Tag Archives: Childhood

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

Scrap Book Project – Danger, Railway Lines and Canals

When I was boy there were exciting places to explore and play and there was lots of time to do so because parents were not nearly so paranoid about children wandering off to enjoy themselves as they are today.

In those days it wasn’t uncommon to go out in the morning and only return home when you were hungry and there certainly weren’t search parties out looking all over the place.  It’s a shame that today children are confined to their back gardens or have to be chauffeured back and forth to school by car because there was so much more fun when young lives were not subject to so many safety restrictions.

It wasn’t that our parents were irresponsible or didn’t care about us it’s just that they took a more pragmatic approach to risk.  I suppose when you have been brought up in London during the blitz when Hitler’s bombs were dropping every night and there was always imminent danger of being blown to kingdom come then life in the 1960s almost certainly would have seemed a whole lot more sedate and a lot less dangerous.

This didn’t mean that there weren’t hazards of course and as boys we used to like to hang around the dangerous places.

This is a map of my playground…

Map of Hillmorton

First of all there was the railway line and you don’t get much more dangerous than that.  It was relatively easy to get up on the tracks and put half pennies on the line for the trains to squash and expand to the size of a penny in the optimistic hope that this would double the value of the coin and shopkeepers wouldn’t notice.  (This never worked by the way).

A couple of miles from home we used to dare each other to walk into the inky blackness of the Kilsby Tunnel but I seem to recall that none of ever got more than a few feet before beating a hasty retreat for daylight and safety.

The tunnel is near the village of Kilsby in Northamptonshire on the West Coast Main Line and was designed and engineered by the engineer Robert Stephenson.  The tunnel is two thousand two hundred and twenty four metres long  and took one thousand two hundred and fifty men nearly two years to build. It was opened in 1838 as a part of the London and Birmingham Railway and is today the eighteenth longest tunnel on the British railway system.  We used to think it was cool to play there but I realise now that it was a dumb thing to do.

Sometime in the early sixties the line was electrified and this made it even more dangerous.  One day a man from British Rail came to school and addressed morning assembly to warn us about playing on the railway.  He looked a lot like Norman Wisdom in both appearance and stature and was a bit like the railway equivilent of the Green Cross Code Man, without the muscles.

His name was Driver Watson and he proudly wore his navy blue uniform with red piping and told us that the electricity was so powerful that we would need to wear wellington boots forty-two feet thick if we were to be safe from electrocution if we were to touch the overhead wires.  He ended every warning with the phrase ‘Boys (short pause for effect)… You Will Be Electrocuted’ almost as though he was going to arrange it personally.  That sounded convincing enough to keep me away from the tracks in future and anyway British Rail started putting up fences so it was difficult to get there anymore.

Canal Boat British waterways

Running parallel to the railway line was the Oxford Canal that had been commissioned in 1769 and built by the canal builder James Brindley.  The canal was an incredibly dangerous place really but of course we didn’t realise that at the time.  During the summer we used to wait at top lock and offer to open and close the gates for passing canal craft in the hope that we would receive a few pennies for our labours.

If the canal was dangerous then the locks were doubly so but this didn’t stop us from daring each other to jump from the elevated tow path down about three metres and two and a half metres across to the central section of the double locks.  I shudder to think about it now.

We used to swim in the canal too and that was a stupid thing to do as well.  Not only was the murky water about two metres deep and lurking with danger but it was also full of bacteria and germs especially in the black cloying mud on the bottom that would ooze through your toes so it’s a miracle that we didn’t catch typhoid or something else really, really awful.

We never let on to our parents about the swimming.

To be continued…

Scrap Book Project – Military Battles

 

Reveille Story

Dad always liked military stories of bravery and daring-do and Reveille was a popular British weekly tabloid newspaper that was first published during the second world war and would certainly have appealed to him. 

Launched in May 1940, it was originally the official newspaper of the Ex-Services’ Allied Association.  It was bought by the Mirror Group in 1947 and in In the 1950s it moved away from its military base and increased its light-entertainment pages.  During the 1960s and 1970s it became known as Reveille Magazine and would publish large double-page pop posters and also feature glamour models.

I think it would be absolutely certain to say that my dad’s favourite military story was the defence of Rorke’s Drift as told in the film ZULU!

Zulu has to be one of my favourite ever movies because it was one of the first grown up films that I was ever taken to see at the cinema.  As I have explained elsewhere dad was fond of anything military or heroic and stories don’t come much more heroic or military than this.

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 Rorke’s 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. 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.

Talking about historical liberties what I find interesting is that 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.

