From cheeky schoolchildren to middle age… and now impending retirement: Stars of celebrated documentary 7 Up return to reveal how their lives have changed – but 63 Up could be the final installment
We have followed their lives since they were just seven-years-old, through their school days, to both their joys and disappointments of later life.
Now the participants of one of the longest running documentary series in TV, 7UP, are set to star in one last installment of the show.
The ITV documentary, directed by Michael Apted, returns to our screens next week to revisit the cast as they reach 63.
Three of the remaining original cast members – Sue Davis, Bruce Balden and Tony Walker – joined Apted in speaking about the battle against age ahead of the show‘s airing.
The show originally started with 20 participants, then cutting down to just fourteen which were prominent in the shows. Over the years the cast has dwindled due to various reasons including work and family commitments, as well as the death of one participant Lynne Johnson, in 2013.
To celebrate the latest installment in the longest running documentary series in TV history, famous fans of the show also feature in a spin off ‘7UP and Me‘, to explain why it means so much to them. They also give a personal insight into how the programme has reflected the major milestones of their own lives.
Celebrity guests include Sadie Frost, Stanley Johnson, Julia Bradbury, Eamon Holmes and Michelle Gomez.
One of the cast members, Tony Walker, who was renowned for achieving his dream of becoming a jockey, had previously told the Radio Times he would do another series if ‘the same crew are still here‘.
But he said: ‘Seven to 70‘ has got a good ring. [But] you have to look at Michael, who‘s now 77.‘
Sue Davis, who starred in 7 Up as a schoolgirl with friends the late Lynn Johnson and Jackie Bassett, added: ‘Personally, I am in a good place but things are going to get worse. You‘re going to get sicker and older.
‘Both my parents are with me so I‘m thinking, “Another seven years, who knows? Am I going to be here, are they going to be here?” There‘s an element that thinks this would be a good time to finish.‘
The children themselves were specially selected in order to represent the vast difference between various social and economic backgrounds at the time, with an assumption that each social class would determine what each child would go on to do in later life.
And for at least some of the children involved, their lives have panned out as they thought it would.
Walker said he remembered filming beating up the ‘posh kids‘, which included the now Oxford educated Balden, who then aspired to be a missionary in Africa.
He now teaches at a school in St Albans.
Balden said: ‘There‘s something from the seven-year-old in all of us, you can see that.
‘It certainly was a polemic about class to begin with, but it has become much more human than that with the stories.‘
But life has taken a turn for the worse for some involved in the show, with contributor Nick Hitchon being diagnosed with cancer.
Apted said the news had been ‘extremely painful‘, adding: ‘We do love them all. It‘s a very close family, and you don‘t want to hurt people, but we all know we‘ve got a job to do. And it‘s important.
‘No one has ever done this before and no one will ever do it again. We have a very privileged position, so we have to get the best out of it, even if some of it‘s horrible and painful.‘
The original show was intended to be a one-off, but after the cameras returned to check-up on the protégés at the age of 14, updates at seven yearly intervals then became routine.
It started on Granada Television for ITV and followed the lives of the fourteen children. All of the episodes were aired on ITV, except from the 6th episode which was aired on the .
Michael Apted (pictured above), 78, who has run the programme since 1964, said next week‘s 63 Up could be the final one after 56 years
The first episode started at London Zoo, with a cast of 20 children, as the narrator announces ‘We brought these 20 children together for the very first time.‘
The series then follows the stories of just fourteen children, Bruce Balden, Jackie Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk and Tony Walker.
One participant Lynne Johnson died in 2013, but the rest of the group are still alive, however many have dropped out over the years for various issues, with one of the cast members Nicholas Hitchon, having being diagnosed with cancer.
The idea for the programme was inspired by the Jesuit saying: ‘Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man.‘
Since it first started in 1964 the programmes have become notorious, even being named in Channel 4‘s Top 50 Greatest Documentaries, in 2005.
Despite being about British children, Davis noted that there had been success for the show in the US, with Americans ‘hugging her in the street‘.
Symon Basterfield (pictured above) had been one of the children in the original documentary and had also appeared in 49 Up which aired in 2005
She said: ‘In America I went with Michael to a film festival and the Americans absolutely love this programme.‘
She added: ‘They said they had been watching me since I was seven years old.‘
In 2012 the show returned with musician Pete Davies coming back to the show, after being one of the participants to have quit.
Mr Davies had been on the sidelines since he withdrew from the show after 28 Up was aired in 1984.
At 28, Mr Davies was a disillusioned teacher and he decided to quit after his angry criticism of the Thatcher government provoked a vitriolic response.
He rejoined his contemporaries after agreeing to a request by director Michael Apted.
At the time Mr Davies said: ‘They decided they were going to portray me as the angry young Red in Thatcher‘s England.
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‘I was absolutely taken aback, genuinely shocked, at the level of ill-will directed towards me.‘
Mr Davies said he was so scarred by the experience that he stopped watching the series.
