Recollections of 60’s London

 The Big Move to London

Leaving home every 3 or 4 years my Dad, an Army Officer, would come home and announce he had orders for a new duty station. Our family would eagerly pull out the maps and the World Book Encyclopedia to learn about our new home base. While there was the inevitable regret about leaving the familiar neighborhood and best friends, I was always buoyed by the tight bond I had with my 3 siblings and our shared excitement about the next “Big Move”. Although tagging along with Dad from one duty station to the next during childhood could be challenging, it also opened up new worlds, taught me how to adapt to change and bolstered my self-confidence. In my senior year of high school, my father announced another “Big Move” to a duty station in Germany, which meant leaving our home in Shreveport, Louisiana. I was thrilled! Good-bye Louisiana! It was 1966, I was 17 years old and heading to Germany, my perfect launch pad to London – the hub of the “swinging 60’s,” home to the Beatles, the Stones, Twiggy, mini-skirts… After 6 months in Germany I’d saved enough money to take “a vacation” to London, just a 2 week visit I assured my parents. As my departure date drew near, my gut churning apprehension nearly quelled the thrilling idea that I would soon be leaving home and living in London. It was fitting that my father should be the one to see me off at the train station. Did he know after loading two over-sized suitcases on to the train, that this time it was my “Big Move”? He didn’t say. What I can tell you though is that he rocked me in a long tender hug, and that he didn’t move from the platform until I was well out of sight. Christine Trecker


Moved to London in 1966

“I was born and grew up in Oldham and left to come to London in 1966. Having enjoyed my early and mid teens up North, which mid teens up North, which wasn’t all bad as the Beatles and The Hollies were northern groups, London was amazing to me. The swinging had just started and I knew I was in the right place at the right time. I had come to London to work in the Savoy as a chef and I loved every moment. I lived in Bloomsbury and walked down through Covent Garden every morning, it was like being on the set of My Fair Lady or Oliver. I bought my clothes in Carnaby Street and the Kings Road. Every day was an event, famous names at the Savoy, the latest Beatles album, concerts and mini skirts. I left catering in 1968 shortly after I met my first wife and led rather a hippy existence thereafter, but those first few years in London in the Sixties were the stuff of dreams.”                John Bell, London


Working in London in 1966

“In 1966, I was working at Midland’s branch in Brixton —so old fashioned that it conjures up images of the office of Ebenezer Scrooge. It still had large sloping desks in the back office at which you had to stand to hand post the deposit ledgers, a task that was done on a ‘real time’ basis. Caribbean immigrants settling in South London opened “new deposit” (non-checking) accounts and they were wont to deposit and withdraw cash into and out of these two of three times a day! One of these customer’s first name was Winston St Leger. His parents were proud of Churchill’s achievements during WW2 and also enjoyed horse racing. The St Leger inaugurated in 1776 is still one of the premier flat races in the English flat racing calendar! Sadly during my two year sojourn in Brixton, I was not aware of the emergence of a talented young singer, David Bowie, who was born here and performed regularly at the Brixton Ritz. My musical interests at that time revolved principally around modern jazz. I remember catching the Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Fairfield Halls, I have to admit that I was largely oblivious to the ‘swinging Sixties’ in London. I’m not sure I can recall ever walking down Carnaby Street then either!” A former bank clerk in London

Art galleries in London in the 60’s

Gallery owner Robert Fraser

The Swinging Sixties’ Grooviest Art Dealer: In London, Remembering Robert Fraser
by Edward M. Gómez on March 21, 2015 in Hyperallergic

Photo by Hans Hammarskiöld of the art dealer Robert Fraser at his gallery in 1966, with, on the left, Peter Blake’s “Drum Majorette” (1959), Derek Boshier’s painting “Sam Spade” (1966), and, on the right, Jann Haworth’s “Cowboy” (1964); gelatin silver print, 9 7/16 x 12 in (photo © Hans Hammarskiöld, courtesy of Pace London)



“LONDON — Looking back at history, one encounters certain individuals who reflect the changing attitudes, social values, or cultural trends of their times, while certain others seem to define and embody them; they’re the ones who become the symbols of the spirit of an age.

