Tag Archives: Bay of Pigs

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blockade in November, the Soviets removed their nuclear weapons by the end of the year and the missiles in Turkey were withdrawn in 1963.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.

Age of Innocence – 1962, The Joy of Sex and Marilyn Monroe

In February of 1962 along came my little brother Richard to complete the Petcher family.

This came as a bit of a surprise because this was in the days when women disguised their pregnancy under an expansive flowing smock for fear that anyone noticed.  It certainly wasn’t discussed in the house and the first I knew of this was when a midwife greeted me home from school, announced the news and introduced me to my new brother.  At eight years old I had no idea where he had come from, I would have preferred a train set,  but it looked like from now on I would have to be sharing my bedroom.

Parents who had grown up in the 1930s and 1940s were rather prim and shy about sex and this certainly went for my mum and dad neither of whom ever provided me with any useful sex education lessons, except for dad carelessly leaving ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ lying about that is.

We had to find out about this for ourselves through playground talk with better informed school pals, watching the girls in their navy blue knickers in P.E. lessons and putting two and two together for ourselves after looking up the dirty words in a dictionary.  There were some hard lessons to be learned and I can remember one friend fell out with us all because he refused to believe that his parents could ever have conceived him through having sex and thinking about his mum now I can fully understand the difficulty he must have had in coming to terms with this piece of information.

In 1962 world news broadcasting took a giant step forward with the launch of Telstar, which was the first active satellite designed to transmit telephone and high-speed data communications around the World.

Technical stuff.  It was launched by NASA from Cape Canaveral on 10th July and was the first privately sponsored space launch.  Telstar was a medium altitude satellite and was placed in an elliptical orbit that was completed once every two hours and thirty-seven minutes, revolving at a forty-five degree angle above the equator.  The first trans-Atlantic television signal was ground breaking space age stuff but because of its orbit there were enormous operating restrictions and transmission availability for transatlantic signals was only about twenty minutes in each orbit.

Telstar inspired the composition of a number one hit for the instrumental pop group, The Tornados, which was the first United States number one by a British group. Up to that point there had only been three British solo artists that topped the US chart:  ‘Stranger on the Shore’ by Acker Bilk; ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ by Laurie London and ‘Auf Wiedersein Sweetheart’, the first, by Vera Lynn in 1952.

Telstar The Tornados

I liked The Tornados but they split up soon after this and my favourites then became the Shadows and the very first long playing record that I owned was ‘The Shadows Greatest Hits’, and I’ve still got it in what is now my redundant vinyl collection.

The biggest tragedy of 1962 was probably the death of the film star Marilyn Monroe who died prematurely when she committed suicide at her Beverly Hills Mansion.  Or perhaps she was murdered by the United States secret service because of embarrassing rumours that she was having an affair with President Kennedy?

This story is a bit like the ongoing speculation into the death of Princess Diana and in both cases it is doubtful that we will ever be absolutely sure.  One thing that is certain however is that her death launched her as an iconic image of the 1960s and an enduring representation of perhaps the World’s most  desirable woman since Helen of Troy.

I unexpectedly came across Marilyn once in Haugesund  in Norway and I discovered that the reason she should surprisingly turn up here is that her father, Martin Mortensen, came from the village of Skjold, just twenty kilometres away and lived in Haugesund before emigrating to America in about 1880.  After abandoning his family after only six months of marriage, he was killed in a motorcycle crash without ever seeing his daughter – Norma Jean Mortensen.

Marilyn Monroe Haugesund Norway

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1961 it never crossed my mind that I would ever visit Berlin and see the Wall but in 2019 I visited with my brother Richard…

IMG_0216

… You can read that story HERE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Age of Innocence, 1962

In February of 1962 along came my little brother Richard to complete the Petcher family.  This came as a bit of a surprise because this was in the days when women disguised their pregnancy under an expansive flowing smock for fear that anyone noticed and realised that they had had sex.  It certainly wasn’t discussed in the house and the first I knew of this was when a midwife greeted me home from school, announced the news and introduced me to my new brother.  I had no idea where he had come from but it looked like from now on I would have to be sharing my bedroom.

