Jan 10 2012: Nine Monochrome and Colour Snapshots Showing British Stock Car Racing (1970)

These nine photographs all came from the same album of snaps put together by a British couple in a scrapbook and dated 1970 – 1971. The collection as a whole shows mainly holidays of a very period kind: a canal boating trip, caravan parks and visits to zoos and other key 1970s attractions. Presumably the cost of package holidays overseas hadn’t quite reached the level to be affordable by the couple in question in 1970, though later in the decade they appear far more prosperous, and venture much further afield than the standard fortnight in Spain and Greece: a separate scrapbook gathered plenty of evidence of Kenyan and Tanzanian safaris undertaken between 1974 and 1976.

Whatever the reson for their preference for UK holidays in 1970, the attractions taken in on their various breaks that year are revealing: in these images of Stock Car racing and Demolition Derbys taking place in the heart of England, there’s a footnote to the history of the 1970s that often seems neglected. While nostalgia and propaganda focuses on Glam Rock and Punk, the Three Day Week and Disco, Progressive Rock and cocaine-snorting personal songwriters, the images here expose the parallel upsurge in Americana, though this had been going on among the country’s working class for years: my miner Grandad’s favourite author was Zane Grey, and the publication and screening of Westerns remained hugely popular with men like him well into the 1980s.

Despite being nothing entirely new, then, British Americana seemed to reach a kind of mainstream critical mass in the 1970s, with Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood movies dominating local picture palaces, Duelling Banjos and Don Williams in the charts, Boxcar Willie and Charlie Rich selling out vast UK concert halls, The Dukes of Hazzard on TV… Their popularity coincides with the move towards an Americanisation of British politics, though it’s hard to know if there was any real connection with what happened next or just an apparent one. After all, the democratic ideals of America had influenced more progressive shifts in other times.

Even so, perhaps it’s no coincidence that, with Stock Cars and Burt Reynolds finding their ways around 70s England, it began to seem natural to many that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher should be inaugurating a new politics in which image began to override the impact of the policies being implemented on those voting for them. This was, after all, the point at which a discovery was made that polarizing the electorate into white and black hat factions could lead to far smaller numbers granting power than more consensual approaches required. If that led to the kinds of smash-ups that were proving so popular on the Stock Car tracks? Well so be it…

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