The National Archives was in the grip of the 1970s when I first joined in 2007. I don’t mean to suggest that things are somehow backward at Kew but the thirty(ish) year rule meant that, although it was 2007, 1977 was also high on the agenda. Shortly we can expect to relive 1985 and 1986. There are lots of things we can say about the late Seventies. It was a golden age of industrial discontent and George Lucas movies. It also gave rise to new cultural movements which couldn’t be found in any of our earlier records. I am, of course, referring to disco and by disco I don’t mean either a kind of coal or the island between Greenland and Canada. I mean this:
The British state’s relationship with twentieth century popular culture, ranges from the vaguely embarassing (Cool Britannia) to the downright hostile (Rockers) and indeed Mods. Disco and discos are no exception. They leave just a few traces but they are revealing hints of a society in transition, responding slowly to increasingly strident demands for ‘women’s lib’, racial equality and gay liberation, campaigns which in this period saw setbacks as well as successes.
Clubbing at Tiffany’s
Tiffany’s ‘Disco’ on the Brighton Road in Purley is now a gym called Dynamics. But it was once part of a chain of clubs owned by the entertainment behemoth Mecca. There was a Tiffany’s in Bath, Birmingham and Blackpool, in Derby, Dunstable and Dundee, in Glasgow, Gloucester and Grimsby – you get the idea. Purley might seem an unpromising location but by the end of the 1970s it was home to the National Soul Festival and the Soul Mafia. But the club owes its appearance in files here at The National Archives (CK 2/468) to complaints about its door policy made by black teenagers in the summer of 1975. Four teenagers (two 15, two 17 – this was perfectly acceptable), dressed up to the nines (‘I was dressed in a pin striped brown suit and a yellow shirt and tie’) were refused entry. The bouncer told them, ‘Not tonight fellas, give it a rest for three weeks’ and when pressed claimed that there had been ‘a lot of punch ups’ and that one patron had been stabbed and he couldn’t admit the group ‘for their own welfare’. The boys responded by asking him ‘when they were going to have a night when whites were refused entry’ and left. All four decided to make a complaint to the Racial Equality Board.