The Up series of documentary films followed the lives of 14 Britons since 1964, when they were 7 years old. The first film was titled 7 UP and the series has had 9 episodes, one every 7 years, spanning 56 years. The series has been produced by Granada Television for ITV, when Australian journalist Tim Hewat organised the World in Action documentaries for Granada Television.
Cambridge researcher Michael Apted (1941–2021)’s role in the initial programme included searching the nation's schools for children at the extremes. The subjects were first seen on a group visit to London Zoo in 1964, including Bruce Balden, Jackie Bassett, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk, Symon Basterfield, Neil Hughes and Tony Walker.
Because the show was never intended to become a repeating series, no long-term contracts were signed. Then in 1971 a producer casually mentioned to Apted that it must be 7 years since “they did those kids for 7 Up”. From then on, Director Apted continued the series with new instalments every 7 years, asking "Why did we bring these together? Because we wanted a glimpse of England in the year 2000. The union leader and the business executive of the year 2000 are now 7 years old." The last instalment, 63 Up, premiered in 2019.
The 14 participants:
Andrew was one of 3 boys chosen from the same prep school in wealthy Kensington, London. The three were introduced in 7 Up! Singing Waltzing Matilda in Latin. At 7, when asked what newspaper he read, Andrew stated he read The Financial Times! All 3 boys named the prep schools, public schools and universities they planned to attend! Andrew's academic career culminated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He became a fine solicitor, married with 2 successful sons.
7-year-old John announced that he read The Times and insisted that people should pay for their education otherwise school would be so nasty and crowded. John’s life path was Cambridge and Trinity Hall. But his life was not totally privileged. His father had died at 9 and his mother had to work to put him through private school. He went to Oxford Uni on a scholarship, became a barrister and is now a successful QC. John married Claire, daughter of an ambassador to Bulgaria. They devoted themselves to Bulgarian charities and as of 56 Up, he was still very pleased with his life.
Charles did not get into Oxford, saying in 21 Up he was glad to have avoided the prep school–Marlborough–Oxbridge conveyor belt by going to Durham University instead. Charles has worked in journalism over the years, including as a producer for the BBC and in documentary film making. When contacted to appear in 28 Up, he declined; Apted went so berserk, Charles refused to participate again.
Suzy came from a wealthy divorced background, a student in an independent London day school. In 14 Up she stated that she was an unwilling participant. She dropped out of school, travelled to Paris and by 21, had formed a negative opinion about marriage and babies. By 28 Up, Suzy was married with sons, and credited her marriage with bringing the optimism she’d missed earlier. Husband Rupert was a solicitor in Bath where she raised the children and became a grief counsellor. At 49 Up she thought she wouldn't participate again.
Jackie was one of three girls who were chosen from a primary school in working-class East London. Then she went to comprehensive school and married at 19. Jackie worked jobs, divorced, remarried, moved to Scotland, divorced again and raised her 3 sons alone. As of 56 Up, she was receiving medical disability benefits. This battler lived in a flat in Motherwell, 20km east of Glasgow, near her close family. The second of her 3 children was tragically killed but thankfully Jackie has 5 adored grandchildren. The women were offended that all the questions concerned domestic affairs, marriage and children, not politics, and reviewers agreed that Apted was patronising toward his working-class women. So Jackie chastised Apted for his sexist questions. I agreed!
After attending the same primary school as Jackie and Sue, Lynn went on to a grammar school. She married Ross at 19, had 2 daughters and became a very happy children's librarian at 21, remaining there until being made redundant by budget cuts. In 56 Up she and her husband-soulmate Russ were doting grandparents to their 3 grandchildren, and she served as Chair of Governors of St Saviour's Primary in Poplar London for 25+ years. Lynn sadly died in May 2013.
