December 2, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

About the blog


Watergate, Vietnam, Thatcher, Baader-Meinhof, New Romantics, Yuppies, Grunge, Al Qaeda, LGBT, etc, etc…

Interest in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s has never been so strong as we try to understand our own turbulent times referring back to the upheavals of those decades that shaped and made us. And what a time it was!

The death of post-war consensus. The rise of neo-liberalism. How secular guerrilla groups were superseded by jihadi and white supremacist terrorists. The long road to liberation for black, Asian, and LGBT people. And all set to the soundtrack of 2Tone, punk, disco, hip-hop, and glam.

Do you want to understand more about the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s?

Then come to this blog. I was politically active during those decades and have a vast archive of material. Politics, economics, culture – all discussed here. From all those 1970s cop series like Kojak and Serpico to the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the rise of “laddism” in the 1990s. Each of these decades possessed its own distinctive character and living through them was certainly an experience.

I’m a regular TV documentaries contributor on many periods of history from the Knights Templar to the Third Reich. But my primary passion is the post-war world. The era after World War Two that gave us Richard Nixon, Che Guevara, The Sex Pistols, Charles Manson, Jackson Pollock, Jane Fonda, Billie Jean King, Harvey Milk, and too many to mention!

From social consensus to class war politics

After 1980, we saw the western world change dramatically as Ronald Reagan took power in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom. The neo-liberal world they created is unravelling before our eyes. But what will replace it?

I was very much part of the political Left in the decades that followed but we had to change too. The Soviet Union collapsed. Organised labour was crushed. Liberation movements went from unity to separatism. Identity politics broke out of university campuses and into the mainstream.

Every argument you hear today from the political Left and Right were incubated in those years. The late 20th century created the world of the early 21st century. I’ll prove that in many exciting blog posts. Your view of politics will be transformed – I promise!

DISCOVER NOW: Political scandals of the 1990s

We’ll also look at the huge number of cultural and youth trends from disco to punk and hip-hop – the soundtrack of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Music, TV, and the movies were massively important to pre-digital youth. What our pop heroes thought and said was deemed to be earth-shatteringly significant.

And of course that brings us to the world going from analog to digital. How we went from landlines to mobiles, single TV households to multi-screen, watching ‘programmes’ to consuming content. It’s been quite a journey!

DISCOVER NOW: My biography of Neville Staple of 2Tone band The Specials

Some other bullet points about me:

  • Co-author of two biographies set back in the  early 1980s: Neville Staple, vocalist in The Specials, and Errol Christie, ex-professional boxer (the latter book put up for two major literary awards). Both books published by Aurum Press/Quarto. This involved years of research, mainly in Coventry where both Staple and Christie grew up. I became thoroughly immersed in the 2Tone scene and Neville’s book was published as The Specials reformed and toured in 2010
  • In 2008, I optioned a screenplay “Ghost Town” about four young British blacks trying to get out of Coventry via music and sport. We had the life rights for Neville, Errol, Pauline Black and footballer Garry Thompson – represented by Blake Friedmann, optioned by EMU Films
  • In 2010, Errol Christie was the boxing consultant and trainer to the play Sucker Punch first staged at the Royal Court Theatre in London and starring Daniel Kaluuya who went on to become a Hollywood star
  • Author of Quest for the True Cross – published by Bertelsmann in Europe, a historical fiction that led to me becoming a regular on-screen contributor on Discovery, History, Smithsonian and documentaries on other TV channels
  • Author of The Battle For British Islam published by Saqi Books and reviewed in The Sunday Times, New Statesman, CNN, BBC, Sky News and other global media
  • Former BBC news producer
  • Print journalist for 20 years
  • 1984/85 Deputy President, Liverpool University Guild of Students
  • Early 1980s – Labour Party activist
  • I run the Beardy History website and appear on history programmes as a pundit on everything from the Tudors to the Templars!

I went through every youth cult of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s with varying degrees of enthusiasm from New Wave to New Romantic. The university student paper once said “Tony McMahon should decide if he’s a dedicated Marxist or a decadent disco kid”. I chose to be both!

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6 thoughts on “About the blog

  1. Hi Tony
    Do you know who owns the copyright for the County Hall image – London’s unemployed 1981?
    I’d like to use it in a community publication and on a blog telling the story of the pensioners movement in Southwark.

  2. Hi Tony,
    I used to subscribe to the magazine SKAN, and even wrote a couple of controversial pieces for them. Do you have any idea where I might find pdfs of the mag?

    1. Hi – Sorry for the late reply – you could try the TUC library, which used to be in Holloway. They have lots of 70s posters and leaflets in rows of folders. Trouble with that era is that with the punk ethos, stuff got thrown away and not archived. When I co-wrote the biography of Specials front man Neville Staple ten years ago, I couldn’t even get back copies of the NME from….the NME. They told me nothing was kept in the late 70s. It was like nihilistic attitude of – oh well, that was late week, move on comrades! Tony

    1. Chris – I’ve neglected this blog for a while and looking through the feedback came across your message. I’m rubbish at checking the feedback so apologise if I didn’t get back to you last year. Austin was a great guy – big influence on me at the time. They were magical, effervescent times in Liverpool as I’m sure you know. I always remember walking across some waste ground in Everton with Austin in typically sardonic, philosophical mode turning to me as a southern middle class git: “You wanna be part of all this – I wanna fucking get out”. I know he was just winding me up. He passed away just a month after my mother died after a long and awful illness so my head was in ten places. Austin and I drifted apart in the 1990s for no particular reason – just one of those things. And I only found out about his death when I tried to contact him about Pete Burns passing in October 2016. When I saw Austin’s obituary online I just felt crushed. Obviously you and the family must have been devastated. All my love to the Muscatellis and rest assured, he will always occupy a large part of my memories! Best, Tony

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