1965: The Year Modern Britain Was Born
by Christopher Bray
Review by Iain Morris, The Guardian, April 28, 2015
Analysis of a revolution
A combination of arts criticism and political commentary demonstrates why the events of the 1960s are still relevant
Is there a single year that can be said to have bequeathed us the Britain we live in today? For journalist Christopher Bray it is 1965, when a confluence of cultural, political and socio-economic developments smashed apart the certainties of the postwar period and ushered in the modern era.
Although just three years old in 1965, the author – who has published acclaimed biographies of Sean Connery and Michael Caine – is evidently an aficionado of the swinging 60s, a label that has already paid homage to the decade’s profound impact on Britain’s cultural and political landscape. This is not, however, to suggest that 1965 lacks originality. Blending arts and literary criticism with biography and political commentary, Bray serves up a nostalgia-tinged appraisal of the year’s key characters and events, never failing to show why these remain relevant.
Whether or not 1965 really does have greater significance than 1964 or 1966 (take your pick of the bunch), there is a neat logic about its selection as the turning point. In that year, the first baby boomers were due to come of age, while guardians of the old order such as Winston Churchill and TS Eliot were being interred. It was seven years since Eliot had written The Elder Statesman, but with the passing of Britain’s true elder statesman, along with “the high priest of high culture”, as Bray calls Eliot, a new generation of adults was free to escape the past in a way that Lord Claverton, the protagonist of Eliot’s final play, could never do.
Cue a revolution in the arts and literature that saw the marriage of high culture and “pop”, as European surrealist influences seeped into the comedy of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, the music of the Beatles and the film-making of Roman Polanski. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, there had been a stratification of western culture along class lines, with frivolous entertainment for the masses and highbrow art for the elite. What the Beatles and their contemporaries achieved, writes Bray, “was to lay waste to this tragic bifurcation”, meaning pop (if not all of it) could acquire the respectability it had previously lacked.
Change was also afoot in education and transportation, although with less positive long-term implications, as far as the author is concerned. In the vast territory of America, cars remain a symbol of the freedom the 1960s was supposed to be all about, but in comparatively lilliputian Britain their spread since then has blighted cities and countryside alike, reckons Bray, while our railways have been left to rot. As if to resist being conveniently pigeonholed on the basis of his political sympathies, he expresses an equally forthright opinion that educational reforms carried out in 1965 – aimed at replacing grammar schools and secondary moderns with comprehensives – were a misguided affront to meritocracy that have ultimately made today’s education system “one of the bulwarks of class division in our society”.
Far more egalitarian was the reforming zeal of Roy Jenkins, whose efforts after becoming home secretary in 1965 to legalise abortion and homosexuality, abolish capital punishment and penalise racial discrimination arguably make him one of the two postwar politicians who have most influenced present-day Britain. Margaret Thatcher, the other, also features in Bray’s narrative as the figure to whom so many of the hippies eventually turned more than a decade later, by which time the countercultural interest in personal freedom and permissiveness had evolved into a hostility to state involvement in individual affairs. Was Thatcher’s 1980s revolution simply the progeny of the one that occurred 20 years earlier? If so, the 1960s hold more sway than most readers could ever have imagined.
“Their efforts abroad to keep the Union Jack fluttering proudly have been far more successful than a regiment of diplomats and statesmen.” The Beatles are each awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) In June 1965
The Marquee Club – September 1965
01 Al Stewart
02 The Steampacket Boz and the Boz People
03 Gary Farr and The T-Bones
06 Jimmy James and the Vagabonds The Crowd
07 The Mark Leeman Five
09 The Graham Bond Organisation Boz and the Boz People
10 Gary Farr and The T-Bones
13 Jimmy James and the Vagabonds
14 Manfred Mann. The Mark Leeman Five
16 Spencer Davis Group The Bo Street Runners
17 Gary Farr and The T-Bones
20 Jimmy James and the Vagabonds The Sidewinders
21 Spencer Davis Group The Silkie
23 The Graham Bond Organisation Boz and the Boz People
24 Gary Farr and The T-Bones The Crowd
27 Jimmy James and the Vagabonds
28 The Moody Blues