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1953 And All That

September 16, 2019 42 comments

Today is my birthday, and I reach the grand old age of 66. Six years ago was the day I officially retired from work although, as it was a Monday that year too, 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 shared it again three years ago. As most of you won’t have been following my blog then, let alone six years ago, I thought I’d share an updated version to celebrate turning 66. As bingo fans will know, 66 is called ‘clicketty-click,’ which I think must derive from the noise our joints make at that age when we stand up.

So what was 1953 actually like? It was 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 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 of this later)

PeterpanRKO

1 March – Death of Joseph Stalin, the man who loved rewriting history (a certain President seems to be adopting him as a role model!)

Seems like a nice chap!

Seems like a nice chap!

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?

Where it all began

Where it all began

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 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

What a stunning pair! Or two

What a stunning pair! Or two

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!

Yes, this really is a computer!

Yes, this really is a computer!

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!)

Shame, such a good-looking guy too!

Shame, such a good-looking guy too!

December – the first issue of Playboy was published, Marilyn Monroe was the nude centrefold and it sold 54,175 copies at $0.50 eachPlayboy Issue 1

30 Dec – the first colour television sets went on sale in the US, priced at $1,175. At today’s exchange rate ($1.25 to the £) that equates to £940. In today’s money, however, that would be just over £26,000!First colour tv 1953

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 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, sadly; 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, 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 – and our (hopefully temporary) Prime Minster, who is a fan of his, it is appropriate that I mention Sir Winston Churchill, who won the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature, and may or may not have done a Bob Dylan in accepting it.

Churchill accepting the Nobel, according to the caption - his wife went to Sweden to pick it up!

Churchill accepting the Nobel, according to the caption, though the Nobel website says his wife went to Sweden to pick it up!

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.

Have fun – I hope you enjoy playing with this stuff as much as I have.

 

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Not So Wild(ish) Nowadays

February 26, 2019 16 comments

When I re-shared Summer Of ‘69 I reminded myself that, although I didn’t plan it that way, it became the first of three posts in 2016 that saw me reminiscing about the 1969-70 period, during which I became 16, took on the ‘man of the house’ role after Dad left, and generally started to grow up a bit. But it was also a time for a lot of fun, too, so I thought that newer readers – and there have been a lot of you in the past three years – might also like to take my trip down memory lane. The second of those three posts was entitled ‘Born To Be Wild(ish)’ and I’m sharing it again now – the final part of my ‘trilogy’ will follow in a few days. I’ll drop by again at the end of the post to have another word on this.

Born To Be Wild(ish)

Do you ever find yourself looking back at earlier versions of yourself, and wondering about how different life was? As we get older, we have a lot more to look back on and while some might contend that we should always look ahead, and never look back, I think we can learn from our past. As I said in my post Summer of ’69 that was a momentous year for me. It was also the year that the movie Easy Rider first graced the screen – in June in the US, a little later in the UK – and it opened up the eyes of impressionable teenagers around the world to a way of life that was very different from our normal, humdrum existences.

If you haven’t seen the movie I’ll try to avoid spoilers, suffice it to say that it doesn’t end well! But for most of us at the time, that wasn’t the point. What we saw in the film was a lifestyle based on doing what you want to do, free from the constraints of regular life. Sure, it was fuelled by an illegal drug deal at the very beginning, but did we care? I know I didn’t! The concept of road movies hadn’t really been explored much until then, and the idea of watching 95 minutes of two guys riding motorbikes around was very strange to my parents: “what’s it about?” “that sounds boring” and “you aren’t old enough to see it” being just some of what they said. It was rated ‘X’ in the UK, which meant that you had to be 18 to be allowed into the cinema, but I somehow managed to raise my short, just-turned-16 frame enough to get past the prison cinema guards. Or maybe they were just glad to take anyone’s cash that they could!

I have the movie on DVD and occasionally dust it off for a viewing. Mostly, it now looks incredibly dated, a real period piece. But there is still much to enjoy in it, especially the scene accompanied by the Byrds’ song I Wasn’t Born To Follow, which is such a joyous expression of youthful freedom.

At 16, we all have dreams of what we want our lives to become, and a release from a late 1960s Britain, with economic troubles putting a real dampener on all the Swinging 60s stuff that had gone before, was incredibly appealing. We all wanted to do it! If you have read my Summer of ’69 you’ll know that I spent that school holiday working to earn the cash to buy my first motorised transport. This was where one of life’s major lessons first hit home: I was never going to be able to earn enough to buy a bike like Peter Fonda’s! So, with reality dawning rapidly, I adjusted my ambitions – another early life lesson – and bought myself a secondhand scooter, a Lambretta Ld to be precise. It wasn’t even the most recent model made by Lambretta, but it was mine! In case you’ve never heard of it – and you can be forgiven for that – this is what it looked like:

The same colour as mine!

