Age of Innocence – 1961, The Berlin Wall and Emma Peel

Through 1961 the Cold War continued to worsen with the USSR exploding some very large and nasty bombs during testing and then commencing the building of the Berlin Wall to separate East from West Berlin.

The Wall was over a hundred and fifty five kilometers long and in June 1962 work started on a second parallel fence up to ninety meters further into East German territory, with houses in between the fences torn down and people displaced and forcibly relocated.  A no man’s land was created between the two barriers, which became widely known as the ‘death strip’.

It was paved with raked gravel, making it easy to spot footprints, offered no cover and was booby-trapped with tripwires and, most importantly, it offered a clear field of fire to the watching guards.  Between 1961 and 1989 over five thousand people escaped from East Germany over or under the wall and according to official sources one hundred and twenty five were killed trying to do so although the actual figure may be much higher but we will never know.

A number of walls were built over the years, each becoming more escape proof and sophisticated than the last.  The fourth and final wall was completed in 1980 and was constructed from forty-five thousand separate sections of reinforced concrete, each three and a half meters high and over a metre wide. The top of the wall was lined with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult to scale.  It was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, over one hundred and sixteen watchtowers, and twenty bunkers.  These are the lengths some people will go to simply to subjugate others.

By the late 1980s however the Iron Curtain across Europe was being thrown open and border restrictions between east and west were rapidly disappearing.  Thousands of East Germans were escaping to the west through Hungary and Czechoslovakia anyway and the wall became obsolete.  Finally in 1989 East Germany gave permission for people to leave into West Berlin and the wall was quickly demolished by ecstatic Berliners and normality restored to a great European city.

Also in 1961, to make matters worse, the new American President, Kennedy, financed an anti-Castro Cuban invasion at the Bay of Pigs which was an unmitigated fiasco ending in a humiliating climb-down and withdrawal by the Americans to avert the threat of another major world conflict.

1961 was not a good year for the Americans at all because also this year the Soviet Union beat the United States in the race to get the first man into space when in April Yuri Gagarin was fired beyond the atmosphere and orbited the Earth for a hundred and eight minutes travelling at more than twenty seven thousand kilometres an hour before landing safely back on earth.

It was a blow to the Americans who had hoped to be the first to launch a man into space and they could only follow a month later in May when astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to do so.  Later in the same year the disgruntled United States announced the beginning of the Apollo Space Programme with the objective of a manned lunar landing.  Some say that this was achieved in 1969 when two men landed on the moon but there is speculation by many that this was an elaborate con filmed entirely in an empty aircraft hanger in Nevada simply to achieve the Kennedy boast that man would land on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

My favourite story about the space race is that because a standard ballpoint pen would not work in zero gravity, NASA spent millions of dollars developing the zero-g Space Pen, while the pragmatic Russians came up with the alternative of using a simple pencil.  It’s a good story but sadly there is no truth in it at all.  The pen was actually developed by a man called Paul Fisher and he did not receive any government funding at all for its development.  Fisher invested millions of his own money and invented it independently, and then asked NASA to try it.  They liked it and bought four hundred at $2.95 each!  After the introduction of the Space Pen, both the American and Soviet space agencies adopted it.   An amusing footnote to the story is that apparently it turns out that a standard biro will work in space after all.

There were two changes to British currency in 1961 when the old black and white £5 note was discontinued because it was too easy to forge and the farthing ceased to become legal tender.  The farthing was one quarter of the old pre-decimal penny and due to inflation had simply outlived its usefulness and minting ceased as early as 1956 even though the farthing’s buying power then would be almost two pence in today’s values.  It is also interesting that but for an infinitesimal difference, the current penny coin, which was introduced when decimalisation of British coinage took effect in 1971, is the same size as the last minted farthings.  The farthing ceased to be legal tender after 31st December 1960 and the fact that the farthing had recently ceased to be legal tender is referred to in the first episode of Z Cars, which was broadcast in January 1962.

The most important television event of the year in the UK just has to be the very first episode of Coronation Street.  The show had been tried out on regional television in 1960 to see what the reaction would be and in 1961 the show went nationwide for the first time.  It went out twice a week, with Friday’s episode being shown live and the following Monday’s edition shot straight afterwards.  Despite some scepticism by the Television bigwigs the nation took Ena Sharples, Ken Barlow and Elsie Tanner to their hearts, and tuned in their thousands.  By the end of the year it was the highest rated show in the country and is now the longest running soap opera in the world.

