A personal look back at 1964
I was born in 1949, so in 1964 I turned 15! How lucky was that? I’d not lived through the Second World War, but I had bomb-site adventure playgrounds to play on throughout my 1950s childhood.
Dad had been in the RAF as a wartime radar operator. When he was demobbed, he – like thousands of other men – just wanted to come home, get married, start a family and live a normal life. He saved, and by December 1958 he and my mother had the deposit to buy a house. £2,120. No, that wasn’t the deposit, that was the total price of a 3-bedroom house. Those were the days.
We moved out of our London rented flat to Rochford, a little Essex market town, just outside Southend-on-Sea. Onto a brand new estate built where previously Holt Farm has been, so our address was Holt Farm Way.
Faces of 1964
I attended the local primary school – Holt Farm School. There was a lot of farming around us. But most of the men on our estate commuted the one-hour train journey to London. Rochford became a dormitory town, and then the cattle market closed.
I remember my father coming home one evening from a Parent-Teacher Association meeting at the school: he was incensed. The chairman of the governors – a Mr Tabor, who owned and ran the local Tabor Farms – had got up in the meeting and announced that Rochford children did not need advanced education: they would find plenty of employment as farm labourers locally! The meeting erupted into riot. Those present were largely white collar workers in the City, and they weren’t having their children tilling the soil. They may have used slightly more colourful language than that.
This story serves to illustrate that, quietly at first, a social revolution was taking place in the late 1950s – heralding the Swinging Sixties.
When my sister was born in 1956, Dad bought Mum a “present” of a television set (though I reckon he benefitted from it as well). When we moved to Rochford, my schoolboy curiosity led me to switch away from Channel 1 (BBC) and Channel 9 (ITV), and, like Howard Carter breaking into Tutankhamun’s tomb, I discovered “wonderful things”!
Although I was a loyal fan of Pussycat Willum on Associated-Rediffusion (weekdays only, of course), and Robin Hood on ATV London (weekends), living in South-East Essex I found Southern Television on Channel 10, and Anglia on Channel 11. (Reception wasn’t that good, but I could guess most of it.) And every ITV station seemingly began with different start of day music. I was hooked: to this day, Richard Allinson’s Southern Rhapsody and the accompanying black and white film of views of the South and South-East of England still makes me weirdly emotional. And Handel’s Water Music will forever in my mind be associated with Anglia’s silver knight on horseback.
The programmes were almost as good! Southern Television’s Three Go Round with presenters Britt Allcroft (later to own the Thomas the Tank Engine franchise), Tony Bastable (who went on to co-present Magpie) and “the third one whose name I can never remember” saw me through my early teenage years when BBC’s Blue Peter simply wasn’t cool enough.
Switching to Channel 10 also gave me sight of TWW’s Movie Magazine, hosted by Bruce Lewis and his teenage son, Peter. Peter Lewis went on to become one of LWT’s most popular continuity announcers.
But back to 1964. With my increasing obsession with television presentation, it was no wonder that on 6 April of that year, when Associated-Rediffusion metamorphosed into Rediffusion, London, I was orgasmic in my excitement! (Not my first orgasm, but like any teenage boy, details of the others had best remain in embarrassed secrecy.) I discovered SANS SERIF typefaces! Microgramma Bold Extended – yes, yes, YES!! I found a seedy artists’ materials shop in a Southend shopping arcade, and acquired – in a paper bag – a Letraset catalogue. Whilst my contemporaries may have been salivating over Health and Efficiency magazines, I got off on pages from that catalogue… Times Roman, Helvetica, and – I’m not ashamed to admit it – the odd Grotesk.
Saturday early evening in the 1960s may have been the time for BBC Juke Box Jury, but for me A-R’s Ready, Steady, Go! was The Only Show In Town. It took some hard negotiating, and more than a few teenage tantrums, before my parents would permit us to watch RSG live on Friday evenings – “The Weekend Starts Here” – while we sat with our meal on our laps in the lounge. Presenters Keith Fordyce and Cathy McGowan dictated my music tastes: She Loves You – The Beatles; Do Wah Diddy Diddy – Manfred Mann; Glad All Over – The Dave Clark Five; Have I the Right – The Honeycombs; and (when I was feeling particularly rebellious) Little Red Rooster – Rolling Stones. Though my grandmother could never get used to “that Max Jagger”.
