The Swinging 'Sixties
HARD TIMES FOR BRITAIN
THE SWINGING 'SIXTIES!
THE LEAD UP...
Rationing in many countries did not stop in 1945 when World War Two came to its conclusion. Certainly in Great Britain and Australia rationing lingered on for some years. This meant that the 1950s began in a less than ideal way.
The people of Britain may have been on the winning side when it comes to World War Two but they came out of it heavily in debt to the USA and with lots of damaged buildings, residential and otherwise, in city locales such as London and Coventry. A great deal of rubble from the air raids had to be shifted before new construction could take place. The whole process of creating the necessary new buildings thus took well over a decade at an astronomical cost.
In the meantime the people of Britain had to live gray lives and put up with the austerity of the times. All of this was reflected on British television and in British films. In the 1950s Shout Back in Anger was first a popular stage play written by John Osborne (1956) and than a movie (1959). It dealt with the harshness of reality and the pointlessness of life. British youth at the time seemed to have every right to be angry. There was a general sense that the previous generation had in some way failed them. This sense that a previous generation or generations failing the present one would come back, like a bad case of indigestion, in the late 1970s and early 1980s due to high unemployment. It would be reflected in the Punk movement.
In the USA, G.I.s returning from overseas created a temporary unemployment problem. It was feared by economists that when World War Two concluded America and then the rest of the world would sink back into another Great Depression. This did not happen. Instead a new era of consumerism started up. It was pushed forward by ad men with new or improved products. Tupperware became popular. Movies especially made for teenagers such as I was a Teenage Werewolf starring Michael Landon (1957) were the new go. Rock n' Roll was born.
After the 2nd World War, there were people from numerous European countries keen to migrate to Australia. The question was what to do with them all when they arrived. The government, foreseeing massive unemployment in the future coupled with a strong resentment for the newcomers, decided that New South Wales could solve two major problems with the same solution. The newcomers needed work and the state required a new source of water and power. And so the Snowy Mountain Scheme came about. It was decided that New South Wales needed a great new dam with hydro-electric plant and that many of the newcomers could be employed bringing both dam and plant into being. It was a time in which the government, both federal and state, really did try to serve the people.
On another front, migrants from Italy with experience in the field of clothing manufacture were snapped up on the wharfs of Sydney and Melbourne and given excellent, well paid jobs in the then developing clothing industry. By the mid-1950s, Greek coffee shops and Italian Pizza parlors had sprung up in the major cities. Margarine and yogurt became available in some food outlets adding to the diets of some Australians. The wine industry also got a boost from migrants of this period.
Other highlights of the 1950s include trouble in Malaya which later on became Malaysia and the Korean Conflict (nowadays dubbed the Korean War). There was also the Cold War which started soon after WW2 and continued on until 1989. The creation of the Atomic bomb during WW2 made sure that the superpowers during this period never actually had an all out super war full of lots of super battles.
Science Fiction was big in the 1950s in both Britain and the USA. For some decades British and French writers had been the leading lights in this field. Certainly during the 2nd World War and after it American writers had, to some extent, taken the ball and had run with it. Science Fiction films were very popular. Possibly the best movie dealing with the genre was Forbidden Planet starring Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis.
Fear of the eventual use of nuclear missiles on a nightmarish scale haunted the 1950s and 1960s. Russia got the A bomb in 1949 and from then on it was a question of who would start a war involving nukes flying everywhere and who could possibly survive such a conflict.
In the late 1940s to the mid-1950s horror comics, like the ones put out by E.C. in the USA, became popular. Crime comics also had a strong following from the 1940s well into the 1950s. The superhero and costumed heroes of the 1930s, which had proved to be very popular during WW2, were in trouble. Some would linger on. Others would made a big comeback in the 1960s when heroes once more came into vogue.
The space race between communist Russia and the USA began in 1957 when the Russians launched Sputnik 1, the first Earth orbiting artificial satellite.
