Age of Innocence – 1965, Death of the Greatest Briton, Winston Churchill

The Greatest Briton…

I have mentioned before that, in his memory box, dad kept the front pages of three newspapers: 7th February 1958, the Munich air disaster, 23rd November 1963, the Kennedy assassination and finally the Daily Mail of 25th January 1965 which reported the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

I think that few would argue that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was probably the greatest Briton of all time.  I know that I can say this with some confidence because in 2002 the BBC conducted a nationwide poll to identify who the public thought this was.

The result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.  The BBC project first identified the top one hundred candidates and the final vote was between the top ten.  Second in the poll was the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who gave Churchill a good run for his money and received nearly 25% of the votes.  These two I fully agreed with but in third place, and goodness knows what the public must have been thinking, was Princess Diana!

Now, the only thing that I can see that Princess Diana ever did was to whine a lot about having to live in Palaces, wear expensive jewellery, attend gala performances and try to undermine and destroy the Royal Family.  Not so long ago you could have your head cut off for that sort of thing but by some bizarre twist the British have turned her into a heroine.

As low down as number twenty-seven was Emily Pankhurst who fought for women’s suffrage and much further down the list at number fifty-two was Florence Nightingale and in my opinion these two women’s personal legacy to the development of Great Britain as a nation is much, much greater than that of Princess Diana.

Howls of protest from Princess Diana fans!

Other Greatest Britons…

There were other anomalies on the list as well.  There were eleven Kings and Queens and eleven politicians, ten military heroes, eight inventors and seven scientists.  This is what I would expect but then there were eight pop musicians including Boy George!  Now, surely there must be dozens of people who could be more appropriately included on the list than that.  Even if you do accept that pop stars are great Britons what is even more unbelievable is that Boy George beat Sir Cliff Richard by seven places!  John, Paul and George were included in the eight but there was no place for Ringo, which doesn’t seem very fair.

Enoch Powell was one of the politicians and he was a raging racist.  Richard III is in but not Henry VII.  There is an issue of equality because of the one hundred only thirteen were women and I can’t help feeling that there must be more than that.  Here are some suggestions of mine; the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, the philanthroprist Octavia Hill, the pioneering aviator, Amy Johnson, the nineteenth century gardener, Gertrude Jeckyl and the very embodiment of Britishness, Britannia herself.  John Churchill the 1st Duke of Marlborough, military genius and ancestor of the great Sir Winston didn’t even make the list.

At this time lots of other countries ran similar polls, some of the results were equally predictable, South Africa voted for Nelson Mandella, Spain for King Juan Carlos, Greece choose Alexander the Great and, ignoring politics, Italy went for Leonardo Da Vinci.  Some results were less obvious, in France there was surely someone more famous than Charles de Gaulle (Napoleon perhaps) and Germany overlooked Otto Von Bismarck and Martin Luther and choose Konrad Adenaur. My favourite is Canada, where, despite being the second largest country in the World, there are so few famous people to choose from that the long list was restricted to fifty and the top ten included three Scots, the public voted for a man called Tommy Douglas!  In Australia the newspaper ‘The Australian’ selected Andrew ‘Banjo’ Patterson who pushed the World’s greatest ever cricketer, Don Bradman, into second place.

A State Funeral in Great Britain…

In fact Winston Churchill was so great that he was awarded a State Funeral and that doesn’t happen very often because this requires a motion or vote in Parliament and the personal approval of the Monarch.

A State Funeral consists of a military procession using a gun carriage from a private resting chapel to Westminster Hall, where the body usually lies in state for three days.  The honour of a State Funeral is usually reserved for the Sovereign as Head of State and the current or past Queen Consort.  Very few other people have had them:  Sir Philip Sydney in 1586, Horatio Nelson in 1806, the 1st Duke of Wellington, 1852, Viscount Palmerston in 1865, William Gladstone, 1898, the 1st Earl Roberts of Kandahar, 1914, Baron Carson in 1935 and Sir Winston Churchill.

So this is a very small list indeed although it might have included one more but Benjamin Disraeli, the Queen’s favourite Prime Minister, who was offered the honour of a State Funeral refused it in his will.  We might have to wait a very long time for the next one because I really can’t imagine that it is going to be Boy George.

