7th March 1944, three babies are born in different parts of the Second World War is just finishing and there’s a population boom as the soldiers come back from the front. The format is familiar. Granada broadcast the original 7UP documentary series in what was meant to be a one off, World in Action programme, in 1964, directed by Michael Apsted. 7UP was meant to tell us something about class. And it followed the same cohort every seven years until we’ve now got 56UP. Michael Apsted shows how easy it was in those days; he went on to direct Coronation Street and the latest James Bond. It’s difficult to deal with that kind of longevity and glamour. Born on the same day is some snapshots of lives and its aim is to tell us something about our society.
The hook for the viewer here is the well-known figure of Ranulph Fiennes, distantly related to royalty and as we know a man that’s been on every pole with the exception of an ice-cream pole. His dad was killed in action at the end of the war. A commander of The Royal Scot Greys. We see a photo of him. Ranulph is determined to be on par with his dad and also command the Royal Scot Greys. The Eton connection is, as 7UP shows, a good place to start if you want to command a television station, an army company or the economy, but Ranulph has the drawback of being rather dim. Even though he serves with honour and distinction in the army, in the Royal Scot Greys (I doubt the regiment still exists) they’re not keen to keep him. By this time he’s married Ginny. She’s a good old girl that persuades him what he needs is a challenge. That’s what God made Englishmen and the Poles for. Ranulph loses a few fingers to frost bite and Ginny to cancer. None of these things are really his fault. Stiff upper lip. Memories such as ‘Antarctica, decided just to go for it’ are par for the course. Conquers Everest and fathers another child at 62. No doubt that child will too conquer Eton and Everest.
Frances Kelly was born on the same day as Ranulph. Mum and Dad were shopkeepers in Leeds, with their home upstairs. Three years after the NHS had been set up Frances was a child patient. Her parents were sleeping upstairs and she strayed too near the open fire. Almost twenty years later the same thing happened to my brother. In his case he was playing with matches and it set his pyjamas on fire. Frances nightdress burst into flames. Third-degree burns. Both she and my wee brother’s faces were saved because the flames reached only to their chin before being smothered. But for Frances a policy of strict segregation in the NHS meant that children as patients could only see their parents once a month. That day had already passed, so it was two months before she saw her mum or day. She felt she would never see them again and felt abandoned. This marked her life as much as her stay in the burns unit. She didn’t feel anyone would want to marry her. But she does get married and have two children. She is the real hero of the programme, fostering 97 other children and adopting two of them, Andrew at twenty-one months and Helen at three. Helen has a hole in the heart and Frances is told by the paediatrician, ‘there’s nothing we can do’, she’ll not live long, make the best of it for her. In hospital Helen didn’t believe Frances would be back for her. Mirroring her own experience, Helen gave the little girl a bag and told her to keep a hold of it, ‘don’t lose it’, as she’d be back for it. That gave Helen belief. She came back for the bag and the girl, making her one of her family, until Helen died, 1993, a beautiful summer’s day, at home with her –new- mum and dad.
There’s mirroring of a different kind following Ewart, a naturalised British citizen born in Jamaica. Mum and dad and their nine children swapping the sunny climate for the smog of Birmingham. Newsreel footage shows the reception they got, ‘niggers go home’ was the message to the camera, much the same message as today’s refugees from our right-wing, Brexitt supporting, white friends. They take all our jobs – don’t they? Yeh, yeh, yeh, it’s a familiar tune. There are familiar staging posts for each individual. 7th March 1962. Ewart is 18 and gets his first full-time job in a steel company. £2.12 shillings a week. The gaffer asks Ewart to come in on Saturday, unpaid, to wash his car. Because that’s what black people do. Ewart doesn’t. He gets paid off. The only way he can get steady work is to join the ground crew of the RAF. But he leads a double life. He’s also lead singer in a soul band, hoping to make it big. He doesn’t, but meets his wife and mother of his children through his nocturnal activities. After the RAF he finds work as a salesman. He’s a natural, but he doesn’t find the promotions he’d hoped for. He switches to another company, less racist. He thrives and admits he’s had a good life. An interesting programme, but not a patch on 7UP – to 56UP, the prototype and still the best, something we can be proud of.
Postscipt: I begged my mum not to bring my wee brother back from hospital, but she didn’t listen.