The art dealer Robert Fraser (1937–1986) became one such emblem of a particular place at a memorably effervescent moment; his was “Swinging London” of the 1960s, with its explosion of sexy-goofy fashion, its soundtrack of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and its unabashedly open expressions of sexuality. Swinging, grooving, and fueled by pot and pills, London in the sixties was a post-imperial pop-culture hub whose tradition-busting, style-setting forces Fraser played a large role in setting in motion.

Known as Britain’s main purveyor of Pop Art in both its home-grown and imported, American varieties, his Robert Fraser Gallery became London’s — and Europe’s — unrivaled, hip-art emporium. Around Fraser and his exhibitions orbited a vast cast of friends, admirers and associates, including, among others, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, and Paul and Linda McCartney; Francis Bacon, Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat; the British Pop artists Peter Blake, Jann Haworth, Clive Barker, Richard Hamilton, and Eduardo Paolozzi; and many forward-looking collectors. A master at assembling exhibitions, Fraser was irresponsible when it came to running his gallery and routinely neglected to pay his artists. Often he was drunk or drugged-up, but still he managed to function. As Dine once observed, ‘Robert knew everyone in the world at one point.’ ”

Art in the Swinging Sixties

from the Tate Modern website

The DIAS Symposium

The Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) was held at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden, London, from 9-11 September 1966, launching a series of events. It brought together a diverse group of international artists, poets, and scientists, including key representatives of the counter-cultural underground, to speak on the theme of destruction in art. Throughout September Happenings, poetry readings, and performances took place in venues all over London.

Effective marketing by the Honorary Committee, led by Gustav Metzger, brought the symposium a great deal of attention in the national and international media, as well as throughout the international art community.

This general overview of DIAS was taken at the Africa Centre in Covent Gardens, London in 1966. The DIAS press release claimed that: ‘The main objective of DIAS was to focus attention on the element of destruction in Happenings and other art forms, and to relate this destruction in society.’

Indica Gallery

Indica Gallery was a counterculture art gallery in Mason’s Yard (off Duke Street), St. James’s, London, England during the late 1960s, in the basement of the Indica Bookshop co-owned by John Dunbar, Peter Asher and Barry Miles. It was supported by Paul McCartney and hosted a show of Yoko Ono’s work in November 1966 at which Ono first met John Lennon. In addition to Yoko Ono, the sculptor Takis, ‘kinetic poet’ Liliane Lijn, Mark Boyle and Joan Hills exhibited at Indica.

John Dunbar quoted in Tate Magazine (Summer 2004):

“I had just left Cambridge University, where I had been studying Baroque art under the great Michael Jaffe. I was introduced to Barry Miles in 1965 at the seminal poetry reading at the Albert Hall. We shared an interest in the beat poets Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and had the same taste, so we decided to set up a gallery. We found a place in Mason’s Yard (now James Hyman Gallery). We felt that we needed to do something that went against the stuffiness of the existing galleries, but we didn’t really know what we were doing. I was very young and quite innocent about what was going on.
We showed artists such as Soto, de Marco, Julio Le Parc, Takis and Liliane Lijn. There were no painting shows, just what you might call conceptual works. From the beginning the place became a stopping-off point – everyone came through Indica. One of those who did was Yoko Ono, who had just been over for the Destruction in Art Symposium. She asked me if she could have a show and I said, yes…
We had a casual way of running the gallery. I never took it seriously as a business in the way that they do now. We funded the space on a day-to-day basis, and we enjoyed it. Even though it was a critical success, at that time the galleries had to be there for ten years or so before the public institutions thought about buying anything.
The gallery became very popular, and there were always press turning up to do interviews with us. We were being paid a lot of attention. The gallerist Robert Fraser liked what we were doing and subsequently gave John Lennon his first one-person show there. It wasn’t competitive, though. We were friends. We were the first post-war generation, and the biggest changes happened then. It was a very different time. Everything was on the move – it made you want to do new things, whether it was in art, film, music.”



L-R: Peter Asher, Miles, John Dunbar outside Indica Gallery, 6 Mason’s Yard, 1966

What do you remember about London in the 1960’s?

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