In the new series, celebrity fans look back to their very contrasting school days. Sally Lindsay and John Thomson recall their teenage trials and triumphs.
Lord Sebastian Coe compares his sporting dreams with those of would be jockey Tony in the Up series, while Michael Sheen remembers the moment when his hopes of a football career ended.
Stanley Johnson, Eamonn Holmes and Julia Bradbury share their contrasting views on parenthood.
Sir Tony Robinson and Ben Bailey Smith explain which characters in the Up documentaries made the biggest impact on them.
This is while William Roache, Rula Lenska and Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson reflect on the sadness of losing their parents.
Catch up with the Seven Up kids: They once dreamed of being astronauts and jockeys, so where are they now, fifty years on?
For decades, millions have followed the lives of the Seven Up kids – 14 children who were plucked from different walks in life to take part in a documentary on their hopes for the future growing up in 1960s Britain.
The show was originally intended to be a one-off, but after the cameras returned to check-up on the protégés at the age of 14, updates at seven yearly intervals then became routine. Now the time has come again to see what has become of the participants, who are now aged 56.
In 2012 the latest documentary, to be shown documented where the children are now, nearly 50 years after they were first aired to the public as fresh-faced school pupils who wanted to be astronauts, jockeys or missionaries.
The idea for the programme was inspired by the Jesuit saying: ‘Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man.‘ And for at least some of the children involved, their lives have panned out as they thought it would.
Jackie Bassett, one of the girls picked from London‘s East End to represent the working classes, admitted to The Guardian, ‘I‘ve turned out pretty much as expected‘.
Married at 24, she was divorced by her thirties, after which she faced single parenthood when she had a son, Charlie (the identity of his father she has never revealed). She went on to have a new relationship with partner Ian, with whom she had two more sons but they also separated.
Meanwhile, Bruce Bladen, who was a pupil at a prestigious boarding school when the show first aired in 1964, has not deviated too far from the environs of his youth as he is now a maths teacher at a respected private school in Hertfordshire. Aged seven, he said he wanted to become a missionary and he achieved his dream in sorts when he taught in Bangladesh after graduating from Oxford.
Another of the Seven Up subjects, Symon Basterfield, who was in a care home from a young age, said he felt he and the other children were expected to fit the mould of their backgrounds, when they were first filmed.
‘We (the children in care) were supposed to have aspirations to what we wanted in life, but the boys from wealthy backgrounds were encouraged to say their lives were plotted and planned. It was all hopes and dreams for us, but their lives were mapped out.‘
Symon‘s life began turbulently, he never knew his father and as a child of a mixed race relationship, he was often exposed to prejudice. He married and had five children but was divorced by his thirties and badly affected by the loss of his mother, who died when he was 35. This meant he didn‘t take part in the documentary 35 Up. ‘It‘s a period I don‘t want to talk about,‘ he said.
He has since gone on to remarry and have another child and now works as freight handler. He and his second wife are foster parents at their home near Heathrow and have cared for more than 60 vulnerable children over the years.
Like Symon, the life of Neil Hughes has taken turns that could never have been predicted. When he first featured appeared on television as a bright seven-year-old at his suburban school in Liverpool, he endearingly said: ‘When I grow up I want to be an astronaut but if I can’t I think I’ll be a coach driver.‘
Later documentaries showed Neil had failed in his dreams to reach Oxford University and by his early twenties, he had dropped out of Aberdeen University and lived in a squat. Throughout his 30s, he struggled to earn a living and spent time homeless or on council estates in Scotland. However, he has since turned his life around and became a district councillor in Cumbria before standing as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Carlisle in the 2010 general election, where he finished third.
Meanwhile, other participants did achieve their dreams. Tony Walker, who came from London‘s East End, did manage to become a jockey, albeit briefly, and raced against Lester Piggott before becoming a taxi driver. And Charles Furneaux, one of three boys followed from a Kensington prep school, went on to make documentaries of his own, most successfully as a producer of ‘Touching the Void‘.
For Michael Apted, who began as a researcher on the documentary and went on to become director, the unpredictable nature of the participants lives is what has made the Up series an important social experiment as well as unmissable viewing over the decades.
‘You‘re fearful when you go back that bad things have happened,‘ he told The Guardian about what it is like catching up with the Up members at seven year intervals. ‘That‘s the documentarian‘s curse. You want good things to happen to everybody, but you also want good stories.‘
He adds that while some of the children involved have opted out in taking part in various stages of the documentary over the years, the majority have remained involved and have become like a family.
‘Some of us are close, some of us aren‘t close. Some of them like me, some of them don‘t. A family is a very good image of what this is, because we have been together for almost 50 years now.‘
They have also been fortunate that accident or illness has not yet claimed the lives of those involved.
‘When we lose somebody it‘ll make the others think very hard about doing it again,‘ admits the show‘s producer Claire Lewis. ‘I don‘t know what effect that would have on us and on them. It‘s very hard watching yourself grow old on screen.‘