Age of Innocence – 1964, Paper Rounds, Rugby Granada Cinema and School Reports

paperboy

Paper Rounds…

In September 1964 the Sun newspaper was first published to replace the old fashioned Daily Herald.  At about this time I had my first paper round and earned fifteen shillings (.75p) a week in return for getting up at six o’clock, six days a week, to lug a bag of newspapers around the village before going to school.

Thursday was a bad day because of the Radio and TV Times magazines but Friday was by far the worst because the addition of the Rugby Advertiser doubled the weight of the bag.

Later I had a Sunday round as well and that paid fifteen shillings for the one day but that stared an hour later so that thankfully meant a bit of a lie in.  One of the occupational hazards of being a paper boy was dogs, and as I have explained I really don’t like dogs!  One I can remember used to scare me witless when it would jump at the letterbox and pull the newspaper through whilst I was delivering it.  One day I hung on to the other end and the dog shredded the outer pages.  I think it must have got a kick up the arse or something because it didn’t do it again for a while.

I would be surprised if Sunday paper rounds exist anymore because to deliver to fifty houses or so would need a fork lift truck to replace the old canvas bag on account of the size of the newspapers and the weight of all of the colour supplements.

The paper round was important because towards the end of my career I used to assist the newsagent, Mr Dalton, to sort out the rounds and this taught me new skills that I was able to put to good use later in life when it was my job at the council to organise the refuse collection rounds.

Cory Environmental Contract Manager

Rugby Granada Cinema…

Before this year going to the pictures had been restricted to Saturday morning children’s picture club at the Rugby Granada Cinema but by 1964 I was old enough to be taken to see proper films in the evening.  I am sure that we went to see Mary Poppins that year but the two films that I remember most were 633 Squadron and Zulu.  633 Squadron was a war film where the Royal air Force carried out a daring bombing mission to destroy a Nazi armaments factory in occupied Norway.  The planes they used for the raid were De Haviland fighter/bomber Mosquitoes and this quickly became my favourite Airfix model after seeing the film.

Zulu was much more important.  These are the facts: On 22nd January 1879 the Imperial British army suffered one of its worst ever defeats when Zulu forces massacred one thousand five hundred of its troops at Isandlhwana in South Africa.  A short time after the main battle a Zulu force numbering over four thousand warriors advanced on a British hospital and supply garrison guarded by one hundred and thirty nine infantrymen at Rorkes Drift.

The film tells the true story of the battle during which the British force gallantly defended the hospital and in doing so won eleven Victoria Crosses, which is the most ever awarded for one single engagement.   Dad liked military history and tales of heroic deeds and he took me to see the film and then probably watched it every year after when it popped up on television at Christmas.   The film takes a few historical liberties but it remains one of my favourites and of course I have a copy of it in my own DVD collection.

What else is interesting is that the if you buy the DVD now, Michael Caine is billed as the star but if you watch it Stanley Baker had top billing and he was the film’s producer as well, the film simply introduces Michael Caine in his first big film role.  That’s how easily history is rewritten.

Later that year dad bought the theme tune to 633 Squadron single and I got the Zulu soundtrack LP for Christmas to play on our new record player. I’ve still got it but I don’t play it any more.  I’ve also got dad’s book on the Zulu wars and his favourite Royal Doulton water colour painting of the defence of Rorkes Drift.

School Reports…

After the summer holidays I went back to school for my final year at Hillmorton County Junior School which was going to include preparing for the eleven-plus exam next year.  No one was very optimistic about my chances of success because to be fair I wasn’t the most gifted child at the school.  My reports consistently informed my parents how I didn’t try hard enough, didn’t show interest and could do better.  I am sure they were right and I can see now that I must have severely tested their patience, some of them thought that I had potential but at eleven years old I was reluctant to use it.  I blame the school because they simply didn’t make it interesting enough.

By contrast, going to Sunday morning Chapel was quite stimulating, I enjoyed that and this year, with the helpful guidance of the Reverend Keen and Sunday school teacher Christine Herrington, I was awarded a First Class pass in the Methodist Youth Department Scripture Examination for the third year running.  I wasn’t worried about working in a factory because I was more certain than ever I was going to be a vicar.

