THE 1960s - A golden decade “Life For Me in the 1960s - perceptions of what was happening whilst growing up through a very important decade in modern history - the 1960s


The first mood I caught from the 1960s was a musical one, whereby the rock & roll of the 1950s was floundering, and everybody was wondering what, if anything, would take its place. The music charts were crowded with teen high school soppy ballads and twangy guitar instrumentals, which formed a stepping stone between the 1950s rock'n'rollers and all that was to follow, during what most people over a certain age view as the most golden decade in popular history. The 1960s saw the emergence of the working-class hero, together with almost full employment. There were major leaps forward in technology which kept Britain's manufacturing industry rolling along, more and more motorways were being built, and a massive programme of slum clearance was underway in our inner cities. The idea was to build a bright, new, forward-thinking modern Britain for everybody to enjoy, regardless of their so-called "status" in society.

In 1962/1963 and in the nicest possible way, all hell broke loose when four young long-haired Liverpudlians took the UK and the world by storm. The Beatles began as any other pop group, yet they seemed to have a certain something about them which captured the public's attention in a way no other youth idols had previously quite managed, at least not to such a great extent. There was so much talent around in the 60s, and pop music evolved into a golden legacy, rather than a passing and throwaway fad. Stadiums all over the world were filled with screaming girls, hysterical over the mop-top heroes, and other bands such as The Rolling Stones followed sometimes in their footsteps, and sometimes side by side. There were many extremely good pop performers to emerge from both Britain and America but at the time The Beatles ruled the roost, with The Rolling Stones following very close to them in 2nd place. Many of the 1960s musical groups - The Small Faces, The Yardbirds, and Manfred Mann (to name just a few) were strongly influenced by both early blues and R & B music and their crowd following were largely Mods. A growling young American folk singer / songwriter / poet - Bob Dylan - blew our minds with his profound statements and observations.

The 1960s at street level, was all about popular culture and experimentation - this extended into the areas of art, photography, fashion, the media - wherever you turned your head, something new and exciting was happening. 

The very early 1960s saw the beatniks wearing sloppy jumpers, tight calf-length "slacks" - the men wore straight trousers with pointed-toe shoes and the girls backcombed their hair into a high "beehive" style. Later we saw the emergence of the Mods, who wore parka jackets, and rode scooters - their arch-enemies were the leather-clad biker Rockers. Probably the most controversial fashion of the 1960s was the mini skirt, designed by Mary Quant. As we travelled in time through the 60s, the hemlines got higher and higher and by the end of the decade, a mini skirt was little more than a wide belt. Narrow trouser bottoms gradually turned into bellbottoms (re-named flares in the 1970s). Kinky boots were worn in all weathers and seasons, and it was "in" to be stick-thin, Twiggy was named ‘The Face of 1966’ by the Daily Express and voted British Woman of the Year. Over the pond in the USA, the hippie culture was born, it all began in San Francisco, then spread across the USA and 1967 was hailed as the "Summer Of Love". The ideology of hippies was one of peace, tolerance, freedom, awareness and love. These hippies were mostly middle-class American youths who had become very disillusioned with the materialistic way of life of the western world, and they invited people to join them with the slogan "turn on, tune in, drop out" - hallucinogenic drug use and psychedelic music being the artistic driving force. The hippie influence made a profound mark on British society too, and with The Beatles setting an early example with their music moving away from straight pop into experimentation, growing their hair, using psychedelic drugs for recreation and spending time meditating with Indian yogi and philosopher Maharashi Mahesh.

Many peace protests and demonstrations took place across Europe and the USA during the 1960s, culminating in John Lennon's and Yoko Ono's 1969 "bed-in" where the couple spent four days in bed as a statement against all wars, particularly the Vietnam War. Cinema took some huge leaps forward during the 1960s, a lot of films dealt with social issues prevailing at the time. The 60s saw James Bond films starting with Sean Connery in “Dr. No” packing the cinemas full, the iconic Mini featured in the “Italian Job”. Even The Beatles made films “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Help!” and the animated “Yellow Submarine”. Michael Caine hit his stride with “Zulu”, “The Ipcress File”, “Alfie”, and “The Italian Job” . Other genres such as 1968 British musical drama film “Oliver!, musical theatre offered the entertainment world gems such as "The Sound Of Music", "Half A Sixpence", and in 1968 the hippie musical "Hair" opened on New York's Broadway and in London's West End.

TV really established itself as the leading form of entertainment worldwide. As with cinema, music, architecture and fashion, experimentation was the name of the game. specially in the mid-60s, various programmes such as "The Avengers" were decidedly offbeat and developed a wide cult following. Even though we only had ITV and BBC, with BBC2 starting in 1964, there was something for everybody. On the light side, quiz shows really took off big time, as did pop music programmes such as Top Of The Pops and Ready Steady Go and This is Tom Jones in 1969. We were treated to a plethora of drama series, sitcoms; Dad’s Army, On the Buses, many of which have become all-time classics fi imagination introduced The Thunderbirds, 1963 the classic Dr Who adventures of a Time Lord exploring the universe and then in 1969 the world sat agog, glued to their TV sets, watching the first men walk on the moon.

Interior decorating and home furnishing designs weren't exempt from change and experimentation. A typical mid-1960s living room would have been decorated in bright colours such as purple and orange - carpet, wallpaper and curtain patterns were semi-abstract with bold angles and striking lines, and you were nobody in the modern world unless you had a lava lamp bubbling away on your coffee table.

Looking once more at teenage culture, the 1960s saw the birth of the rock festival, which were largely a hippie invention and a celebration of the coming of the Age of Aquarius. The first major event was the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. Hippies from all over the USA gathered to watch acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and many other icons from the 1960s West Coast music explosion. August 31st 1968 the UK saw the first Isle of Wight Festival on a farm with over 10,000 in attendance, the 2nd year was headlined by Bob Dylan and an estimated 300,000 attending. 

The organisers of the 1969 Woodstock Festival of Music & Arts anticipated there would be around 150,000 people attending, but as it happened, over 500,000 turned up. Despite the rain and the lack of facilities, the festival-goers were well behaved and enjoyed three days of love, peace and music. Meanwhile, here in the UK the Isle of Wight Festival of 1970 was headlined by Jimi Hendrix and a world record crowd of over 600,000. Of course not all of the 1960s was peace, love, fun and flowers. In November 1963 the world was shocked by the assassination of President John F Kennedy, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King was shot dead in 1968 during a speech. Rather sadly, the 1960s drew to a close on a cloud of mostly socio-political uncertainty, but nevertheless and viewed as a whole, what a startling, fun-filled and expansive era it was to have lived through – such a mind blowing decade.