‘When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now’
Who remembers hearing these Beatles lyrics for the first time, back in 1967. Maybe we thought that by the time we reached 64 we would be ‘old’. It seems laughable now, when 64-year-olds choose to go trekking in their holidays and spend their weekends at the gym or taking part in a local park run. Retirement and all that might bring moves further away as the state pension age continues to increase.
Life in 2019 is certainly different from the expectations we might have had back in the sixties. Now we are surrounded with talk of technology and artificial intelligence and the desire for speed. We are told that HS2 – the high-speed rail link – will ‘better connect people across Britain’. There is demand for another runway at Heathrow to increase the numbers of flights to take us to far-flung destinations. And day and night we have access to 24-hour news, bringing the world and all the troubles that are befalling it into our front room.
Perhaps it is no surprise that when we read fiction many of us choose to escape the frenetic pace of 2019 and immerse ourselves in gentler times.
An opportunity to take myself back to my childhood days was one of the reasons I chose the 1960s as the era for my Sussex Crime Mystery series.
I have vivid memories of my brothers and sister revelling in the opportunities that 1960s pop culture offered. My sister was lucky enough to see the Rolling Stones concert on Hastings Pier, back in 1964. I have a clear picture of my oldest brother playing the Animals’ House of the Rising Sun on his acoustic guitar, shortly before getting onto his Lambretta in his Mod ‘uniform’ of Parka and jeans and riding off to join his friends on the seafront.
As well as tapping into personal memories, I have thoroughly enjoyed my wider research into the decade. It was a period of rapid change on so many levels.
After the introduction of commercial television in 1955, BBC has its first rival. Gradually, during the sixties, more and more people had access to television, although for most it was a case of renting a set rather than owning one. Of course, it was black and white only until 1967, when the first programme to be broadcast in colour was the Wimbledon Tennis Championships – ironic that they chose a sport where the competitors were all wearing white!
The increase in the numbers of people owning a car was another reason for the way that life changed during the sixties. It seems incredible that at the start of the 20th century there were only 8,000 cars in the whole of Britain and yet by the end of the century the numbers of cars had soared to 21 million. It was during the fifties and sixties that the main ‘boom’ in car ownership occurred. Car ownership in London alone quadrupled between 1950 and 1970 due to the rise in the standard of living and the reduction in car prices brought about by improved mass manufacture techniques. By the mid-1960s there were 1.5 million cars registered in London alone. The growth in car ownership brought increased traffic congestion and the need for more motorways. In fact, the sixties has been described by some as a time of ‘motorway mania’.
Looking back to that iconic era of Mary Quant fashion and Beatles music, when a footballer earned little more than £20 a week, it is easy to forget that life for many was difficult. I am a great fan of the television series, Call the Midwife – every episode practically has me in tears. I am reminded of the horrors of the thalidomide scandal, a drug that had been released for use without adequate testing. The contraceptive pill was only available to married women, leaving many young women struggling when they discovered they were pregnant. Some risked their lives paying for illegal backstreet abortions. Others handed over their babies for adoption, never to see them again. It was this topic that inspired me to write The Forgotten Children, an emotional story about a mother’s search for her son.
This was also a decade when people found their voice. Protest groups shouted – anti-establishment – anti-war – ban the bomb – give peace a chance. The world stood still while President Kennedy and Kruschev decided if they were going to obliterate the world in a nuclear war. Women continued to fight for their rights and it was this aspect of sixties culture that inspired me to have a strong female lead in my books. Sexism was rife, not just in the police force, but in many strands of society. My Sussex crime series features amateur sleuth, Janie Juke, a young librarian with a nose for detecting. Being a woman on the edge of what was in those days very much a man’s world of policing creates added tension. Readers are not only rooting for Janie to solve the crime – they are willing her on as she confronts many of the other aspects of life affecting British society during that decade of enormous change.
So what is it about looking back that is so attractive – for me as an author – and for you as a reader? Perhaps it’s a chance to relive a personal memory, or maybe it’s an opportunity to immerse ourselves in that fictional world and for a short time forget all about Brexit, climate change and modern day slavery. We can remember what it was to stand in a telephone box, pull out one of the many telephone directories to check a number and then find our pennies before pressing a button to be connected.
Where have all the telephone boxes gone? Long time passing…
I’m delighted to have been part of the August Blog Blitz for Books For Older Readers.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the sixties – was it a decade of fun, fear or fascination for you? Feel free to leave a comment below.