Age of Innocence – 1964, The Warren Commission, the Ku Klux Klan and BBC2

The Warren Commission…

In 1964 the United States passed its official verdict on the Kennedy assassination when ‘The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy’, known unofficially as ‘The Warren Commission’, produced an eight hundred and eighty-eight page report that concluded that the gunman Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the killing of John F Kennedy.

The Commission’s findings have since proven forever controversial, and have consistently been both challenged and continuously reaffirmed.  Debate and speculation however refuses to go away.

Presidential Assassinations…

Kennedy wasn’t the only American President to be assassinated and before him Presidents Abraham Lincoln (1865), James Garfield (1881) and William McKinley (1901) died at the hands of assassins, while many other presidents have survived attempts on their life.

But it is not only being President of the United States that is a high risk job because this is an occupational hazard for other high profile people.  In Russia for example, four emperors were assassinated within less than two hundred years of each other, Ivan VI, Peter III, Paul I, and Alexander II.  In Europe the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 by Serb nationalist insurgents started World War I and soon after achieving independence from British occupation, Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the freedom struggle was gunned down.  In Britain the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was shot dead by a madman in 1812 but happily remains the only British Prime Minister to suffer this fate.

1964 was a busy year in all respects.  In politics there were a lot of changes around the world; in the USSR Khrushchev was deposed and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev, Lyndon B Johnson became the elected President of the United States with the fourth highest ever presidential victory and in Britain the Labour Party won the general election and returned to power after thirteen years of Conservative rule.  The new Prime Minister was Harold Wilson who was one of the most prominent modern British politicians.  He succeeded as Prime Minister after more General Elections than any other twentieth century Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, with majorities of four in 1964, ninety-eight in 1966, five in October 1974, and with enough seats to form a minority government in February 1974.

In the world of entertainment Radio Caroline became the first pirate radio station which played continuous popular music and directly challenged the BBC light programme for radio supremacy, the Rolling Stones released their first album and BBC2 was introduced.

These exciting developments meant that we needed new entertainment equipment around the house and it was at about this time that we had our first record player to replace a creaky old radiogram that was difficult to tune in and only played 78 rpm records.

Now for the first time we could play singles and long players and the first two records that were bought to accompany the new record player were a Jim Reeves single and a Black and White Minstrels extended play with four medleys on it.  Later that year Jim Reeves was killed in a plane crash so we never added to that collection and thankfully I don’t think we bought any more Black and White Minstrels records either.

Civil Rights and the Ku-Klux-Klan…

I used to hate the Black and White Minstrel show which was generally shown on television at Saturday teatime and after the sitcom ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ was one of the most politically incorrect programmes imaginable with white men ‘blacking-up’ as negroes and singing songs from deep south Dixie.  And this was at a time when the Civil Rights movement in the United States was moving up a gear or two and demands for social justice were leading to violence and confrontation.

During this time there was one of the last great efforts by white supremacists to frustrate the introduction of equalities.  The Ku Klux Klan was a bunch of racist bigots that dressed in white cloaks and pointy hats and advocated white supremacy, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, racism, homophobia, anti-communism and nativism.  These were a bunch of genuinely nasty people who you really didn’t want to find knocking on your door in the middle of the night.  The Klan often used terrorism, violence and acts of intimidation, such as cross burning and lynching to oppress African Americans and just about every other social or ethnic group that they couldn’t get on with.

BBC2 was the third British television channel and unlike the other channels available at that time was broadcast only on the 625 line Ultra High Frequency system, so was not available to viewers with 405 line Very High Frequency sets. This created a market for dual standard receivers which could switch between the two systems and anyone who wanted to receive the new channel was obliged to go to the expense of upgrading their television sets.

This sort of thing still goes on today.  A few years ago I was looking for a new computer and was advised that I would have to buy a PC with Windows Vista which has replaced XP.  This sounded all well and good until I was told that I would have to replace most of my software as well because it would be incompatible with the new operating system.  What a con!

On the subject of computers the computer language BASIC was first introduced in 1964, which was a real breakthrough and led to the greater accessibility and later the introduction of home computers.