In the US Dr. Kildare was a medical drama television series starring Richard Chamberlain which ran from 1961 to 1966, with a total of one hundred and ninety episodes.   This sounds like a lot but is easily eclipsed by the British hospital drama Casualty which has been running since 1986 and has had over eight hundred episodes.

These might have been important TV shows but the most significant event for me was that 1961 saw the beginning of The Avengers when Patrick McNee strode onto the small screen as John Steed complete with bowler hat and umbrella and every inch the English pre-Bond secret agent gentleman.  In the early days Cathy Gale who was played by Honor Blackman in a sexy black leather cat suit assisted him but she left the show and went on to be Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and that introduced the delectable Emma Peel played by Diana Rigg.

Emma Peel was my first fantasy pin-up and I used to scour the television magazines and newspapers for pictures of her that I cut out assembled into a scrap book of cuttings that I carried with me at all times.  Once (about 1966, I guess) some school pals happened to mention this to the English teacher, Mr Howe, who demanded sight of the book and immediately confiscated it for a couple of days.  I thought that this was some sort of punishment but I have subsequently reached the conclusion that he must surely have shared my fantasy and probably spent a couple of enjoyable evenings with the book.

In sport there was bad news for dad, when Leicester City reached the FA cup final for the second time and were beaten 2-0 by Tottenham Hotspurs who did the league and cup double that year.  Leicester reached the cup final again in 1963 and lost to Manchester United and again in 1969 and lost to Manchester City.  They had been there before in 1949 and lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers and this means that they have the unenviable record of being the only team to reach four FA cup finals and lose them all.

Age of Innocence – 1960, Lego and Lady Chatterley

1960! And so the famous decade began, pop music, mods and rockers, flower power and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, or CND for short.  The 1950s had been a steady decade not so different from those that had gone before but the 1960s were about to change the world forever and there would definitely be no going back.

In 1960 there was an event which I suppose stimulated this part of my story.  In November John F Kennedy was elected the thirty-fifth President of the United States, the youngest ever at forty-three and the first Roman Catholic.

He didn’t become President in 1960 because America has a curious system whereby the winner has to wait two months before officially taking office, that is two months being paid for doing absolutely nothing but I suppose this at least gives time for the outgoing Chief Executive to clear his personal possessions out of the White House.

Also in politics it was in 1960 that the British Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan gave his “Wind of Change speech” to the Parliament of South Africa, on 3 February 1960 in Cape Town at the end of a month spent in Africa visiting a number of British colonies, as they were at the time.

The speech sent a clear signal that the British Government intended to decolonise and most of the British possessions in Africa subsequently became independent nations in the 1960s.  The South Africans, sensing a loss of white supremacy, didn’t approve of this and the speech led directly from their withdrawal from the Commonwealth and their continuing support for the apartheid system.

Another significant event of 1960 that was to have far reaching consequencies was the formation of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.  This was an event that would leave the west dependent on the Middle East for its oil and has resulted in a succession of international difficulties in the region.

1960 saw the introduction to Britain of two new must have toys:

The first was the Etch-a-Sketch, which was a big bag of aluminium dust behind a plastic screen that you scraped doodles into, like you would on the window of a steamed-up car.  But rather than use your finger you had to demonstrate enormous amounts of patience and dexterity and twiddle two knobs which was an action that required almost impossible eye to hand co-ordination.  Etch-a-Sketch was invented by a man by the name of Arthur Granjean who developed L’Ecran Magique, The Magic Screen, in his garage.  After several years of being ignored as a load of magnetic rubbish L’Ecran Magique was eventually bought up by an American toy firm and renamed Etch-a-Sketch.

Actually Etch-a-Sketch was really hopeless and it was impossible to draw anything really creative.  The box suggested all sorts of drawing possibilities but in reality although it was alright for houses or anything else with straight lines beyond that it was excruciatingly frustrating to draw anything that anyone would be able to meaningfully identify.

Much more important was the introduction of Lego which was seen at the Brighton Toy Fair for the first time in 1960.  Lego is a Danish company and the name comes from the Danish words ‘LEg GOdt’ meaning ‘play well’.  Now this just has to be one of the best toys ever and when it was first introduced the brightly coloured bricks sold by the bucketful.  Pre-Lego I had a construction set called Bako, which was a set of bakerlite bricks and metal wires that could be used to construct different styles of houses but nothing more inspired than that.  Lego changed everything and the only restrictions on creativity thereafter were the number of bricks in the toy box and our imagination!

