Category Archives: Growing up in the 1960s

Age of Innocence – 1968, Shootings and Assassinations

If 1967 had been a quiet year, much without incident, 1968 turned out to be an especially violent year and the news was dominated by assassinations and shootings.  I turned fourteen years old in June and I was becoming more aware of news events around the World.

In the far-east there was a war that was going from bad to worse for the United States as they tried to support South Vietnam and prevent the spread of communism from the north, but the war was not popular with many people there and in February there was a watershed event that became a public relations disaster for the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidency.

Nguyễn Văn Lém was a member of the Viet Cong who on 1st February was shot dead in Saigon during a major Viet Cong offensive. The execution was captured on film by a photojournalist called Eddie Adams and the momentous image became a symbol of the brutality of war.

During the fighting Lém was captured and brought to Brigadier General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, the Chief of National Police of the Republic of Vietnam. Using his handgun, General Loan summarily executed Lém in front of Adams and an NBC television cameraman.  The photograph and the footage were broadcast worldwide, everyone who saw it witnessed Lém’s brains being blown from his skull and decorating the pavement and it galvanized the anti-war movement in the United States.

Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his photograph.  What he captures there in the faces is exceptional, the matter of fact look expression of the executioner, the exhiliration and encouragement from the soldier in the left of picture and the look of expectation and certain impending death in the face of the victim.

In April there was another high profile shooting.  Martin Luther King Jr. was an American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the African American civil rights movement.  In 1964 he became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. By the time of his death in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and by opposing the Vietnam War.

He was assassinated on April 4th 1968 in Memphis Tennessee by James Earl Ray.

In late March King went to Memphis in support of the black sanitary public works employees who had been on strike for higher wages and better treatment. King was booked in room 306 at the Lorraine Motel and just after six o’clock he was standing on the balcony of his room when a single shot rang out from a sniper’s rifle. The bullet entered through his right cheek, smashing his jaw, then travelled down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder.  He was pronounced dead just over an hour later.

The assassination led to a nationwide wave of riots in more than one hundred cities. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was on his way to Indianapolis for a campaign rally when he was informed of King’s death. He gave a short speech to the gathering of supporters informing them of the tragedy and asking them to continue King’s idea of non-violence. President Johnson declared April 7th a national day of mourning for the civil rights leader

Just four days later he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which was meant as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and expanded on previous acts by prohibiting discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion or national origin.

And gun violence wasn’t restricted to war and politics because in early June it spilled over into the world of art when a radical American feminist, Valerie Jean Solanas, attempted to murder the artist Andy Warhol.  When he arrived at his studio called ‘the Factory’ with a couple of friends, she was waiting for him and produced a handgun and shot three times, hitting him once. She then shot art critic Mario Amaya and also tried to shoot Warhol’s manager, Fred Hughes, but her gun jammed as the elevator arrived and she escaped.  Warhol was seriously wounded but survived the assassination attempt and Solanas was arrested the following day.

All of these events were shocking enough but on June 5th they were eclipsed by the biggest shooting of the year.  Robert Francis Kennedy, affectionately known as Bobby, was a prominent and popular politician, a Democratic Senator from New York and a noted civil rights activist.  An icon of modern American liberalism, he was a younger brother of President John F. Kennedy and acted as one of his advisers during his presidency when from 1961 to 1964 he was the United States Attorney General.

Following his brother John’s assassination in 1963, Kennedy continued to serve as Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson for nine months but in September 1964 he resigned to seek the U.S. Senate seat for New York which he won in November and within a few years he publicly split with Johnson over the issue of the Vietnam War.

In March 1968 Kennedy began a campaign for the presidency and was a front running candidate of the Democratic Party. In the California presidential primary he defeated Eugene McCarthy, a fellow U.S. Senator from Minnesota. Following a brief victory speech delivered just past midnight in the ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Kennedy was assassinated.

