The 1960's got off to an unintentionally prophetic start with Prime Minster Harold McMillan's inspiring "winds of change" speech on February 3rd, 1960. However, the affectionately nicknamed 'Supermac', could never have envisioned that the 'winds' spoken of so eloquently would actually prove to be a raging tornado of social alteration and upheaval, which would, for a time place Great Britain in general -and London in particular, at the stylistic and cultural centre of the world.
By the country's emergence from the ravages of the Great Winter of 1963, the nation had already experienced the end of compulsory national service on December 31st, 1960, the production of the millionth Morris Minor to roll off the production line on January 3rd, 1961, the untimely death of much loved performer, George Formby, the UK's formal application of membership to the fledgling European Union, the introduction of an iconic new hero to the cinema in the cool persona of secret agent James Bond 007, the end of steam power on the London underground network, and most tellingly of all, the advent in the world of music of four young Liverpudlian lads whose initially simple appeal masked a burgeoning talent that would revolutionise and inspire both an industry and generations to come.
Even grimly offset by the audacious yet brutal events of the so-called Great Train Robbery of August 8th, 1963, and the sordid sexual scandal of the infamous 'Profumo Affair", the mood of the nation was one of almost idealistically unbounded optimism and dynamic energy. The 'Angry Young Man' given form by John Osborne had slipped the narrow bonds of the theatre and exploded upon cinema and television screens in a multitude of differing forms. Challenges to the tired and trusted way of things crashed in wave after seemingly endless wave against the besieged bastions of the old world order. Times, they were a' changing' at a dizzying rate. And by the middle years of the decade, the face of the nation was bright, colourfully beautiful and almost breath-takingly young.
From the musical taste altering banks of Liverpool's River Mersey to the heart of 'swinging' London's fab and groovy Carnaby Street, via England's memorable 1966 World Cup victory, the nation was gripped in a surging wave of near total confidence in itself that swept out to envelope the surface of the entire western world.
Eagerly adopting the free and pacifistic idealism that had begun on America's west coast, the country's youth quickly produced a vital and energetic hybrid counter culture, one which fused and accommodated the carefree casualness of the Hippy with the cooler, sharply attired, Avengers style elegance of freewheeling chic of the Kings Road Set.
Perhaps nowhere was this new found power more evident than in the prolific diversity offered up by the output of the entertainment industry. The brutally honest and stark bleakness portrayed in the landmark BBC drama Cathy Come Home, had single-handedly forced a profound change in attitude towards the appallingly hopeless social conditions endured by the disadvantaged. While at the other end of the spectrum, a young actor named Michael Cain, memorably and successfully transformed the womanising, amoral anti-hero of "Alfie" into a sympathetic and strangely tragic filmic icon.
The decade entered it's final years in a day-glo hued kaleidoscopic frenzy of rapidly diffusing, undirected energy. Even by the triumphant technological wonder of the first manned moon landing in 1969, the stylistic storm, which had raged all but unchecked for the majority of the 60's, was all but spent. It's hedonistically idealogical dreams left in the main fulfilled and imploded by the unconcerted lack of a unified direction of purpose in those that had driven them.
Although many of its icons remain viably potent and alluring, viewed from the sobering distance of time, the 1960's although indisputably an important social evolutionary leap forward for Great Britain, now seems little more than an always impossible to realise, yet still charming and appealing utopian ideal, as the following decades were more than able to demonstrate.
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