BAYKO

Others agree with me about the importance of Lego and the British Association of Toy Retailers named Lego the toy of the century.

From Lego to leg over because 1960 was a big year for literature when the book ‘Lady Chatterleys Lover’ was published by Penguin books and whipped up a legal storm.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ is a novel by D. H. Lawrence that was written in 1928 and printed at that time privately in Florence.  The publication of the book caused a scandal due to its explicit sex scenes, including the use of previously banned four letter words.  When it was published in Britain in 1960, the trial of the publishers, Penguin Books, under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 was a major public event and a test of the new obscenity law.

The 1959 Act had made it possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could show that a work was of literary merit and Penguin books took up the challenge.  At the trial various academic critics, were called as witnesses, and the verdict, delivered on November 2, 1960, was not guilty.  This resulted in a far greater degree of freedom for publishing explicit material in the United Kingdom.

A nice story about the trial which illustrates just how big a watershed 1960 was in terms of changing social attitudes was when  the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, asked the jury if it were the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read“.

Much later than 1960 I found a copy of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ on the top of my dad’s wardrobe and was able to go immediately to the offending chapter because the book fell naturally open at exactly the right spot.

I suspect most of it had not been read at all but the few pages of dirty words were well thumbed and dog-eared and over the next few weeks I contributed to this by sharing it with all of mates whenever they came around to the house when my parents were out.  It made a change from looking up rude words in the dictionary.  This all stopped when one day when the book had gone from the top of the wardrobe and although nothing was ever said I knew that I’d been rumbled.

Lady Chatterley's Lover

One final thing about 1960 is that John, Paul, George and Ringo became the Beatles and the world of popular music would never be the same again and Russ Conway never had another number one hit!

Facts about 1960:

Best Film Oscar – The Apartment

FA Cup Winners – Wolverhampton Wanderers

Miss World Winner – Norma Gladys Cappalgi from Argentina

World Motor Racing Champion – Jack Brabham ofAustralia

World Series Champions – Pittsburg Pirates

Eurovision Song Contest Winner – Jacqueline Boyer, France

Age of Innocence – 1959, Missile Mail and Fidel Castro

Since the 1930s there had been various attempts at speeding up postal services.  In 1934 for example a rocket was launched over a sixteen kilometre flight path between two Hebridean islands in Scotland with a fuselage packed with mail.  Unfortunately the rocket exploded and destroyed most of its cargo, which was a bit of a shame if you had put ten shillings in a birthday card to someone!

In 1959 the U.S. Navy submarine USS Barbero assisted the US Post Office Department in its search for faster, more efficient forms of mail transportation with the first and only successful delivery of ‘Missile Mail’. Shortly before noon on 8th June, the Barbero fired a Regulus cruise missile with its nuclear warhead having earlier been replaced by two official Post Office Department mail containers from the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Mayport, Florida and twenty-two minutes later, the missile struck its target at Jacksonville.

What an utterly absurd concept and probably only the American’s could waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on such a pointless exercise because it must have been obvious even to a five year old that this was never going to be a commercially viable proposition.

Even so the US Postmaster General declared it a great success and instantly proclaimed the event to be “of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world“, and predicted that “before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles.  We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.

This was probably one of the most wildly inaccurate predictions ever made by a Government official and nothing more was ever heard again of ‘Missile Mail’.

Bill Bryson in “The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid” sums up exactly why:

“Perhaps it occurred to someone that incoming rockets might have an unfortunate tendency to miss their targets and crash through the roofs of factories or hospitals, or that they might blow up in flight, or take out passing aircraft, or that every launch would cost tens of thousands of dollars to deliver a payload worth a maximum of $120 at prevailing postal rates”

In the world of entertainment the big star of 1959 in the United Kingdom was the plinky plonky pianist Russ Conway who had five top ten hits this year with the first two going all the way to No 1.  One of these, Side Saddle, stayed at the top spot for four weeks, and Russ was the top-selling UK artist of the year.  On the sheet music chart, three of his compositions were at number one, in total, for over six consecutive months.  Russ was a big star and famous as a pianist for having only seven fingers having lost the tip of one of his little digits in an accident whilst serving in the navy.

