NEWS

2011-12-09

Argos 1976

IT'S a feature of almost every household, and one that rarely leaves children's hands at this time of year as they excitedly await the arrival of Christmas.

But as these pictures show, the humble Argos catalogue can provide a fascinating insight into changing tastes and trends that have swept our nation's high streets over the last 35 years.

They were uncovered by artist and vintage lava lamp collector Anthony Voz, who found the 1976 catalogue at a recent car boot sale. 

He scanned and uploaded every single page from one of the very first editions of the catalogue to the web and was overwhelmed by the response from people who had fond childhood memories of the products featured within.

Mr Voz said that he feels the booklet offers an opportunity to look back in time and shed light on the way we used to live.

Even a quick glance at the front covers of both editions reveals how quickly technology has progressed in just a generation.

Whereas the 70s version shows a happy family gathered around the catalogue, the cover of the 2011 edition shows a tablet PC displaying the Argos website and a range of online purchasing options.

And there are a number of items which would have been considered essential just 25 years ago missing from the pages of the modern catalogue.

Typewriters, adding machines, cassette players and ashtrays are just some of the things that either no longer appear or have a minimal amount of space now dedicated to them.

But it is not only gadgets which have changed, as the pictures also show how far the nation's obsession with body image and personal grooming has developed since the 1970s.

The contents pages of the old catalogue list just one page of 'Keep Fit equipment', whereas the 2011 version has a staggering 40 pages of various sports gear.

And while today's man looks for an electric razor which moisturises his skin as he shaves, a sideburn trimming feature was the USP which attracted the rugged 70s bloke.

Isabelle Szmigin, professor of marketing at The University of Birmingham, said that the range of products available today shows a change in attitudes and lifestyle.

She said: "We will always see products that reflect the concerns of the day both socially and economically – there is lots of money to be made out of keep fit as we are all struggling to keep our weight down. 

"The fact of the matter is that the amount of high fat and sugar foods were just much less in the 1970s so some products really do change to reflect the changed environment."

The toy pages of the catalogue could be seen to show how we have developed a more PC attitude towards our kids.

Modern-day kid's bikes are plastered with images of popular cartoon characters, and feature a 'parent handle', which worried mums and dads can use to prevent wayward toddlers from straying.

And the replica guns and Wild-West dress up sets missing from today's catalogue, suggest that a Saturday game of 'Cowboys and Indians' is a thing of the past.

Former household names, such as Matchbox and Tonka, are also conspicuous by their absence from the newer catalogue.

But there are also a number of similarities between the older catalogue and its brightly-coloured modern day counterpart.

Hairstyling products for women feature prominently in both catalogues, although hair straighteners rather than curling tongs dominate the modern-day version.

And a surprising number of household names make appearances in both catalogues. 

Kodak, Phillips and Lego are still as popular as they were 35 years ago, although today's suspension-equipped Lego sports cars make the humble train and ambulance sets of 1976 look more than a little outdated.

But Professor Szmigin said that there are echoes of the 1976 catalogue in the modern day version, particularly when it comes to their presentation.

She said: "In some ways I think it is surprising how similar the items and ways of presenting them are. 

"In marketing we talk about the product life cycle and it is fascinating to watch how toys go or don’t go through this cycle. 

"Barbie and Lego have stayed more or less the same for years. 

"Others, such as Action Man tend to come and go but toys remain largely the same." 

But one thing that is very different is the sheer amount of products on offer - the old catalogue was just 250 pages, while this year's contains over 1,000.

Professor Szmigin said: "Whatever we hear about Austerity Britain the fact of the matter is that we just have a lot more stuff now than ever before – in some ways many of us don’t know the meaning of the word austerity."

Mr Voz originally uploaded the images to act as a reference for himself and other collectors of vintage memorabilia, but soon found that he was receiving nostalgic messages from hundreds of web users.

He said: "The images act as a way to connect with people to discover their stories, their past and their memories. 

"For example, people see teddy bears that they owned, or games consoles that they longed to own as a teenager and the catalogues also shed light into how it was to live back then. 

"Looking at the catalogues makes people remember parts of their life that they had forgotten."