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A Sixties Social Revolution?

British Society, 1959-1975


Lesson 1

Why study History?


Why the 1960s?
LO: To explain why History is
important
To identify the contribution
of Social History
History students don’t just become archaeologists and
professional historians. History graduates have
successful careers in media, marketing, advertising,
journalism, government, the civil service, the law, and
business…
So why study History?
Make a list of the benefits of studying
history with the person sitting next to you

Now join with another pair. Compare your


lists. Add any good suggestions to your list

Is it possible to categorise the reasons?


See if you can divide them into groups

Pick your best three reasons and be


prepared to feed back to the class
Knowledge of the Trains your mind and Transferable
teaches you how to think
world and process information skills
An opportunity to develop informed attitudes on Provides the skills needed for
current and previous events and issues working effectively with others and
Helps to widen students' experience and develop for problem solving
Promotes qualities of perception and judgement
understanding
between cultures
and between national Helps you understand the Aids study skills such as essay
traditions origins of modern political writing, note taking and discussion
and social problems that will benefit you in other
subjects as well
a lack of historical knowledge
prevents people from truly
understanding the world they Historians can work
live in alone, are ideas-
Why Study History? orientated and develop
a sceptical and
Helps to look beyond the headlines, questioning approach to
to ask questions properly, and to evidence
express your own opinions
An ability to analyse
material and present
Helps to develop skills such as analysis, conclusions
Inculcates critical yet
evaluation and argument- the key skills objectively is
tolerant personal
employers are looking for appreciated by a
values
diverse range of
employers

Defending your opinions in discussions will help to


Of subject degrees held by the directors of
develop your self confidence the top 100 British companies, History is ranked
4th
Personal History students are rounded individuals who develop an
Career
Growth understanding of both past and present Prospects
What is Social History?
Social history is an area of historical
study, considered by some to be a social
science, that attempts to view historical
evidence from the point of view of developing
social trends and ways of life.
It is often described as 'history from
below' or 'Grass- roots history' because it
deals with the every-day people, the masses,
and how they shape History rather than the
leaders. It is concerned with processes and
patterns more than with events and is often
difficult to interpret or explain.
“The closer social historians get to
their own times the more difficult
it is for them to be sure that they
have grasped what is essential
about their period. This is largely a
matter of vantage point.
Some essential features of the
pattern may not yet be visible.”

Asa Briggs (1983)


Background to the 60s- A Timeline
Colour according to categories of change: Red= political, Black= economic, Blue= social, Green= international/place in the world

1950 1951 1952 1953 1954


Bevan resigns from July
6 February
Labour cabinet over End of food
Elizabeth II
introduction of rationing
February becomes queen Iron and steel
charges in the
Labour government 4 October industries are
NHS. Labour Party Opening of the
is reelected Britain successfully denationalised
is split. first purpose-built
Conservative govt, explodes its first
Comprehensive
is elected atomic bomb
school

1955 1956 1957 1958 1960


Suez Crisis reveals
Eden becomes PM. Britain’s limited Harold Macmillan
Conservatives win world status replaces Anthony Compulsory
CND is founded
general election Eden as National service
John Osborne’s Conservative PM ends
Race riots in
ITV, a second and play Look Back in
Notting Hill,
independent Anger symbolises Macmillan’s “Never Production of the
London
commercial TV attack of “Angry had it so good” Contraceptive Pill
channel is launched Young Men” on the speech
Establishment
Background to the 60s- A Timeline
Colour according to categories of change: Red= political, Black= economic, Blue= social, Green= international/place in the world

1950 1951 1952 1953 1954


Bevan resigns from July
6 February
Labour cabinet over End of food
Elizabeth II
introduction of rationing
February becomes queen Iron and steel
charges in the
Labour government 4 October industries are
NHS. Labour Party Opening of the
is reelected Britain successfully denationalised
is split. first purpose-built
Conservative govt, explodes its first
Comprehensive
is elected atomic bomb
school

1955 1956 1957 1958 1960


Suez Crisis reveals
Eden becomes PM. Britain’s limited Harold Macmillan
Conservatives win world status replaces Anthony Compulsory
CND is founded
general election Eden as National service
John Osborne’s Conservative PM ends
Race riots in
ITV, a second and play Look Back in
Notting Hill,
independent Anger symbolises Macmillan’s “Never Production of the
London
commercial TV attack of “Angry had it so good Contraceptive Pill
channel is launched Young Men” on the speech”
Establishment
What do you
think of when
somebody
mentions the
1960s?
Discussion
Were the 60s really ‘Swinging’?
• “An era of psychic liberation”
• “embalmed in retrospect with memories of Carnaby
Street and the Beatles”

