Retro Dundee: A peek into the 60s, 70s and 80s

What the heck are clackers? Why are Lenin and Stalin staring down from this Scottish city’s town hall? Is that David Bowie?

In the UK there is a massive emphasis on history. Not surprising given the human presence here stretches back to hundreds of thousands of years. There’s also the miraculous fact that we can still see evidence of various previous civilizations and periods above ground. By this I mean the castles, sprawling walls and fortifications of ancient forces.

As a Canadian I have a distant-but-related perspective of the UK. We have the same queen and share a vast amount of culture and law, but there’s still a visiting-another-house kind of mysteriousness.

When we think of the UK we think of the Medieval and Tutor period for the most part. The severity and grandeur of these two periods puts them at the forefront of many visitor’s experiences. We can’t help but picture knights, monks, peasants and grand ladies.

Beyond that, the next historic events to capture our imaginations are the World Wars. Well at least WW2. As a newcomer I’m awed by the amount of memorials and debris left standing. The remnants are stark against the landscape. Bunkers, anti-landing blocks and gun placements dot the countryside, why I’ve even seen them scattered about all the way up here in Scotland!

As a visitor this stretch of knowledge is sufficient. One can hit the big tourist spots and go home feeling like they saw the “true UK”.

As a resident of Scotland I had a lot of work to do. Not only did I have to differentiate my idea of the country from my perception of the UK, which is overly saturated with British culture, I also had to dust away the romanticized image of Scotsmen and women.

The best way to do this would be to get an idea of local, recent history. The depths of history might make the culture, but it was recent events that made the people I encounter today.

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Who Are You Dundee?

So I started hunting for more information. I wanted to uncover what molded Dundee into the city it has become—the energeticly optimistic City Of Design. What did people mean when they exclaimed Jute, Jam and Journalism! Where was the heavy industry the burly buildings and no-nonsense harbour implied? As I poured over Wikipedia and historical society pages I thought to myself, this is cool, but I feel like it hasn’t covered everything.

Dundee was a working town through and through. It did a magnificent job and its legacy of specialities is engraved in its ethos, but the people were a collective entity (aside from the boasts of rich company owners).

I wanted a personalized recollection of Dundee and not some dry history page.

How about a Dundee blog?

That could work. Blogging—at first just called personal home pages until the term weblog was coined in 1997—had been around since 1994. I would have been two at the time, but any number of excited, tech-savvy adults could have taken up sharing their personal story online between then and now.

What kind of stories would they share?

I excitedly tore through Google search.

Nope. Nope. Nope. I found some newer blogs, commentaries on historical facts and modern rants on life in +2010…

Nope. Nope.

And there it was.


5 Dec 2011 – For those of you who find Retro Dundee for the first time after this date, here is a … to view in the Blog Archive running down the left side of the main layout. …. Labels: 1960’s, 1970’s, attic, camera, culture, Dundee, history, past, …

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And what a collection of memorabilia! I felt like I was sitting on the bony knee of my wee Scottish granny’s lap (if I had one) as she led me through the maze of images in her scrapbooks!

When I first saw the layout of the website it scared me. I’ll be honest. It reminded me of my first blog attempt (which wasn’t pretty). I pushed on though, intrigued by this retro-design.

But after that it took maybe five clicks for me to become lost in Dundee’s past for about an hour.

GG, the mysterious and stubbornly anonymous, author of the blog started the blog in 2008 as a “wee offbeat look back at what life was like for my generation growing up in Dundee during the 1960’s – 1970’s – 1980’s”.

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From then until 2011, GG filled the blog with photos, adverts, videos, publications and descriptions of toys, buildings, musical shows, commerce, culture and events.

It was thrilling to find footage showing scenes from years before my time in settings I could still recognize, and had traversed, today.

For example, this video of Caird Hall in the early 80s doubling as a Moscow theatre in a play called “An Englishman Abroad” by Alan Bennett. The building looks exactly the same! Well, minus the Soviet leader posters.

And while some things stayed the same, I was shocked by other striking changes, like this post about Wellgate, a mall I frequent for its lovely library! The mall doesn’t have the lovely oasis pictured in here anymore and I can barely even picture it having it.

Aside from roaming around the posts I also immensely enjoyed reading the comments. As a young newcomer to Dundee I couldn’t relate to most of these topics directly, but there were certainly many who could and they were ecstatic about the memories these posts were stirring up to the surface!

Some Background

I emailed GG to see if I could get some more information about what inspired the blog and how he may have felt about the positive feedback from people, but he declined an interview.

“It’s a Dundee thing – not a me thing,” GG explained.

GG save
The elusive GG in “1973ish, having a game of shootie-in aroond the backies”. Photo from

I personally think it would have been the cherry on the cake to hear about the background of the blog, but well, it could be the lay-it-all-out-in-the-open attitude is not for everyone. I can respect that.

He did share with me the numbers though. The blog has garnered a respectful 1,600,000 plus views in total since 2008. It would seem there are many other Dundonians happy to be flicking through these items and memories!

These Entertained KIDS?!

By far and large my favourite series of posts in the blog featured the toys of the time.

I mean check these out!


Cap Rockets

Doll Prices

Clackers and a video about their predecesors Klikies.

All in all I’ll have a lot more to think about as I walk to work now. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the scenes from the photos as I trundle down the hill or wander around downtown. I hope you have a chance to take a look and feel inspired by this unique perspective into the everyday, layman workings of the streets of Dundee!

And remember folks. Don’t get your knickers in a twist… especially like the dude being carried out in a stretcher during this twist dance marathon in the early 1960s.

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