Leaving the ballroom, he went through the hotel kitchen after being told it was a shortcut, despite being advised to avoid the kitchen by his FBI bodyguard. In a crowded passageway, Sirhan Sirhan, a twenty-four year-old Christian Palestinian-American (who felt betrayed by Kennedy’s support for Israel in the June 1967 Six-Day War), opened fire and shot Kennedy three times.  Following the shooting, Kennedy was rushed to Los Angeles’s Good Samaritan Hospital where he died early the next morning.  He was forty-three years old and America was poorer for his passing.

Later in the year the Republican Richard M. Nixon was elected thirty-seventh President of the United States.

Age of Innocence – 1967, Radio Leicester and Cycling Proficiency

The BBC made some important broadcasting changes in 1967. On television it began broadcasting in colour and the first two post monochrome programmes were some matches from Wimbledon and an episode from the American western series, the Virginian. By December BBC2 was broadcasting a full colour service, with approximately 80% of its output now being broadcast in colour.

At Wimbledon incidentally the American Billie Jean-King beat the English tennis player Ann Jones in the women’s final. Two years later however she got her revenge and beat Billie Jean in the 1969 final. On radio, the BBC had a shake-up in order to compete with pirate radio and introduced radio one, two, three and four. Tony Blackburn was the first radio one DJ on the breakfast programme and the first record that he played was ‘Flowers in the Rain’ by the Move.

Also in 1967, Radio Leicester, the first BBC local radio station was launched and this turned out to be a watershed in broadcasting for my dad. Being Leicester born and bred and with a fascination for anything about the city, especially its sport, Leicester City, Leicester Tigers, Leicestershire County Cricket Team and so on, this new radio station provided him with his greatest possible source of entertainment satisfaction. A little while after I think he underwent a surgical procedure and was permanently attached to his transistor radio and he spent about 50% of the rest of his life listening to anything that was on Radio Leicester.

In the 1960s before families had two cars most of us went to school on our bikes. This was a much better arrangement than today when every school morning and evening the roads are clogged up with cars taking lazy kids to school. Everyone had a bike. I had a simple sky blue and brown Raleigh model but what I really wanted was a racing bike with pencil thin tyres, derailleur gears and a saddle so sharp that one false move in any direction would cut your arse to ribbons. My bike didn’t have any gears at all, a very sensible saddle and it certainly wouldn’t have won any races, but it was reliable and solid and everyday I would cycle the two miles or so to school and back and, on account of the fact that I didn’t like school meals, go home for my dinner as well.

I didn’t have one of these either because this is my brother Richard on his Raleigh Chopper in about 1972.

With so many bikes on the road the Government was concerned about highway safety and in 1967 along with a load of other kids I took my Cycling Proficiency Test. Cyclist training began in 1947, although its roots stretched back to the 1930s when cycling organisations were pressing the Government to include cyclist instruction in the school curriculum and finally in 1958 the Government funded the introduction of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) National Cycling Proficiency Scheme and cycling instructors came to the school to prepare us for the test. RoSPA by the way was also responsible for the Tufty Club and the Green Cross Code and were completely detached from reality because we had all been out on the open road for years on our bikes and had already perfected some of the finer points of cycling, such as riding facing backwards or with no hands, for example.

Most of the ‘training’ took place in the safety of the school playground where we had to demonstrate our biking skills by cycling between bollards, learning the Highway Code and how to maintain our machines in good mechanical order. Once we had done all of this to the satisfaction of the instructor there was a final road test under the watchful eye of the examiner. As far as I can remember, I don’t think anybody ever failed the Cycling Proficiency Test and at the end there was a certificate and an aluminium badge to attach to the handlebars so that everyone knew just how safe we were.

Age of Innocence – 1967, Che Guevara, Torrey Canyon and Francis Chichester

1967 was a quiet and uneventful at home and seemed to slip by almost unnoticed but elsewhere there were some important news stories.

