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British Society and Popular Culture, 1963-68: Part Two – Beatlemania & the Cultural Revolution.   Leave a comment

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Sexual Freedom & Women’s Liberation:

The ‘cultural revolution’ had a profound effect on sexual behaviour in general, and on women in particular. Sex before marriage became less taboo (one-third of young women were pregnant when they married), and there was a general feeling of increasing sexual freedom at various levels in society, which was made a reality through the advent and growing availability of the contraceptive pill from 1962. Women’s liberation also took off, leading to the victory of the Equal Pay Act in 1970. Until that, equal rights and feminism only really touched the surface. There was still a long road to travel on this, however. Too many workplaces were utterly unwelcoming of women wanting work. Too many memoirs recount the gross sexism of the new rock stars, not to mention the abuse of young women and children by a small number of prominent pop celebrities, more recently uncovered in police investigations. ‘The Pill’ might have arrived, and the Abortion Act became law in 1967, but this was still a time of ‘unwanted’ pregnancies, ‘unmarried’ mothers and gross domestic violence being administered by drunken men. Yet the philosophical principles of egalitarianism were gradually weaving their way into social change. Traditions of submission and obedience, together with hierarchies of class and gender based on medieval property rights, industrial capital and imperial administration, began to wobble and dissolve into a society which was more dilute and porous. This was not so much because ‘revolutionaries’ ushered in an age of personal freedom, but more generally because it suited a new economic system based on consumer choices.

In domestic life, two-thirds of families acquired labour-saving devices such as refrigerators and washing-machines. There was a growing ‘snappiness’ and lightness of design, in everything from the cut of clothing to the shape of cars, an aesthetic escape from the gravitas of the post-war period of austerity. But among the population as a whole this was a gradual transformation, experienced in a continuum, not as a revolution. The process was somewhat accelerated among the younger generation.  The real earnings of young manual workers had grown rapidly in the early sixties, creating a generation who had money to spend on leisure and ‘luxury’ goods. The average British teenager was spending eight pounds a week on clothes, cosmetics, records and cigarettes. In London, King’s Road and Carnaby Street became the haunts of this generation. Their attitude is summed up by the designer Mary Quant, whose shop Bazaar in King’s Road, provided clothes…

… that allowed people to run, to jump, to leap, to retain their precious freedom. 

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Quant had been cutting up lengths of cloth bought over the counter and selling them at Bazaar since the mid-fifties. Her iconoclastic style involved drawing, slicing and sewing up a uniform that parodied the pleated, padded, extravagant clothes of the Old New Look designers. In doing so, she was taking on the fashion industry of Paris and the West End from her bedsit and tiny shop. Quant’s shockingly short mini-skirts, named after the car she loved, were offensive enough for the occasional brick to be lobbed at her window. She always claimed that she was trying to free women to be able to run for a bus. But it was the sexual allure that shocked. Michael Caine later recalled taking his mother down the King’s Road to see what all the fuss was about:

I said, “here’s one now”, and this girl walks by with a mini up to here. She goes by and my mother looked at her. So, we walk on a bit. She never said a word. So I said, what do you think, mum? She said: “If it’s not for sale, you shouldn’t put it in the window.”

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Clothes became the outward symbols of the ‘Chelsea Set’ of which Caine was a fully paid-up member, as was Quant. But Quant’s fashions were as exclusively priced as the ‘Set’ itself. ‘Biba’, an iconic symbol, promised liberation for women and girls, but liberation through spending. Its founder, Barbara Hulanicki was a girl from an exiled family, born before the war, brought up in British-controlled Palestine and then raised by a ‘bohemian’ aunt in Brighton, before going to art school. She then launched a mail order company with her husband. Biba, named after her younger sister, aimed to offer glamorous clothing at cheap prices. She had been mesmerised by Audrey Hepburn (above and below), her shape; long neck, small head, practically jointless, and her first top-selling design was a pink gingham dress like the one worn by Brigitte Bardot at her wedding.

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Her succession of boutiques were dark, chaotic spaces in which customers could lose themselves, pick up and try on, discard and collect, and sometimes steal, a great gush of new designs which seemed to change every week. The clothes were run up at high-speed in the East End and ferried to the boutique (below) several times a week. Turnover was spectacular and soon celebrities were beating a path its door, mixing with shorthand typists and schoolgirls to buy Biba designs – Mia Farrow, Yoko Ono, Princess Anne, Raquel Welch and even Bardot herself. As one Biba admirer said, it was helping to create the concept of shopping as an experience, a leisure activity for the young. George Melley, jazz singer, writer and professional flamboyant called it a democratic version of Mary Quant. Hulancki herself said that she always wanted to get prices down, down, down, to the bare minimum. The cheapness and disposability of the clothes was shocking to an older Britain in which millions of families had been used to make do and mend, followed by making their own clothes, buying patterns from Woolworth’s and sewing them by hand, or using a new electric sewing machine, or knitting woollen dresses and jerseys. Biba was the beginning of the throw-away consumer culture applied to clothing, and though it would present moral dilemma later, in the sixties it simply provided freedom for millions of young single women, career girls about town, who, as yet, had not been shaped by motherhood.