I had the bonus of being able to watch a repeat of RSG on Southern on a Sunday afternoon – and spotted that someone (perhaps the presentation engineer at Southern?) was substituting “The Weekend Starts Here” with “Here – Now – Here – Now – Here”. I could see through their cunning ploy.
1964 saw the premier of one of my favourite films of all time – A Hard Day’s Night, starring The Beatles. OK, John, Paul, George and Ringo were amusing enough, but it was Richard Lester’s direction and the black and white cinematography that really got to me. And the closing credits!! Oh wow! I think I might have used the word “genius” in critical acclaim for the first time then.
Wikipedia puts it very well. British critic Leslie Halliwell states the film’s influence as
“it led directly to all the kaleidoscopic swinging London spy thrillers and comedies of the later sixties”. In particular, the visuals and storyline are credited with inspiring The Monkees’ television series. The “Can’t Buy Me Love” segment borrowed stylistically from Richard Lester’s earlier The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, and it is this segment, in particular using the contemporary technique of cutting the images to the beat of the music, which has been cited as a precursor of modern music videos. Roger Ebert goes even further, crediting Lester for a more pervasive influence, even constructing “a new grammar”: “He influenced many other films. Today when we watch TV and see quick cutting, hand-held cameras, interviews conducted on the run with moving targets, quickly intercut snatches of dialogue, music under documentary action and all the other trademarks of the modern style, we are looking at the children of A Hard Day’s Night”.
In the past, I may have mentioned once or twice that, at the age of 60, I re-trained as a broadcast journalist. From the start of the course, I was challenged to make and edit 2- or 3-minute videos. Whilst much of the work had to be serious, objective reporting, it occurs to me now that at times I was re-making A Hard Day’s Night! My professional tutor may not have been that impressed by my hand-held shots and quick cutting, but he probably wasn’t born in 1964.
One element in the film disturbed me a bit – not Wilfrid Brambell’s portrayal of a very clean old man, but the way Alun Owen’s script, voiced by George Harrison, obviously ripped into Cathy McGowan:
Simon Marshall: Anyway, if you don’t cooperate, you won’t meet Susan.
George: And who’s this Susan when she’s at home?
Simon Marshall: Only Susan Canby, our resident teenager. You’ll have to love her, she’s your symbol.
George: Oh, you mean that posh bird who gets everything wrong?
Simon Marshall: I beg your pardon?
George: Oh, yeah. The lads frequently sit ’round the television and watch her for a giggle. In fact, once, we all sat down, wrote these letters, saying how gear she was and all that rubbish.
Simon Marshall: She’s a trendsetter. It’s her profession!
George: She’s a DRAG – a well-known drag. We turn the sound down on her and say rude things.
Simon Marshall: [horrified] Get him out of here…!
George: Have I said something amiss?
Simon Marshall: Get him out! He’s knocking the program’s image!
George: Sorry about the shirts!
Simon Marshall: [angrily] GET HIM OUT!
My style and music guru was being mocked. Maybe I shouldn’t have believed everything Cathy McGowan said, uncritically. That was a nail in the coffin of my adolescent innocence.
As a teenager, I was given a Medium Wave radio for my birthday. Not for me a portable, battery-driven set. No, as a child I’d had a battery-driven electric train set, and had not been impressed with the huge Ever Ready batteries it regularly drained. So I requested and received a little mains-driven radio (I think it even had valves).
I have to say I enjoyed several programmes on the BBC Home Service and BBC Light Programme: Two-Way Family Favourites with Jean Metcalfe, Beyond Our Ken starring Kenneth Horne, Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America and Today with Jack de Manio, who could never give an accurate time-check and was loved by (most of) the British public for his incompetence.