Age of Innocence – 1963, The Assassination of JFK

John F Kennedy 001The first few years of our lives are truly the age of innocence when we have a glorious lack of awareness of the external national and global issues that are going on all around us and shaping the world and the environment to which we will one day grow up into.

For me the end of the world was the bottom of the back garden, the end of the street or the physical boundaries of play imposed by my parents.  I was blissfully unaware of what was going on outside of those boundaries and parents and schoolteachers clearly didn’t think it was necessary for me or others to have knowledge of current affairs.  There was no John Craven’s Newsround, well not until 1972, not even very much television, and no way of knowing what was going on and no real need to find out.

They say that everyone remembers where they were the day that John F Kennedy was shot and I can confirm that my very first consciousness of world news events was November 22nd 1963, the day the President of the USA was assassinated in Dallas in Texas and even then the news itself didn’t particularly register as important but rather it was the reaction of my parents that proved to be my news awareness watershed.

It was early evening, I was at home, mum and dad were round at a neighbour’s house, and I was watching the television.  It was a Friday night so I had probably been watching Crackerjack on the BBC with Aemonn Andrews.  Crackerjack finished at a quarter to six and after that came the news programmes which held no particular interest for me and anyway it was a little too early for news of the shooting to be breaking in England.

Kennedy was shot at half past twelve Dallas time, half past six in England.  On BBC television, the six o’clock News finished at ten past six.  It had been a quiet day; there had been the results of the Dundee West by-election, the announcement of the architect appointed to design the new National Theatre and the departure from the United Kingdom of the new Miss World, Carol Crawford, who was returning to Jamaica.  Ten minutes was more than enough to report the events of a very ordinary sort of day in 1963.

Crackerjack

At seven o’clock I would probably have been watching the game show ‘Take Your Pick’ with Michael Miles but ten minutes in, it was interrupted for ITN’s first ever newsflash.  Kennedy had been shot.  On the BBC, ‘Points of View’, presented by Robert Robinson, was interrupted at approximately the same time and having nothing to watch of any particular interest to me I turned the television off and probably looked for some sort of mischief appropriate for a nine year old boy left at home alone.

Soon after this mum and dad returned home in a bit of a fluster and I didn’t know what could be the matter.  Dad demanded to know why I had turned off the television which was a bit confusing because he didn’t really like us having it on all that much and would always turn it off the minute he thought we weren’t watching it.

He became a bit agitated as he turned the set back on and waited for it to flicker into life.  This was quite a long process in the 1960s because TVs had an antiquated system of valves, wires and resisters instead of today’s micro chips and these took some time to ‘warm up’, after a minute or so you would get sound and then after another minute or so (if you were lucky) a grainy black and white picture with flickering horizontal lines would slowly start to appear.  Most television sets needed about fifteen minutes to warm up, I seem to remember.

TV sets were always breaking down as well, half way through a programme there would be a ‘PING’ and the picture would disappear into a bright white spot in the middle of the screen like a bright star falling into a black hole and that was it until the television repair man responded to an emergency call to come by and fix it by replacing the broken tube in the back, which was a bit like replacing a broken light bulb.

After the first BBC newsflash, ‘Tonight’ came on, but it was ended early when at half past seven the programme was interrupted with the news that Kennedy had been shot in the head and his condition was critical.  A few seconds later a phone rang, the newsreader took the call in front of the viewers and finally said ‘we regret to announce that President Kennedy is dead.’

John F Kennedy

After that the BBC didn’t really have a clue what to do next and what viewers got was the BBC television continuity screen, a revolving globe, for twenty minutes or so that was punctuated by three brief bulletins read by the newsreader.  My parent’s reaction to the news took me by surprise and the event was a significant moment in my young life because subsequently I was always aware of the news after that.

This was a transitional moment when I started to leave the age of innocence behind.

JFK and Jackie Dallas 1963

Because getting transatlantic news in 1963 was still somewhat difficult (Telstar, launched in 1962 was undergoing complicated repairs and not transmitting) eventually the TV stations reverted to their scheduled programming and the BBC continued with Harry Worth and Dr Finlay’s Casebook and the ITV showed an episode of Emergency Ward 10, which was a sort of 1960’s Casualty!

