Fifty years ago hipsters got abbreviated to hippies, and the world seemed to change, at least for that generation. Things changed visibly, and sometimes in strange ways. Young people dressed in bright clothes, and the drabness of the postwar years was exchanged for a kind of spring-time exuberance. People spoke of the Prague Spring, but spring was appearing in many places.
Warning: This post is full of boring personal reminiscences of that time, so now’s the time to stop reading if you don’t like that kind of thing.
In August 1967 I was halfway through my studies for a postgraduate diploma in theology at St Chad’s College, Durham, England, and was spending the summer vacation with the family of Mervyn Sweet, who had been the Anglican parish priest when I had been an undergraduate in Pietermaritzburg. They were housesitting a mansion in Merstham, Surrey, for a doctor who was himself on holiday in Spain. The house looked a bit like the house in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — the kind of place where anything could happen.
I stayed in a garret at the top of the house, reading and studying for a supplementary church history exam I had to write, and coming down to swim or play tennis or listen to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
We watched top of the pops on television. On 13 August 1967 the cream was on the top: (1) San Francisco, by Scott McKenzie (2) All you need is love, by the Beatles (3) Death of a clown, by the Kinks, and what was underneath was real trash — Tom Jones wailing about something, and Vicki Carr who sang the most incredible mawkish mush about dying because he didn’t phone her. “All you need is love” stayed on top for several weeks and even Mick Jagger was in the audience singing with them, with flowers in his hair.
And on TV (black and white, in those days), a psychologist tried to explain changing styles of dress. As I wrote in my diary on 17 August 1967:
… we watched a television programme on long-haired boys, and a psychologist said why he thought their hair was long and their clothes so colourful — their parents were a hangover from the age when it was fashionable for men to dress like bankers, to show that they could offer security to their wives. Now the state looks after everyone’s security, so there was no longer any need for that.
Also the ratio of boys to girls was increasing, and so boys had to make themselves more attractive to girls by dressing in a more colourful way. They also said the previous generation of Englishmen had had compulsory military training, and so were more likely to fit into society because they felt society needed them, and with the present generation of youth it was not so — an interesting light on South Africa, where more and more whites are being called up for military service and a generation of conformist youth is being bred, and the short back and sides is considered a desirable symbol of young fascist manhood, like at Natal University among the Rhodesians, in whom the process had been more advanced — they were for the most part a close-cropped short back-and-sides rugby-playing type.
They had little to do with girls on a human level, and were happy with their segregated state behind the high wire fence of men’s res. Their attitude to girls was “fuck and forget”. True, they went to more parties and dances than John Aitchison and I ever went to, but meeting the opposite sex in such circumstances is an insulation rather than a catalyst. They only relaxed among males, and so their virility is really a sham. In fact they were afraid of not being able to hold their own in female company, so they relied on the security of that all-male ghetto, William O’Brien Hall. I went to bed and began to read Incognito by Peter Dumitriou.
Whereas in the 1950s the prevailing motif in clothing had been uniformity, especially for males, by the late 1960s diversity prevailed. While The Kinks satirised the “dedicated follower of fashion”, there wasn’t much fashion to follow.
In the December vacation of 1967/68 I spent some time with some Dutch Augustinian friars in Breda and Nijmegen. They thought they were being “with it” by discarding their habits for business suits, and were distressed to find that I didn’t possess this latest item of relevant gear. They sent one of the fathers out with me to the shop to buy me one, and on the way to the shop, trudging through the snow and the slush, I talked him out of it. But on TV a DJ appeared wearing a monastic habit.
Even as a child I hated the idea of business suits, and dreaded the thought of growing up and having to dress like that, and so the “anything goes” freedom of the late 60s was a great relief to me. And it seemed that I was not alone, The hippie spring of 1967 seemed to express the repressed desire of a whole generation. It wasn’t just the Beatles music, they dressed the part as well.