Activity
Create a poster which can act as a cover
page for your notes. Include some of
the images and events you associate
with the 1960s
Consumer culture
Consumer culture of the Beatles, Mary Quant and Carnaby street giving notions of “Swinging London”
(In line with rest of Europe) Britain enjoyed high growth rates: Economic boom, low inflation, low u/e 1-2%,
encouraged stability- raised standards of living
Scientific advances- spread of penicillin, better understanding of nutrition
Women emerged from traditional role to enjoy new opportunities in service industries
Numbers in higher education doubled
New supermarkets with self service, new urban shopping centres, television replacing “steam radio”, credit
cards, Mary Quant’s first shop
BBC lost its monopoly in 1955- between 1956 and 1960 no. of tv licenses doubled, Steady growth of TV
created a common culture
From 1955-60 proportion of population using refrigerators rose from 6-16%; Washing Machines from 25-
44%, Owning a motor car 18-32%, Houses became warmer inside as a result of the development of central
heating
Innovations eased mundane tasks- more leisure time
1958 opening of the Preston Bypass heralded a new age of motoring for the masses
Cars transformed urban communities- new roads ran riot through the country side
Slum clearance and provision of new housing often in tower blocks altered cities
Perhaps to escape such surroundings increasing numbers took holidays abroad

Changes in outlook
Ferdinand Zweig (Sociologist) discerned a “deep transformation of values”
By late 1950s talk of “youth culture” increasingly common- 16-21 age group have more disposable income
There were changes in attitudes, behaviour and outlook. Growth of youth culture, emancipation of
women- spread of feminism, collapse of Christian moral framework- spread of drugs and sexual liberation.
Young people experienced a collective wealth unknown before- and found a new identity
1968- student protests against Vietnam in Grosvenor square – Musical “Hair” on London stage celebrating
sex, drugs, and nudity (same year as Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech)
Disappearance of “old fashioned” manners and unwritten rules about acceptable behaviour and lifestyles
Sexual freedom encouraged by the new contraceptive pill
Advent of mini-skirt, jeans, and the pill accompanied by a challenge to many established institutions
In 1960 TWTWTW introduced barbed satire
In the era of mass media, scandals like the Profumo Affair of 1963 could no longer be hushed up
“Swinging London” so christened by Time Magazine in 1966 appeared as a monument to self indulgence and
free expression by the young

New clothing, fashion and cosmetics were outre and daring- Carnaby Street and Kings Road in Chelsea
became the new mecca for the youthful consumer, with designers such as Mary Quant as the new idols.
The much cherished miniskirt was an omnipresent symbol of sexual liberation. The bisexual mods and the
sadomasochistic masculine rockers also predominated. Pop culture reached new heights in the astonishing
success of the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
Everywhere there seemed to be experiment in lifestyle, including the use of (usually soft) drugs
There were disciples of the San Francisco guru of “flower power” drug culture, Timothy Leary, advocating
the philosophy, “turn on, tune in, drop out”

The mood spread to the Football field where new cult hero George Best exemplified values totally
different from the modest ill-paid artisans of the recent past
Patterns of authority in society were changing- in schools/universities students asserted their claims, in
hospitals and railways matrons and stationmasters no longer ran their little empires. Football referees were
suspect as were the police.
At the personal level the sixties were momentous- Victorian sacred cows were slaughtered wholesale-
relics of sexual puritanism and sabbatarianism- unquestioning civil conformism, mindless patriotism- class,
gender, regional stereotypes- An era of psychic liberation

Government Reforms
Wilson/ Heath from lower-middleclass backgrounds broke the tradition of aristocratic governance
Brought forth a stream of liberalising legislation- relaxing censorship, decriminalising homosexuality,
legalising abortion and providing equal pay for women. Through 1960s parliament initiated humanitarian and
egalitarian measures which marked a change in attitudes to morality- Suicide, Homosexuality, Abortion,
Contraception, Divorce, Gambling etc – Freeing people from restraints
Harold Wilson’s Labour party appealed to the sense of alienation felt amongst the intelligentsia, the media
and the young
Their record of domestic reform was considerable- public building projects- defining legacy was the spread
of comprehensive secondary education

A remarkable innovation was the open university- marked a dramatic breakthrough towards lifelong learning
for ordinary citizens- eg housewives

In 1969 James Callaghan (home sec) forced through the permanent abolition of hanging. Reform of the laws
on homosexuality also succeeded- again with the support of the government

Womens groups also hailed the passage of the legalisation of abortion in 1967

Wilson’s govt presided over these movements with bemusement but realised there was mileage to be gained
in benign encouragement of the cult of youth
England and the labour govt seemed to march side by side in these advances in cultural self expression (well
the young urban middle class at least)
The ending of empire “east of Suez” was correct and long overdue- Even the trauma of devaluing the pound
had merit in replacing old economic shiboleths (full employment and price control) with new forms of
management reflecting changes in the global economy

Impetus was given to social mobility, educational opportunity and publicly funded artistic experiment

Maybe “revolution” is too strong a term; not as cataclysmic as Orwell’s predictions of 1940 (Only revolution
can save England)- But there were changes- those born just before 1960s had different lives than the
generation before
Perhaps the revolution was averted by the Labour welfare reforms of the late 1940s- poverty and social
divisions were lessened

Economic freedom bred social freedom- in legislating to enshrine such in law- the government was
responding to changes that had already taken place
Problems
“Whats wrong with Britain?” asked a series of Penguin specials 1962-3: Anthony Hartley’s A State of
England (1963) spoke of a sense of frustration in English society

In “Encounter” magazine Arthur Koestler wrote of the suicide of a nation- today this seems
extraordinary- 60s are embalmed in retrospect with memories of swinging London

The cheerful hedonism of the late 50s, of Macmillan claiming, “You’ve never had it so good”, gave way to
deepening uncertainty.