I like battle films and perhaps could have chosen ‘Waterloo’ or ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ but the fact is that none of these comes close to the dramatic impact of ZULU!  Later that year dad bought 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 Rorke’s Drift.

  

 

The Health and Safety at Work Act Spoils Weekend Adventures

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 became law on the 22nd March and defines the fundamental structure and authority for the regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare within the United Kingdom.

Before the Act building sites were a great place to play at weekends or in the evenings after the builders had gone home. There was a building boom in the 1960s and this presented all sorts of opportunities for mischievous packs of boys.  Especially good fun was climbing ladders that had been conveniently left up against walls and which gave access to the upper floors and the external scaffolding.

The Act defines general duties on employers, employees, contractors, suppliers of goods and substances for use at work, persons in control of work premises, and those who manage and maintain them, and persons in general. It established a system of public supervision through the creation of the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive and bestows extensive enforcement powers, ultimately backed by criminal sanctions extending to unlimited fines and imprisonment for up to two years.

Before the Act and the threat of imprisonment if anyone was injured in these dangerous playgrounds builders were generally pretty careless about tidying up before they dashed off to the pub at the end of the day and there were piles of bricks to build camps out of (much better than Lego), sewer pipes to crawl through, sand and cement to kick around and oil drums and bits of timber to take away and use to build rafts to sail on the canal.  This never really worked either and once a passing police patrol car stopped and the officers watched us building a waterway craft with bits of stuff we had ‘borrowed’.  They teased us by asking to see our boat license and then as we dawdled about hoping they would just drive off told us to hurry up and get on because they wanted to see us fall off and get wet before getting on with their duties.  We clambered aboard and didn’t disappoint them.  I can still hear them laughing as I write this.

Probably the most dangerous place we found to play in was an underground network of sewer pipes (before they were in use obviously) with a square chamber somewhere within the labyrinth where we used to crawl to with candles and just sit down there for no apparent reason other than we shouldn’t really have been there.  I dread to think now what would have happened if there had been a flash flood because we would have surely drowned.

Although I have to agree that it is most sensible, today the HSE provides spoil-sport guidance that warns children that:

 ‘Building sites are not playgrounds’

“Long summer evenings are a time for fun and adventure, unfortunately, all too often it can also be a time of tragedy”, said Jim Skilling, Principal Inspector of Construction.  “Understandably some children are drawn to construction sites as exciting places to play, but they are not playgrounds and playing on them can have fatal consequences. Industry and parents need to work together to ensure children’s safety. He advises:

warn children against playing in dangerous areas, including building sites;

make sure you know where your children are going, and when they will be back;

encourage them to play only in safe areas such as playgrounds;

workers should watch out for children playing around sites, if you see children, stop work and make sure they are off site before you begin again;

lay heavy objects on the ground or fix them firmly upright so they cannot fall onto children and injure them;

secure sites adequately when finishing work for the day;

never allow children to ride in construction plant machinery.

Where is the fun in all that regulation?

Sex Education

On February 28th 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 that 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.

‘Zulu’ and the defence of Rorke’s Drift

Zulu has to be one of my favourite ever movies because it was one of the first grown up films that I was ever taken to see at the cinema.  As I have explained elsewhere dad was fond of anything military or heroic and stories don’t come much more heroic or military than this.

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 Rorke’s 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. 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.

Talking about historical liberties what I find interesting is that 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.

I like battle films and perhaps could have chosen ‘Waterloo’ or ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ but the fact is that none of these comes close to the dramatic impact of ZULU!  Later that year dad bought 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 Rorke’s Drift.

Age of Innocence – Danger, Railway Lines and Canals

When I was boy there were exciting places to explore and play and there was lots of time to do so because parents were not nearly so paranoid about children wandering off to enjoy themselves as they are today.  In those days it wasn’t uncommon to go out in the morning and only return home when you were hungry and there certainly weren’t search parties out looking all over the place.  It’s a shame that today children are confined to their back gardens or have to be chauffeured back and forth to school by car because there was so much more fun when young lives were not subject to so many safety restrictions.

It wasn’t that our parents were irresponsible or didn’t care about us it’s just that they took a more pragmatic approach to risk.  I suppose when you have been brought up in London during the blitz when Hitler’s bombs and V2 rockets were dropping every night and there was always imminent danger of being blown to kingdom come then life in the 1960s almost certainly would have seemed a whole lot more sedate and a lot less dangerous.  This didn’t mean that there weren’t hazards of course and as boys we used to like to hang around the dangerous places.