Yet this generation seems to be nameless,. People talk about Generation X or Y or Millennial or whatever, but the have no name for this hippie generation, or for the business suit generation that preceded it. But if the Beatles were the musical icon of the hippie generation, the musical icon of the business-suit generation was Frank Sinatra, whose childhood ideal was exactly the opposite of mine. When he was the age at which I dreaded growing up and having to wear a business suit, he was already wearing one by anticipation.
A couple of days ago a college friend from those days, Robert Gallagher, sent me this reminder of what else was going on at that time:
More of 50 years ago, in 1967
- The number of American troops serving in Vietnam increased to 475,000
- Peace-rallies and Protests increase
- The Boxer Muhammad Ali stripped of his Boxing World Championship for refusing to be inducted into the US Army
- Israel goes to war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan in the Six Day War and occupies more territory
- Rioting in Detroit with America’s National Guard brought in
- Charlie Chaplin opens his last film, ‘A Countess From Hong Kong’
- Twiggy becomes a fashion sensation and mini-skirts became shorter with paper clothing a short lived fashion
- The Discotheque
- While The Beatles release ‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band’, The Rolling Stones are involved in various drugs’ busts (thanks to ‘The News of The World’) and imprisonments, and release the single ‘We Love You’, with prison-door-slamming sound effects
- The ‘Summer of Love’ and the birth of the Hippies
- Donald Campbell killed on Coniston Water
- Britain’s second Polaris nuclear submarine ‘HMS Renown’ launched at Birkenhead
- The first North Sea gas pumped ashore
- The supertanker ‘SS Torrey Canyon’ runs aground off Land’s End and bombed by the RAF
- Anguillan-born Norwell Roberts the first black officer in London’s Metropolitan Police Force
- ‘Puppet on a String’ by Sandie Shaw wins the Eurovision Song Contest
- Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ Old Vic premiere
- Harold Wilson announces the United Kingdom has decided to apply for EEC membership
- The Roman Catholic Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King Consecrated
- Celtic F.C. becomes the first British and Northern European team to reach a European Cup final and win it, beating Inter Milan 2-1 in normal time, with the winning goal scored by Steve Chalmers, in Lisbon, Portugal
- Francis Chichester arrives in Plymouth after completing his single-handed sailing voyage around the world in his yacht, Gipsy Moth IV, in nine months and one day
- The first scheduled Colour-television broadcasts on BBC2, with Wimbledon Tennis
- Parliament decriminalised Consensual Adult Male Homosexuality in England and Wales with the Sexual Offences Act
- UK Government announces closing its military bases in Malaysia and Singapore (Australia and United States do not approve)
- The Welsh Language Act allows the use of Welsh in legal proceedings and official documents in Wales
- The British Steel Industry is Nationalised
- Astronomers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish first to observe a Pulsar
- The Inquiry into the Aberfan disaster blames the National Coal Board for the collapse of a colliery slag-heap which claimed the lives of 164 people in South Wales in 1966
- Pink Floyd releases debut album ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
- Dunsop Valley Lancashire enters the UK Weather Records with the Highest 90-min total rainfall at 117 mm (As of August 2010 this record remains)
- The ‘RMS Queen Elizabeth 2’ (the QE2) launched at Clydebank by Queen Elizabeth II, using the same pair of gold scissors used by her mother and grandmother to launch the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and ‘Queen Mary’respectively
- The Abortion Act, passed in Parliament
- Charles de Gaulle vetoes British entry into the European Economic Community again – British troops leave Aden, which they had occupied since 1839, enabling the new republic of Yemen
- Tony O’Connor the first non-white head teacher of a British school appointed head of a primary school in Smethwick, near Birmingham
- Concorde unveiled in Toulouse, France
- BBC Radio 4 panel game ‘Just a Minute’, chaired by Nicholas Parsons, first transmitted (still running under the same chairman 50 years later)
- Ford Cars announces the end of ‘Anglia’ production to be replaced by the ‘Escort’
- Liverpool poets Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri’s poetry anthology ‘The Mersey Sound’
- Hilary Annison and Robert Gallagher Marry.
The last of those who were in their twenties in the Summer of Love will be reaching their seventies and retirement.
Remember the motto?
Don’t trust anyone over 30.