Cavaliers and Roundheads

London’s Evening Standard has reported that there are plans to open a new 80s-themed club called, appropriately enough, Maggie’s, in Chelsea next month. God knows who it is designed to attract, but I hope the people behind it take out cast-iron insurance; doubtless along with the devotees of big hair and shoulder pads there will be those armed with spray-cans and big boxes of matches.

Yuppies, loadsamoney and truckloads of champagne: the lazy shorthand for the Thatcherite era. But before all this kicked in – in the middle years of the decade – there was an odd little moment of counter-counter-cultural triumph. There was something very distinct, culturally, about the early 1980s. In his book The Triumph of the Political Class, Peter Oborne referred to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer as the centrepiece of a shortlived counterblast by an old Establishment which was soon to collapse under the pressure from both left and right. The Empire Strikes Back, if you like.

At the same time as the royal wedding a large part of the country was hooked on Brideshead Revisited, which was showing, amazingly, on ITV, now the home of the quick-fix celebrity talent show. In the cinema, Chariots of Fire and its tale of gentlemen runners competing for King and Country was a home-grown hit. On the pop scene, the New Romantics vogue was in essense a celebration of the traditional British penchant for dressing up and eccentricity. The Sloane Ranger Handbook was a massive bestseller. A sub-division, known as the ‘Young Fogeys’, made a brief appearance. The revival of the public school style in dress found its home in Hackett’s,  which started life at this time in a little second-hand shop on the Kings Road. The ‘Season’ had a major revival, and with it reappeared black tie and ballgowns. And the fitting finale to this brief traditionalist interlude was the Falklands war, with its patriotic, jubilant crowds.

It all feels even more distant that the 1950s. It was an odd little time. With its strong aristocratic and nostalgic aesthetic, the Cavalier tone of that era could hardly be seen as a celebration of a new competitiveness and entrepreneurialism. With the obvious exception of the Falklands, none of it would have appealed to Thatcher, who in all her instincts was a Roundhead. Now there’s a good name for a club.

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