William Hartnell Doctor Who

It’s an interesting fact that on the following day the BBC broadcast the first ever episode of Doctor Who.  I think at the time I found that a lot more interesting than Kennedy’s assassination.

Considering the matter of news awareness has made me think about all of the newsworthy events that occurred during that first ten years of mortal existence when I was sublimely oblivious to what was happening in the world.  Lots of momentous things were going on of course it was just that they were not registering on my personal news alert sensor that was only kicked into life the day that John F Kennedy died.  That is how I started this blog!

Do you remember where you were the day that JFK was assassinated?

JFK Motorcade

Age of Innocence – 1963, End of the Railways and The French Language

Train_at_Rugby_Central_station

In the United Kingdom 1963 was a bad year for railways and the Beeching report in March proposed that out of Britain’s then twenty-nine thousand kilometres of railway, nearly ten thousand of mostly rural branch and cross-country lines should be closed.

The name derives from the main author of the report ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’, Dr. Richard Beeching, and although this report also proposed the development of new modes of freight service and the modernisation of trunk passenger routes, it is best remembered for recommending the wholesale closure of what it considered to be little-used and unprofitable railway lines, the removal of stopping passenger trains and closure of  many local stations on other lines which remained open.

The report was a reaction to the significant losses which had begun in the 1950s as the expansion in road transport began to transfer significant passenger and goods traffic away from the tracks and British Railways continued making increasingly large losses despite the introduction of the railway modernisation plan of 1955.

M1 Motorway

Beeching proposed that only drastic action would save the railways from increasing losses in the future.  Thousands of kilometres of railway track were removed and hundreds of stations were closed in the decade following the report and many other rail lines lost their passenger services and were retained only for freight.

This was significant for us because the Beeching Axe closed the Great Central Railway that ran from London Marylebone to Manchester Piccadilly but rather critically for us connected Rugby to Leicester and my grandparents.  Every other Saturday we used to use the steam train to Leicester via Lutterworth, Ashby Magna and Whetstone to Leicester Central and then a bus to Narborough Road (if we were lucky, Dad preferred to save the money and make us walk) to visit the folks.

With no convenient alternative route available to visit them, or to get to the football matches, this must have been an important factor in dad’s decision to learn to drive and join the motoring age.

Vauxhall Viva

In 1963 President Charles de Gaulle denied the United Kingdom access to the Common Market.  Membership applications by the United Kingdom to join the European Economic Community were refused in 1963 and 1967 because de Gaulle said that he doubted Britain’s political will and commitment so really quite prophetic.

It is generally agreed however that his real fear was that English would become the common language of the community and replace French.  Britain was not admitted to the EEC until 1973, three years after the ungrateful, pompous and stubborn old farts death.

And the French are still precious about their language even today but their reluctance to communicate in or even simply acknowledge English gives me the opportunity to demonstrate my fluency in everyday essentials and I have to use all of that knowledge on my occasional visits there:

‘Vin blanc sil vous plait’

‘Vin rouge sil vous plait’

‘bier grande sil vous plait’

‘bier grande vite’.  And so on.  As Ricky Gervais advises if they don’t understand you, talk louder, if they still don’t understand you, then trash the place!

France Restaurant Language Difficulties

1963 was the year of the Great Train Robbery when Ronnie Biggs and his gang stopped a train in an audaciously simple sting and stole £2,631,784 from a mail train in Buckinghamshire, that is the equivalent of about forty million pounds at today’s values so was a fairly important event.

On a black note Myra Hindley and Ian Brady began their campaign of abduction and murder of young people in the United Kingdom and in the United States the notorious San Francisco jail of Alcatraz was closed and the prisoners dispersed to more hospitable establishments.

The world finally came to its senses and realised that a nuclear war would most probably destroy the entire world and everyone in it, including those who dropped the bomb, and the United States, the USSR and bizarrely the United Kingdom (this must have been a recognition of former greatness) signed the partial nuclear test ban treaty which banned nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater and in space, sadly however, neither France nor China, signed the treaty and continued with the dangerous practice of exploding nuclear devices.