In world politics Fidel Castro became President of Cuba after overthrowing the corrupt pro-American Government and after getting a frosty reception from the United States, partly because he had closed down the casinos and seized the assets of the American owners, declared his friendship for Russia and established the first communist regime in the western hemisphere.

Now we didn’t just have to worry about the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and this was going to be a bit of a problem in the future and Regulus cruise missiles were being quickly refitted with their nuclear warheads!

Age of Innocence – 1959, Britain’s First Motorway and First Cars

In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring.  First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick was opened in 1959.

The motorway age had arrived and suddenly it was possible to drive to London on a six-lane highway in a fraction of the previous time, helped enormously by the fact that there were no speed limits on the new road.  This encouraged car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 to conduct speed trials and in June 1964 a man called ‘Gentleman’ Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 MPH in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway, an incident that started the calls for a speed limit.  In fact there wasn’t very much about the original M1 that we would probably recognise at all, there was no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.

The new motorway was designed to take a mere thirteen thousand vehicles a day which is in contrast to today’s figure of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles a day.  When it first opened this was the equivalent of a country road and it certainly wasn’t unheard of for families to pull up at the side for a picnic!  This first section was seventy-two miles long and was built in just nineteen months by a labour force of five thousand men that is about one mile every eight days.

M1 Motorway

In 1959 cars were still a bit old fashioned and basic design hadn’t changed much since the 1940s but the new motorway age needed a new breed of car and in August 1959 the world saw the introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL 2-door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848cc engine and four speed gearbox and known collectively as the MINI!

The car was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis who had previously designed the Morris Minor and was intended as a small economic family car.  The Mk 1 Mini was immediately popular and sold nearly two million units and by the time production ceased in 2000 a total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured.  Nearly everyone has owned a Mini at some time, I did, it was a blue 1969 model, registration BUE 673J.

Not that all of this mattered a great deal to us however because like lots of families in 1959 we didn’t have a car and dad didn’t even learn to drive until the early 1960s and mum not until ten years after that.  His first car was an old fashioned white Austin A40 Cambridge, SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation!  There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your arse in the summer.

The Cambridge had been introduced in 1954 and was kept in production for two years.  It had a straight-4 pushrod B-Series engine with a maximum power output of 42 brake horse power and at 4,250 revs per minute an alleged top speed of 71 miles per hour.  Power was transmitted to the back wheels by means of a four speed gear box controlled with a column mounted lever.

It was a big heavy thing, hard to handle, I imagine, and by modern standards hopelessly inefficient, it only managed a disappointing thirty miles to the gallon or so but with a gallon of leaded petrol costing only five shillings (twenty-five new pence) this really didn’t matter too much.  I can remember dad pulling into a garage where an attendant put four gallons in the tank and dad handed over a crisp green one pound note!  I wish I could do that!  Dad always insisted on buying Shell petrol because he thought it possessed some sort of magic ingredient but at one point we successfully nagged him to buy Esso so that we could get the gold and black striped tail to hang around the filler cap to show other motorists that the car had a tiger in the tank!

Esso Tiger

On the outside it had a voluptuous body shape, lumpy and bulbous, chrome bumpers and grill, round bug-eye lights with chrome surrounds, the Austin badge in the middle of the bonnet and the flying A symbol on the nose at the front.  It was a curious shade of white, a bit off-white really but not quite cream with ominous flecks of rust beginning to show through on the wing panels and the sills.

I would like to be able to take a drive in it now to fully appreciate how bad it must have been and with narrow cross ply tyres it must have been difficult to handle.  Dad obviously had some problems in this department because he had two minor accidents in it.

On the first occasion he misjudged his distances when overtaking a parked car and clipped a Midland Red bus coming the other way, he was upset about that especially when he got a bill to pay for the damage to the bus.  The second occasion was a bit more dangerous when a car pulled out on him from a side street somewhere in London and, with no ABS in those days, dad couldn’t stop the car in time and did a lot of damage to the front off side wing.  Fortunately this wasn’t his fault and someone else had to pay for the repairs this time.

SWD 774

After that he had a white Ford Anglia, 1870 NX, which I always thought was a bit chic and stylish with that raking back window and after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.  My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.

I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children.  Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book.  These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory.  Ah happy days!

photo (1)

Age of Innocence – 1958, The Cod Wars with Iceland

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Eventually Britain and Iceland came to a settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between the two countries in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Icelandic Minister Bjarni Benediktsson hailed the agreement as “Iceland’s biggest political victory.

cod war

But it wasn’t the end of Cod Wars because there was a second in 1972 and a third in 1975 when on both occasions Iceland further extended their territorial fishing waters without consultation and continuing to protect these is what keeps Iceland from joining the European Union even today.

