Today is my birthday, and I reach the grand old age of 68. I posted this piece last year to mark the occasion and, as it was well received, I thought I’d recycle it for those who may not have seen it – with apologies to those who have. Eight years ago was the day I officially retired from work although, as it was a Monday that year, my last actual working day was the previous Friday, the 13th – an easy date to remember! To mark my milestone birthday my two wonderful daughters took me out for the day on Saturday 14th, which if you so desire you can read about in A Celebration. For the actual birthday I went to an exhibition at the British Museum (rock ‘n’ roll or what!) and also posted a piece on my blog. This was rather different from my usual – if there is such a thing – and I have updated it a couple of times since then. This is the latest edit, though I haven’t had to do much with it as, miracle of miracles, all of the videos and links still work!
I was born in 1953, a year of some momentous occurrences, and that’s before you even consider my birth! This isn’t a standard narrative article: what I’m doing is giving you a flavour of the year in which I was born. There are some clickable links, some videos you can watch straight from here, some pictures, a couple of lists and some more words. I had loads of fun when I first researched this, and again in updating it: 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 before the original post 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 was 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 what that year was like, here is a totally random selection of things that happened in 1953:
28 Jan – Derek Bentley (the ‘let him have it’ case) was executed at Wandsworth Prison
31 Jan to 1 Feb – a North Sea flood killed 1,836 in the Netherlands, 307 in the UK and several hundreds more at sea
5 Feb – Disney’s Peter Pan premiered (there will be a clip for this later)
1 March – Death of Joseph Stalin, the man who loved rewriting history (a certain recent ex-President seemed to be adopting him as a role model!)
13 April – Ian Fleming published the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, in the UK. Little did he know what he was unleashing on the world! To be honest, the book feels a little dated now, but there has been the occasional movie of Bond books, I think?
29 May – Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest (video by The Guardian). Nowadays, people who attempt this climb are armed with all sorts of support which wasn’t available in 1953, which in my eyes makes this an even more incredible achievement:
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) was released
4 Sept – Research on the discovery of REM sleep was first published by Eugene Aserinsky and Nathaniel Kleitman. As I’ve mentioned in several posts, I had a sleep problem, so I couldn’t resist this short cartoon, which I think was originally released in the USA in 1953. Copyright Disney, of course:
26 Sept – Following the end of sweets rationing earlier in the year, the rationing of cane sugar ended in the UK, to the great relief of the sweet-toothed everywhere! I can’t imagine growing up without sweets – but in these more health conscious days sugar is apparently a bad thing. A pity, really.
5 Oct – the UNIVAC 1103 was the first commercial computer to use random access memory. It’s hard to see a connection between this brute and today’s computers, tablets and smartphones, isn’t it!
21 November – the Natural History Museum announced that the skull of the Piltdown Man was a hoax (I gather that this was a big news story at the time – they’ll be telling us that the Earth isn’t flat, next!)
December – the first issue of Playboy was published, Marilyn Monroe was the nude centrefold and it sold 54,175 copies at $0.50 each
30 Dec – the first colour television sets went on sale in the US, priced at $1,175. At today’s exchange rate ($1.38 to the £) that equates to £851. In today’s money, however, that would be just over £23,500!
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 perhaps an unfortunate coincidence that Santa bears an uncanny resemblance to a former BBC DJ who was at one point on trial for some unpleasant offences. He was found not guilty, unlike some of his peers.
As I’ve mentioned often in my posts, 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, though, 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; 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, now no longer with us, more’s the pity; Michael Portillo – bouffant-haired railway traveller and former Tory government minister; Cyndi Lauper – who just wants to have fun; Nanci Griffith – another great singer/songwriter, sadly recently lost to us; Nigel Mansell – the boring racing driver, used to go ‘Brum Brum’ to himself as he drove round the circuits; and Kim Basinger – blimey, I feel old!
And these are just a few of those who departed in 1953: Hank Williams – country musician; the aforementioned Joseph Stalin; Arnold Bax – British composer; Sergei Prokoviev – Russian composer; Dylan Thomas – playwright who wrote Under Milk Wood, set in the fictional town of Llaregub (read it backwards); Django Reinhardt – the very talented French guitarist; John Christie – the Rillington Place serial killer who has since been the subject of stage, movie and TV adaptations of his gruesome life; and Guccio Gucci, who began a fashion house – guess which one!
In these days of Brexit’s aftermath – and our buffoon of a Prime Minster, who is a fan of his – it is appropriate that I mention Sir Winston Churchill, who swung both ways at different times on the merits of the European ‘club.’ He won the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature, and may or may not have done a Bob Dylan in accepting it. There is a photo which purports to show Churchill accepting it, but according to the Nobel website his wife went to Sweden to collect it. One of those stories is, therefore, fake news, isn’t it?
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, which the BBC often used to show as a filler in the 60s when live broadcasts didn’t go to plan:
And I couldn’t do 1953 without Stanley Matthews’ FA Cup Final, with commentary by Kenneth Wolstenholme, who was the voice of football as I grew up:
From a 21st century perspective this one is hysterical (they sure knew how to have fun, and that Betty – what a gal!):
Do you fancy a trade advert? It seems they couldn’t afford a voiceover, or maybe that profession had yet to be invented, thereby creating work for countless actors who couldn’t get any real roles. There was clearly a job for someone with a wobbly hand to roll the script, though:
Or a film trailer, for Peter Pan – great special effects here. The original clip I used for this is no longer available to UK viewers (thanks, Walt) so I’m sharing a more recent clip for the DVD release:
I could go on for ages, but I’ll stop here. I’ll leave you with one final one, a news story that caught my eye. At that time, this must have been revolutionary, and I can’t begin to imagine the prejudice Christine Jorgensen must have endured after this blaze of publicity :
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 I’ve given you an idea of what 1953 was like – not that I really knew, of course! It does seem, in many ways, a more innocent time, but consider that it was only eight years after the end of WW2 and was the dawning of an age of rapid social, cultural and technological growth and you’ll get a sense of the world in which I grew up.
Another year older but, wiser? You be the judge. Have fun – I hope you enjoy playing with this stuff as much as I have. I’m off to join the party 😉