Saturday 6 October 2012

The Fifty Year Itch

With it being fifty years since the James Bond films began and The Beatles emerged from their Cavern in Liverpool we are being treated again to the Babyboomer BBC etc. hype about how this and related pop 1960’s pop music completely changed Britain in 1962 to become a fair, fun loving and less class ridden society and all that.

It may have done for the London media minority but for the great majority of the rest of it didn’t. I was there as a young family man with a mortgage, a job and at least some hope for a future, atom bombs or no atom bombs. 

As far as I and my lot were concerned there was a seamless transition from the world of the 1920’s and 1930’s to the one that was emerging.  One key reason for all this was the BBC and other media at the time. 

When the Conservative government of the 1950’s allowed ITV to go into business it meant that we had two channels instead of one and the second was commercial.  If it pulled in the viewers it would succeed, if it didn’t it might fail.

By the beginning of the 1960’s the BBC viewing figures were in free fall and by now there were enough TV sets around to impact on radio listening as well.  The Light Programme and Home Service had a variety of listening at differing levels.

The Third Programme was hard London intellectual going even for self confessed Arty types.  Despite the BBC running The Proms these concerts were not a regular but were occasional items only, mostly on the Home Service.  The BBC in general had been doing what it wanted and not what we wanted.

This meant a build up of real resentment against paying the BBC license fee.  Had Alex Douglas Home won the 1964 election by a clear majority, it is possible that there may have been a radical reform of the BBC and simply it would not have existed in its present form. 

Harold Wilson, we might recall, fawned on The Beatles.  But he was MP for Huyton, a collection of council estates on the edge of Liverpool and in that period Liverpool itself had more MP’s than now with a handful of them being marginal seats.  I knew his local agent. 

The electoral situation was very tight then and every marginal mattered.  Just as Bristol were given airplanes to build and the West Midlands needed support for the car industry, a Liverpool going into steep decline needed any media favours it could get.  The BBC needed Wilson, he needed them and The Beatles needed the BBC.

If you want to know how grim the old BBC TV could be despite all the maudlin claims of some kind of Golden Age just thumb through the Radio Times of the 1950’s.  I did this to check my memory which was that the BBC programming during that decade was often unwatchable drivel and during the month of the Coronation of 1953 apart from a handful of highlights was dreadful.

So the BBC had to do things fast.  The Beatles got the nod and in a break through change for the BBC a featured programme of their own just when they were making the charts.  With the BBC chasing the “pop”, and sensation market in almost a panic to survive they needed to hype hard their chosen few as their market leaders.  One of them is attracting some rather less favourable attention at present.

There were very many good groups in the first years of the 1950’s around at the time across the country, it was not only Liverpool that had a thriving pop, jazz, modern and trad’ and folk culture for the younger age groups.  At the turn of the 1950’s I was into them and well aware that these were a natural development from the 1940’s upheavals in our lives. 

If you are looking for the beginning of the sea change in interests, habits, ideas and the rest you should begin with the generation of my parents.  They were the ones who were hit with the major American impact in the cinema, dance music, jazz, manners and the idea that luxury goods could become cheap.

We were following on, in our own way from those who had gone before in the 1940’s and 1930’s.  One critical influence in the sudden development of this was the million American’s who arrived in the UK during WW2 in the 1940’s.  We realised that things might be very different in real life and not just on film.

For the Bond films, given the number and variety of Hollywood spectaculars of one sort or another in the 1950’s, never mind the wilder shores of Hammer films and the rest, it is difficult to see the first 1962 Bond film as anything other than following them, but placed in a modern spy genre.

It was a well financed film, taking advantage of tried but recent techniques and with high production values, rare to UK made films.  There were technical factors involved.  Stereo sound had arrived with fuller effects and there was a new generation of cameras. 

With big money and modern logistics it had become possible to do things outside the studios that would have been simply too expensive before.  But the essence and nature of the spectacular was not new.

Another change also occurred in the UK.  There is an academic theory that points to times in history when a marked change in the number of young men who are loose in any society and become free and active has its effects. 

This happened with the end of National Service just before 1962.  All those 18 to 21 year olds who might have been packed off to garrison towns or foreign shores to do their worst (and did) were now roaming around looking for girls and fun.  They were the new market to aim at.

That this occurred at time when TV went pop and the London media and fashion lot with the associated big music corporations needed to beef up sales and marketing meant new imagery and a frantic search to take the lead in new styling.

I know people point back to the mid 20th Century when old Etonians ruled the waves for the Tories and London intellectuals for the Labour party and claim what happened next was all very different. 

But for those with rent to pay or mortgages it was another change of the media wall paper and for those with a job to do or making a career in the outer suburbs or in the provinces just something on the screens.

Which is why so many of us preferred to go to the pub.


  1. "Which is why so many of us preferred to go to the pub."

    Yes we did. At least we could have a few beers and a bit of conversation.

  2. and a lot of us left the uk.