56 Years and Still Growing UP – by Charlotte Canellil

Read Charlotte Canelli’s column in the January 25, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

In 1964, a young Canadian director created a documentary for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Director Paul Almond assembled fourteen seven-year olds from differing socio-economic backgrounds from across England and created a forty-minute television program that aired on British television in 1964. In Seven Up!, Almond examined the lives and personalities of fourteen children, ten boys and four girls. The narrator states: “Why do we bring these children together? Because we want to get a glimpse of England in the year 2000.” The mission, it seemed, was to prove the Jesuit adage “Give me a child when he is seven and I will give you the man.”

It was the beginning of a fascinating sociological study that has now spanned nearly half a century. Seven Up! was followed in 1971 by 7 Plus 7. Subsequent episodes, filmed every seven years, were titled 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 and 56 Up.

Beginning with the second episode, an intern and researcher on the first documentary, Michael Apted, became the director and remained so throughout all the rest of the episodes. Apted is now nearing 73 years old and is perhaps better known for his work directing the first three episodes of the television series Rome or the feature films, the Coalminer’s Daughter (1980), The World is Not Enough (1999), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010). During the Up years, however, he takes time off from these other projects to complete his commitment to the Up series.

There was no original plan for the series to go on, spanning the last 49 years. In fact, none of the participants were contracted to do subsequent work. It was perhaps expected that they would be filmed in 1970 and again in 1977 when they became young adults.

By1984 two of the original participants refused to take part. In 1991, that number was up to three. However, in the latest documentary filmed last year only one has remained elusive. Charles Furneaux, a documentarian himself has refused to be filmed since participating in 28 Up.

I discovered the series in 2001 after 42 Up had been filmed in 1998. I quickly devoured all six episodes of the series at that time which totaled over 10 hours of film. I eagerly awaited the next documentary which would be filmed and released in 2005. When 49 Up was released in the U.S., I purchased the entire UP Series for the library where I was director. (Since that time that complete DVD series has become unavailable for purchase although many libraries still own and lend the series.)

56 Up was filmed and released in 2012 in England and in the United States just this month. It is playing in very select cinemas around the country and at only three in Massachusetts. This past three-day weekend I was lucky enough to be in western Massachusetts and took in the latest installment at the Amherst Cinema.

What is fascinating about the series is the question that the series poses. Does the child at 7 make the man, or the woman? Only by watching it can you reach your own conclusion.

By 56 up, conclusions can be varied. Jackie, Lynn and Sue were three friends all attending a working-class neighborhood school in London. All three married young (two were divorced) and all have raised children. None attended college although Sue is a successful university administrator despite her lack of education.

The fourth female participant, Suzy Lusk, was filmed as a very serious seven-year old boarding student. In the subsequent episodes at 14 and 21 she appeared sullen, unhappy and rebellious. Yet by 28 she had married an attorney, had children and a very settled, comfortable life.

Paul and Symon, were both sons of single-parents who had little option but to place them as boarders at the same school for poorer or needy children. The two men have subsequently had several careers, mainly physical laborers. One of them married in his 20s and remains married today; the other is remarried after a divorce and with his wife has opened his home to more than 60 foster children.

John and Andrew were two of three boys chosen from a wealthy prep school. What is foretelling is that both boys stated that they would study at Oxford or Cambridge, and they did. They both entered the profession of law after receiving advanced degrees. Both remain married to their first wives.

My heartstrings have been torn over the years by a once-seven-year old with an adorable smile and bright spirit. Even at 14 Neil Hughes was impish and high-spirited. Yet by 21, and throughout most of two decades, Neil was homeless and had suffered mental illness. The lovely smile has rarely been seen since he appeared in Seven Plus 7 Up and he has been emotionally fragile for most of the other episodes. By 1998, however, he was getting his life back together through the help of another 7 Upper. In the ensuing years, Neil has become a community activist and district politician. His original dreams of attending Oxford University were dashed by the demons of mental illness and he has not been able to sustain a relationship which is only one of his disappointments in life.

The library will purchase 56 up as soon as it becomes available, along with al l the previous years. In the meantime, all of the episodes of the Up Series are available through the Minuteman Library Catalog. Some are compilations of several years or the entire series along with 49 Up and others are available individually in DVD or VHS format. You, too, can travel the years along with Up Series children turned adults. If you need help finding these videos or placing requests, please call or visit the library.

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