Popular music was becoming increasingly culturally important in the world and in 1963 the Beatles released their first long playing record ‘Please Please Me’ and Beatle mania followed almost immediately.  I never understood this; I was a Rolling Stones man and always considered the Beatles to be overrated, which was a shame because I had a lot years without enjoying their music.  My personal conversion came in 2003 when I bought ‘Let it Be, Naked’ and the penny finally dropped.  Since then I have bought the entire back collection and kick myself for not having appreciated it the first and original time around.

On November 22nd 1963 President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas…

Kennedys Riding in Dallas Motorcade

… More about this next time.

Age of Innocence – 1963, US ZIP Codes and X-RAY Specs

As a teenager I used to read American superhero comics like DC and Marvel and I was always tempted to respond to the full page advertisements for such things as a complete two hundred piece civil war army for $1.49, a miniature secret camera for only $1.00 or a free Charles Atlas body building course.

What prevented me filling in the order form and sending off the cash was not the rather critical fact that I had no idea how to exchange my paper round money into dollars but rather the fact that I didn’t know what a ZIP code was.  I concluded that it was some sort of secret code that prevented overseas orders from being processed and so never had the pleasure of sending off my order form for those intriguing items.

As it turned out there is nothing secret about it at all.  The ZIP code is the system of postal codes used by the US Postal Service. The letters ZIP are an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan and were chosen to suggest that the mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly, when people sending post use it.

ZIP codes of the USA

By the early 1960s improvements were needed in the postal service due to increasing volumes and on 1st July 1963 ZIP codes were announced for the whole country.  This might not sound like a really really big news item but I mention it because for many years I had a lot of difficulty understanding what a ZIP code was as post codes were not introduced to the whole of the United Kingdom until 1974 and then no one really used it for at least the next twenty years or so.  (Post codes were introduced in Australia in 1967 and in Canada in 1971 although here Trade Union opposition held up full implementation until 1974).

  

Most of all I wanted a pair of X-ray specs, mostly because the advert seemed to suggest that whilst it might be fun to be able to see the bones in your hand, it would be a whole lot more fun to be able to see through clothing and there was always a curvy girl in the advert that suggested that this was a real possibility.

But, let’s think about it for a minute.  This is how my science dictionary explains X-rays:

‘X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths of around 10-10 metres.  When X-rays are being produced, a thin metallic sheet is placed between the emitter and the target, effectively filtering out the lower energy (soft) X-rays.  This is often placed close to the window of the X-ray tube.  The resultant X-ray is said to be hard. Soft X-rays overlap the range of extreme ultraviolet.  The frequency of hard X-rays is higher than that of soft X-rays, and the wavelength is shorter.  During an X-ray the electrons decelerate upon colliding with the target and if enough energy is contained within the electron it is able to knock out an electron from the inner shell of the metal atom and as a result electrons from higher energy levels then fill up the vacancy and X-ray photons are emitted.’

Well, that all sounds rather complicated to me, and X-ray machines costs many thousands of pounds so thinking back it seems highly unlikely that a pair of cardboard specs costing a mere $1.00 was going to be able to deliver the sort of  advanced level of technical process that would enable me to see through girls’ clothing.

Actually the lenses consisted of two layers of cardboard with a small hole punched through both layers.  A feather was embedded between the layers of each lens and the vanes of the feathers were so close together that light was diffracted, causing the user to receive two slightly offset images. Where the images overlapped, a darker image was obtained, supposedly giving the illusion that one is seeing an X-ray image of dark and light.  I know now of course that this isn’t a real X-ray machine at all and I would never have been able to see through girls’ clothing after all and I am retro spec tively glad that I never sent off my money and purchased a pair.

 

Age of Innocence – 1962, Cold War and Cold Winter

Nuclear Winter

International relations took a down turn when following the Bay of Pigs incident in the previous year Nikita Khrushchev gave the go-ahead in the summer of 1962 for Russian nuclear missiles to be installed on Cuba to protect it from any future United States led invasion and also to counterbalance its superiority in long and medium range nuclear weapons based in Europe.

After a United States Air Force spy plane spotted the missile bases, the news was announced by President Kennedy and for a week the world hovered on the brink of all out nuclear war while everyone waited to see what the hawkish President would do.  It was the Soviets who eventually backed down after Khrushchev accepted a Kennedy promise not to invade Cuba and to decommission nuclear missiles based in Turkey.  Kennedy publicly agreed to the first request and secretly agreed to the second.  The United States ended its blockade in November, the Soviets removed their nuclear weapons by the end of the year and the missiles in Turkey were withdrawn in 1963.

