I viewed the first two episodes of Michael Apted's 56 Up with nervous anticipation of a wonderful TV venture – one I have been watching since the late 1970s when the early programmes were used on Bath's pre-service teacher education PGCE as an illustration of the link between class and disadvantage and the struggle to escape them.
In those early shows [ 7 / 14 / 21 Up ] explorations of class and disadvantage (and advantage) were not hard to find; indeed it sometimes seemed that the children had been identified with that in mind – and I'd be surprised if that wasn't the case to some degree. Much, but not all, of it was harrowing – but that was in the editing, of course, which skilfully blended hope with despair, those two sides of life's mintage.
I watched the first episode of 56 Up with particular nervousness because I feared that modern ITV would bugger it up, bringing 21 century reality TV values to bear, but, not so, though they do describe it as "entertainment", I note, on their web pages. Still harrowing in parts, though, but that's mostly the flashbacks.
In recent years, if you're my age, watching these programmes has been a bit like looking at a reflection of your own life. The early programmes began with an intonation of the alleged Jesuit maxim: Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man, and it seemed clear that the programmes were testing out that idea – and maybe still are.
Well; not proven, I'd say; but there's evidence enough of both the kernel of truth within Philip Larkin's overly-dystopic maxim about parents' baleful influence, and of how determined people can survive it all and thrive nonetheless.