I had no idea that when I visited Iceland that I was now there as a resident of the English fishing town of Grimsby which was once recognised as the largest and busiest fishing port in the world. The wealth and population growth of the town was based on the North Sea herring fishery but this collapsed in the middle of the twentieth century and so diversified to distant water trawler fishing targeting cod in the seas around Iceland.  The concessions that Britain made to Iceland as a result of the Cod Wars which put these fishing grounds off limit destroyed the fishing industry in the town.  It is said that many men who survived the sea came home without jobs and drowned in beer.

Today Grimsby is dominated by the fish processing sector rather than the catching industry. Processors are mainly supplied by over-landed fish from other UK ports and by a harsh twist of fate containerised white fish from Iceland.

There is a National Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby which is a museum including a visit on board a real Grimsby Trawler – The Ross Tiger.  It’s a museum well worth visiting and the last time that I went I learnt from the guided tour that ironically Grimbarians don’t particularly care for cod anyway and have a preference for haddock which they consider to be a superior fish!

Cod

It wasn’t only Grimsby that was adversely affected by the outcome of the Cod Wars and across the Humber Estuary the fishing industry in the city of Kingston-upon-Hull  was similarly devastated by the capitulation of the UK Government and also went into dramatic and irreversible decline.

In view of this in a previous post I expressed surprise that Reykjavik and Hull are official  ‘Twin Towns‘ but I suppose the arrangement may be an attempt at reconciliation and mutual understanding because this was one of the original principles of twinning which became a popular thing to do after the Second World War as people sought to repair shattered relationships with their neighbours

I have often wondered however what the process was for getting a twin town. Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful, perhaps it was a sort of international dating service and introductory agency or maybe it was just a nice place where the Mayor and the Town Clerk rather fancied an annual all-expenses paid trip!

Anyway, the city of Coventry started it all off and was the first ever to twin when it made links with Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1944 and is now so addicted to twinning that it has easily the most of any English town or city with a massive twenty-six twins.  That is a lot of civic receptions and a lot of travelling expenses for the Mayor of Coventry.  Earlier this year I visited another of Coventry’s twin towns – Warsaw in Poland.

Other significant events of 1958 included a revolution in Iraq that overthrew the monarchy, murdered the King and triggered years of instability in the Middle East which continues today; Charles de Gaulle became President of France, which was bad news for those wanting to join the Common Market and Nikita Khrushchev became President of the USSR, who although a liberal by Communist standards was the man who would later approve the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Baldur Fishing Vessel Keflavik Iceland

Age of Innocence, 1958, The Munich Air Disaster

The most distressing piece of news in our house in 1958 was most undoubtedly the Munich air disaster of 6th February when an air crash at Munich Airport in Germany caused the deaths of eight Manchester United players and several club officials and sports journalists.

In 1958 the Manchester United team was one of the most talented in the World and was known as the Busby Babes, which was a reference to their manager Matt Busby and to the average age of the players, which at twenty-four was unusually young.

Manchester United had been to Yugoslavia to play the second leg of a European cup match against Red Star Belgrade.  The match had ended in a 3-3 draw and United had won the tie 5-3 on aggregate.  In the 1950s domestic league matches were played on Saturdays and European matches were played midweek and there wasn’t the same amount of flexibility around fixtures that there is today and having played the match there was no alternative but to return home to England immediately despite poor weather conditions.

The club had chartered an aeroplane to fly them home but the takeoff from Belgrade was delayed for an hour as one of the players had lost his passport, and then the aircraft made a scheduled stop in Munich to refuel.  The plane was a British European Airways Airspeed Ambassador, which was an aircraft that had carried nearly two and a half million passengers on eighty-six thousand flights since it began service in 1952 and had an immaculate safety record.

After refueling the pilot tried to take off twice, but both attempts were aborted.  When a third take off was attempted the plane failed to gain adequate height and crashed into the fence surrounding the airport, then into a house, and caught fire.  Although the crash was originally blamed on pilot error, it was subsequently found to have been caused by the build-up of slush towards the end of the runway, causing deceleration of the aircraft and preventing safe take off speed from being achieved.

