wheen to shine his Swiftian light on the true nature of the era that has returned to haunt us. Amidst the chaos ‘Strange Days Indeed’ is an hilarious and jaw-droppingly revealing chronicle of the golden age of the paranoid style.
Francis Wheen is an author and journalist who was named Columnist of the Year for his contributions to the Guardian. He a regular contributor to Private Eye and is the author of several books, including a highly acclaimed biography of Karl Marx which has been translated into twenty languages and the bestselling How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World. He recently wrote the screenplay for The Lavender List, a biopic of Harold Wilson's last days in government. His collected journalism, Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies, won the George Orwell prize in 2003.