WILD TIMES AHEAD
WHAT MADE THE 'SIXTIES SWING
After over a decade of the doldrums due to shortages, the British decided it was high time to lighten up and enjoy life. The economy had improved and so had the general attitude of the people. Gray was definitely out in terms of both outlook and dress. Bikinis and miniskirts in spring and summer for the ladies was definitely in. Men's shirts began to show more color and the same could be said for men's suits. Change was most definitely in the air.
If optimism is an infection it certainly was spreading. British Rock n' Roll blossomed. Bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones made a great impact. The same can be said of The Small Faces and The Shadows.
In the USA bands like The beach Boys reflected upon a growing surf sub-culture in, not only the USA, but throughout the Western World. Surfing became huge in Australia. The fact that Australia has some of the best beaches in the world may be the reason for this. The two best known Australian bands at the time were The Seekers and The Easybeats.
TELEVISION SHOWS WITH IMAGINATION
British television took a turn for the better. The stodginess of the past began to drain out of it. Glam (short for glamor) was the answer. Cold, hard reality was out or on its way out. It was replaced by wonder and imagination.
In 1963 the longest running science fiction television show first hit the British airwaves. It had a modest beginning in an English junkyard. It was supposed to be nothing more than a children's program but it very quickly spread its wings to become so much more. It can be said that every generation since 1963 has had its own Doctor. My Doctor was Tom Baker, the wild, frizzy haired fellow. He was a bit of a stirrer. The first Doctor, the old grouch, I definitely have a soft spot for.
William Hartnell's version of the Doctor, the very first Doctor Who, started out as a rather mean, selfish old man but the role mellowed as the show continued. Like the Doctors who would come after him, he was a Time Lord. In fact, he was the same Time Lord with the power to escape total destruction by regenerating into a new body. Hartnell, the old but increasingly lovable grouch, became a magnet for radical ideas. Having two hearts and having originated on another planet, he wasn't quite human and so was always a bit of an outsider. He was also very much the Victorian gentleman and this was reflected in all of the Doctors right up to the present model.
Doctor Who traveled and continues to travel in the TARDIS, a vehicle that looks like a 1950s police call box. It was, is and will be a lot bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. By the way, the Doctor is a space and time adventurer which means that past, present and future tenses tend to be all appropriate when dealing with him. Oh, and the Doctor hasn't always been or will always be a 'him'. In The Curse of Fatal Death, starring Rowan Atkinson as the Doctor, he transforms at the end of the story into Joanna Lumley.
The Doctor has been taking young people on past, present and future rides for well over forty years. There was a period in which Doctor Who failed to appear in new adventures on the tele but he was still appearing in magazines, comic books and novels in brand new adventures. The Doctor came back to the tele with a much bigger budget and has been and no doubt will be going strong for the next forty years or so.
H. G. WELLS' INVISIBLE MAN
This show began its run in 1958 and ended it in 1959, just short of the '60s. Even so, there is plenty of evidence here of the new attitude to making television. A scientist accidentally turns himself invisible and then spends most of his time either trying to become visible or keeping the British end up in the Cold War. There are Russian spies to foil and beautiful female defectors to rescue. Even the invisible man's sister is somewhat easy on the eyes. Maybe this was the very beginning of the glam movement.
Begun in 1961, and starred Patrick Macnee throughout its entire run as the dashing John Steed, this show got more into glam and less into the hard-nosed reality of the spy game as it continued to grab ratings in Britain. For the first year Ian Henry as Dr. Keel assisted Patrick Macnee's character. from 1962 to 1964 the pretty but caustic Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale took the role as Steed's partner. Dianna Rigg as Emma Peel (1965-1968) was the best loved and best remembered of Steed's companions. Steed had come to symbolize the old world with his walking stick/umbrella that converted into a sword cane and his indestructible bowler hat. He had impeccable tastes that were anything but modern. Emma with her glam outfits, her karate and knowing smile came to represent the new age. The contrast worked beautifully. After Dianna Rigg left the show it quickly went down hill.Linda Thorson came to play Tara King and partnered with Steed. Unfortunately it was not a partnership that worked out well for anybody. The show came to an end in 1969. All up it had been an extraordinary run. It did well in Great Britain, the USA and Australia. Both Honor Blackman and Dianna Rigg had enough glam to be in Bond movies.
