The Environment and Popular Culture

If television programmes are a good indicator of what people related to or cared about, then the multitude of shows about the environment in the 1970s tell us Britain cared about it. A quick flick through Turner’s Crisis? What Crisis? reveals that a number of shows addressed the topic. An obvious (and charming) example is The Wombles. Still enjoyed by children today, and certainly enjoyed by me in 1999, the show tells stories about the pointy-nose creatures who, created by Elisabeth Beresford, collect rubbish and help the environment in creative ways. Based in Wimbledon, the episodes are nothing short of wonderful and suggest it was felt necessary that children grow up caring for their local habitats. The fact that the show is still watched to this day is a testament to our furry-friends being both environmentally savvy and incredibly entertaining.

Similarly, the publication of Watership Down, in 1972, prompted thinking about the destruction of wildlife and habitats. Written carefully to appeal to both children and adults, the story follows a burrow of rabbits who, after protagonist Hazel’s quick thinking, embark on a mission to escape their home. The bestselling book sends an important message. It highlights the importance of community and illustrates that, if houses are built, habitats are destroyed.

This theme was also addressed in an exhibition in the V&A, The Destruction of the Country House, which displayed images of grand houses that no longer existed. The exhibition showed that hundreds of houses were gone and the sound effects of burning and chopping were reported to have been deeply disturbing. It is true that the rural landscape was slowly being taken over by industrialised agriculture and exhibitions like this one indicate some people were uncomfortable with this.

There were some examples of environmental groups who made efforts to care for their planet. It was announced in 1970 that it was the year of conservation across Europe. In May the following year, a number of members of Friends of the Earth marched to protest against non-returnable bottles. All young in age, the members marched from Pall Mall to Schweppes to demonstrate their point. The group, Friends of the Earth, gained members over the decade, and became influential. Other green groups emerged, perhaps most notably ‘PEOPLE’. Formed in the 1973, ‘PEOPLE’ became the Green Party that we are familiar with today. Clearly, a number of people were aware of the damage that was occurring to the British environment. However, it is evident that it was not a priority for the every-day person. Rosen’s discussion of post-war Britain omits any reference to it and other discussions make sporadic references to small groups or television shows. If there is more scholarship available on The Wombles than there is on the government’s environmental policy, it is possible to conclude that it was a priority for some people, but the government and average person still had a long way to go.



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