One good thing however was that a hot line between the USA and USSR was set up to prevent such a crisis happening again.

1962 brought a welcome end to political extremism in Britain when the former fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley was assaulted at a rally in London’s East End when he and members of his anti-Semitic Blackshirt group were punched to the ground when he tried to address a meeting.  A crowd of several thousand had gathered in the area, where Sir Oswald, leader of the Union Movement formerly known as the British Union of Fascists, planned to speak from the back of a lorry but his speech was drowned out by continuous boos and a chorus of ‘down with the fascists’ which perhaps confirmed that Britons really had never had it so good and there was no appetite for political rabble rousers.

oswald mosley

Sir Oswald was a former Labour Member of Parliament and junior minister who became leader of the British Union of Fascists in 1932.  During the war, he and his wife were interned for being a threat to national security and then in 1948 he formed the Union Party but failed to ever make a breakthrough in post-war British politics.  No more was heard of Sir Oswald after 1962 and he retired into exile in France.

Just before Christmas 1962 the winter in Britain began abruptly.  The weather in the first three weeks of December was changeable and sometimes stormy but just before Christmas the cold set in and there wasn’t another frost free night until 5thMarch 1963.

On the 29th to 30th December a blizzard roared across the southwest of England and Wales, snow drifted to over six metres deep in places and this caused road blockages and cut railway lines.  The snow left villagers stranded and power and telephone lines were brought down.  Stocks of food ran low and farmers couldn’t reach their livestock.  As a result thousands of sheep, ponies and cattle starved to death.   The continuous freezing temperatures meant that the snow cover lasted for over two months and the winter of 1962/63 was the coldest over England and Wales since 1740, colder even than 1947, with mean maximum temperatures for January and February 1963 more than 5 °c below the average.

All of this exceptionally cold weather came from the east with a weather band stretching all the way from the Baltic, so if the evil Russians didn’t get us with their nuclear missiles they certainly got us with a vicious attack of frost!

Icicles

This would have been quite an ordeal I’m certain because like most people in 1962 we lived in a house without central heating and this was in the days long before double glazing and thermal insulation.  I don’t think we even had a fitted carpet!  The house had an open fire in the lounge and a coke boiler in the kitchen to heat the water and that was it.  Sitting around the fire was quite cosy of course but when it came to bed time this was a real ordeal.

The bedrooms weren’t heated in any way and the sheets were freezing cold and we certainly didn’t go to bed without a hot water bottle and thick flannelette pyjamas and without modern duvets, as it got colder, we had to rely on increasing numbers of blankets piled so high that you could barely move because of the weight.  When the house ran out of spare blankets overcoats were used instead.  During the night the temperature inside the house would drop to only a degree or two higher than outside and in the morning there was frost and ice on the inside of the windows that had to be chipped off with a knife before you could see outside.

frosted windows

I can remember the mornings well, first I’d hear dad get up and I would hear him making up the fire and raking the coke boiler ready for ignition.  He always did this job in his maroon and white check work shirt.  After fifteen to twenty minutes or so it would be time to leave the comfort of the warm bed and go and see what sort of a job he was making of it.

On a good day the fire would be well established and roaring away and the temperature in the house would be limping up towards freezing but on a bad day he would be fighting to get it going and would be struggling with a newspaper stretched across the grate trying to ‘draw’ the fire into life and the house would still be at the temperature of the average arctic igloo.  The house would still be cold by the time we had had our porridge and gone to school or to work and then it would be mum’s job to keep it going all day so that by tea time when we all came home it was nice and warm again.

Once outside the snow was glorious good fun and on the way to school we constructed lethal slides along the pavements and on the verges and transformed the route to school into a Cresta Run of excitement without giving too much thought to the people that this might inconvenience such as the elderly and the infirm who as far as we were concerned would just have to simply take their chance along with everyone else.  We worked for days to polish an especially perilous bit of pavement into a down hill slalom course and then Mrs Wright from across the road destroyed it with a tub of Saxa salt and we all hated her forever after that.