First of all there was the railway line and you don’t get much more dangerous than that.  It was relatively easy to get up on the tracks and put half pennies on the line for the trains to squash and expand to the size of a penny in the optimistic hope that this would double the value of the coin and shopkeepers wouldn’t notice.  (This never worked by the way).

A couple of miles from home we used to dare each other to walk into the inky blackness of the Kilsby Tunnel but I seem to recall that none of ever got more than a few feet before beating a hasty retreat for daylight and safety.  The Kilsby Tunnel is near the village of Kilsby in Northamptonshire on the West Coast Main Line and was designed and engineered by the engineer Robert Stephenson.  The tunnel is two thousand two hundred and twenty four metres long  and took one thousand two hundred and fifty men nearly two years to build. It was opened in 1838 as a part of the London and Birmingham Railway and is today the eigteenth longest tunnel on the British railway system.  We used to think it was cool to play there but I realise now that it was a dumb thing to do.

Sometime in the early sixties the line was electrified and this made it even more dangerous.  One day a man from British Rail came to school and addressed morning assembly to warn us about playing on the railway.  He looked a lot like Norman Wisdom in both appearance and stature and was a bit like the railway equivilent of the Green Cross Code Man, without the muscles.  His name was Driver Watson and he proudly wore his navy blue uniform with red piping and told us that the electricity was so powerful that we would need to wear wellington boots forty-two feet thick if we were to be safe from electrocution if we were to touch the overhead wires.  He ended every warning with the phrase ‘Boys (short pause for effect)… You Will Be Electrocuted’ almost as though he was going to arrange it personally.  That sounded convincing enough to keep me away from the tracks in future and anyway British Rail started putting up fences so it was difficult to get there anymore.

Canal Boat British waterways

Running parallel to the railway line was the Oxford Canal that had been commissioned in 1769 and built by the canal builder James Brindley.  The canal was an incredibly dangerous place really but of course we didn’t realise that at the time.  During the summer we used to wait at top lock and offer to open and close the gates for passing canal craft in the hope that we would receive a few pennies for our labours.

If the canal was dangerous then the locks were doubly so but this didn’t stop us from daring each other to jump from the elevated tow path down about three metres and two and a half metres across to the central section of the double locks.  I shudder to think about it now.  We used to swim in the canal too and that was a stupid thing to do as well.  Not only was the murky water about two metres deep and lurking with danger but it was also full of bacteria and germs especially in the black cloying mud on the bottom that would ooze through your toes so it’s a miracle that we didn’t catch typhoid or something else really, really awful.

1947 – Ivan Petcher

1947 was a very important year for me because this was the year that my mum and dad met and began a romance that has led ultimately to this journal.

From the way dad used to talk about being a teenager I have always imagined the post war years to be an almost idyllic existence, Enid Blyton sort of days with long hot summers, blue skies, bike rides and picnics, where young people were polite and had good manners and didn’t spend their evenings hanging around Tesco Express with a bottle of cider, frightening the old folk and no one had heard of anti-social behaviour orders.

These were surely days of optimism with a country led by a Labour Government that had been elected in the summer of 1945 with a landslide majority and a promise to make everything better and which had embarked on a radical programme of nationalisation including coalmining, electricity supply and railways.  These were the days of the new National Health Service and the Welfare State all based on the optimistic principles of socialism.  And to add to all this good news the United States announced the Marshall Plan to pay for the reconstruction of Europe and that meant over three billion dollars was on the way to the United Kingdom to rebuild its cities and its economy.  This was the year of the inauguration of the United Nations which meant peace for ever more and the year that Princess Elizabeth married Prince Mountbatten.

The only thing that let 1947 down was the weather and the Britain experienced the worst winter of the century.  After the Second World War Britain was bombed out, bankrupt, exhausted and desperately short of fuel and the winter of 1947 sank the country to a new level of deprivation.

The winter began deceptively, with just a brief cold snap before Christmas 1946.  Snow lay thick on the ground when, in the middle of January, temperatures soared so high that it felt as if spring had arrived early.  The snow thawed so rapidly that it set off floods, just as hurricane-force winds brought down roofs, trees and even houses and the real winter arrived soon afterwards as the country was gripped in an Arctic freeze that lasted for two months, with snow whipped into monstrous drifts that buried roads and railways.

It became the coldest February ever recorded and there was virtually no sunshine for almost the whole month.  The freeze paralysed coalmines, with coal stocks often stuck at the collieries by railways and roads buried in snow.  A week after the freeze began the Government ordered electricity supplies to be cut to industry, and domestic electricity supplies to be turned off for five hours each day, to conserve coal stocks.  Television was closed down, radio output reduced, newspapers cut in size and magazines ordered to stop publishing.