I suppose that one of the biggest news events of the year occurred in Peru, South America, when in October a 1960s icon died at the hands of a firing squad.  Che Guevara was born in 1928 in Argentina and as a medical student in the 1940s became a committed Marxist revolutionary when he became convinced that capitalism created the poverty that he witnessed as he travelled on his motorbike on a journey through South America.

In the year that I was born, 1954, he joined Fidel Castro in Mexico as he set out to overthrow the American backed government of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, which they achieved together on New Years Eve in 1959.  For five years after that Che Guevara was effectively the number two in the country but then he suddenly tired of revolutionary tribunals and executing people and in 1965 he left Cuba to stir up more revolutionary Marxist trouble first in the African Congo and then in Bolivia back in South America.

In a bungled guerilla offensive he was captured by United States CIA backed army forces and summarily executed.  By coincidence he was caught and killed in Vallegrande which wasn’t so far away from San Vicente where nearly sixty years before the outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were also trapped and killed.

Butch and Sundance

Odd isn’t it how reputations are built?  Everything about this modern saint is a myth – his love of justice, his romantic disposition, his goodness. The truth is that he was responsible for the deaths of  hundreds of people, ruined the Cuban economy, tried to turn Cuba into a nuclear power and helped bring about many military dictatorships in Latin America in reaction to the guerrillas he inspired in the 1960s and the 1970s.  The man it seems was a menace!

After his death Che acquired an iconic stature and in the late 1960s and 70s his face was seen on tee-shirts and posters in every western university, it didn’t matter that like Robespierre or Stalin he was a thug and a bully and a murderer, he became the symbol of revolution and challenge to the establishment and his famous picture with burning eyes full of defiant intensity and steely resolve became the most famous image of the decade after that of Marilyn Monroe.

The death of Che Guevara probably didn’t register that greatly elsewhere in the world at the time and in Europe there was a coup d’etat in Greece which began a period of military dictatorship, in Spain the Spanish Government closed the border with British ruled Gibraltar and the French, or more precisely General DeGaulle, once more said no to Britain’s application to join the Common Market.  Although there was no spirit of partnership working at the diplomatic level, the United Kingdom and France did however jointly introduce the world to the ambitious aviation project, the Concorde.

At sea the first North Sea Gas was pumped onshore with a promise that Britain would be self-sufficient forever.  That turned out to be a hopelessly inaccurate prediction and forty years later it has nearly all gone and we have to buy our gas from Russia.

In the Atlantic, just off the coast of Cornwall, there was the World’s first major oil spill when the super tanker Torrey Canyon ran aground, broke up and spilled one hundred thousand tons of crude oil into the sea.  The ship was on route to Milford Haven from the Canary Islands and was allegedly being steered by the ship’s cook at the time of the accident while the skipper was trying to make sense of the ship’s hopelessly inadequate charts whilst trying to take a short cut past the Scilly Isles.

As this was the first event of its type the authorities were completely clueless about how to respond to the event and the botched clean up operation did almost as much damage as the leaking crude oil.  The tanker was bombed for two days and the RAF and the Royal Navy dropped thirty tonnes of bombs, twenty thousand litres of petrol, eleven rockets and large quantities of napalm onto the ship.

A quarter of the bombs missed the stationary target and despite some direct hits, and a towering inferno of flames and smoke as the oil slick began to burn, the tanker refused to sink.  To make matters worse, the use of seventy five thousand litres of highly toxic detergent did further huge amounts of additional damage to the marine environment.  Over twenty thousand seabirds were killed and more than a hundred kilometres of beaches were affected and not many people went to Cornwall for their summer holidays that year!

Also on the water in 1967 Francis Chichester in his boat Gipsy Moth IV became the first person to achieve a true solo circumnavigation of the world from West to East via the great capes.  He was later knighted for the achievement and for the ceremony the Queen used the very sword used by Queen Elizabeth I to knight the adventurer Sir Francis Drake who was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.  Chichester became a British hero in the same year as one was lost when Donald Campbell  was killed in January on Lake Coniston whilst trying to regain the world water speed record.