Sue attended the same primary school, then attended a comprehensive school. Like her East End friends, she assumed her ambitions would be limited by her poor educational options. She married at 24 and divorced at 35, leaving her a single mother of 2. She was happy working as a university administrator for Queen Mary, Uni of London. But she was concerned about what the future held. By 63 Up Sue was looking forward to retiring.
Tony was in a primary school in London’s East End. At 7, he wanted to be a jockey and was in stables by 14. By 21 he had ridden in 3 races before giving up the dream, but loved competing against the great Lester Piggott. He then gained The Knowledge, and made a comfortable life for his family as a London taxi driver. His also dreamed of becoming a TV actor and had small parts as a cabbie. In 28 Up, wife Debbie said losing their 3rd child placed great stress on their family. In 35 Up Tony said their monogamous relationship was difficult. Yet by 42 Up, they had moved to Essex, and by 49 Up they owned two homes.
Paul was at a charity-based boarding school at 7, his parents having divorced. Soon after 7 Up, his father and stepmother moved the family to Australia, and lived in Melbourne. Paul was employed as a bricklayer, then set up his own business and and married Susan; they had two children and are proud grandparents. A shy man, he was a reluctant starter in the series but he knew it gave his family some wonderful opportunities. In 49 Up he was working as a sign-maker, and was thrilled to reunite with Symon from boarding school days. By 56 Up Paul & Susan were working at a local retirement village, doing maintenance.
Symon, in the same charity home as Paul, was the only mixed-race participant. Bright and shy, Symon never knew his father and had left the charity home to live with his mother by 14 Up. Mum’s depression had been the cause for his being there, and tragically she died early. Symon vowed to be a better father than his own; in fact he married early and soon had 5 children. Notwithstanding the unhappy start to his life, and the lack of education, he was industrious and fulfilled in factory and warehouse work, although he knew he could have done better. Symon returned for 42 Up and 49 Up, remarried with a son and a stepdaughter. And by 63 Up his relationship with his first children, and his 10 grandchildren was good.
Nick grew up on a small farm in the Yorkshire Dales. A thoughtful child, he was educated in a tiny school 4 miles from home, and later at a boarding school. He went to Oxford and then moved to the USA to work as a nuclear physicist. He married Jackie, who participated in 28 Up but was irked by the viewers. By 49 Up the couple divorced and Nick remarried an academic who taught in Minneapolis. Prof Nick was successfully ensconsed in the Electrical & Computer Engineering Dept, Uni of Wisconsin–Madison since 1982. But by 63 Up, Nick sadly developed cancer.
Peter went to the same middle-class Liverpool suburban school as Neil. Peter drifted through university, and by 28 Up he was an underpaid school teacher. He dropped out after 28 Up, following a tabloid press campaign against him after he criticised Margaret Thatcher’s education policies. Commentary for 42 Up revealed that he later divorced, studied law, married Gabrielle, had children and returned to Liverpool. After a 28-year absence, Peter returned to the series to promote his country band, The Good Intentions.
Liverpudlian Neil was the least predicable. At 7 he was happy and cute, but by 14 Up he was agitated. By 21 Up he was sleeping rough in London, struggling with mental health issues. Having dropped out of Aberdeen University, he was finding menial jobs on building sites. By 35 he was living in a council house in the Shetland Islands. By 42 Up he was living in Bruce's London flat. Since 21 Up his restlessness pushed him to local council politics in Hackney, church and voluntary work. He completed a BA from the Open University, then in 2013 and 2017, he was elected to Eden Lakes Cumbria. Sadly by 63 Up, Neil still viewed his life as a failure.
In 1964 the children wanted to be astronauts, bus drivers, police, lawyers and jockeys. But Bruce, as a child in a respected boarding school, was concerned with poverty and racial discrimination, and wanted to be a missionary in Africa. Articulate, lonely Bruce studied mathematics at Oxford Uni, then taught children firstly in London’s East End, then Bangladesh and then in a prestigious public school in St Albans Herts. By 42 Up, he was married; he and teacher Penny had two loved sons and great jobs.