Take a popular fictional character with a dubious fictional past that has been around since the 1930s, spruce him up a bit for the new age, fill his episodes with bobby dazzler women and you have the '60s version of The Saint. Starring Roger Moore, this show was a great hit in Britain and Australia. At first the Americans were reluctant to take in on board claiming it was too British for American tastes but, once they did, it was a big hit there as well. The Saint ran from 1962 to 1969. Since then there have been numerous attempts to revive The Saint for both television and the moves. None of them have been very successful.
Incredibly sophisticated puppet shows such as Stingray and Thunderbirds became extremely popular in Britain, the USA and Australia. Just about everyone who grew up in the '60s had his favorite Thunderbird. Mine was Thunderbird 4, the mini-sub.
OUTER SPACE IS THE PLACE!
In the '60s there was some marvelous experimentation resulting in some unforgettable shows. There were programs like My Favorite Martian, I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. Westerns, however, remained very popular due in part to the nature of American audiences and the simple fact that many of these shows were well scripted and acted.
LOST IN SPACE
Send a family into space, get them lost thanks to Doctor Smith, throw in a Robot and a lot of special effects and you have a winner. The show started out with some sense of realism but, as it progressed and also due to budget cuts, it got sillier and sillier. The fans didn't and still don't mind. It was all part of the fun. Lost in Space ran from 1965 to 1968.
A starship in search of new worlds. It was definitely a concept that got me in as a kid. Even though this show had a rocky beginning in first getting past the pilot stage and then finding its audience, it is best remembered for dealing with some of the pressing issues of the day. There was the problem of racism in the USA and also the continuing difficulty of an ever increasing world population. Many people have fond memories of the adventures of the starship Enterprise (always loved the name!). It had been glam American style but it also 'told it the way it was' to savvy viewers who understood metaphors as used in science fiction. The Enterprise began its five year mission in 1966 and ended in 1969 - short of the five year mark.
THE WILD WILD WEST
Starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, this was one bent Western involving two agents working for President Grant, traveling via train sorting out problems, mainly in the West. They had gimmicks galore to help them in their work. The pace here was fast as were the gals and the fists and guns of the bad guys. It ran from 1965 to 1969.
Super Kangaroos and Magic Boomerangs!
In Australia in the '60s there wasn't much in the way of home grown glam on the box. Cop shows such as Division 4 and Homicide ruled. There were, however, at least two exceptions.
Starring Ken James and Liza Goddard, this kids show about a kangaroo that takes out bad guys and rescues people in trouble was a big hit in Australia and Britain. It twisted reality in that Skippy was able to do things an ordinary kangaroo would have been physically incapable of doing such as untying knots in rope. This, of course, was all part of the enjoyment of the show as was the beautiful bush setting. In 1992 there was an attempt to reinvent the show for a new audience. This attempt failed miserably.
THE MAGIC BOOMERANG
Starring David Morgan, this kids show about a boomerang capable of stopping time for all during its flight except the person who threw it, put a touch of glam into country Australia from 1965 to 1966. It apparently got an airing in Germany as well as Australia. It is to wonder what the Germans of the '60s would have made out of it.
THE SUPERHERO RETURNS!
Throughout the '60s Marvel Comics ruled. I was a big Marvel fan imagining what it would be like to swing on a web created by Spiderman or a line shot forth from Daredevil's billy club. With artists like Jack Kirby and writers like Stan Lee, Marvel couldn't go wrong. Yes, the superhero made a comeback. Maybe it was because the USA felt it had a hero in its president, John F. Kennedy that got the ball rolling. Maybe it was because censorship in the second half of the 1950s had made horror and crime comic books too weak to be of interest to anyone. The live action Batman television series (1966-1968) no doubt helped D. C. with sales as did their highly successful revamp of the Green Lantern.
You can't beat Ninja and Samurai action!