Rate of economic growth 1950-1970 was ½ to 3/5ths of that of other industrialised countries
Decline in numbers employed in industry by 12% 1965-75

1961 opinion poll showed pessimism- belief that other countries were doing better- Britain was falling
behind

International survey by OEEC showed an old country lagging behind its European neighbours in
productivity and investment

Michael Shanks’ The Stagnant Society (1963) exposed a lack of dynamism and modernisation in the
economy

There was social imbalance too- deep structural divisions/ an entrenched class system

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A taste of Honey exposed the gritty realities of traditional
working class life
Anthony Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain (1962) examined a wide range of institutions run by a tiny group of
public school/Oxbridge “top people”.

By 1963-4 there was a palpable sense of National disenchantment- Britains historic greatness was fragile

By summer 1964- faced with a massive deficit the govt had to deny they would devalue the pound- which
they eventually did in 1967

Similar indirection in foreign policy- alliance with US thrown into disarray by Suez in 1956. In 62 US
Defence Sec. McNamara withdrew funding for the Skybolt missile defence system- revealing the stark
fact of our dependence on America for protection

“ Forced to exchange illusions of world power for a blunted recognition of its limitations”

When de Gaulle vetoed entry to the Common Market in January 1963 it created a feeling of isolation-
Wilsons attempt to join the EEC left international relations in limbo, dangling between a patronising
America and a dismissive Europe – the Commonwealth provided no kind of alternative

Dean Acheson (former Sec of State) “Britain had lost an Empire, but had yet to find a role”
Decision to withdraw from East of Suez was a decision with historic consequences- no longer would colonial
bases be maintained across the world- Empire had ended with a whimper

The spectacle of remorseless colonial withdrawal, accompanied nevertheless by continued expensive


defence commitments “east of Suez” was damaging to the National psyche, and the sense of being a great
power
For all the excitement sixties England was not a happy land
Beneath the surface of the consumer-led society, the social and economic problems of the early years of
the decade were everpresent

The nadir of Labour’s economic difficulties came in the third week of June 1966. There was a huge fall in
the reserves and exchange rate of sterling which followed a damaging Seamen’s strike. A new low was
reached with the devaluation of the pound on November 18 1967- from $2.80 to $2.40- In a tv broadcast
delivered at the moment of crisis he told the nation “the pound in your pocket” would not be devalued- its
very untruthfulness made it a personal disaster

Jenkins replaced Callaghan as Chancellor – his first budget took £923 million out of the economy-for people
facing a credit squeeze and severe cuts in foreign exchange for overseas holidays it was severe

Decolonisation and economic prosperity brought an inflow of immigrants- new food and music but also new
tensions entered British society. Race relations loomed large after the massive commonwealth immigration
of the fifties- the flames were fanned by maverick Tory MP Enoch Powell- there were marches by east end
dockers in support of his racist message

Limits to change

Hitherto the rebelliousness of youth had been confined to cultural or moral themes but in the late sixties
became political- ie anti Vietnam- but the authorities coped quite effectively
The government easily dismissed an attempt to legalise cannabis

Onslaughts on family life, neighbourhood values and respected institutions had gone too far- Callaghan knew
that the traditional grassroots English working class liked student revolt no more than the rural Tory of
the shires- older working classes were resistant to permissiveness- public opinion strongly supported the
rope and locking up queers

Even young people were not in the main politically or culturally militant- they were more concerned with
their job prospects
In 1970 election most students who voted, voted Conservative- as did women

The contraceptive pill appears to have been used by only 9% of single women in 1970

Aspects of England in the 60s hardly changed at all overcentralised parliament, crude adversarialism of
industrial relations, entrenched corporatism, them and us- despite all the excitement the process of change
was limited

Macmillan, the all-powerful Supermac of cartoonists in the late fifties now looked like a survivor from the
Edwardian Grouse Moors- He was ridiculed mercilessly in Beyond the Fringe, TW3, Private Eye etc

Measures to liberate women made slow progress- it was only in 1970 that The Female Eunuch was to appear

When the Latey Committee on The Age of Majority recommended in 1967 that the voting age should be
reduced from 21 to 18 its authors pointed to the conformity of the younger generation

In the same year after a Rolling Stone was imprisoned on drugs charges an opinion poll showed 85% of
teenagers agreed with the sentence or thought it too lenient
Hippies and flower people who turned to a psychedelic counter culture were a small middle class minority

Measures brought in by the government were essentially conservative. Due to qualifications and limitations
in practice- the social legislation of the 1960s increasingly failed to satisfy militant minorities who wanted
to press their claims further

Traditional class divisions and attitudes remained strong- public school educated elite unchanged

No major political upheaval- developments a continuation of changes heralded in the 1950s

1960s saw both change and continuity- old social structures were never destroyed- there was a huge
diversity of individual experience