REVIEW

1962 was the year the Sixties really began, according to a new book by Davod Kynaston

The Beatles released Love Me Do in 1962, and thus the "real sixties" began. Picture: Getty Images

The Beatles released Love Me Do in 1962, and thus the "real sixties" began. Picture: Getty Images

  • On the Cusp: Days of '62, by David Kynaston. Bloomsbury, $39.99.

David Kynaston is the critically acclaimed author of Austerity Britain, 1945-51, Family Britain, 1951-57, and Modernity Britain, 1957-1962, the first three volumes in his "Tales of a New Jerusalem", covering the years 1945 to 1979.

For Kynaston, the Labour victory of 1945 led to "the implementation over the next three years of a broadly socialist, egalitarian programme of reforms, epitomised by the creation of the National Health Service and extensive nationalisation".

In 1979, "Margaret Thatcher came to power with a fierce determination to ... dismantle much of the post-war settlement". To Kynaston, 1945 to 1979 thus became, "a period - a story - in their own right".

Before the 1970's, Kynaston writes, "Britain was predominately a working-class society . . . but it changed through time and became less working class as the middle class grew. Looking at the whole sweep of the post-war period, however, if one is writing a social history of post-war Britain, the question of the character, assumptions and way of life of the working class and how those things changed through time are absolutely central, and haven't been explored as much as they might have been."

Kynaston has been called "the poet of post-war Britain". It was, of course, the poet Philip Larkin who famously wrote, "sexual intercourse/ began in nineteen sixty-three /(which was rather late for me) / Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban/ And the Beatles' first LP"." Larkin felt he was too old for the birth of the permissive society.

On the Cusp covers June to October, 1962, providing a fascinating snapshot of "a country where doors and windows were about to be pushed opened a little wider". It follows Kynaston's now-trademark detailed social analysis based on private diaries, archives, memoirs, social surveys, newspapers, television and a whole array of popular cultural sources.

Kynaston sees two events on October 5, 1962 as foreshadowing the social revolution of the 1960s.

It was the day the Beatles, playing at the Nuneaton Co-op Ballroom, released their first single, "Love Me Do", and the first James Bond film, Dr No premiered at the London Pavilion, ushering, in Kynaston's words, "the transition between the old world and the 'real' 1960s".

That new world was also referenced by the last Gentleman versus Players cricket match at Lord's, David Frost anchoring the first episode of the anti-establishment TV series, That Was The Week That Was, and the newly established Sussex University was determined "to redraw the map of learning".

The old world was still, however, starkly present. Abortion and homosexuality were still illegal, there were only two black and white TV channels and Blackpool was Britain's most popular holiday resort, Spanish package holidays had not yet taken off.

Racism was rife in 1962. Oswald Mosley was allowed to hold large antisemitic, anti-immigrant rallies in Manchester and London.

Selwyn Lloyd, the Chancellor, owned a black labrador called Sambo and the workers at an aluminium factory in Banbury voted overwhelmingly against to the question, "Should coloured workers be admitted to the factory?" .

This at a time when, Kynaston notes, West Indian, Indian or Pakistani residents only amounted to some 630,000, or 1.2 per cent of the total UK population.

In his influential 1962 book Anatomy of Britain, Anthony Sampson observed that "the old privileged values of aristocracy, public schools and Oxbridge . . . still dominate government today".

Have things really changed today with an arguably similar domination of the English establishment and an Old Etonian, and Oxford Balliol graduate, in Boris Johnson as Prime Minister?

On July13 1962, another Eton and Balliol product, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, is sacked, on what became known as the "Night of the Long Knives", a third of his cabinet, "with less notice than a housemaid".

In the same vein in 2019, Boris Johnson, on his first day as prime minister, purged the cabinet of 11 ministers. Nothing changes in politics.

Opportunity Britain, will take the story up to 1967 but opportunities will depend on where you live.

Another overlapping theme is Britain's relationship with Europe, which was becoming a divisive issue in 1962 as Macmillan pushed for membership and Labour leader Hugh Gaitskill resisted.

Gaitskell's colleague, Anthony Crosland, however, differed from his leader, "We cling to every outmoded scrap of national sovereignty, play the obsolete role of an imperial power, and fail to adjust to the new, dynamic Europe."

Plus ca change? As Kynaston reflects, it was "simultaneously a very long time ago and the day before yesterday".

This story The year the 'real sixties' began first appeared on The Canberra Times.