Food supplies shrank alarmingly and rations were cut even lower than they had been during the war.  Farms were frozen or snowed under, and vegetables were in such short supply that pneumatic drills were used to dig up parsnips from frozen fields.  For the first time, potatoes were rationed after seventy-thousand tons were destroyed by the cold.  The Government tried a deeply unpopular campaign to encourage everyone to eat a cheap South African fish called snoek, and millions of tins of it were imported, but it tasted disgusting and was used eventually as cat food.

March turned out even worse than February and on the 5th there was the worst blizzard of the 20th  century.  Supplies of food shrank so low that in some places the police asked for authority to break open stranded lorries carrying food cargoes.  Eventually, on March 10th a thaw set in and triggered another spectacular disaster.  After weeks of deep frost, the ground was so hard that the melting snow ran off into raging torrents of floodwater and, to make things worse, a huge storm dropped heavy rain.  Indeed, it was the wettest March on record in England and Wales. 

Less than two years after winning the war, the nation was left freezing cold, plunged into darkness and on the brink of starvation and for many people it showed that national planning and socialism did not work.  The Government was inevitably blamed for the disaster  and was turned out of office in a landslide defeat at the next general election in 1950.

Life was especially grim in the big cities and after the experience of the winter I suppose it was nice to have a holiday and that summer mum left London for a few days with a friend in Rushden in Northamptonshire and at some point during that week she met my dad.  He was sixteen but looked younger, he hadn’t finished growing so was still quite small, his nickname was Pid as in little piddy widdy, and he he had boyish face and an impish grin with piercing cobalt blue eyes and a distinctive hairstyle with a fringe that flopped over his forehead in a Hugh Grant sort of way.  He obviously made an immediate impact on the young girl visiting from London and they spent the rest of their lives together.

Not straight away of course because mum had to go back to London to finish school and here is something else that I find absolutely charming.  These were days before mobile phones and instant messenging, even before regular telephones so the only way they had of keeping in touch and keeping the romance going was by sending each other letters and photographs.  They kept this up for three years before dad was called up for national service in the RAF and he moved to London where he stayed until they married in 1953.

In 1948 dad left school and went to work for his father in the family business, a grocery store in Rushden, but they sold that sometime at the end of the decade and they all moved to Leicester and dad got his first proper job at Jessops.  I don’t know how much he earned, it couldn’t have been a lot, but from photoraphs it would seem that he spent quite a lot of it on clothes and he was always a smart, well turned out young man with an impressive wardrobe.

During the war most kinds of food came to be rationed, as were clothing and petrol.  Clothing was rationed on a points system.  Initially the allowance was for approximately one new outfit per year but as the war progressed the points were reduced to the point where the purchase of a coat constituted almost an entire year’s clothing.  By the end of the war the clothing ration was thirty-six points a year.   This didn’t go very far, it was two points for a pair of knickers, five points for a man’s shirt, five points for a pair of shoes, seven points for a dress and twenty-six points for a man’s suit.  Clothing rationing points could be used for wool, cotton and household textiles.  People had extra points for work clothes, such as overalls for factory work.  No points were required for second-hand clothing and fur coats, but their prices were fixed and before rationing lace and frills were popular on knickers but these were soon banned so material could be saved.

Rationing continued after the end of the war and in fact it became even stricter after the war ended.  Bread, which was not rationed during the war, was rationed beginning in 1946 and potato rationing began in 1947.  Sweet rationing didn’t end until February 1953, and sugar rationing ended in September of that year.  The final end of all rationing did not come until July 1954, after I was born, with the end of it on meat and bacon.

The picture at the top was taken in 1947 and his clothes look a bit shabby and worn through and they are in total contrast to the one below taken two years later on holiday in Skegness.  It’s a bit of a surprise because I don’t remember him being particularly interested in clothes and he would make most things last much longer than they could be reasonably expected to but for a couple of years in the late 1940s he obviously cared about his clothes and his appearance.  Or perhaps, judging by how much he had grown in two years, replacement clothes were a regular necessity during that time.

I like this picture, dad was eighteen and looks smart, self assured and full of confidence, mum was sixteen and looks really happy to be with this really special man.

The Assassination of JFK and the Age of Innocence

The 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 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 left 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.

So what had been going on, what events had been taking place that would shape and have an influence on the rest of my life?  I have been giving it some thought …

JFK Motorcade