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Pop Music and Popular Culture:

Another symbol was popular music. Before ‘pop’ the dominant popular music styles produced low profits. Most public music was live; piano and banjo players on music-hall stages, the star singers and then eventually the big bands of the dance halls and the smoky subculture of ‘jazz’. Sheet-music made big money for talented composers like Ivor Novello and stage stars like Harry Lauder. Gramophone record sales had kicked off with recordings of early twentieth-century opera stars but the invention of the modern microphone in the twenties had then changed popular singing, allowing intimacy and variety of a new kind. The recording industry brought Louis Armstrong, the Ink Spots, Vera Lynn and the crooners of many West End musicals to millions of homes before pop. By the end of the fifties there were four major British recording companies: EMI, Decca, Pye and Philips. Most of their profits came from classical music or comic recordings, like those of Flanders and Swann. It was with the spread of seven-inch forty-fives that records had become something that teenagers could afford to buy. Though first produced in the US as early as 1948, for working-class British youngsters they were still formidably expensive by the late fifties.

The other essential technological changes arrived at around the same time. First, loud electric guitars, invented by radio repairman Leo Fender in 1948. Then transistor radios, originally invented in the mid-fifties to help Americans keep in touch after the coming nuclear war with Russia, and becoming popular for other purposes at the end of the decade. Without the mike, the electric guitar and the seventh-inch record, rock and pop would not have happened. Without the radio, the vital cross-cultural currents would have been unheard. The post-austerity economic boom was putting money in the pockets of teenagers and young workers, and the post-war baby-boom had increased their numbers. Better nutrition meant that they reached puberty earlier, and the mechanisms for the mass-marketing were already in place. By the early sixties, all the essential ingredients of the new market for this were also in place.

Most histories of golden-age sixties rock groups begin with a similar narrative, with the kids discovering Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley under their bedclothes, covertly listening on frequency 208 on their transistor radio to Radio Luxembourg, which broadcast to the UK from 7.00 p.m. onwards every night. They then go on to describe the formation of a ‘skiffle’ band, like that of Lonnie Donegan, using simple chords and home-made instruments like washboards or slatted wardrobe doors, mouth organs and ‘kazoos’. Then the coffee bar or burger bar would make an appearance, a place where teenagers could go to socialize and listen to jukeboxes. The local art college would also, often, be part of this formative, group experience. Many of these were associated with local technical colleges, which before the university expansion of the seventies was where bright, imaginative and often rebellious teenagers would end up after leaving ‘academia’ behind at fifteen. The art schools were the true factories of popular culture, for musicians, painters and sculptors.

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By the later fifties, art students were not only listening to skiffle, but the US rock ‘n’ roll stars, and also to British ‘Elvis copies’ like first Tommy Steel, then Harry Webb, ‘reincarnated’ as Cliff Richard, then Tom Jones. John Lennon went to Liverpool Art College, while Ray Davies, who formed The Kinks attended Hornsey, Keith Richard of The Rolling Stones went to Sidcup, and Pete Townsend of The Who went to Ealing Art College. The RAF-style roundels and bold black arrows which appeared on the band’s clothes and became part of the Mods’ insignia, had been swiped from graphic designers and pop painters. Of course, no band was more important in the sixties, and arguably since, than The Beatles. They expressed both youthful rebellion and commercialism, providing British teenagers with an identity that cut across the barriers of class, accent and region. The Beatles had been formed, originally as The Quarrymen, in July 1957 and in 1962 Love Me Do reached #17 in the charts. But it wasn’t until April 1963, that From Me to You became their first number one hit single.

‘Beatlemania’ & the Radio Revolution:

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The key to their initial breakthrough, and their continued success, was not studio recordings, but radio performances. Between 1957 and 1970 they performed live in eighty-four different venues in England, fifteen in Scotland, six in Wales and two in Ireland. Many people in the establishment regarded ‘pop’ music with disdain. The BBC held a monopoly over the radio waves and, in a deal with the Musicians’ Union and record manufacturers, ensured that popular music was not given airtime. The Beatles, however, were too popular for the BBC to resist, and between March 1962 and June 1965, no fewer than 275 unique musical performances were recorded in their studios and broadcast throughout the UK. The group played eighty-eight different songs on national radio, some recorded many times. As well as their own songs, these recordings also included rock ‘n’ roll numbers by Chuck Berry and Little Richard. They worked like dogs, once recording eighteen songs in one day on 16 July 1963. Derek Taylor has written about how …

… they became our cheeky chappies, our Elvis, took up residence on the front page, and in the zeitgeist of the age, helped to establish the booming creative potential of provincial England.

The Beatles gave us a continuing soundtrack of unparalleled charm and reassurance. As long as they kept on delivering fresh songs along with the morning milk, everything was right in our optimistic world. Quite quickly, the Beatles became an institution all of their own, with all sorts of attendants – fanatics and detractors, revisionists and archivists, accountants and lawyers, scribes and Pharisees.

That the Beatles were woven into the fabric of British life was due in large part to the regularity of their attention to good habits – the Christmas message to the fans, the package tours, the visits home to Liverpool families, an honest paying of all the expected dues and in no small measure to the BBC, who provided that unparalleled broadcasting expertise to keep the nation in touch with ‘the boys’ through fifty-three broadcasts. Radio allowed them to ‘be themselves’ and that was always enough for the Beatles and their followers.

