Home Decades 1960s 1961


12 April. Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to fly in space.


01 – In Britain, the Farthing (¼ of a penny) is withdrawn from circulation and ceases to be legal tender.

02Oral contraceptives for women go on sale in Australia.

03 – US severs diplomatic relations with Cuba.

03 – The millionth Morris Minor rolls off the production line in the UK.

03 – Nationalists kill whites in Angola.

07 – Debut broadcast of The Avengers on British television, starring Patrick Macnee as John Steed.

08 – The French people vote to grant Algeria its independence in a referendum. The result is a clear majority for self-determination, with 75% voting in favour.

09 – Melbourne (Australia) retail giant Myer takes over Farmer & Co of Sydney.

10 – One of the world’s largest hydroelectric power plants begins generating electricity at Niagara Falls on the US-Canada border.

11 – British Rail orders an inquiry into why the Queen’s train broke down, delaying her by nearly an hour.


12 – The first Italian space rocket is launched.

13 – Suggs (Graham McPherson) of British ska band, Madness, is born.

13 – Fighting breaks out in Katanga, Congolese Republic, between UN troops and forces supporting Patrice Lumumba.

17 – Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles is born.

20 – John Fitzgerald Kennedy is sworn in as 35th President of the USA. He is the youngest-ever president and the first Roman Catholic.  His ten-minute inaugural address sets a high literary tone and concludes, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”.

24 – Hollywood screen star Marilyn Monroe divorces her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, after less than five years of marriage. The divorce is granted in Mexico, where a judge signs the decree. The grounds of divorce are listed as “incompatibility”.

26 – US hockey great Wayne Gretzky is born.

30Contraceptive pill goes on sale in the UK.

31 – A chimpanzee named Ham is recovered from a Mercury capsule after a sub-orbital flight 150 miles above the earth. Ham, named after the Holloman Aerospace Medical Centre and originally from Cameroon in Africa, was chosen from six “astrochimps” – four female and two male – who underwent intensive training in New Mexico and Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Ham, after his flight shaking hands with the commander of the recovery ship, USS Donner.

31 – UK singer and songwriter, Lloyd Cole, is born.

31Ben-Gurion resigns as Israeli Prime Minister.


09The Beatles debut at The Cavern in Liverpool (UK) with an unadvertised lunchtime session.

12 – The USSR launch an “interplanetary space station” aimed at Venus.

12 – Fierce fighting in Katanga (Congolese Republic) between UN forces and supporters of Patrice Lumumba results in the assassination of the former Prime Minister. Mr Lumumba is killed by villagers trying to take him into custody.

15 – Singer Jackie Wilson is shot twice in the chest by Juanita Jones – described at the time as a ‘deranged female fan’, but most likely an aggrieved lover – in his New York apartment. Wilson survives, but his injuries mean he loses a kidney, and one of the bullets has to be left in place because it is too close to his spine to be removed.

15 – All 18 members of the US skating team (including nine-times US ladies Champion Maribel Vinson-Owen) and their family members, coaches and officials are among the 73 killed when a Belgian Sabena Boeing 707 crashes near Brussels en route to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The Championships are immediately cancelled.

15 – A compulsory Ministry of Transport test for the roadworthiness of vehicles more than ten years old is introduced in the UK.

16 – Andy Taylor of Duran Duran is born.

18 – Bertrand Russell leads a demonstration in protest against basing Polaris missiles in Scotland. The first American nuclear submarine arrives a month later.

19 – Mounted police in London break up a demonstration against the murder of ex-Prime Minister of Congo Patrice Lumumba. Fighting erupts outside the Belgian embassy in central London when the protesters, many carrying banners and placards in support of the deposed leader, begin attacking officers and pelting them with clods of earth. Lighted newspapers are thrown under the mounted officers’ horses.

19 – Barry Jones wins a record £13,000 on the Australian television quiz show, Pick-a-Box.

24 – Fossil hunters find skull and bone fragments that suggest humankind has been around a million years longer than previously thought.

24 – Scientists at Jodrell Bank in the UK send telegraph signals to Australia by bouncing them off the moon.

25 – In Australia, the last Sydney tram service runs (from La Perouse to the Randwick workshops).

28 – World featherweight boxing champion Barry McGuigan is born.


01President Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps for young Americans to serve overseas.

06 – British entertainer George Formby, 56, dies after suffering a heart attack.

06 – Actress Elizabeth Taylor has been in a coma since her operation on 4 March. She has stopped breathing several times, and the six doctors in charge of her case fear for her life.

09 – Dalai Lama appeals to the UN to restore Tibetan independence.

09Brian Epstein attends his first lunchtime concert at The Cavern, starring The Beatles.

