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The 1960s

The Sixties to many is a decade of childhood memories – as much about Matchbox Cars as Vietnam; equal parts Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds as well as Woodstock and Hendrix.

Have you ever watched Heartbeat on TV? Well it really was like that growing up in the sixties – Life was so much simpler. A sunny optimism permeated everything, and possibilities seemed endless.

Milk still came in bottles, Doctors still made house calls and Toys were always “Made in Hong Kong” or “Made in England”.

The police were still called “bobbies” and walked around instead of driving around in vans with wire mesh over the windows, and while TV may have been black & white, it was far more entertaining than most of what the TV stations churn out today.

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 Fifties.

Almost everything about the Sixties seems to be an icon. David Bailey wore a crew-neck 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 MBE’s – 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 miniskirt seemed to promise some kind of 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. Meanwhile, The Rolling Stones were in and out of police vans for puffing weed and peeing on walls, the Krays were being remanded and Hindley and Brady were charged.

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.

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 . . .