Summer of Heat: 1976


Droughtwater rationing, forest fires, riots and Punk made the tropical summer of 1976 one of the most dramatic in British history. The great British summertime is when the nation shrugs off its winter blues people spill out into the sunshine and let passions run free, but in 1976 something strange happened something more than the usual British enthusiasm for fun in the sun. It was the hottest summer on record and under the glaring heat tension filled the air. While the country baked and sweltered, shriveled and dried out the crusty British establishment suddenly found itself under attack. In the space of a few long hot months British society suffered an upheavel which would transform a generation. The summer started with a bang on May 1, cup final day. Second division underdog South Hampton had fought it’s way to the final only to face one of the countries greatest teams, Manchester United. Under the hot sunshine South Hampton was in danger of trying to hard. The game remained goal less as South Hampton held on for 83 minutes, then scored and took the cup. Giant killing South Hampton had set the tones for the following months. The underdogs were on the march and Britain’s old order was about to be challenged. England was in need of change, despite the weather in the summer of 1976, the social climate was far from sunny. Unemployment and inflation was the highest since World War II, the unions were repeatedly striking and the economy was facing bankruptcy. It seemed as if everyone was skint. For young people especially the prospects was bleak in June a new army of high school graduates joined record numbers at the welfare office lines. Not even the sunniest weather in years could mask the pervading sense of despair. As those worst off looked to the scapegoats immigrants were soon being blamed for all the countries problems. Inflamatory programs on TV fueled an overtly racist climate. The heat wave showed no sign of subsiding. On June 26 the temperature in London hit an all time record of 35 degrees celsius, 95 degrees fahrenheit. But even in the heat young people still dressed to impress as ever fashion was the clearest way to make a statement about who you were and how you felt. The perfect weather suited the quintessential English sport of cricket. But in the summer of 1976 the game would experience a different kind of heat. The West Indies team was visiting england for the season the two sides would battle it out over 5 matches, each lasting up to 5 days. With a proud but alienated caribbean community living in England the rivalry was always going to be intense, but England’s team captain made things worse with his comments. The wonderful heat wave soon caused problems as drought set in. For the first time in british history water had to be rationed. The country rallied round the attempt to save water. As ever blue peter’s audience played its part. with slogans “think before you drink” and “don’t rush to flush”. The situation was critical in South Wales. causing fears the shortage of water would lead to a shortage in beer. James Hunt made his mark in Formula 1 racingand his winning boosted England’s self esteem. 1976 was a great year for home grown black band The Real Thing, they came from one of Britain’s poorest areas their song “You to me are everything” raced up the charts to number 1. Early efforts to get the public to save water hadn’t worked. The goverment deicded to appoint Dennis Howl minister for drought. Throughout the summer punk rock was rapidly gaining momentumthey were blazing the trail for a change in music tastes, a brand new underground movement as The Damned, Buzzcocks, and The Clash punk bands debuted. After months of drought the parched landscape began to burn as forest fires raged up and down the country. At the end of August the rains finally came, extinguishing the fires and providing respite from the heat. But even 30 years later the impact of those long hot unforgettable days is still with Britains today. The summer of 76 was an awakening, it was the pivotal moment when the old gray monoculture of Britain was about to change into something different.