A snapshot of life in January 1979

It’s the year of Phase 5

Work on Phase 5 of Watford’s central area highway scheme is due to start during the coming year and will involve reconstruction work on the Lower High Street bridge over the railway. Inevitably the work of demolishing the existing structure – which until recently supported shops – and placing beams for the new bridge will involve work at night while the line is not in use, and while noise levels will be kept to a minimum a certain amount of disturbance will be unavoidable. For some families living in the vicinity, this could undoubtedly mean sleepless nights and it is for this reason that the council’s Highways and Works Committee have agreed to offer temporary rehousing to those who will be most seriously affected.

[January 5, 1979]

Three days in a sales queue

For three days, starting on Christmas Day, members of a family living in South Oxhey and Carpenders Park camped with deck chairs outside Gade House, Watford, to be the first in the queue when the store’s sale began on Thursday. When the doors finally opened they had been joined by an impatient queue of 700 which stretched around the corner to the car park.

[January 5, 1979]

New look for police

“New-look” policemen will soon be appearing on patrol in Hertfordshire. Following the change from the traditional blue shirt for constables and sergeants to white, the old style of policemen’s patrol helmet has been replaced by a newly designed and specially reinforced type. Women officers have also got a new protective hat which is constructed in the same way as the men’s headgear. Hertfordshire is the first force to provide protective hats for women police.

[January 5, 1979]

That panic buying

The reports of panic buying in local food stores makes sad reading. Anxiety resulting from reiterated fears of shortages is understandable enough, but the ‘I’m determined to be all right, Jack’ attitude, with its inevitable effects on others, is an unhappy spin-off of what has come to be called the acquisitive society, the more disquieting because it emphasises that the lessons of the pseudo sugar shortage have still not been taken to heart. Continuing petrol shortages and the prospect of transport strikes raise the spectre of more troubles ahead. In that event it will be a sorry look-out if commonsense does not prevail and the ‘grab-it-all-at-any-price’ approach becomes the general rule.

[January 12, 1979]

Petrol crisis

The oil and petrol crisis reached its peak this week with less traffic on the roads as drivers attempted to preserve fuel, and long queues of motorists trying to squeeze the last drop of petrol from service stations to keep their tanks topped up. So far, four local schools have been hit by the lack of heating oil, or damage due to the cold New Year weather. At Westfield School in Watford, 878 pupils were sent home after just one day of the new term because oil supplies were below the accepted level.

[January 12, 1979]

What was happening in the world in January 1979?

• Sid Vicious’ trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, begins (January 2)

• The Village People’s YMCA becomes their only UK number one single (January 6)

• The Whiddy Island disaster occurs when the oil tanker Betelgeuse explodes in Bantry Bay, Ireland (January 8)

• The Sun paper headline is ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ as UK Prime Minister James Callaghan denies that the country is in chaos (January 10)

• Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi flees Iran for Egypt during the Iranian Revolution (January 16)

• The landmark nature series ‘Life on Earth’, presented by David Attenborough, is first shown on BBC One (January 16)

• Tens of thousands of public workers in the UK strike in the beginning of what becomes known as the ‘Winter of Discontent’ (January 22)

• Ford Motor assembly line worker Robert Williams is killed when a robotic arm slams into him. This is the first documented case of a robot killing a human (January 25)

• 16-year-old Brenda Spencer kills the principal and custodian during a shooting at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in California. When asked why she did it, she answered: “I don’t like Mondays” (January 29)