09 – A rocket containing a dog is successfully launched by the USSR and lands safely.

13 – Three men and two women go on trial at the Old Bailey, charged with plotting to pass official secrets to the Russians. All five plead not guilty to the charge that they conspired to break the Official Secrets Act between 14 April 1960 and 7 January 1961. The accused are Gordon Lonsdale, 37, a company director from north-west London; Henry Houghton, 55, a civil servant from Weymouth in Dorset; Peter Kroger, 50, a bookseller and his wife Helen, 47, a housewife of the same address in Ruislip, Middlesex and Ethel Gee, 46, a civil servant of Portland in Dorset.

13 – 79-year-old artist Pablo Picasso marries 37-year-old model Jacqueline Roque in Nice.

15 – The E-Type Jaguar is introduced at the Geneva Auto Show. It’s an instant and enduring style icon costing around $6000 (more than a Corvair but less than a Ferrari).

16 – Monash University opens in Melbourne, Australia.

19 – Large-scale attacks on Europeans by African terrorists in Angola leave many dead.

20 – In Sydney, Stephen Bradley goes on trial for the kidnap and murder of Graeme Thorne.

21The Beatles play their first evening gig at The Cavern in Liverpool, England.

25 – The USSR makes a trial launching of a Vostok spacecraft that contains two dogs, Zvesdochka and Chernushka.

25Elvis Presley performs his last live show for eight years, at Block Arena, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

25 – Nicolaus Silver wins the Grand National at Aintree.

29 – Stephen Bradley found guilty of Graeme Thorne kidnap and murder in Sydney, Australia. He is sentenced to life imprisonment.


03 – American comedian Eddie Murphy is born.

07 – UN votes unanimously to censure South Africa’s apartheid policy.

10 – South African golfer Gary Player wins the US Masters by a single stroke.

11Bob Dylan makes his New York debut at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village.

11 – The trial of Adolf Eichmann for alleged war atrocities begins in Jerusalem. Eichmann faces 15 charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and war crimes.

12 – Soviet cosmonaut Major Yuri Alexeyvich Gagarin becomes the first man to fly in space. In a 4½ ton Vostok spaceship, he orbits the Earth and returns safely after a flight lasting 108 minutes.

17 – A force of 1,400 Cuban exiles trained and armed by the CIA attempts to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

18 – Former diplomat George Blake is charged in London under the Official Secrets Act. Details of his alleged offences are withheld.

19Fidel Castro crushes the US-backed attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.

21 – Paris fears invasion by Algerian rebels. The military revolt in Algeria is suppressed after President de Gaulle declares a state of emergency.

24 – 300-year-old Swedish warship Vasa is raised in Stockholm Harbour. The ship sank on its maiden voyage in 1628.

24Kennedy accepts full responsibility for the Bay of Pigs incident.

26 – Coup by French army officers in Algiers collapses.

27 – Sierra Leone becomes the latest West African state to win independence within the Commonwealth after more than 150 years of British colonial rule.


01 – Fidel Castro proclaims Cuba as a Socialist nation and abolishes elections, saying, “The revolution has no time for elections. There is no more democratic government in Latin America than the revolutionary government.”

03 – A vote in Canberra (Australia) denies Aborigines the right to vote by 57-39.

04 – A bi-racial group sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality leaves by interstate bus from Washington DC to force the integration of bus terminals in the south. The ‘Freedom Riders’ are met by hostile mobs.

04 – Jay Aston of Bucks Fizz is born.

05 – Alan Shepard (pictured below) becomes the first American in space, aboard Freedom 7. Shepard makes a sub-orbital flight lasting 15 minutes as America tries to catch the USSR in the space race.


08 – In Britain, George Blake receives a record jail term for spying.

08 – A law is introduced in Britain requiring all pedestrians to cross the road at traffic lights.

08 – Lord Stansgate (Anthony Wedgwood Benn) is refused admission to the House of Commons and renounces his peerage.

12 – A brush fire in the hills above Los Angeles destroys dozens of houses but spares the famous ‘Hollywood’ sign.

12 – Tony Sheridan and The Beatles sign a one-year recording contract with Bert Kaempfert of Polydor Records in Hamburg, Germany.

13 – Actor Gary Cooper dies of cancer in Los Angeles, aged 60.

14 – Stirling Moss wins the Monaco Grand Prix.

14 – ‘Freedom Riders’ travelling to New Orleans to protest Southern racial segregation are physically attacked by whites in the Alabama cities of Anniston and Birmingham.

17 – Irish singer, Enya, is born.

20 – Nick Heyward (Haircut 100) is born.

