Royal WeddingIn contrast to the industrial strife of the 1970s, the decade of the 1980s opened with a slim, blonde woman with a handbag, promising to bring harmony where there was discord. In fact, some say that the 1980s actually began in 1979 when Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher swept to power as Britain's first female prime minister following Labour Party rule since 1974. As Margaret Thatcher quoted from St Francis of Assisi standing on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street, the country prepared itself for the new Conservative government promises to cut income tax, reduce public expenditure, make it easier for people to buy their own homes and to curb the power of the unions.

Outside of the realm of politics the new decade was gearing up to be one typified by great technological advances and the spread of showy affluence in the rise of the loud and brash City-worker 'Yuppies' with their early chunky mobile phones and ostentatious suits, a look lampooned by 'Delboy' Trotter in the popular TV show Only Fools and Horses.

Fashion-wise, it is reasonably safe to say that the 1980s did not distinguished itself; the cacophony of styles was highly-entertaining but hardly haute-couture as people strutted around in the defining looks of the Eighties - these included the floppy shirts and scarves of the 'New Romantics', the big hair and padded-shoulder 'Dynasty' look, and the ripped jeans and white stilettoes of the newly-emerging 'Essex Girl'. However, in urban areas things got serious at the beginning of this period with simmering social, racial and economic tensions sparking riots in London, Liverpool, Manchester and other places - crowds rioted, looted and fought the police. The influential Scarman Report was the result of the subsequent high-profile public inquiry into the riots.

Carrying on from the punk theme of the 1970s and before that the new spirit of freedom in the 1960s, the traditional sense of deference towards the establishment was now breaking down in new ways. The strong politics of this decade inspired new, irreverent and alternative comedy. The 1980s saw the first episode broadcast of Not the Nine O'Clock News, a television comedy show, featuring satirical sketches on current news stories and popular culture. The trend for political-tinged comedy continued with other popular TV shows Yes Minister, Spitting Image and Saturday Live, presented by Ben Elton, who also wrote or co-wrote some of the most popular sitcoms of this time including The Young Ones, Blackadder and Filthy Rich & Catflap. There was also an explosion in alternative stand-up comedians such as Alexi Sayle and new comedy clubs which made a break away from mainstream comedy and one-liner jokes. The UK also saw the rise and fall of the 'New Romantics', typified by groups such as the soulful Spandau Ballet, and flamboyant Adam and the Ants, who dressed as pirates, highway men and wore copious amounts of makeup. Black eyeliner was also much in evidence in groups such as Depeche Mode and the Human League who were championing a new form of electronic dance music. Culture Club's Boy George added his own unique style to the colourful look of the decade.

The 1980s bought hip hop and rap music from America with groups such as Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Break-dancing evolved on the streets of America in the 1970s and had become a worldwide craze in the early 1980s. Across the pond, Ronald Reagan was elected as President of the United States in 1981, going on to hold that position till January 1989. Britain's Thatcher and her 'Dear Ronnie' formed a formidable duo across the world stage in an era in which 'the West' was engaged in a continuing Cold War against communist countries led by the USSR. The 1980 Summer Olympic Games, held in Moscow, USSR, demonstrated an early collision in this decade of Cold War politics with sport, this event being boycotted by over sixty countries, with US being the foremost in this protest. In return the Soviets boycotted the USA's Summer Olympics of 1984.

Meanwhile people were entertained and gripped in equal measure with a series of new inventions, both bizarre and addictive. On the game front, 1980 saw the introduction of the Pac-Man arcade game while from 1981 people all over the world twiddled their speedy fingers confounded by the unique and colourful Rubik's Cube. However, the public had to wait until 1989 for the first Game Boy, a novel handheld video game player developed by Nintendo. The 80s also ushered in BMX bikes, My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch Kids and Transformers. More usefully, the accidentally-invented little yellow Post-It notes became ubiquitous in offices throughout the world. The decade was unfortunately beset by assassinations: the world mourned in 1980 when John Lennon, much-loved writer and vocalist with The Beatles, was shot dead by Mark Chapman in New York City. A year later there was an assassination attempt on USA President Ronald Reagan who was shot by a mentally disturbed young man. Major leaders assassinated in 1981 included Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

This period signalled the beginning in earnest of the computer age. While the military and some businesses already used them, the 1980s saw their introduction into the domestic and everyday office sphere. By the end of the decade no respectable desk was without its own personal computer. Home computers such as the ZX Spectrum, Commodore and Amstrad and were very popular and the sought-after gadget. Other new technology which amazed included the shiny Compact Discs, or CDs, which were commercially launched, and distributed by Philips and Sony from 1982.

