Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia by Francis Wheen - review by Dominic Sandbrook

Dominic Sandbrook

When the Lights Went Out

Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia


Fourth Estate 388pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

In the dying days of 1973, two days after Christmas, a long-haired, sixteen-year-old Francis Wheen wrote a note advising his parents that he had run off to join the alternative society and wouldn’t be back for tea. Leaving the note on the kitchen table, he caught a train from suburban Kent to London, and an hour or so later, rucksack and guitar in hand, showed up at the ‘BIT Alternative Help and Information Centre’, a kind of hippy drop-in centre on Westbourne Park Road. ‘Hi,’ he said. ‘I’ve dropped out.’ Slumped on a threadbare sofa, a ‘furry freak’ peered at him through a haze of hair. ‘Drop back in, man,’ he muttered. ‘You’re too late. It’s over.’

It was indeed: for the last days of 1973 have a good claim to be some of the darkest in our modern history, both figuratively and literally. After the miners announced an overtime ban in pursuit of a massive, inflationary wage claim, Edward Heath’s government had announced the

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