The Beatles’ frequent access to the BBC’s studios and airwaves was the consequence of an age of wireless innocence. Although millions were hungry for rock ‘n’ roll, on the radio it was severely rationed. When you tuned in during the day, there was only the choice of the BBC’s three national networks and, of those, only the Light Programme might occasionally allow Elvis or Buddy Holly into your house. There was no local radio or commercial radio. The only alternative was a crackling, phasing Radio Luxembourg beamed across Europe at night. When ‘the Light’ did feature ‘pop’, due to the Musicians’ Union restriction, records were frequently side-lined by emasculated renditions of hits from dance orchestras. But without competition, BBC radio programmes were guaranteed huge audiences. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, had understood this opportunity and sent an application for a radio audition to the BBC’s Manchester outpost early in 1962. Producer Peter Pilbeam had auditioned them and, despite his note on his report about the singers – John Lennon, yes; Paul McCartney, no – both had featured on their BBC debut in front of an audience at Manchester Playhouse in March 1962. This regional radio breakthrough had come seven months before the release of their first single on ‘Parlophone’, Love Me Do, and no recording exists of the concert or any of their other three broadcasts of 1962. It remains ‘pre-history’ in terms of the Beatlemania years, especially when compared to their ‘meteoric’ rise to fame in 1963.

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At the beginning of 1963, Britain was experiencing its worst winter weather since 1947. The country shivered through freezing temperatures at a time when few houses had the luxury of central heating. Most of the land was covered in deep snow making transport difficult. Undaunted, The Beatles spent many hours during those cold early months of 1963 in a van driven by a friend, journeying up and down the country to appear onstage at theatres and ballrooms and to perform in radio and TV studios. Before this breakthrough year, the group had worked hard at their craft, including hundreds of hours spent entertaining the rowdy clientele of a Hamburg nightclub and the friendly regulars at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, enabling the development of an extensive and varied repertoire. Their musical expertise combined with discipline and stamina proved to be an unbeatable formula.

Though the stories of British rock and pop bands follow a predictable trajectory, the stories of the earlier bands are more interesting simply because the story had not occurred before. Though pop was a business it was also narrative about class and morality; almost every band’s story described the tension between the marketing of the music and the attempt by the band to stay in some way ‘authentic’, true to themselves. Many never tried to be authentic in the first place, but the groundbreaking ones did but didn’t find it easy. The Kinks were four north London boys who affected a camp look and played rough, hard pop were put into the most extraordinary pink hunting jackets, ruffs and thigh-high suede boots. The Beatles were bullied and cajoled by Epstein into ditching the rough jeans and leather Luftwaffe jackets they had learned in Hamburg. To get their first recording contract with EMI, the Beatles were told to stop smoking on stage, stop swearing, turning up late, and making spontaneous decisions about which songs they would play at their gigs. They also had to learn to bow smartly to the audience, all together, after every song. They agreed. It was only later in their successful sixties that they felt they could tell their managers where to get off.

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The BBC’s Saturday Club presenter, Brian Matthew (above), commented, following their appearance on his show on 26th January 1963:

At the moment, the majority of ‘The Beatles’ fans are in their home town of Liverpool and I have a very strong suspicion it won’t be long before they’re all over the country.

Brian Matthew’s belief was quickly confirmed. From ten o’clock to twelve noon every Saturday, the show reached an enormous audience of around ten to twelve million. The Beatles were featured ten times on the programme and quickly established a rapport with Matthew and producer Bernie Andrews, who supervised the music sessions.  Six numbers were recorded in sessions lasting no more than three and a half hours; sometimes as short as ninety minutes. Throughout 1963 number one records followed in quick succession: Please Please Me, From me to You, She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand. The debut album, Please Please Me, the Twist and Shout EP, and the With the Beatles LP were also released within that year. While those releases kept them high in the charts, the pressure of The Beatles schedule never eased for a moment, but they were match-fit. They performed music in thirty-nine radio shows in 1963 and, most importantly, fifteen of those programmes were editions of their own radio series Pop Go the Beatles which the BBC invited them to host during the summer of 1963. Tuesday evening became an essential date with the radio for millions of fans. They were encouraged by the presenter to let their humour shine between the songs, and producer Terry Henebery remembers this ‘zaniness’ not being confined to the recorded speech links:

They’d come to the studio and horse about. You had to crack the whip and get on the loudspeaker talk-back key quite a lot and say “Come on, chaps!” They’d be lying all over the floor, giggling. And I can remember afternoons down at the Paris Cinema studio, where you were just looking at the clock, throwing your hands up in horror and thinking, ‘will they ever settle down?’ I mean, people would go and get locked in the toilets and fool about. But you were, at the end of the day, getting some nice material out of them.

No one would have predicted it in 1963, but the songs The Beatles chose to perform for their radio series constitute the most fascinating aspect of their music sessions for the BBC. The New Musical Express reported that R-and-B material will be strongly featured. The shows certainly lived up to that promise. Required to record six songs for every show, to avoid undue repetition, the group would often romp through an old favourite or work on a new number. As Ringo observed:

It was fine when doing the repertoire we knew, but some weeks it’d be real hard. We’d rehearse two or three songs in the lunch break and then go and record them in the afternoon.