21 – Martial law is imposed in Montgomery, Alabama, following more violent clashes between blacks and whites. The trouble at the Negro First Baptist Church erupts when a crowd of white men, women and children begin throwing stones through the windows as black civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King is speaking.

22 – In England, the Post Office install their new public telephones. Instead of pushing buttons A or B, you now push your money into the slot when the pips sound.

25President Kennedy, during a joint session of Congress, states: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth”.

26 – Amnesty International, a campaigning organisation on behalf of political prisoners, is set up in London by British lawyer Peter Benenson.

26 – A USAAF bomber flies the Atlantic in little more than three hours at an average speed of 1000 mph. The aircraft crashes a few days later.

28 – The Orient Express train from Paris to Bucharest ceases after 78 years.

30 – A J Foyt wins the Indianapolis 500 motor race at an average speed of 139.1 mph.

31 – South Africa becomes a republic and quits the British Commonwealth.

31 – Psidium wins the Epsom Derby.


04 – Sydney (Australia) police discover the victim of a murderer dubbed ‘The Mutilator’.

06 – Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (b. 26/7/1875) dies. He is 85.

09 – Actor Michael J Fox is born in Vancouver.

14 – Boy George (George O’Dowd) of Culture Club fame is born.

16 – Soviet ballet star Rudolph Nureyev makes a dramatic defection bid to the West at Le Bourget airport in Paris. Nureyev breaks free from Russian embassy guards and dashed through a security barrier and requests asylum.

18 – British diva Alison ‘Alf’ Moyet is born Genevieve Alison-Jane Moyet.

21 – An RAF Vulcan becomes the first plane to fly from Britain to Australia non-stop.

25 – Iraq lays claim to the former British protectorate of Kuwait.


01 – Britain sends troops to Kuwait in anticipation of an attack by Iraq. They are withdrawn on 13 August.

02 – Author Ernest Hemingway commits suicide.

13 – Having completed a long season in Germany, The Beatles return home and start a series of local dates with a show at St John’s Hall, Tuebrook, Liverpool.

15 – Actor Forest Whitaker is born in Texas.

16 – Six people are killed, and 116 hurt when a train full of holidaymakers crashes near Blackpool.

17 – Migrants at the Bonegilla Hostel in Victoria (Australia) stage a violent demonstration and attempt to burn the camp down.

21 – Virgil “Gus” Grissom is the second American in space, making a 16-minute suborbital flight aboard Liberty Bell 7.

29 – The first Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tour opens in Atlantic City, New Jersey, featuring Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Gary US Bonds, Freddy Cannon, The Shirelles, Duane Eddy and Johnny & The Hurricanes.


04 – Future US President Barack Obama is born in Honolulu, Hawaii.

06Vostok II catapults Major Gherman Titov into space. He orbits the Earth 17 times.

08 – The Edge (David Evans) of U2 is born.

10 – Britain formally applies to join the Common Market (EEC).

13 – East Germany closes the border between East and West Berlin with barbed wire and begins erecting a concrete barrier – the beginnings of the Berlin Wall. Within seven days, it is 45km long and 1.5 metres high.

19 – Australian ABC current affairs program Four Corners first airs.

21 – Goya’s ‘Duke Of Wellington’ is stolen from the National Gallery in London. A ticket for a left luggage locker at Birmingham New Street Station is sent to the Daily Mirror in May 1965, and the picture is found intact, minus the frame. Kempton Bunton subsequently makes a voluntary confession to the police and receives three months’ imprisonment for stealing the frame.

22 – A courting couple is abducted on Dorney Common in Bedfordshire, England. The man, Michael John Gregsten, 34, is murdered, and the woman, Valerie Storie, 22, is raped and shot and left in a lay-by on the A6 at Deadman’s Hill, near Luton. Valerie Storie survives the shooting but is left paralysed and wheelchair-bound. The Morris Minor used in the crime is discovered behind Redbridge tube station in London (pictured below).

a6murder  1961_a6murder


01 – USSR explodes a nuclear bomb, ending a 34-month test silence.

05 – USA announces the resumption of nuclear tests.

10 – 13 spectators at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza are killed when two cars collide and veer off the track.

10 – 86 people die in a plane crash just after takeoff from Shannon Airport, Ireland.

13 – UN forces attempt to overthrow Moise Tshombe’s secessionist regime in Katanga.

16 – In Sydney (Australia), St George wins a record sixth rugby league premiership in a row, beating Souths 22-0 in the Grand Final.

17 – Biggest-yet “Ban The Bomb” march in London ends in violent clashes with police. In the greatest mass arrest on record, 1,314 members of the CND movement are arrested for obstructing the Queen’s highway.

17 – Turkey’s military rulers hang ex-Turkish Premier Adnan Menderes.