Parents who had grown up in the 1930s and 1940s were a bit prim and shy about sex and this certainly went for my mum and dad neither of whom ever provided me with any useful sex education lessons, except for dad carelessly leaving ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ lying about that is.  We had to find out about this for ourselves through playground talk with better informed school pals, watching the girls in their navy blue knickers in P.E. lessons and putting two and two together for ourselves after looking up the dirty words in a dictionary.  There were some hard lessons to be learned and I can remember one friend fell out with us all because he refused to believe that his parents could ever have conceived him through the sex act and thinking about his mum now I can fully understand the difficulty he must have had in coming to terms with this piece of information.

In 1962 world news broadcasting took a giant step forward with the launch of Telstar, which was the first active communications satellite designed to transmit telephone and high-speed data communications around the World.  It was launched by NASA from Cape Canaveral on 10th July and was the first privately sponsored space launch.  Telstar was a medium altitude satellite and was placed in an elliptical orbit that was completed once every two hours and thirty-seven minutes, revolving at a forty-five degree angle above the equator.  The first trans-Atlantic television signal was ground breaking space age stuff but because of its orbit there were enormous operating restrictions and transmission availability for transatlantic signals was only about twenty minutes in each orbit.

Telstar inspired the composition of a number one hit for the instrumental pop group, The Tornados, which was the first United States number one by a British group. Up to that point there had only been three British solo artists that topped the US chart:  ‘Stranger on the Shore’ by Acker Bilk; ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ by Laurie London and ‘Auf Wiedersein Sweetheart’, the first, by Vera Lynn in 1952.  I liked The Tornados but they split up soon after this and my favourites then became the Shadows and the very first long playing record that I owned was ‘The Shadows Greatest Hits’, and I’ve still got it in what is now my redundant vinyl collection.

The biggest tragedy of 1962 was probably the death of the film star Marilyn Monroe who died prematurely when she committed suicide at her Beverly Hills Mansion.  Or perhaps she was murdered by the United States secret service because of embarrassing rumours that she was having an affair with President Kennedy?  This story is a bit like the ongoing speculation into the death of Princess Diana and in both cases it is doubtful that we will ever be absolutely sure.  One thing that is certain however is that her death launched her as an iconic image of the 1960s and an enduring representation of perhaps the World’s most sexy and desirable woman since Helen of Troy.

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.  This time 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.  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 from the 22nd the cold set in and there wasn’t another frost free night until 5th March 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 lines were brought down.  Telephone wires too 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!  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.

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.  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.

1961 – Berlin Wall, Coronation Street and Emma Peel

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

The Wall was over a hundred and fifty five kilometers long and in June 1962 work started on a second parallel fence up to ninety meters further into East German territory, with houses in between the fences torn down and people displaced and forcibly relocated.  A no man’s land was created between the two barriers, which became widely known as the ‘death strip’. It was paved with raked gravel, making it easy to spot footprints, offered no cover and was booby-trapped with tripwires and, most importantly, it offered a clear field of fire to the watching guards.  Between 1961 and 1989 over five thousand people escaped from East Germany over or under the wall and according to official sources one hundred and twenty five were killed trying to do so although the actual figure may be much higher but we will never know.

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

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

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

1961 was not a good year for the Americans at all because also this year the Soviet Union beat the United States in the race to get the first man into space when in April Yuri Gagarin was fired beyond the atmosphere and orbited the Earth for a hundred and eight minutes travelling at more than twenty seven thousand kilometres an hour before landing safely back on earth.  It was a blow to the Americans who had hoped to be the first to launch a man into space and they could only follow a month later in May when astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to do so.  Later in the same year the disgruntled United States announced the beginning of the Apollo Space Programme with the objective of a manned lunar landing.  Some say that this was achieved in 1969 when two men landed on the moon but there is speculation by many that this was an elaborate con filmed entirely in an empty aircraft hanger in Nevada simply to achieve the Kennedy boast that man would land on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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