Age of Innocence – 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.

civil war soldiers

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 more powerful and 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.

M1 Motorway

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 that matched the Woodbine packet and was violently sick.  Much to the amusement of my pals.

I tried cigarette smoking a few more times, 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!

12 responses to “Age of Innocence – 1965, Motorway Speed Limits, Woodbine Cigarettes and Exams

  1. Nice memories indeed, as I remember being on the M1 when it first opened and seeing people picnicing on the ‘hard shoulder’ and I do certainly remember my ‘Uncle Charles’ clocking 81mph from Rugby to Northampton-oh the giddy heights of excitement. Smoking… well Andrew, nobody I knew was EVER suckered in with silly colours on packets! In a time when 65% of the population still smoked you either liked the taste/smell of cigarettes or you didn’t – simple as that and having a cigarette brand on your racing car certainly didn’t alter the way Jim Clarke, Surtees or Hill drove. If it did, why are Eric Bristow & Bobby George stil; playing darts after sporting the “Embassy logo’s on their shirts when occupying the ‘ockey’?
    My dad used to smoke Senior Service and I was despatched every day, across the field, to the little shop on the Dunchurch Rd bend at the bottom of the hill to buy a 20pack. I used to enjoy smoking my ‘daily fag’ as I walked slowly there. Senior Service were supplied in a white flatpack with very little decoration at all and they were plain (untipped) so that you could enjoy the full fruity flavour of the tobacco. Good days indeed.
    Ah, Dunsmore Grammar School for Boys, I renmember it well Andrew, and also that seemingly paedophilic enjoyment headmaster Mr Hodgson showed when weilding that vicious, blood letting cane of his out in the corridor-no private canings from him! And Mr Self who I rememeber being removed from his music class one fine day and the next thing we heard was that he was serving a 6 year sentence for ……. ! 1965 I was in the 4th year and starting to get serious about ‘0’-levels etc but sadly parental issues thwarted any great educational prowess. Sadly, Dunsmore Grammar School has been relegated to Ashlawn Comprehensive-not sure why really.
    I have to smile Andrew for you quoted a ‘premature death’. How was it premature? No single person is born with a time stamp on the being so therefore no person can die prematurely! When born, who knows whether a person will live to be 120 seconds old or 120 years? Interestingly enough my friend, the 6 oldest people ever to have lived were all smokers! (
    It’s lovely that you still have certificates etc from your youth, sadly my old man destroyed all mine as he shut the door behind me! 😦

    • It’s done. A lot of people seem to have similar memories. When I was there only a handful of teachers were allowed to use the cane following the Leeson incident when he severly injured a boy during a thrashing. Dunning, Barker and Deputy Head Ince all retained caning rights. I once got 6 of the best from Hodgson for a silly prank hiding hymn books. It was in the privacy of his office though and with 24 hours notice so I wore double underpants and sports shorts under my trousers that day!

  2. Hi Andrew, Can you alter something for me please-I got interrupted whilst typing 😦 Where it says ” Ah, Dunsmore Grammar School for Boys, I renmember it well Andrew, and also that paedophilic headmaster Mr Hodgekinson & Mr Self who I rememeber being removed from his music class one fine day and the next thing we heard was that he was serving a 6 year sentence for ……. ! It should read ….. ” Ah, Dunsmore Grammar School for Boys, I renmember it well Andrew, and also that seemingly paedophilic enjoyment headmaster Mr Hodgkinson showed when weilding that vicious, blood letting cane of his out in the corridor-no private canings from him! And Mr Self who I rememeber being removed from his music class one fine day and the next thing we heard was that he was serving a 6 year sentence for ……. ! Don’t want people to get the wrong ideas do we or upset anyone related to the old b******d! Thanks Andrew.

    Phil J Leicester

  3. Mr Barker – oh dear me, a fearsome man who I thought was about 12ft tall when I first went to his RI class. I never liked him from the first moment I saw him….. and when he went out to his cupboard I liked him even less! I remember one lad, “Les xxxxxxxxxxxx” asking Hodge(kinson?) if he thought he was going to use the cane on him and when ‘H’ said yes, so Les xxxxxxxxx whipped the cane out of his hands and gave him more than ‘6 of the best’ about the head & face. Needless to say he was expelled! What a hero he was for a short while :).
    I remember ‘Chalky’ White too, a maths teacher that absolutely ridiculed/humiliated me in front of the whole class one day-he took a school trip to the Scottish Highlands, slipped and fell to the bottom of one of those’ Highlands’ and died – so in my mind there is some justice in this world. I remember Hodgson gunning for me after that until I reminded him of what ‘Chalky’ White had done to me a few months earlier: the whole matter was dropped immediately! 🙂

  4. Pingback: Age of Innocence – 1965, Motorway Speed Limits, Woodbine Cigarettes and Exams | Have Bag, Will Travel

  5. I love reading the memories going back and forth. Isn’t this fabulous? School days and teachers. Where has the time gone? 🙂

  6. I, too, enjoy your memories and the way you place them into historical context. Your account of the speed limits reminds me of another rule in the U.S. I’m sure I’ll get the details wrong, but it was regarding what a motorist should do when coming to an intersection. It went something like this: Come to a complete stop and look for oncoming traffic, honk the horn twice. Get out of the vehicle and discharge a rifle in the center of the intersection. Check for oncoming traffic. If it looks clear, return to the vehicle, honk a few more times, then proceed with caution. (Of course we obviously had to find a way to involve firearms, ha ha!)

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