18 – UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld dies in an air crash in Northern Rhodesia while on his way to meet Moise Tshombe of Katanga.

23 – In Melbourne (Australia), Hawthorn wins their first VFL flag, defeating Footscray 13.16 (94) to 7.9 (51) in the Grand Final.


01 – The last steam train runs on the London Underground.

01 – Roger Maris, playing with the New York Yankees, hits his 61st home run of the season – breaking Babe Ruth’s 1927 record.

09 – The youngest Tory woman MP, Margaret Thatcher, gets her first Government job as a Parliamentary Secretary.

10 – Martin Kemp (Spandau Ballet) is born.

12 – MPs in New Zealand vote to abolish the death penalty.

23 – USSR detonates the largest ever thermonuclear device – the 50 megaton ‘Tsar’ bomb (equivalent to 50 million tons of TNT) – in the Arctic Ocean off northern Russia. The bomb was meant to be even bigger, but there were no planes that could carry it. The test provokes widespread condemnation from around the world.

24 – Malta becomes independent from Britain.

25 – British and American tanks face Soviet tanks along the border near Berlin in a row over Allied entry rights.

25 – The satirical magazine Private Eye is first published.


01Nostalgia Central owner and author David Turner is born in Yorkshire, England.

01 – The UK government publishes a bill designed to curb immigration after a long tradition of free entry for all Commonwealth citizens.

01 – Stalin’s body is moved from his Red Square tomb.

03 – New Secretary-General of UN is Burmese diplomat U Thant.

07 – In Australia, Lord Fury wins the Melbourne Cup after leading throughout the whole race.

08 – 70’s teen heartthrob Leif Garrett is born.

09 – a life-changing lunchtime for record shop owner Brian Epstein when he visits The Cavern in Mathew Street, Liverpool, to see The Beatles for the first time. Within a month, he is their manager.

10 – Britain’s biggest ballroom chain, Mecca, announces plans to replace some live music events with ‘disc sessions’ hosted by disc jockeys.

12 – All public memorials to Stalin are removed in East Germany.

19 – US actress Meg Ryan is born in Connecticut.

20 – Australian murderer dubbed ‘The Mutilator’ strikes again, killing another derelict man.

23 – Australian cricketer, Merv Hughes, is born.

25 – Required to enrol for military service The Everly Brothers join the US Marine Corps Reserve at San Diego, California – but only for six months.

27 – The Royal Air Force begins airlifts to drop food supplies to flood victims in Somalia.

29 – NASA launches Mercury 5 capsule with the chimpanzee Enos aboard. The animal is recovered later after the capsule makes two orbits of Earth.

30 – All 15 people on board are killed as a Viscount aircraft crashes on take-off at Sydney and ploughs into Botany Bay.

30Frank Sinatra plays at Sydney Stadium in Australia.


04 – British women who wish to have oral contraception can now get the birth control pill on the National Health Service.

05 – Noting that five out of every seven men drafted by the US Army are turned down for reasons of physical inadequacy, President Kennedy calls for Americans to get more physical exercise. The US, Kennedy says, is becoming a nation of spectators rather than a nation of athletes.

09 – USSR breaks off diplomatic relations with Albania.

10 – Albert Luthuli, leader of the banned African National Congress, appeals for racial equality in South Africa after accepting the Nobel peace prize for 1960 in Oslo, Norway.

11 – The first two US military companies arrive in South Vietnam to help fend off the North Vietnamese Communist threat. The 4,000 men are ordered to fire only if fired upon.

15 – Robert Menzies is returned as Australian Prime Minister with a majority of one.

15 – Former SS Colonel Adolf Eichmann, in charge of transporting millions of Jews to death camps during WWII, is sentenced to death by hanging in Jerusalem.

15 – The UN General Assembly rejects a Soviet proposal to admit the People’s Republic of China.

17 – Sarah Dallin (Bananarama) is born.

18 – In Australia, the Menzies government wins the federal election by two seats.

21 – Moise Tshombe, leader of the Katanga rebels, surrenders, marking the end of troubles in the African Congo.

22 – James Davis is the first American soldier killed by the Viet Cong in Vietnam.

27 – First successful aircraft hijacking as a Cuban hijacker diverts plane to Havana.

Also this year . . .

  • IBM introduces the “golf ball” typewriter
  • The invention of Letraset makes headlines simple
  • The Tufty Club – a road safety campaign aimed at pre-school children and starring Tufty the squirrel – is launched in the UK
  • Jean Nidetch founds the first Weight Watchers group in the Queens district of New York

Quote of the year

“I want to manage those four boys. It wouldn’t take me more than two half-days a week “
Brian Epstein, record shop owner, of popular Liverpool group, The Beatles.