Shockwaves of the Sixties That Changed Nation; BOOK REVIEWS

Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England), September 13, 1998 | Go to article overview

Shockwaves of the Sixties That Changed Nation; BOOK REVIEWS


IN November 1966 the BBC sent shockwaves through the nation by broadcasting a play called Cathy Come Home. Television would never be quite the same again.

Produced by Brummie Tony Garnett and directed by Nuneaton's Ken Loach, it was a gritty, dirty and a realistic portrayal of a young mother's journey into homelessness, despair, deprivation and the loss of her children.

The ensuing storm stirred the nation's social conscience, led to the foundation of the charity Shelter and epitomised a new kind of television that was a punch to the solar plexus of a stuffy, conservative country that was in the throes of an unexpected revolution.

And that is why it is a prime example of what the 1960s were all about.

Millions of words have been written about a decade that usually means The Beatles, mini skirts and Carnaby Street. But there was much more to it than that.

Swinging London meant no more to most people than Cool Britannia does now, but behind the glib catchphrase there was a genuine cultural revolution going on.

The Sixties (Oxford University Press, pounds 25) is Arthur Marwick's meticulous study of the the decade that Left-wingers remember as the lost revolution and reactionary politicians blame for a catastrophic decline in moral standards.

Prof Marwick, who defines the Sixties as the period between 1958 and 1974, says: " What was new was that so many things happened at once."

All the usual suspects are here - pop music and the explosion of youth culture, Mary Quant, Jean Shrimpton and the mini skirt, hippies, The Pill that liberated women and, according to some, ushered in the Permissive Society.

This was also the decade of relative affluence when millions more people could afford a share of the new consumer society. A working class with cash in its pocket and a better education could now storm the bastions of middle class privilege.

But as Prof Marwick says, there was nothing particularly "alternative" about pop music and fashion boutiques or even the art of Andy Warhol, which were all about profit and commercialism.

There were also many wrong turns, like the love affair with Marxism, the tragically naive belief that drugs were a new way of understanding the world and modern housing that turned into a nightmare.

But the real revolution had little to do with Mary Quant, Cilla Black or even John, Paul, George and Ringo. It was really about the anonymous heroes of the Civil Rights marches in Alabama and the courageous youngsters who confronted Soviet tanks in Pragu e. …

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