For some groups, a series that demanded six new recordings every weeknight might have been daunting; but it allowed The Beatles to air their influences and try out some new favourites. They performed fifty-six new songs in all, twenty-five of which had not and would not be released on any of their records. The choice of material in these and other programmes clearly reveals the artists who had inspired the group. They recorded nine cover versions of Chuck Berry songs which, except for Roll Over Beethoven were all belted out by John. In addition, they covered six Carl Perkins and four Elvis Presley songs, while the four Little Richard rockers were the exclusive vocal property of Paul and his throat-ripping ‘whoops’ and ‘hollers’. In gentler moments, Paul sang A Taste of Honey and Till There Was You, but his most unusual ballad was The Honeymoon Song. John produced a real gem in Ann-Margret’s I Just Don’t Understand. The four were adept at digging out unusual material, often beating rival Liverpool groups to sought-after American records and learning the B-side. As Paul commented in 2013,

You will find stuff in our repertoire that came off little odd-ball records. We had started off going onstage and playing songs that we liked, but then we would find that on the same bill as us in the Liverpool clubs, there might be another band that would play exactly the same songs. If they were on before us, it made us look a bit silly. We started to look further afield, study the American charts and see what was there. We’d listen to radio a lot and find out if there was anything up and coming. We would also flip records and listen to the B-sides; see if we could find anything that way. In fact, that’s what started John and I writing, because this was the only foolproof way that other bands couldn’t have our songs. There was no great artistic muse that came out of the heavens and said, ‘Ye shall be a songwriting partnership!’ It was really just we had better do this or everyone is going to have our act. …

In addition to the night-time broadcasts of Radio Luxembourg, the other sources for rock ‘n’ roll music on discs were coffee-bar jukeboxes, fairgrounds and record shops. Fortunately, this era was a golden era for record stores. Hundreds of family-run concerns, like Brian Epstein’s NEMS in Liverpool, would take pride in stocking at least one copy of everything released. Many Liverpool musicians spent hours in listening booths at NEMS while records were played to them. Occasionally, they might even buy one! At the time of their BBC sessions, The Beatles were seeking out the latest Rhythm and Blues records from the States. Although many of these by groups such as The Miracles did not, at first, make the British charts, they were a key influence on The Beatles. Again, Paul McCartney explains:

With our manager Brian Epstein having a record shop – NEMS – we did have the opportunity to look around a bit more than the casual buyer. …

Ringo would get stuff from the sailors. … he happened to have a few mates who’d been to New Orleans or New York and had picked up some nice blues or country and western. … But it was really a question of looking harder than the next guy. We made it our full-time job to research all these things; to go for the road less travelled.

These records, and those by The Shirelles, who did have some UK hits, had sophisticated vocal, string and horn parts. Rearranging them for a four-piece line-up helped to create the Beatle sound just as much as the earlier singles by the rock ‘n’ roll pioneers. Current R&B records were not easy to get hold of or hear in Britain. But in 1963, records released on the Tamla and Motown labels were distributed in the UK by Oriole. Radio Luxembourg also featured the latest records by Mary Wells, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Martha & the Vandellas and Little Stevie Wonder. Although none of them was a hit at the time, The Beatles’ love of the records from Detroit was demonstrated when they included three Motown songs on With the Beatles. Their devotion to black soul music proved crucial to its wider acceptance.

The significance of The Beatles’ BBC radio sessions also stems from the way the sound of the group was captured for their broadcasts. At that time, artists were not given large amounts of studio time. At EMI studios, on 11th February 1963, The Beatles had to record ten songs for their debut album, Please Please Me. The fact that this was achieved in under ten hours subsequently became regarded as a remarkable achievement. This was seen as especially true when the quality of the tracks was considered. It was common practice in 1963 to complete a minimum of two songs in a standard three-hour session. As Paul has pointed out,

It was just the rate people worked at. … Looking at it now, it seems so fast, but then it seemed very sensible.

At the BBC, the work-rate was even higher. Apart from when they were performing in front of an audience for a broadcast, The Beatles had to record five or six songs in a short session so they were not fazed by this requirement. The recordings were made onto a four-track tape machine at EMI in October 1963, but multi-tracking did not begin at the BBC until a decade later. This meant that the mono recordings could not be edited, except by editing different takes of a song onto the same tape. Otherwise, there was the option to ‘overdub’ by copying the first recording to another tape, while at the same time adding more instruments or vocals. Both of these processes could be very time-consuming, so what we hear on the BBC tapes is the sound of the group performing ‘live’, direct to tape, as if to an immediate audience, but without the noisy hysteria which accompanied their public concerts. The pop songs of the early Beatles were not neatly produced commodities as all pop songs later became. You can hear the fun involved in their creation.

When Pop Go The Beatles finished its run, they were once more at the top of the charts with She Loves You. From that point on, things went crazy and pretty much stayed that way. Their unassailable popularity was reflected by the press who applied the epithet Beatlemania to the hysteria that surrounded their every move. In February 1964, the States surrendered to the magic and Brian Epstein’s bold boast that his group would be ‘bigger than Elvis’ proved to be true. Having ‘hit the business jackpot’, as Brian Matthew expressed it in Saturday Club, the number of times The Beatles came to the BBC was greatly reduced; compared to the thirty-four programmes recorded in 1963, from October 1963 to June 1965 there were just fifteen specially recorded sessions. Having once been prepared to rush from one end of the country to the other for a radio show, global success now made the group less available. Their last BBC radio performance was the solitary one of 1965, on Whit Monday, entitled The Beatles Invite You to Take a Ticket to Ride. It was understandable that they now had real need of this particular kind of radio exposure. But most of the sessions at the BBC had been exciting and fun. DJ Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman worked with the Beatles in 1964. He remembered that:

Their music and persona freed me from middle age … because the things that were coming from The Beatles made me feel like a ten-year-old! They made us all feel tremendously happy.

