1965 – Motorway Speed Limits, Woodbine Cigarettes and Exams

1965 was the hundredth anniversary of the end of the American Civil War and to celebrate appropriately the United States started a new one in Vietnam.   American troops had been there for some time of course but on March 2nd, following an attack on a United States Marine barracks, Operation Flaming Dart and Operation Rolling Thunder commenced and the war was official.  An estimated six hundred and twenty thousand soldiers died in the American Civil War and one million one hundred thousand in Vietnam.  There were many more unaccounted civilian casualties in addition to that.

In politics Edward Heath became leader of the Conservative Party and began the period when he and Harold Wilson alternated occupancy of 10, Downing Street.  Although these two party leaders certainly didn’t have the stature of Gladstone and Disraeli it is just about the last time in British politics when the two party leaders were almost evenly matched and this generated an interest in politics that has been sadly lacking since.

Around about 1970 I even joined the Young Conservatives but this was nowhere near as exciting as the Boy Scouts and I didn’t renew my subscription when it ran out at the end of the first year.

In the early winter of 1965 there was a lot of fog and a series of multiple crashes on Britain’s new motorways, and in December as a bit of a panic measure an experimental speed limit of seventy miles per hour was introduced.  This really hadn’t been a problem when motorways were first opened because most cars prior to the 1960s would have had difficulty getting up to seventy miles an hour in the first place let alone maintaining this speed for any distance without blowing the engine to kingdom come but by mid-decade they were starting to get faster.

It is an interesting fact that car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 motorway to conduct speed trials and in June 1964 a man called Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 miles an hour in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway.  The press picked the story up and soon there was a crusade for a speed limit.

The history of the speed limit is interesting, the first speed limit was the ten miles per hour limit introduced by the Locomotive Act, or Red Flag Act, of 1861 but in 1865, the revised Locomotive Act reduced the speed limit still further to four miles per hour in the country and two miles per hour in towns, which, lets be honest is slower than average walking speed and sort of missed the point of automotive power.  This Act additionally required a man with a red flag or a lantern to walk sixty yards ahead of each vehicle, effectively enforcing a walking pace, and warning horse drawn traffic of the approach of a self-propelled machine.  In 1896 a new Locomotive Act replaced that of 1865 and the increase of the speed limit to a positively reckless fourteen miles per hour has been commemorated each year since 1927 by the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.  The motorway speed limit of seventy miles per hour was made permanent in 1970.

Speed limits didn’t make any difference at all to Jim Clark who was one of Britain’s greatest Formula One racing stars and in 1965 he won both the Formula One championship and the Indianoplois 500.  He was regarded as the greatest driver of his time and won twenty-five of his seventy-three grand prix starts but sadly died prematurely in an accident at Hockenheim in Germany in 1968 when his car left the track and crashed into trees.  This was a time when motorsport was a lot more dangerous and the life expectancy of a driver was a great deal less than it is today.

A significant event of 1965 was the banning of cigarette advertising on television.  I am thankful for that because at eleven years old I was at my most impressionable and I am quite convinced that I might otherwise have been seduced by the macho image that cigarette advertisements used to lure teenagers into tobacco dependency.

It was about this time that I enjoyed, or perhaps more correctly endured, my first cigarette.  My friend David Newman had slipped some woodbines from his dad’s half empty packet and we went into the fields behind his house for a smoke.  David’s dad, Harry, wouldn’t have noticed a few fags going missing because he used to smoke about sixty a day and that certainly helped towards a premature death.

Woodbines were untipped and maximum strength and we lit up and I can clearly remember trying to adopt an adult demeanour and puffing away but without inhaling until an unfortunate combination of sucking in and speaking at the same time involuntarily drew the foul vapour into my lungs, filled my brain with noxious gasses and made me giddy and unsteady.  I literally fell over as though someone had punched me in the head, turned an unpleasant shade of green and was violently sick, much to the amusement of my pals.

I tried cigarette smoking a few more times after that, as we all did, but I have never forgotten that thoroughly unpleasant experience and gladly never became a real cigarette smoker at any time ever after that.  In 1968 Lotus started advertising tobacco on their Formula One racing cars.  That didn’t do Jim Clark any good did it!

1965 was a mixed year for me when it came to passing exams.  As predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore (or Duncemore in my case) but to compensate for that I did get my Leaping Wolf certificate in the Wolf Cubs and passed my Elementary Test for swimming a whole length of the swimming baths and that was quite something let me tell you, the certificate was signed by the examiner, Mrs Dick, who was a fearsome creature, Councillor Pattinson, the Chairman of the Baths Committee and Jim Duffy, the Town Clerk no less!  Who needed the eleven-plus? Not Me!

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