Age of Innocence – 1966, Pickles the Dog and the Football World Cup

The biggest sporting story of 1966 was that the England football team won the World Cup when they beat West Germany 4-2 and Geoff Hurst, despite the near fifty year controversy over whether the ball crossed the line or not,  famously scored the only world cup final hat trick ever.  The whole country went football mad that year and everyone knows all about the marvellous victory.

But Sir Alf Ramsay’s England team were not the only national footballing heroes of 1966. There was also Pickles the dog, without whom there may not have been a trophy for Bobby Moore and his team mates to lift on that glorious day in July.

The solid gold Jules Rimet trophy was stolen while on public display at an exhibition in London and this led to a nationwide search and the Football Association Chairman, Joe Mears, receiving threatening demands for money to ensure its safe return.  Brazil, the then holders of the trophy were understandably outraged and accused the English FA of total incompetence.  No change there then and they were almost certainly right of course but by a delicious twist of fate the trophy was stolen again in 1983, this time in Rio de Janeiro and this time it was never ever recovered.  It is believed that it was melted down for the precious metal and it will almost certainly never be seen again.

Back to 1966 and this is the point where the story becomes unbelievably weird or perhaps just plain unbelievable.  One evening a week after the theft, a man called David Corbett was out walking his mongrel dog Pickles, in south-east London, when the dog’s attention was caught by a package wrapped in newspaper lying under a bush in somebody’s front garden.

It was the Football World Cup.  I’ll say that again.  It was the Football World Cup!  No one has ever satisfactorily explained what it was doing under a bush wrapped in a copy of the Daily Mirror but David Corbett received a reward of £5,000, which was a huge sum, the equivilent of over £250,000 today and Pickles became an overnight national hero.  I am surprised that he wasn’t in the BBC top one hundred greatest Britons or a finalist in the Sport’s Personality of the Year.

But some people said that the trophy was cursed and perhaps they were right because within only weeks of the cup’s recovery and in a remarkable instance of bad luck, Pickles choked to death when he caught his lead in the bough of a fallen tree while chasing a cat.

a-life-in-a-year-3rd-january-the-curse-of-tutankhamun-and-pickles-the-dog

Apart from the result there were some other things about the World Cup that are also interesting.  The official mascot for example was a Lion called World Cup Willy who wore a Union Flag shirt of red, white and blue, which was strange because this was England that were playing and not the United Kingdom, but as none of the other home nations were in the finals I suppose England generously believed that they were representing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.

Embarrassingly England’s first defeat after the World Cup was against Scotland at Wembley in 1967 and the Scottish team that included the footballing legends, Denis Law, Jim Baxter and Billy Bremner promptly declared themselves the new World Champions.  Sadly for them it didn’t work like that and lets face it they never will be.

World Cup Willy had a World Cup song that was not unsurprisingly called World Cup Willy that made number one in the hit parade and was sung by Lonnie Donegan.  He was a guitar and banjo player who also played the washboard and the tea-chest bass and who had a lot of chart success in the 1950s and early 1960s.  Anecdotally it was Lonnie who inspired John Lennon to learn guitar and form his first group, The Quarrymen.  What is strange about Lonnie singing the English World Cup song however is that although he was brought up in East Ham he was in fact born in Scotland.  I wonder where his loyalties were when Scotland beat England in 1967?  Apart from ‘World Cup Willy’, Lonnie is probably best remembered for another number one hit called ‘My old man’s a dustman’.

At the end of the world cup final the words of the commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme, became part of broadcasting history when as the match was coming to the end in injury time a small pitch invasion took place just as Geoff Hurst scored to put England 4-2 ahead and Wolstenholme said ‘Some people are on the pitch … they think it’s all over … it is now!’ and these have become arguably the most famous words in English football, and a well known phrase that has passed into modern English usage.

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.

Genevieve_LC2

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!

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.