Just before The Beatles made their last BBC recording, at Easter 1964 the first illegal ‘pirate’ radio station, Radio Caroline, began broadcasting from a ship just off the Sussex coast. Within months, millions of young people were listening to Radio Caroline North and Radio Caroline South, Radio London and other pirate stations that sprung up. Not only did they broadcast popular music records, but they also reminded their listeners that any attempt to silence them would constitute a direct ‘attack on youth’. With the advent of these radio stations, the BBC monopoly on airtime was broken, and bands were able to get heard beyond their concerts. Eventually, the Government acted to bring an end to its cold war with the British record industry. The BBC set up Radio One to broadcast popular records and in August 1967, the Marine Offences Act outlawed the pirate ships.

The Rock Generation:

In the early days of pop and rock, it was not always quite as obvious that money would always trump vitality. There were still battles to be fought between the two. The Who (pictured below) were a west London band which had, like so many others, emerged from skiffle, and had been kick-started by the early successes of The Beatles. They were encouraged by their manager, Peter Meadon, to dress stylishly and address themselves to the new audience of ‘Mods’. Their first single, I Can’t Explain was self-consciously derivative of The Kinks, and was released in January 1965. It made it to #8 in the charts, but it was their second single, My Generation which really caught the mood of the times and the imaginations of pop fans, later became the first British rock ‘anthem’. It was recorded at the Pye Studios in London in October 1965 and released as a single on 5th November. Just before its release, Roger Daltry was fired from the band for fighting with the other members, but he was quickly reinstated when it reached #2. The fighting and onstage antics continued throughout their early career, though, including the smashing up of guitars by the band’s leader, Pete Townsend. While delighting their live audiences, their guitar-smashing kept them away from mainstream venues.

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A string of top ten hits followed in 1965-67, from Substitute to Pictures of Lily and I Can See for Miles. Pete was disappointed that the last of these only reached #10 in the UK charts compared with #9 in the US, commenting shortly afterwards that to him, that was the ultimate Who record yet it didn’t sell and I spat on the British record buyer. Throughout a stellar career during which some think, with their concept albums, eclipsed The Beatles after the break-up of the ‘fab four’, The Who, though, far from revolutionary in politics, were never properly ‘tamed’.  Nor were The Kinks, whose song-writing genius Ray Davies became involved in a punch-up with an American television union official who had called them a bunch of commie wimps. That altercation got them banned from the States for four crucial years.

The big battle lines, however, were drawn over the content of the songs, which quickly moved beyond the easy American boy-meets-girl themes of Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. By 1968, rock was beginning to escape from the urban and suburban Britain of its young consumers. For most of them, their teenage years would end in a more conventional working life and marriage, which was (perhaps somewhat conversely) more popular than ever in the late sixties, with marriage rates peaking in 1972. But drugs, mysticism, gangs and sexual experimentation were some of the alternatives celebrated by pop culture, much to the discomfort of record companies, the BBC, politicians and the newspapers. Songs such as Lola by The Kinks and I’m a Boy by The Who challenged existing sexual stereotypes, and there was a ‘libertine’ element in The Rolling Stones songs which shocked those parents who could follow the lyrics.

Above all, the rate of experimentation and change in sixties pop itself was astonishing, as a new sound, instrument, length of song and sexually explicit album cover image seemed to come along every few weeks in 1966-68. It was a classic, market-driven competition between the top bands and artists, measured by sales of records. Lennon and McCartney remained at the forefront of this experimentation, feeding back discoveries about tape loops, modern composers and Bach into the music of The Beatles, retreating more and more into their Abbey Road studio to produce more complex sounds. The Stones’ blues-rock challenged the ‘Mersey Beat’ and the ‘Mods’ began to produce early versions of the ‘heavy metal’ genre, followed by Led Zeppelin at the end of 1968, who made it their own. But, at this stage, The Beatles were still seen as the pioneers, the first big stars to fall for Indian mysticism, sitars, or the next drug craze, and the first to break up under the strain. Their trajectory, like their output, seemed impossible to beat. As Andrew Marr concludes,

A band’s success was based on its members’ skills but also on their authentic claim to be the kids from the streets whose anger, enthusiasm, boredom and wit reflected the actual Britain all around them, the lives of the people who would save up and buy their songs. Pop was music from below or it was nothing. Yet the successful musicians would be cut off from the world they came from by the money and the security needed to keep fans at bay until they were fated to sound introspective and irrelevant.  

By 1968, other forms of music were receding before the ear-splitting tidal advance of rock and pop, driven by radio. In painting, pop art and the pleasure principle were on the attack. Simpler and more digestible art forms, suitable for mass market consumption, were replacing élite art which assumed an educated and concentrated viewer, listener or reader. Throughout these years there were self-conscious moves to create new élites, to keep the masses out. They came from the portentous theories of modern art or the avowedly difficult atonal Classical music arriving from France and America, but these were eddies against the main cultural current.  Similarly, when Mary Quant set up her shop she was a rotten businesswoman. The fun was in the clothes. No business with so little grasp of cash could afford to be cynical. Of course, the King’s Road was a foreign country to most Britons in the mid-sixties. The majority of those who lived through that period have personal memories of rather conventional and suburban lives. Most working-class people were still living in Edwardian and Victorian red-brick terraces in the English and Welsh industrial cities, and in tenements in Glasgow, Dundee and other Scottish towns.

