1986 Teenage Girl by Amy Gower #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs

We are delighted that our penultimate #HistoricalDesertIslandDiscs is by Amy Gower. This fictional account inspired by her PhD research into teenage girls’ experiences of secondary school between 1970 and 2000 (see end of page). 

We’ve had the Desert Island Discs from some of the most famous people throughout history, including MPs, Presidents, dictators. But what might a teenager in 1986 have chosen as some of their top picks…?

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It’s 1986, and here are my Desert Island Discs, starting with one of the most popular songs of the year:

  1. The Bangles – Manic Monday (on TOTP, 1986) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7c9fFMgQTYk

Seeing as I’m a teenager, I spend most of my time in school. School is mostly interesting and I work hard, but this doesn’t always help after school when you have to find a job. My older sister left school two years ago with a few O-levels and couldn’t find a job, so she had to go on the dole until she got a place on the Youth Training Scheme (YTS). I worry I won’t be able to get a job after school, but the careers teacher said if I work hard, I can stay at school for sixth form and do my A-levels, although that still doesn’t help me work out what to do afterwards… I was only 10 when Ghost Town came out, and my sister was still at school, but she always says that the song reflects her experience of boredom.

  1. The Specials – Ghost Town https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ2oXzrnti4

Apart from going to school, I see my friends, go to the cinema and youth club. I watch a lot of tv with Mum, like Dallas and Eastenders. We always watch the Wogan Show, which is when I first saw Grace Jones last year. She performed Slave to the Rhythm entirely under a black and white striped mask and cape, until she took them off right at the end and had the most amazing purple eyeshadow.

  1. Grace Jones – Slave to the Rhythm (live on Wogan show, 1985) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeh-zoP1kVY

Me and my sister get to take over the tv on a Thursday evening and put Top of the Pops on. All singles these days have to be released with some kind of dramatic music video, with special effects or a cool dance routine, like Ultravox or Five Star. And then you have the really weird ones, like the Spitting Image songs, and the Young Ones single with Cliff Richard. Some people are getting really inventive with it now. Peter Gabriel used animation for his Sledgehammer video – the dancing chickens were a bit creepy though!

  1. Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJWJE0x7T4Q

I share a room with my sister, who is three years older than me. We are having a war over the posters on our walls at the moment: she has posters of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet on her side, because she loves Simon Le Bon (yuk), whereas I like George Michael and actors like Jason Donovan from Neighbours. I’ll take Duran Duran – Rio to the island just because it’s her favourite!

  1. Duran Duran – Rio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJL-lCzEXgI

At school everyone is in different groups. You have the clones, they wear all the latest fashions and like mainstream music, and although they customise their clothes with patches and things, they end up looking mostly the same. There are other groups, like the casuals, the goths who listen to The Cure and worship Morrisey, but I don’t really fit into any of these groups. I like The Cure but I also like Toyah and A-ha, and am friends with people in lots of different groups. But I am happy to not be the same; I like being an individual.

  1. Toyah – Don’t Fall in Love (I Said) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTCv_zsP7Yo

My sister went to a Red Wedge gig in the spring. She saw The Style Council and the Communards, I was SO jealous, but really she went to see Billy Bragg. She said the bands were good, but she kept getting bothered by boring old people from the Labour Party. She is going to vote Labour next year anyway (good job too, or our Dad might have disowned her!). I like some of those bands doing the Red Wedge tour, but I think I’d only go to see Everything But The Girl – Tracy Thorn has a lovely voice and I like her spiky hair, although I don’t think my mum would let me have it…

  1. Everything But the Girl – When All’s Well https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAtFal50nZ4

I think the 1980s have so far been two extremes. Unemployment has been a big worry for people my age, and school hasn’t been very helpful so far in telling us what to do. But at the moment, I’m having a pretty good time and making the most out of being a carefree teenager. It’s my 16th  birthday soon, and I need to tell the DJ some songs I’d like to play. Madonna is pretty popular across all the social groups, so it’s bound to get people on the dancefloor.

  1. Madonna – Papa Don’t Preach https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G333Is7VPOg


I don’t think I will find the Bible very interesting on the desert island; Mum and Dad still make us go to church at Easter and Christmas, but I mostly switch off and think about the roast waiting for us when we get home! I also would rather not have the Complete Works of Shakespeare. We read Richard the III at school and it was soooo boring, but I did like Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedict were really sharp and funny. When it came to the luxury item, I couldn’t decide! I thought maybe roller skates, but they’d be hard to learn on the sand, and then I thought about one of those new Nintendo Entertainment Systems that has just come out in America, you can play Zelda, Mario, and all sorts of games on there. But I’ve decided to take take one of those new mobile phones so I can talk to my friends whenever I want; talking to my friends is one of the most important things to me, and I’d really miss laughing with them about last night’s Young Ones or gossiping about the teachers.

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The Bangles circa 1986


This fictional account drew inspiration from my research for my PhD project into teenage girls’ experiences of secondary school between 1970 and 2000, in particular oral history interviews conducted as part of this project, diaries held by the Great Diary Project at the Bishopsgate Library, London, and Just Seventeen magazine, especially the 1987 Bitter-sweet Dreams collection of readers creative writing. For more on teenage girls and popular culture, see She-Bop: The Definitive History Of Women In Popular Music by Lucy O’Brien and for more on education, moral panics and girlhood, see Girl Trouble by Carol Dyhouse.


Amy is also part of the University of Reading Research Cluster in Gender History

If you are interested in gender history more broadly, you can find our Gender History Cluster blog here

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