In addition to world events, British PM Thatcher had to contend the thorny issue of Irish republicanism which would come to beleaguer her premiership. A hunger strike at the Maze prison near Belfast, Northern Ireland, begun in 1981 by Republican prisoners, ended with ten deaths including that of Bobby Sands, when the British government refused to concede to their political demands. In 1984 Thatcher herself narrowly escaped an IRA hotel bombing in Brighton which killed five.

Meanwhile Brits waved their patriot flags and cheered when in July 1981 Prince Charles wed his shy beauty Lady Diana at St Paul's cathedral; with every detail of the occasion attracting much attention, over 700 million world-wide TV viewers tuned in to watch the lavish ceremony. A year later they were blessed with a baby boy, Prince William.

1981 also brought a change to the map of British political parties. Frustrated by the leftward direction of a Labour Party in crisis, a moderate faction of four of its MPs founded the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Soon merging with the Liberal Party, the SDP-Liberal Alliance was formed and later renamed the Liberal Democrats under the leadership of David Steel. In April 1982 Britain found itself at war with Argentina over their invasion of the British Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. Following heavy losses of 655 Argentine and 255 British servicemen, the conflict ended in June with the Argentinians surrendering to British troops. Buoyed by this victory, Margaret Thatcher went on to win the 1983 elections in a Conservative landslide. Meanwhile the nation was enjoying an explosion in viewing choice. At the start of the Eighties there were only three television channels, all terrestrial. Then the American music channel MTV was launched in 1981, Channel 4 began transmission in November 1982, and TV-am began in February 1983. Sky was to come along later in 1989 with the advent of satellite and cable television. A TV revolution was beginning which sowed the seeds of the end of a national shared television experience. At the same time, cinema-going remained popular with audiences enjoying enduring film hits such as the ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1983), Crocodile Dundee (1987) and Back to the Future (1985).

This was much-need escapism because the Conservative Government's tough economic medicine was biting. By January 1982 economic recession had led to high unemployment, breaching the psychologically significant barrier of three million. Added to these woes, the news was dominated by the 12-month miners' strike in 1984 in which PM Thatcher pitted her wits against Union leader Arthur Scargill, the resulting clashes between strikers and police leaving a deep and bitter legacy.

This was also the decade of global musical giants: we thrilled to Michael Jackson, took pride in Irish stadium rockers U2 and vogued with Madonna. Above all though, the defining musical event of the 80s was the Bob Geldof-inspired charity Live Aid event of 1984 watched by 1.9 billion people across 150 countries.

In the latter half of the Eighties we stuttered along to Paul Hardcastle's huge hit 'Nineteen' while others gyrated to the disco-inspired Stock, Aitken and Waterman sounds of Rick Astley, Kylie Minogue and Jason O'Donovan. The neatly-groomed pop Bros duo's 'When will I be famous' vocalised the desire of the young and their budding obsession with celebrity culture and with becoming famous for being famous. This period also saw the rise of rave and acid house music and with it a new 'party drug', the use of ecstasy amongst ravers.

By the middle to end of the decade further computing advances saw the Windows programme invented by Microsoft. Significantly, in a move which would change the world forever, in 1989 British Scientist Tim Berners-Lee first proposed a new way of using existing internet technology to share information - the World Wide Web had arrived.

The long and tense political cold war signalled its end in 1989 with the fall of the iconic Berlin Wall which had separated East from West Germany since the end of WWII. Conversely, student protests for democracy in China were quashed in the Tiananmen Square Massacre while in the UK 1989 also brought the tragic news of the Hillsborough Disaster in which 96 people died in crushes during a football semi-final match in Liverpool.

The culturally high-octane yet recession-blighted eighties hurtled towards its end with protests erupting over author Salman Rushdie's infamous novel, Satanic Verses, while others enjoyed the airing of the first full episode on the long-lasting cartoon The Simpsons.

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Princess Diana

Popular Icons of the 1980s