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For this vast majority, the early sixties were experienced as a continuation of the fifties, not as a break with that decade. Britain remained an industrial society, though more prosperous, whose future was believed still to depend on factories producing cars, engines, washing machines and electrical goods, both for the ‘domestic’ market and for export. The older generation of authority figures – teachers, judges and above all parents – still derived their clothes and morality from their wartime experience, and were the butt of widespread mockery, especially by the cartoonist Giles of The Daily Express (commemorated by the statue shown above, located in Ipswich town centre) and on TV by David Frost. Television also gave further mass exposure to the pop industry, with regular editions of  ‘Jukebox Jury’, ‘Ready, Steady, Go’, and ‘Top of the Pops’ attracting huge young audiences. The radio, TV and magazine publicity machine was up and going. The equipment was in every second home, radios and record players turned out by Britain’s booming electronics industry. But the men with moustaches and ‘short back and sides’ haircuts were visibly still in power. As Andrew Marr has written,

The Britain which proudly displayed volumes of Churchill’s war memoirs on bookshelves, and stood up in cinemas for the national anthem, did not disappear when Ringo Starr grew his first luxuriant moustache.   

Swinging London and its New Celebrities:

The new culture was far from elitist; it was meritocratic, but it could be just as exclusive as the older forms. It was shaped by upper-working-class and lower-middle-class people who had never enjoyed this level of cultural influence before. The northern cities of England, especially Liverpool, but also Newcastle and Manchester, that were sending their sons and daughters south to conquer, even if it was only on radio and television shows. The older Britain with its regimental traditions, its racism and clear divisions in terms of class, geography and dialect. The ‘scouse’ voices of The Beatles and the ‘Geordie’ accents of the Animals had been rarely heard on the radio before 1963, and for many metropolitan and Home Counties listeners, they came as something of a shock. By the summer of 1965, however, what was called Swinging London, or the Scene, was a small number of restaurants, shops and clubs where a small number of people were repeatedly photographed and written about. In Chelsea, Biba, ‘Granny Takes a Trip’, ‘Bazaar’ and ‘Hung on You’ were honeypots for the fashionable. They spent their evenings and nights at clubs like ‘Annabel’s’, ‘Showboat’ and ‘Talk of the Town’.

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There were perhaps no more than twenty ‘celebrities’ at the heart of Swinging London. They included The Beatles and Mick Jagger, among eight pop singers, the model Jean Shrimpton, the designer Mary Quant, painter David Hockney, actors Michael Caine and Terence Stamp, and photographers Lord Snowdon, David Bailey and Terence Donovan. The ‘list’ compiled and published by Private Eye journalist Christopher Booker in 1969, also included an interior decorator, a creative advertiser, a film producer, a discotheque manager, a ballet dancer and the Kray brothers from the East End who could only be described as connected with the underworld. These New Aristocrats, as Christopher Booker called them, were all concerned with the creation of images. Following the Profumo affair of a few years earlier, old money, big business, the traditional arts and politics were being marginalised and replaced by working-class ‘upstarts’. Among the photographers, Bailey was a tailor’s son and Donovan a lorry driver’s son, both from the East End. Michael Caine was a Billingsgate fish porter’s son and Stamp the son of a tug-boat captain. The female aristocrats included Lesley Hornby of Neasden, better known as ‘Twiggy’, a carpenter’s daughter, and Priscilla White, better known as ‘Cilla Black’, another (originally) ‘scruffy Scouser’. A few were there entirely because of their looks, like ‘supermodel’ Jean Shrimpton, a description first used in 1968. Very few of these men and women would have made it in the London of previous decades. The intertwining of this aristocracy of pop was as sinuous as the old Tory cliques of the fifties. But their significance was that they represented the increased mobility of talented people from working-class backgrounds.

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006These ‘celebrities’ were joined by footballers, who in 1966-68 were raised from tradesmen and servants to the level of golden gods, sometimes behaving badly too. England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup, with its dramatic finale at Wembley and the team’s 4-2 defeat of West Germany was the stuff that dreams are made of, leading to ritual disappointed expectations every four years ever since. Despite reaching the semi-finals on two occasions since, in 1990 and 2018, the nation has not yet been able to repeat the dressing up and dancing in the streets that went on then, with every English man, woman and child joining in. Alf Ramsey, the English team manager, had been part of the team who had lost 3-6 to Hungary at Wembley in 1953. Now he and his lions had brought football home at last. The three ‘Eastenders’, West Ham’s Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst outshone the Charlton brothers on this occasion, but Bobby Charlton was himself part of Manchester United’s ‘home’ international trio together with George Best and Denis Law who won the European Cup, beating Eusebio and Benfica 4-1 in 1968. This was a remarkable achievement, coming just a decade after Busby’s ‘babes’ were all but wiped out in the Munich air disaster of 1958. Glasgow Celtic had been the first British team to win the European Cup in the previous year, under the management of Jock Stein in 1967. Some of these soccer celebrities, like George Best, were later to struggle with the limelight, but for now they could do no wrong as far as the British public were concerned. The articles and photos below are from a facsimile of the Sunday Mirror from 31 July 1966:

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The new celebrities were not just fascinated by images, but quickly colonised the entire new media of pop music, radio, television, fashion, advertising, colour magazines, and hairdressing. These were not the property of the City or of old money. Linguistic diversity was as important as imagery in this democratisation of society and culture. It was the breakthrough lead given by Lennon and McCartney in singing their own material that persuaded scores of other British bands to follow suit. Others chose to mimic the accents and vocabulary of the American rockers who had inspired them, even when producing their own compositions. There are few songs in the ‘transatlantic’ repertoire of The Rolling Stones which sound particularly English, unlike those of other iconic London bands such as The Kinks and The Who. Banned from the US while others were breaking into the American market, Ray Davies turned back to local subjects. He had always written pop songs about everything from the death of the dance-halls to the joys of an autumn sunset over Waterloo Bridge, but The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society of 1968 was on an entirely different scale. As Ray Davies commented himself:

While everybody else thought the hip thing to do was to drop acid, take as many drugs as possible and listen to music in a coma, the Kinks were singing songs about lost friends, draught beer, motorbike riders, wicked witches and flying cats.

