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OU on the BBC: James May's 20th Century - Inventing The Teenager

Updated Tuesday 3rd July 2007

In the 20th Century the teenager emerged as a separate species. But how? Was it the promise of sex? The power of pop? Or the pull of a 50cc Japanese two-stroke? James May is on a journey to find out.

James May meets Status Quo Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

First up is fashion. The 20th century introduced fantastic new fabrics in fantastic new colours thanks to synthetic materials like Nylon. James tries his hand at making some for himself with some success.

Close to James’s heart, of course was teenage transport, offering liberation from parents and the home. When he was a teenager he always dreamed of owning a very special motorbike, the Yamaha FS1E. The Fizzy.

"The problem was of course, was that my mother would rather I played with something like a used hypodermic needle. The FS1E – a motorcycle you could ride at 16 - was just a symbol of death. It was like your son’s tombstone placed before you. It was ‘Not Allowed’."

Finally he checks out the origins of the electric guitar – that potent symbol of teenage rock music. Who better to explain its power than the oldest teenagers in town Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo. As Rick explains:

"It’s just the magic of plugging into an amplifier. You put on a vibrato and you could sound good even if you weren’t. Volume is like speed – you buy a fast car because you want to be faster, you buy a big amp because you want to be louder…."

First broadcast: Tuesday 10 Jul 2007 on BBC TWO

James May's 20th Century in more depth:


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