Twenty-seven years ago today, Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer. In his book The Triumph of the Political Class, Peter Oborne rightly identifies this event as the centrepiece of a shortlived counterblast by an old Establishment which was soon to collapse - The Empire Strikes Back, if you like.
That same year, a large part of the country was in thrall to that lavish saga of doomed aristocracy, Brideshead Revisited, which was showing on ITV - yes, astonishingly, ITV. In the cinema, Chariots of Fire and its tale of gentlemen runners competing for King and Country was a home-grown hit which went on to win the Best Picture Oscar. In the pop charts, the new romantic Prince Charming himself, Adam Ant, was standing and delivering, a celebration of the traditional British penchant for dressing up and eccentricity.
Peter York and Ann Barr published The Sloane Ranger Handbook and had a massive bestseller. A sub-division, known as the 'Young Fogies' , made a brief appearance. Jeremy Hackett realised there was quite a market in clothes of the tweed and four-button cuff variety and so started a little sceond-hand shop selling them on the Kings Road. The 'Season' had a revival, and with it reappeared black tie and ballgowns.
What was all this about? Not, as yet, Thatcherism; in 1981 the 'loadsa-money' city yuppy had yet to make an appearance on the scene. With its strong aristocratic and nostalgic aesthetic, the cultural scene of that year could hardly be seen as a celebration of a new competitiveness and entrepreneurialism. It was instead perhaps a reaction to the grim uniformity and utilitarianism of the 70s, the nihilism of punk, and the general ropey, dingy quality of public life. We were looking upwards at the aristocracy, and backwards at our past.
Well, Brideshead is back, in a new cinema version, but already appears still-born. The New Sloane Ranger handbook was published this year, and sunk without trace. Looking upwards, there is no aesthetic inspiration to be had in a disconnected class of Russian oligarchs. And for the young in particular, the past, which has been gradually erased from the popular imagaination, is no longer an option. As we stare in the face of a new recession, and watch as the social fabric melts away, where do we avert our eyes to this time?