Back to the future: 1979-1989
The themes


Thanks to staff at the National Library of Scotland and guest writers for contributing the essays on this site.

Essay writers

Kate Adie

The BBC Radio 4 presenter and former BBC news correspondent has written an essay about the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.

Dr Greg Baldi

The National Library of Scotland's 2018-2019 Fulbright Scholar has contributed an essay about the 1981 occupation of Edinburgh's old Royal High School and another about the closure of Gartcosh steel works. Read more about Greg's work as the Library's 2018-2019 Fulbright Scholar.

Damian Barr

Well-known for his memoir, 'Maggie and Me' written in 2013, Damian Barr is a British writer, columnist and playwright. His essay, 'Testing Times' draws on his experience of going for an AIDS test in the 1980s.

Peter Beresford

An academic, writer, and researcher in the fields of citizen participation and public and social policy and planning, Peter Beresford OBE is a professor at both the University of Essex and Brunel University London, and is author of 23 books and over 100 journal articles. He has drawn on the findings of a 1977 council consultation in North Battersea for his essay on rethinking 1980s social policy.

Dr Emily Bernhard Jackson

A lecturer in 19th-century literature at the University of Exeter, Dr Bernhard Jackson has contributed an essay about the influence of Lord Byron on the New Romantic movement.

Jenni Calder

Having had a varied career as a writer and lecturer, Jenni Calder has been on the staff of the National Museum of Scotland for 23 years. She writes on literary and historical subjects, and writes fiction and poetry as Jenni Daiches. Her essay, 'Splitting Image: 1984 and all that' draws on her reminiscences and memories of the 1980s.

Theresa Coburn and Jonny Melton (Jonny Slut)

A fashion designer and lecturer in Fashion Communication at Heriot Watt University, Theresa Coburn's work has appeared in many books and publications and has been showcased at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. Jonny Melton (Jonny Slut) is a musician and DJ, and has been an influential and flamboyant presence on the London club scene for more than three decades. He hosts his Metal Box electro club night at the Egg in Islington. Their essay about London subculture in the 1980s is a dialogue remembering the cultural scene when they first met in 1983.

Chris Creegan

Working as secretary of the Westminster branch of the National and Local Government Officers' Association in the early 1980s, Chris Creegan developed a passion for politics. He later worked for Unison, and in the field of policy research. He has been involved with numerous third sector and public sector organisations in a voluntary capacity and remains passionate about politics and social justice. He has contributed an essay considering the inequalities of the 1980s.

Richard Holloway

A Scottish writer, broadcaster and cleric, Richard Holloway was Bishop of Edinburgh from 1986 to 2000. He was also Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church from 1992 to 2000. His essay reflects on the changes in the Christian church in the 1980s.

Caroline Gausden

A writer and discursive curator, Caroline Gausden has a practice-based PhD in Feminist Manifestos and Social Art Practice from Gray's School of Art, Aberdeen. She works as a development manager for programming and curating at Glasgow's Women's Library. She has contributed an essay entitled 'Women's protest culture in the 1980s'.

Dame Evelyn Glennie

A virtuoso solo percussionist, Evelyn Glennie originally hails from Aberdeenshire. She has travelled the world, playing and recording with the world's finest orchestras and ensembles. Evelyn is deaf, and she has contributed an essay describing her experiences living in London in the 1980s. Her essay is titled: 'Nineteen thousand and eighty memorable chimes'.

Fiona Jardine

A writer and academic with an interest in modern Scottish textile histories, Fiona Jardine teaches in the School of Design at Glasgow School of Art. She has contributed an essay about 'Fashion 88' and the textile industry in the Scottish Borders.

Avila Kilmurray

A community activist initially in Derry moving to Belfast in 1980, Avila Kilmurray was a founder member of Derry Women's Aid, the first Coordinator of the Northern Ireland Women's Aid Federation and a member of the Northern Ireland Women's Rights Movement. She was a founder member of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition and also served on its negotiation team. She has contributed an essay about womens' activism during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

David G Mackay

Having served as a paratrooper in the British Army during the 1980s, David G Mackay has contributed an essay about Scottish locations used by the American military during the Cold War.

Samantha McCombe

The Linen Hall was founded in 1788. It is the oldest Library in Belfast and the last subscribing Library in Ireland. Samantha McCombe is a Librarian at Linen Hall. Her essay describes Linen Hall's remarkable collections about the Troubles in Northern Ireland..

Edward Petherbridge

An actor, writer, and artist, Edward Petherbridge has been the leading actor in a number of significant theatre companies, including the National Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company. He recounts an acting experience from 1982 in an essay about performing the role of Feste in 'Twelfth Night' in China.

Ian Rankin

The award-winning, best-selling Scottish author is famed for his 'Inspector Rebus' series of detective novels which have been translated into 22 languages. In the 1980s Ian spent an early part of his career writing for 'Hi-Fi Review' magazine. He shares his experiences and love of the vinyl sound in an essay entitled 'The age of the Hi-Fi'.

Esther Rantzen

Dame Esther Rantzen is a journalist and television broadcaster. She presented the hugely popular BBC show 'That's Life!' from 1973 until 1994. The show ran a number of memorable public awareness campaigns. In 1986, she established the child protection charity 'ChildLine'. Her essay 'That's life in the 1980s — the positive power of television' recounts her fond memories and outstanding achievements of the decade.

Phil Redmond

Phil Redmond is a TV producer and screenwriter. He is well known for creating popular television series including 'Grange Hill' and 'Brookside'. He has contributed an essay about the impact of technological change on 1980s society.

Jonathan Shanklin

A meteorologist who has worked with the British Antarctic Survey since 1977, Jonathan Shanklin has contributed an essay about his discovery of a hole in the ozone layer in the 1980s.

Howard Wood

Co-founder and trustee of Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) and the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust (SIFT), Howard Wood was awarded the International Goldman Environmental Prize for Europe in 2015. He received an OBE for his services to the marine environment in 2016. He has contributed an essay about the consequence of deregulation on the marine environment.

Staff writers

Employees at the National Library have written most of the essays on this site, using items in the Library collections and their personal experiences of the 1980s.

All the essays