The same colour as mine!

Suddenly, a whole new world opened up for me. I could go anywhere I wanted, without the need to consult copious bus timetables, and I really took advantage of this new freedom. I joined the local scooter club, called the ‘Saints’ for reasons no one actually knew, and as well as club nights we went on group outings. We often went to a place called Camber Sands, which was pretty desolate, although it did afford a lovely view of the nuclear power plant under construction at nearby Dungeness. But that didn’t matter to us – we enjoyed the camaraderie of the ride, the wind (and rain, lots of rain) in our hair, and as long as someone had remembered to bring a ball we had a game of football on the sands when we got there. I have been thinking about this post for some time, and it feels very poignant to be looking back at my own youth, and happy times, when the sea has just claimed the lives of five young men who had gone to the very same place to have a good day out. As I said, we can learn from our past: that could have been us. There was never any sign of a lifeguard there, and apparently there still isn’t, 47 years on. It always takes a tragedy for something necessary to be enacted, sadly. In our innocent youth, we don’t really think about potential dangers, do we? Life is for living, we’re young and it is all stretching out in front of us. Why worry?

The ultimate fashion item, c.1969!

The ultimate fashion item, c.1969!

Going back to buying the scooter and becoming part of the local ‘scene’, where the cool kids hung out – as if, in my dreams, etc. – it amuses me that despite the fact that what we thought we were looking for was a freedom from normality, we rapidly adopted a style that became our new normal. If you had a scooter but didn’t wear one of these (look left), you were nobody!

I didn’t quite manage to copy Peter Fonda’s crash helmet either. Although it wasn’t at that time illegal to ride a bike without wearing one, we prided ourselves on being a responsible scooter club, so I bought myself another fashion accessory, just like this one:

Stylish, or what!

Stylish, or what!

But we were happy, that was the most important thing to us. We may not have been like Wyatt and Billy in the movie, but we had a sense of freedom, and I felt that every single time I got on the scooter, even if I was only using it to go shopping or to go to school. In those moments, the world was all mine, and I felt a kind of invincibility. Admittedly, I didn’t feel quite the same way the day I came off it and embedded a stone in my arm, but that was just another life lesson: don’t be a prat! Looking back, through what are probably very rose-tinted spectacles, I do feel a sense of loss, the loss of the innocence of youth. I hope my 16 year old self would have approved of the way my life has developed: I may not be riding the breeze on the open road, but I’ve learnt to recognise how to find the best in life, and to enjoy it.

And finally, for anyone feeling short changed by the edited version of the song in the opening video, I leave you with a full version of what is still the best driving song I know:

And this is me again, now. It is a sobering, even slightly frightening, thought that the events I’m describing here took place exactly fifty years ago. It really does seem like another lifetime, although I still recognise it as a part of my life experience. But how times have changed! Social, political and technological developments have transformed the world in ways we couldn’t have envisaged back then. Much of this has been for the general good, but I’m not convinced that we are living in a completely better place than in 1969. Then again, utopia is probably an impossible dream! For me, personally, much about my life is better than in my teenage years, but I look back fondly on those days of innocence. I’m facing some big changes in my life this year, which are causing me some apprehension – maybe I’ll be writing about those at some point but, for now, I’m happy to keep on the rose tinted glasses through which I’m viewing 1969. It is my way of dealing with what feel like major threats to my mental well-being. Reality does have a way of intruding on us, doesn’t it, and life feels anything but wild just now.

Summer of ’69

February 16, 2019 Leave a comment

I wasn’t planning on posting again just yet, as I have another on mental health in the production stage, but the ever reliable Timehop reminded me of this one, from three years ago today. Reading it again I’ve realised that I was describing a seminal week in my life, though at that young age I had no idea how life-changing it would be. I suppose the ‘wisdom’ that comes with age and experience helps us put things into context. I received a telephone call this week which is going to bring about a big change in my life nowadays, and I’m thinking about further interrupting my planned series of mental health posts to share that story too. But, for now, here’s a look back at how I was in my teenage years and how, as I’ve often said, music – and the feelings and memories it evokes – is a very important part of my life.

Take It Easy

Many of you will instantly recognise the title for this piece as being a song by Bryan Adams, from his album Reckless (1984). Adams has been a little vague about the meaning of the song, having at different times suggested that it was about sexual exploration (but the use of the apostrophe would seem to disprove that!) or, more probably, that it is a song about nostalgia in general, and not the actual year 1969. I, however, am taking it literally, as that summer was a momentous time for me and I can never hear the song without thinking back.

I was 15 through that summer, and had my 16th birthday in September 1969. I was at the age of teenage awakenings – realising that there was more to life than school, my mates and football, cricket, tennis etc: I was madly in love with a beautiful girl who lived…

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Categories: Memories
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