Seven players died immediately in the crash, Roger Byrne, the captain, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman, Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan, David Pegg and Geoff Bent.  Probably the most famous Busby Babe of all was Duncan Edwards who was tipped at the time to become one of the World’s greatest footballers but although he survived the crash he died from his injuries a few days later in hospital.

In 1953 he had become the youngest footballer to play in the Football League First Division and at the age of 18 years and one hundred and eighty-three days, he had made his international debut for England in April 1955, and became England’s youngest post-war debutant. This record was not broken for forty-three years, when Michael Owen made his England debut in 1998.

Matt Busby who was himself very seriously injured in the crash resumed managerial duties the following season and eventually built a second generation of Busby Babes, including George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton (who also happened to be one of the original Busby Babes) that went on to win the European Cup ten years after the disaster in 1968.

As a football fan this was devastating news for my dad who for many years afterwards always remembered the tragedy and spoke fondly of the lost Manchester United team.   In a scrap book that he kept at the time he kept the front page of the Daily Mail which covered the story on the next day.  The only other two newspaper front pages that he kept were those that reported the assassination of Kennedy and the death of Winston Churchill.  That’s how much it meant to him.  And he never bought me an Airfix model of the BEA Airspeed Ambassador either.

More from the Daily Mail…

We remember Manchester United but we should also remember:

  • The Zambian national football team was flying on a military plane on its way to Senegal for a 1994 World Cup qualification match, when the plane crashed in the late evening of April 27, 1993. All 30 passengers and crew, including 18 players, as well as the national team coach and support staff, were lost in the accident.
  • The Superga air disaster took place on Wednesday, 4 May, 1949, when a plane carrying almost the entire Torino A.C. football squad, popularly known as Il Grande Torino, crashed into the hill of Superga, near Turin, killing all 31 aboard, including 18 players, club officials, journalists accompanying the team and the plane’s crew.
  • The 1987 Alianza Lima air disaster took place on December 8, 1987, when a Peruvian Navy Fokker F27-400M, chartered by Peruvian football club Alianza Lima, plunged into the Pacific Ocean six miles short of its destination. On board the flight were a total of 44 players, managers, staff, cheerleaders and crew members, of which only the pilot survived the accident.

Age of Innocence, 1957 – Baby Boomers

In 1957 there was big news on the home front when my sister Lindsay was born but around the world following the excitement of wars and revolutions in 1956 this particular year seems to have been less frenetic.

The Treaty of Rome established the Common Market, which was a deeply significant event that has shaped the recent history of modern Europe.  This has become the European Union and has undergone a number of expansions that has taken it from six member states in 1957 to twenty-seven today, a majority of states in Europe.  Britain joined in 1973 after a long period of being denied membership by France and in particular the deeply ungrateful and Anglophobe President de Gaulle.

Harold MacMillan became the new Prime Minister of Britain when Anthony Eden resigned over the Suez crisis debacle and this ushered in the baby boomer years of the late 50’s and 60’s when life generally improved for everyone.  He led the Conservatives to victory in the 1959 general election using the campaign slogan “Life’s Better Under the Conservatives” and MacMillan himself is remembered for his famous personal assessment of these years when he said,“indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.”

So was he right?  In an honest personal assessment I have to say yes.  I was born in 1954  in the years of post war reconstruction and investment and at a time when there was genuine optimism about the future.  For me and my contemporaries there was no World War to live through, a free National Health Service, an education system that led to guaranteed employment and an expectation of a long and rewarding life.

My childhood was comfortable if not extravagant, dad had a career in Local Government and mum stayed at home and kept house.  There were annual holidays to the seaside, a sack full of presents at Christmas  and long glorious summers without a care in the World.

I liked to go to school, even though I wasn’t terribly successful but eventually I was able to progress to University  which in 1972 was an achievement rather than an expectation.

After three years of state funded education I started work immediately and followed my dad into a local government career with a guaranteed ‘gold plated’ (according to the anti public sector press these days) index linked pension.

I bought my first car soon after starting work and a first house soon after that, getting loans and mortgages was easy and I soon started to climb the property ladder.

  

I had my first continental holiday in 1976 and having got a taste for travel have been travelling as much as possible ever since and have been lucky to fly several times a year to Europe and beyond.

I have two children and three grandchildren . I have never been unemployed, sick or poor and now I am retired from work at sixty years old and hope to look forward to a long and happy life.

My Grandchildren

So, was Harold MacMillan right in his assessment of life for the Baby Boomers?  In my case I have to say a categorical yes!