The title song of their album calls for the ‘preservation’ of Desperate Dan, strawberry jam, the George Cross, the ‘Sherlock Holmes English-speaking vernacular’, little shops, china cups, virginity, Tudor houses and antique tables while attacking the new skyscrapers and office blocks. The album, which sold in tiny numbers compared with Sergeant Pepper, with its equally nostalgic Liverpudlian and Lancastrian-themed lyrics, confused contemporary critics who could not decide whether the group were being serious or satirical. The simple answer, with the benefit of a critical hindsight which regards the disc as one of the greatest achievements of British pop in the sixties, “both”. The band showed that it was possible to write inspiring rock music about what was around you, rather than posturing as a boy from Alabama or pretending to be an Afro-American. On the other hand, in listening to Dusty Springfield, who had one of the ‘purest’, most spell-binding voices of the decade, you could be forgiven for thinking she was from Detroit or Paris. Few of the songs she sang, if any, had British themes and British English vocabulary. But then, ‘son of a preacher man’ scans better! The English folk-song revival of the early sixties also played into this democratic, eclectic mix, with the founding of Fairport Convention in 1967, named after the house in which they practised in North London. Their folk-rock genre took themes and dialects from all parts of the British Isles. By 1968, regional accents had become commonplace in radio and television programmes, especially the perennial ‘soap operas’, though it took much longer for the provincial presenters of news, views and features to be accepted onto the national broadcasts of the BBC, not to mention those from ethnic minorities. This reflected the slow progress in British society in general towards genuine devolution, diversity and gender equality.

Despite the dramatic increase in wealth, coupled with the emergence of distinctive subcultures, technological advances (including television) and unprecedented shifts in popular culture, by the end of the sixties, there was a general sense of dissatisfaction and disillusionment with society and politics in Britain. In the early seventies, when John Lennon was asked to assess the impact of The Beatles by Rolling Stone magazine, he commented that…

Nothing happened, except we all dressed up. The same bastards are in control, the same people are running everything, it’s exactly the same.

Conclusion: A Real Counter-cultural Revolution?

The counter-cultural ‘revolution’ in Britain had no organisation and no practical agenda. It was largely middle class in its amorphous leadership, without any real or effective links to the working-class socialists who wanted higher wages and perhaps even workers’ cooperatives, but were less keen on long-haired students taking drugs, or indeed on angry black people. The counter-cultural currents influenced pop and rock music, but it did not immediately create an indigenous, autonomous British movement. It was dependent on passing American fads and voices, like that of Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg. Like both Dylan and John Lennon in the early seventies, The Who questioned revolutionary values and violent methods in their second great ‘anthem’, Won’t Get Fooled Again, written by Pete Townsend in 1970 and recorded and released the next year. It ends with the line, Meet the new boss; he’s the same as the old boss! Townsend wrote,

It’s really a bit of a weird song. The first verse sounds like a revolution song and the second like somebody getting tired of it. It’s an anti-establishment song. It’s ‘anti’ people who are negative. A song against the revolution because … a revolution is not going to change anything at all in the long run, and a lot of people are going to get hurt.

Symbolically, perhaps, the group has usually played the full eight-and-a-half minute version of the song at the end of its concert. More than any other song, it sums up the relationship between pop music and sixties’ counter-culture.

Sources:

Joanna Bourke, Shompa Lahiri, et. al. (eds.) (2001), The Penguin Atlas of British & Irish History. London: Penguin Books.

Andrew Marr (2007), A History of Modern Britain. London: Macmillan.

Kevin Howlett (2014), The Beatles: The BBC Archives, 1962-1970.

 

Posted July 18, 2018 by TeamBritanniaHu in Affluence, BBC, Britain, British history, Britons, Cartoons, Commemoration, Domesticity, Fertility, History, homosexuality, Journalism, Marriage, Maternity, Midlands, Migration, morality, Music, Mysticism, Mythology, Narrative, Proletariat, Respectability, Satire, Second World War, Suffolk, Uncategorized, USA, West Midlands, Women's History

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Puskás, Goulash and 1956: Hungary and Britain   3 comments

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Fifties’ Football: Legendary Links

In the ‘season’ following the Queen’s Coronation, 1953/54, the best football team in Britain were Wolverhampton Wanderers, from the ‘Black Country’ in the English Midlands. They were champions of the English First Division, the original name of what is now known as ‘the Premiership’ and they had beaten Glasgow Celtic in a ‘floodlit friendly’ at their home stadium, ‘Molineux’. Although this was the first time they had won the Football League Championship since they had been founder members in 1888/9, in previous ten seasons, excluding the war break, they had finished second three times, third twice, had two other placings in the top six, and had also won the FA (Football Association) Cup. They had a deserved reputation as a fast-attacking and well-disciplined team of tremendous athletes.