However, it was in the evenings that my radio really came into its own: Radio Luxembourg (“Did you know, Dad, that there is a country called Luxembourg?”) on 208 metres. It was trendy, popular and modern, but because of the way it broadcast from the Continent it had a habit of fading at the most crucial moments, which could be annoying. You could try tape-recording your favourite tunes – I had a tape-recorder, an Elizabethan reel-to-reel 3¾ inches per second, two-track machine, but I’m not one to boast – but you’d be lucky to get more than a minute of music before interference overwhelmed the tune. And, because Radio Luxembourg’s programmes were sponsored, even if the recording was successful, the music tracks were frequently faded in the studio after no more than half the song had been played. There had to be something better.
The solution came in the form of a ship’s bell. Ding-ding! Car-o-line, Car-o-li-yay-yay-ine… for the first time in centuries, the United Kingdom experienced piracy on the high seas!
I’ll let Wikipedia tell the story:
Radio Caroline is a British radio station founded by Irish musician manager and businessman Ronan O’Rahilly to circumvent the record companies’ control of popular music broadcasting in the United Kingdom, and the BBC’s radio broadcasting monopoly. Unlicensed by any government, it was a pirate radio station that never actually became illegal, although after the Marine Offences Act (1967) it became illegal for a British subject to associate with it.
O’Rahilly failed to obtain airplay on Radio Luxembourg for Georgie Fame’s records because it was committed to sponsored programmes promoting major record labels; EMI, Decca, Pye and Philips.
Encouraged by Scandinavian and Dutch pirates, in February 1964 O’Rahilly obtained the former Danish passenger ferry, Fredericia, which was converted into a radio ship at the Irish port of Greenore, owned by O’Rahilly’s father. O’Rahilly named the station after Caroline Kennedy, daughter of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
The Fredericia was renamed MV Caroline and anchored off Felixstowe, where it began test transmissions on Friday, 27 March 1964. On Saturday, 28 March, it began regular broadcasting at noon on 197.3 metres (announced as 199 metres, rhyming with the name) with the opening conducted by Simon Dee. Radio Caroline’s first musical theme was Jimmy McGriff’s “Round Midnight”, a jazz standard co-composed by Thelonious Monk. In March 1964, The Fortunes recorded “Caroline”, which became the station’s theme. The station’s slogan was “Your all-day music station”, and it initially broadcast from 6 am to 6 pm, seven days a week.
Simon Dee’s opening theme tune – like the ITV companies’ start of day music – sent a chill down my spine: “On The Sunny Side of the Street”, by Tommy Dorsey and the Sentimentalists. (In my opinion, no other version comes close!) PA-DA-da da-da-da; PA-DA-da da-da-da… the opening bars DEMAND your attention! The notes repeat four times, and after 18 seconds, you’re begging for the main theme to begin. It’s a genius choice music track, I think, to open a radio show: Simon Dee chose it, and if I was ever given the chance I’d choose it for my show too. As playout at the end of a show, it’s not too shabby either: it has a great ending.
Round Midnight was a good choice for Radio Caroline’s close-down, though you had to sit through 30 minutes of The World Tomorrow sponsored by the Radio Church of God, featuring Garner Ted Armstrong, to actually hear the close-down. As Medium Wave radio reception began to deteriorate, once evening began, so Round Midnight would sink beneath the waves of interference and become infused with white noise: it was quite theatrical!
As a teenage adolescent aka rampant bag of hormones, I was hardly amenable to any proposal for a family day out, let alone one to the seaside. But in the summer of 1964, to my parents’ total astonishment, I readily agreed to a day trip from Rochford to Clacton! Well, I say Clacton, but – to coin a phrase – my mother had “ideas above her station” and she specified we would spend the day at the more-genteel, nearby Frinton, where motorists (to my great mirth) were instructed that there should be “No parking on the greensward”! But why would yours truly, an acne-ridden youth with a bad haircut, be excited by Frinton??
