This is something of a departure from what I normally do. Today is my 60th birthday, and is also officially the day I retire from work. I wanted to mark my important day in a suitable manner, and this is what I came up with. This isn’t a standard narrative article – what I’m doing is giving you a flavour of the year in which I was born. The piece contains some clickable links, some videos you can watch straight from here, some pictures, a couple of lists and some more words. I’ve had loads of fun researching this, and I hope you will enjoy it too. There is a lot here and it is probably far too much to take in at one go, so do feel free to revisit if you are exhausted before the end!
I was talking about this a couple of weeks ago with a friend at work, and when I told him what I was doing he showed me the wonderful Pathe News website. This is worth repeat visits, as it carries a huge number of clips from bygone years. It’s ideal for anyone who, like me, loves those old newsreel films with the terribly terribly posh voiceovers! The only problem is that as the site is aimed at getting you to buy the clips at ridiculous prices they don’t seem to let you embed them in the same way that YouTube does. So I’ve had to make do with some clickable links – not too many, as you can make a cup of tea while you wait for some of them to load, but they really are worth it! The first of these is the Pathe News Coronation Year Review, The Crowning Year which is a ten minute run through some of the year’s most important events. Not all, by a long way, but it’s a lovely snapshot of an historic year. Not that I was aware of what was happening, especially as the two biggest events happened while I was still an expected arrival, but I was lucky enough to be born in the year which saw the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the first ascent of Mount Everest. Beat that!
As another taster of what Pathe News were covering that year, and for a glimpse at fashionable home décor, here’s The Queen at the Ideal Homes Exhibition – absolutely spiffing! I have a couple more slices of Pathe 1953, but I’ll save those for later.
To give you an idea of that year was like, here is a totally random selection of things that happened in 1953:
5 Jan – Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett first performed in Paris
28 – Derek Bentley executed at Wandsworth Prison
31 Jan to 1 Feb – North Sea flood kills 1836 in Netherlands, 307 in the UK and several hundreds more at sea
5 Feb – Disney’s Peter Pan premieres
1 March – Death of Joseph Stalin
13 April – Ian Fleming publishes the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, in the UK
29 May – Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reach the summit of Mount Everest (video by The Guardian)
2 June – Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey – contrary to popular belief, this did actually happen in colour. This clip is from a full length video of the event, which you can buy from places like Amazon, I believe, and is copyright of Granada Ventures:
23 July – Howard Hawks’ film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell) released
4 Sept – Research on the discovery of REM sleep first published by Eugene Aserinsky and Nathaniel Kleitman. As I’ve mentioned before I have a sleep problem, so I couldn’t resist this cartoon, originally released in the USA on Christmas Day 1953. Copyright Disney, of course:
26 –Following the end of sweets rationing earlier in the year, the rationing of cane sugar ends in the UK, to the great relief of the sweet-toothed everywhere!
5 Oct – the UNIVAC 1103 is the first commercial computer to use random access memory
21 November – Natural History Museum announces that the skull of the Piltdown Man is a hoax
30 Dec – the first colour television sets go on sale in the US, priced at $1,175. At today’s exchange rate ($1.59 to the £) that equates to £739. In today’s money, however, that would be about £17,400!
I mentioned earlier that I had another couple of links to Pathe News, to give an insight into life in 1953. The first of these is the Boy Scouts’ Soapbox Derby which really is from another age! The second is a group of Carol Singers in Ashford, Kent which is rather nice – to an oldie like me it somehow seems more Christmassy than nowadays, although it is an unfortunate coincidence that Santa bears an uncanny resemblance to a former BBC DJ currently awaiting trial!
As I’ve mentioned before, I love music and it has always played a very important role in my life. So I thought I’d show you what was top of the hit parade (yes, they did call it that!) when I was born. Charts as we know them today had only been introduced in 1952 – previously they had counted sales of sheet music – and sources differ as to what actually was No.1 at the time. As far as I can make out, the No.1 in the UK, for the first of six weeks, was Guy Mitchell, with Look At That Girl
And in the USA it was Les Paul and Mary Ford, Vaya Con Dios, enjoying the sixth of nine weeks at No.1
BIRTHS AND DEATHS
Reviews of the year always do these, so I thought I should follow suit. Among those who share my year of birth are Lucinda Williams – wonderful singer/songwriter; Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner – President of Argentina; Carl Hiaasen – writer of some of the funniest novels I’ve ever read; Tony Blair – after dinner speaker, world traveller, waste of space; Mike Oldfield – the man with the Tubular Bells; Pierce Brosnan – been in a few films; Victoria Wood – brilliant writer, actor, comedian, singer etc etc; Michael Portillo – bouffant-haired railway traveller and former Tory government minister; Keith Allen – the Sheriff of Nottingham on the BBC, loads of other acting roles, father of two vaguely well-known kids; Cyndi Lauper – who just wants to have fun; Nanci Griffith – another great singer/songwriter; Nigel Mansell – the boring racing driver, used to go ‘Brum Brum’ to himself as he drove round the circuits; and Kim Basinger – blimey, is she really 60 this year? I feel old!
Just a few of those who departed in 1953: Hank Williams – country musician; as mentioned earlier, Joseph Stalin – the man who rewrote history; Sergei Prokoviev – Russian composer; and Dylan Thomas – playwright who wrote Under Milk Wood, set in the fictional town of Llaregub (read it backwards).
A mention for Sir Winston Churchill, who won the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature.
To round off, I’m going to add a few more videos for you to dip into if you feel so inclined. They aren’t in any particular order, and the only connection between them is that they date from 1953. Firstly, the famous film of the train journey from London to Brighton:
And I couldn’t do 1953 without Stanley Matthews’ FA Cup Final, with commentary by Kenneth Wolstenholme:
From a 2013 perspective this is hysterical:
Do you fancy a trade advert? It seems they couldn’t afford a voiceover, or maybe Martin Clunes was busy that day:
Or a film trailer – great special effects here:
I could go on for ages, but I’ll stop here. One final one, a news story that caught my eye:
If you’ve got this far I really do applaud you, but there are no prizes, I’m afraid. Not even one of those shiny capes they usually give out at the end of marathons! I really do hope you’ve found something to interest and entertain you and that you have an idea of what 1953 was like – not that I really knew, of course!