For children of the Sixties, life was so much simpler. A sunny optimism permeated everything, and possibilities seemed endless.
This was the ‘permissive’ decade, and the introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1963 heralded new freedom for women.
With employment high and most enjoying a reasonable income, the 1960s saw an increase in consumerism. Leisure time could be enjoyed by shopping, going to the cinema, watching television and travelling abroad. By mid-decade motoring had also become a pleasure affordable to most, (and cars were still made in America and England).
In the 1960’s England really did swing like a pendulum done.
Many date the start of the Swinging 60’s to 5 October 1962, when John, Paul, George and the one with the big nose released their first record, Love Me Do. Almost exactly a year later, Britain was in the grip of Beatlemania.
The press instantly dubbed them “The Mop Tops” and “The Fab Four” but Beatlemania did more than just focus attention on The Beatles, it also drew people’s attention to Liverpool as a centre of musical excellence.
And at the centre of the centre was The Cavern, a small club near the centre of Liverpool which became central to British pop. It also became a magnet for every record producer, agent and manager.
In that dark little basement, Brian Epstein signed Priscilla White, the club’s hat check girl, who changed her name and her nose and came back as Cilla Black. Epstein also signed Billy J Kramer, Gerry and The Pacemakers, and The Fourmost. Everyone signed by Epstein benefited from a Lennon/McCartney song and virtually everyone had a hit.
By 1965 the centre of the universe had swung from Liverpool to London. London was where it was at. London was ‘fab’, it was ‘gear’, it was ‘groovy’. The whole metropolis was throbbing with creativity; photographers, models, musicians, designers and actors were emerging from every nook and cranny of the city.
Almost everything about the 60s seems to be an icon. David Bailey wore a crewneck sweater to marry Catherine Deneuve while Mods and Rockers spent the Easter holidays hurling deckchairs at each other on the seafront, and when England won the World Cup, A cartoon lion called ‘World Cup Willie‘ was everywhere.
Julie Christie starred in John Schlesinger’s Darling and Jane Birkin in Richard Lester’s The Knack, both creating images that defined ‘Swinging London‘. The Beatles made the film Help!, played Shea Stadium, visited Elvis Presley at home and went to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBEs – not quite all in the same week, but almost.
Jean Shrimpton (whose sister was going out with Mick Jagger) lived with Terence Stamp (who had just moved out of a flat he shared with Michael Caine and whose brother was managing The Who). ‘The Shrimp’ later horrified Australian society by turning up at the Melbourne Cup in a mini dress that terminated 4″ above the knee.
Some predicted the mini skirt would lead to anarchy – or even worse, to joy.
The Pill and the mini skirt seemed to promise some utopia, providing the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity. While Bob Dylan said that the answer was “Blowing In The Wind”, many women found a better answer in The Pill.
The Sixties were also a period of great unrest and dramatic change. The women’s movement and the civil rights movement were both beginning to make major changes in our society, and young people were rebelling against the tremendous conformity of the 50s.
Internationally, the big issues were Vietnam and civil rights (both of which commanded the attention of young people throughout the western world, touching mass instincts that have no parallel today) and the ‘Space Race‘.
For a while, it seemed the air was full of abuse and tear gas and paving slabs, the streets were alive with the sound of shattering glass, every wall was papered with posters of exhortation, and every poster was splattered with blood.
But it wasn’t all violence. The quiet unflinching dignity of the civil rights marchers in the USA wore down a system that had abused black people for nearly 200 years.
Everything seemed connected somehow or other. When Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston to take the heavyweight championship of the world, even that was a part of the bigger deal: the youthquake, black pride, the feeling that ‘The Establishment’ was there for the taking. Clay was Dylan’s age, Jagger’s age, Lennon’s age. Our age.
Youth cut loose in the Sixties. They squatted in empty houses and smoked dope. They wore outrageous clothes. They listened to music that, even if it didn’t emanate from the devil, was played at a volume that certainly suggested all hell had broken out.
The youth of the 1960s certainly had plenty of heroes to choose from – Mary Quant, Twiggy, Che Guevara, Mick Jagger, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Yuri Gagarin . . . DJs, pop stars, footballers, racing drivers, film stars and those four lads from Liverpool.
And sandwiched between the studied sloppiness of the beat generation – sandals and shapeless sweaters – and the floaty self-indulgence of the hippies was the time of the Mods. All targets, chevrons, bright colours, flags and crisp hard edges. Pop Art, Op Art and Psychedelia.
The second half of the sixties were the years of change. No year in the decade saw greater change than 1967. It was the year of Peace and Love. It was a year perfectly summed up in San Francisco by Scott McKenzie.
Dressed in a kaftan, beads and bells and wearing flowers in his hair, McKenzie looked a right pratt. Nevertheless, he and the rest of the psychedelic Hippies believed that through rock music, drugs and “free love” (sex), they could change the world. They had the innocence of children (and the drug-induced IQ of a teapot).
They called themselves Flower Children. Their slogan was “Make love not war” and they took their message to military establishments all over America and Britain until the authorities banned them because of increased violence as soldiers fought each other over whose turn it was to beat up and/or make love to, a flower child.
Just as 1967 was the year of peace and love, 1968 became the year of protest. In Chicago, hippies clashed with Mayor Daley’s police force; In Tokyo, Red Brigades smashed police blockades; In Paris, students rioted on the boulevards and in Belgium . . . nothing had changed so nothing happened at all.
1968 was a year of anger. The year when young people finally said “No” in songs that voiced their bitter frustrations at the establishment. No area of society was immune to the wave of revolution. The voice of protest roared through the arts, literature, politics, lifestyle and even rock music. And at the forefront of this was one man, Bob Dylan.
The 60s also saw the most spectacular technical achievement of the 20th Century when America won the Space Race and man landed on the moon in July 1969 – but the greatest shock of the decade was the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.
But there was still time for ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and for the camera to be there to record them. People invented strange contests – to see who could cram the most bodies into a telephone box, to leap the widest chasm on a motorcycle, to cross rivers and oceans in the strangest craft. What a decade . . .