Because, just round the headland to the north, was Harwich and… Felixstowe! Remember that Radio Caroline was anchored in international waters off Felixstowe. So I happily joined the family outing, and was able to gaze out to sea, and observe the tiny blob that was corrupting teenage children’s musical tastes and infuriating the GPO and BBC. It was my pilgrimage to
Returning home, the seeds of my future (minor) broadcasting career were germinating, and in the autumn of 1964 I inflicted “radio shows” on my bemused, younger sister in the adjoining bedroom via an extension speaker. As Christmas approached, I decided we should send a Yuletide-greeting audio tape to my mother’s best friend who had emigrated with her husband and young family to Calgary in Canada. Audio tape was precious, but I was prepared to sacrifice my smallest BASF tape to the cause of promoting international understanding, specifically between Rochford and Calgary. Aged 15, I became executive producer of the recording, instructing my father, mother and little sister to make audio contributions, seated around the dining room table.
Of course, these were simply the “warm-up” acts to the main event – namely, my own contribution. This was an audio summary of Radio Caroline’s first few months of output, including the ship’s bell… I refused to cut my precious tape, so I had to stop my voice recording, wait until I could successfully record Caroline’s bell, and then continue my presentation. I concluded with a recording of The Beatles’ She Loves You in full: I mean, one had to bring some culture to the colonies, didn’t one?
It is only literally now, in 2018, some 54 years later, as I type this, that it occurs to me that my mother’s best friend and her family were Jewish. And I sent them a Christmas tape. Talk about cultural insensitivity!
The 1960s were an extraordinary era to live through – but I didn’t appreciate it at the time. Why would I? I’d never lived as a teenager at any other time. But looking back, the world was changing, and I was part of that change. By the end of the 1960s, I’d won an Open Exhibition (it’s like an Open Scholarship, but less money) to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. The 1960s made that possible: added to my £40 a year Exhibition, I received a maintenance grant from Essex County Council, and free tuition at one of the top universities in the world. The United Kingdom then was geared towards upward social mobility, provided one was a white male, and I grabbed the opportunity. Not bad for an Essex boy, who might otherwise have been destined to be an agricultural labourer.
I must confess, though, that an awful lot of 1964 passed me by – either I missed it, or I wasn’t sufficiently interested to take note of it:
- January 11 – United States Surgeon General Luther Terry reports that smoking may be hazardous to one’s health.
- January 18 – Plans to build the New York City World Trade Center are announced.
- February 11 – Greeks and Turks begin fighting in Limassol, Cyprus.
- April 20 – Nelson Mandela makes his “I Am Prepared to Die” speech at the opening of the Rivonia Trial, a key event for the anti-apartheid movement.
- May 1 – At 4:00 a.m., John George Kemeny and Thomas Eugene Kurtz run the first computer program written in BASIC (Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), an “easy-to-learn high-level programming language” they created.
- May 28 – The Charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is released by the Arab League.
- June 11 – In Cologne, West Germany, Walter Seifert attacks students and teachers in an elementary school with a flamethrower, killing 10.
- July 2 – President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, officially abolishing racial segregation in the United States.
- July 19 – Vietnam War: At a rally in Saigon, South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Khánh calls for expanding the war into North Vietnam.
- August 13 – Murderers Gwynne Owen Evans and Peter Anthony Allen become the last people to be executed in the United Kingdom.
- September 11 – In Jacksonville, Florida, John Lennon announces that The Beatles will not play to a segregated audience.
- October 1 – Dr. Robert Moog demonstrates the prototype Moog synthesizer.
- October 10 (approx) – Germaine Greer becomes the first full female member of Cambridge University Footlights revue after joining in her first week at Newnham College, Cambridge.
- October 22 – A Federal Multi-Party Parliamentary Committee selects a design to become the new official Flag of Canada.
- November 10 – Australia partially reintroduces compulsory military service due to the Indonesian Confrontation.
Maybe I should have paid more attention.
Will a 15-year old in 2018 look back with awe and wonder at the events that took place this year? Will he or she vow that it really was the best time to be alive as a teenager? I somewhat doubt it, but I just hope I am still alive when that youngster achieves adulthood and is mature enough to look back.