In the 1960s a number of live action as well as animated television shows made in Japan made their way to both the USA and Australia. Among them the best loved and the best remembered are Shintaro, The Samurai and Astro Boy. There was also Phantom Agents, Marine Boy and Gigantor.
Koichi Ose, the star of The Samurai, eventually became a businessman. Decades after the show had ended, he was offered in on a deal that would rip off Queenslanders. He turned it down stating that he had always been honest, decent and noble on screen and could not see himself being otherwise in real life. Maybe he remembered the reception he got in Sydney in the 1960s when he visited to do a ninja versus Samurai live stage show. He was mobbed by young Australians wanting his autograph. He still has fans in Australia and probably didn't want to let them down. I still have my collection of Samurai bubble gum cards from the '60s.
There were Spy movies, War flicks and something for the Teenagers
If Look Back in Anger reflected the pessimism of the '50s, then To Sir with Love (1967), starring Sidney Poitier, shone with the optimism of a more positive decade. Where life for the teenager and/or twenty-something had once seemed rather pointless it was now filling up with hope and possibility. Times were still tough but not nearly as impossible. The right teacher could help turn things around. Life wasn't brilliant but it was good.
The James Bond movies of the '60s, starring Sean Connery, were a wonderful Cold War romp full of lots of beautiful women, special effects and gimmickry. The plots sometimes involved either submarines or rockets stolen from both the USA and Russia by a sinister organization, and the Americans and the Russians thinking the other the thief. With the USA and Russia acting like school boys spoiling for a fight, it is then up to Mother England to send her best son, James Bond, into the fray to solve the issue and prevent the Third World War from taking place.
Yes, there was plenty of tongue-in-cheek here. The humor was as dry as a properly shaken not stirred martini but it was definitely there. The movies are still good value and fun to watch.
The Magnificent Seven, starring Yul Brynner, is arguably the best Western ever made. Seven hired guns go to a small Mexican village to save it from bandits. It is based roughly on the Japanese 1954 film Seven Samurai. Released in 1960, the Magnificent Seven only just makes it into my decade of choice but what a fantastic start to any decade.
Another top movie from the USA was The Dirty Dozen (1967) starring Lee Marvin. During World war Two, take a dozen convicted killers and then send them on what looks very much like a suicide mission. Definitely lots of action.
Possibly the best film of the decade to illustrate where the heads of most Australians were at in this decade is the comedy romance They're a Weird Mob (1966) starring Walter Chiari and Clair Dunne. Its about an Italian journalist who comes to Sydney to work for a magazine but ends up in the building trade. There's hope, humor and a helping hand for anyone who 'gives it a go' no matter where they are from expressed in this Aussie effort. Australia's beach sub-culture is shown in all its glory, lifesavers includedl. No one thought back in 1966 that there would someday be migrants who would challenge the very nature of this sub-culture and opt for less freedom on Australian beaches. The fictional Italian in the movie (played by a real Italian), however, was all for understanding Aussies and doing his best to fit in. He, like many real migrants of the time, was of the right spirit.
THE WAR IN VIETNAM
The Vietnam War took on a serious tone for Australia in 1965 when Australian troops were sent into action. In the USA and in Australia there was conscription. This lead to protests against the war.
In general the teenagers and twenty-somethings of the '60s were far better educated and informed than the teenagers and twenty-somethings of the 1940s and 1950s. Highlights of the war, for example, were televised to a wide audience. In 1972, Australia pulled out of Vietnam and in 1975 the whole sorry business came to an end,
Yes, the '60s were really something! Men wore their hair long in protest of conscription and the war in general. The hippies came into being and there was a general feeling among the young that there should be a better answer to the problems of the world than the taking up of arms.
By the end of the '60s no one really believed there was going to be a full-on nuclear war. Bomb shelters grew cobwebs. It had become obvious that neither an American nor a Russian was going to press the appropriate button to get the show of mass devastation going.
In 1969 two Americans landed on the moon.
I hope you have enjoyed this walk down memory lane. I couldn't possibly cover everything but I do believe I got most of the highlights.
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