That Was the Sizzle of the Sixties

Article excerpt


As PHILIP LARKIN put it: 'Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three . . . Between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP.' Nineteen sixty-three was the year of Please Please Me and the birth of Beatlemania and 'Swinging London' of which the Fab Four were the ambassadors.

Whatever the obituaries may say, to the wider public the Beatles went into history as John, Paul and 'the other two' (told that Ringo was claiming to be one of the four best drummers in the world, Lennon snarled: 'Listen - he's not even one of the four best drummers in the Beatles.'). But at that time they were corporately joined at the hip as the Four Moptops.

And what a time it was. It is said that if you can remember the early Sixties, you weren't there. In fact, if you can't remember the early Sixties - or you really weren't there - you missed out on the greatest party of the 20th century.

The nation fizzed and crackled with creative energy. It was as if all the available talent - and there were masses of it about - had been plugged into the National Grid, and someone had turned the voltage up.

You could not throw a bread roll in a Soho restaurant without it hitting a bright new novelist or poet, an emergent artist or Lionel Bart. Up north, you could not cross a slag heap without tripping up over the camera cables of rival film crews.

That Was The Week That Was emptied the pubs on Saturday nights. Joan Littlewood filled the theatres. Sean Kenny designed stage sets so cumbersomely complex that they had to be built in shipyards (we had shipyards then).

What I remember most vividly about that period is the conviction that anybody could do anything, provided they remained sober enough for long enough. Despite little local difficulties such as the Profumo affair, it was a time of great national self-confidence.

It was not quite coincidence that the country heaved with talent.

The 1944 Butler Education Act, establishing the right to a secondary education for all, had produced an upstart generation -'scum', as Somerset Maugham charmingly called us - which instead of becoming factory fodder (we had factories then, too) had come up through the grammar schools and the redbricks and were ready to take on the world. …