6 Things You Didn’t Know About The 70s

Who invented the space hopper? What was the first popular video game? And why did New York briefly descend into civil war?

spacehopper

THE FIRST VIDEO GAME WASN'T PONG

Video games existed before the 1970s, but only as niche amusements for computer engineers in research labs. It was only in 1971 that the modern age of video games was born, thanks to the vision of a man called Nolan Bushnell. This computer whiz had seen a game called Spacewar!, which had been created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he recognised the commercial potential of a coin-operated version.

He and a friend came up with exactly that: the world's first commercially produced arcade game, called Computer Space. Released in 1971, it wasn't the monster success they'd hoped for, but Bushnell and his friend were undeterred, and went on to form a new company. That company was Atari, and their first hit was a little game called Pong.

JOHNNY ROTTEN WAS A TEACHER

The 70s are synonymous with punk, and one of the icons of the age was John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, the shrieking lead singer of the Sex Pistols. But before he became a symbol of punk's anarchic spirit, Lydon had a very different job: teaching woodwork to kids at a children's daycare centre in London. He apparently lost the position after parents expressed concern about the green-hair oddball tutoring their offspring.

Lydon was later spotted and recruited into the Sex Pistols, largely thanks to his dress sense. Specifically, an official Pink Floyd t-shirt, which he had altered by scrawling the words "I HATE" over the band's logo. Decades later, Lydon confessed that "You'd have to be daft as a brush to say you didn't like Pink Floyd. They've done great stuff."

NEW YORK FELL INTO ANARCHY

The 70s didn't just see anarchy in the UK. Over in New York City, a freak lightning strike on the evening of July 13, 1977 causing a city-wide blackout that lasted more than 24 hours. This was during a sweltering heat wave, when crime was rampant, racial tensions were simmering, and the city was already panicking over the marauding "Son of Sam" serial killer.

The blackout caused this pent-up dam of rage to break, with arsonists setting fire to more than 1,000 buildings, and looters breaking into at least 1,600 stores. By the time electricity was restored, more than 3,700 people had been arrested. One unexpected by-product of this notorious night was a sudden rise in the popularity of hip hop, thanks to all the penniless musicians who made off with stolen turntables and mixing boards. As one NY musician later said, "you could see the differences before the blackout and after".

Picture shows old cassettes.

Picture shows old cassettes.

THE WALKMAN WAS MADE ON A WHIM

The Sony Walkman is often thought of as a symbol of the 80s, but this trailblazing device was actually invented in 1978. It wasn't some long-gestating, closely-guarded concept of the company, either. The Walkman was cobbled together in response to the whim of Sony's co-founder, Masaru Ibuka, who loved listening to opera on his many long-haul business flights, but was tired of lugging around the bulky music equipment.

Ibuka asked his people to come up with a smaller, more convenient device, and they quickly obliged with a prototype which caught the boss's imagination. Initial names included the Soundabout and the Stowaway, before they settled on Walkman.

THE SPACE HOPPER WAS ITALIAN

There is no more poignant symbol of 70s Britain than the big orange space hopper, beloved of kids throughout the land. The original toy was actually invented in Italy, by a certain Aquilino Cosani, who was inspired to create it after watching a documentary about kangaroos. "I realised that children never look as happy as when they're jumping," he later explained.

He dubbed his creation the "Pon-Pon", and the idea was copied by toymakers in other countries. In the UK, the best-known version was manufactured by a company called Wembley, whose bold marketing moves - like making a deal with Butlins to promote space hopper races at their holiday camps - helped establish their creation as a staple of British life.

THE BIGGEST UK BAND WAS... SLADE

Slade may be largely remembered nowadays for a certain Christmas song, but they were arguably the biggest British band of the 1970s, selling more singles than anyone else, including the likes of David Bowie and T. Rex. Six of their songs went to Number 1 in the charts, and their sheer popularity rivalled that of the Beatles in the 1960s.

Like the Beatles, they also made the leap to the big screen, in a movie called Slade in Flame. A surprisingly scathing take on the music industry, it's a cult classic of 70s cinema and was described by film critic Mark Kermode as the "Citizen Kane of rock musicals".