In the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, the Wolves captain Billy Wright also captained England, and two other players scored against the host team in their 2-0 victory, before the team lost to Uruguay in the quarter-finals, the team which the Hungarians beat in the semi-final to go through to the ill-fated 3-2 defeat in the final against West Germany. With their emphatic 6-3 win against England in 1953 at Wembley, the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Champions  had become the first team from outside the British Isles to defeat England on home soil, and they had followed this up with a 7-1 humiliation in Budapest before the World Cup. Both these defeats were still fresh in the minds of English fans when, in December 1954, the ‘Mighty Magyar’ club team of the Hungarian Army, ‘Honved’, arrived in Wolverhampton. Their team contained many stars from the national, ‘Golden team’, including the legendary Lieutenant-Colonel Ferenc Puskás and his well-drilled fellow-soldiers, Bozsik, Kocsis, Grosics, Lorant, Czibor and Budai. Kocsis had been the leading scorer in the World Cup, so, following their own sensational win over Moscow Spartak a month earlier, the ‘Wolves’ were eager to welcome the tormentors of England to Molineux.

The game was played under the new floodlights on a Monday night, 13th December, with 55,000 cheering fans watching at the ground and many more on the new phenomenon of TV. The BBC broadcast the game live, which pleased the National Servicemen who were allowed to watch it in their canteens, like my cousin John Hartshorne (see picture) who, coming from Wolverhampton, and supporting the Wolves, was given pride of place in front of ‘the box’ and treated as a hero after the game. Millions more tuned in to the radio, as not many people had acquired TV sets at this time. Just as they had twice led out their national teams in 1953/4, Billy Wright and Ferenc Puskás were again side-by-side. The visitors immediately began to play with fantastic ball-control and speed of passing. By half-time they were 2-0 up and in full control, their precision passing and speed of attack drawing gasps of appreciation from the crowd. The first goal came from a pin-point Puskás free kick which found the head of Kocsis and the ball flew past Bert Williams in the Wolves goal like a bullet. This was followed up by a second from the speedy winger, Machos, who was put through the Wolves defence by Kocsis. That was in the first quarter hour! Williams pulled off a string of saves to keep the score down to two at the interval. As the teams left the field, the crowd rose to salute the Hungarian artistry, but were worried that the home team might be humiliated in the second half, just as England had been at Wembley year earlier.

In the second half, however, Wolves called upon all their reserves of fighting spirit and energy. They scored a penalty soon after the restart, and with fifteen minutes left, and the skilful Hungarians tiring on a very muddy pitch, Swinbourne scored twice to win the game 3-2. The crowd went wild with joy on a night on which it became good to be an English football fan once more. Thez were singing all the way home on the bus, and there were great celebrations in the canteens where the National Servicemen were watching. ‘Wolves are champions of the world’ was one of the headlines in the national newspapers the next morning. However, if this was seen a ‘revenge’ for the ‘dents’ in national pride which the defeats of the previous season had inflicted, this was a friendly, since the European Champions’ Cup had not yet come into being.

The ‘Revolution’ of 1956:

This is how it is defined in the ‘Dictionary’ of ‘Hungary and the Hungarians’, ‘forradalom’ in Hungarian:

“…the bitter, desperate uprising against the Soviet Empire was one of the few events in the history of Hungary that was also of importance to the history of the world as a whole; the euphoric experience of the precious few days of freedom that followed the rapid, overnight collapse of an oppressive regime could never be forgotten, despite the forty-year-long, strict taboo against any mention of it; its defeat left an equally deep mark on the nation’s consciousness, as did the painful realization that Hungary’s fate was decided by the bloody fighting on the streets of Budapest; none the less, the events that led to the change in regime became irreversable (with every Hungarian citizen realizing this full well) when it was openly declared that what happened in Hungary in 1956 was a revolution, and not a ‘counter-revolution’.”

This is how a British History school textbook described the events of 1956 in 1985:

“In 1956 Premier Khrushchev‘s speech attacking Stalin’s leadership sent shock waves through Russian satellites in Eastern Europe. Stalin had treated East Germany, Poland and Hungary almost as ‘slave colonies’  of Russia. Hungary was forced to pay war reparations in food and goods to Russia. The standard of living in Eastern Europe got steadily worse; shortages of food were common. Workers in farms and factories were told to work harder for less. Each satellite state had a feared secret police, prison and labour camps. In Hungary alone 25,000 people had been executed without trial since 1945.”

ImageAs one of my guides told me on my second visit to Hungary in July 1989, “You know Orwell’s ‘1984?’ That was Hungary in 1948.” In 1955, the satellites had been forced to sign the Warsaw Pact, a military and foreign policy alliance which bound them to the Soviet Union still further. However, Khrushchev’s speech offered them a new hope of a higher standard of living, less economic direction from Moscow and greater political freedom. Each country would be free to develop its own Socialist society, as long as it remained within the Soviet ‘bloc’. Unrest began in Poland in the summer of 1956. In July, there was a revolt against harsh living and working conditions. Khrushchev flew to Poland and told the people, “We have shed our blood to liberate this country and now you want to hand it over to the Americans.” Nonetheless, the Poles were granted some reforms. When the news of this spread to Hungary, students and workers began to put forward their reforms on 23rd October. This has been recently well-depicted in Andrew J Vajna’s film, Szabadság, Szerelmem (Liberty & Love), in which a student delegation from Szeged arrives in Budapest to put forward a series of demands to the student body in the capital.

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George Mikes, a journalist who had left Hungary after the war and was working for the BBC in London, reported:

Tempers were running high. A few thousand people went to the city park and surrounded the giant statue of Stalin. They got a rope round the neck and began to pull it….then it toppled slowly forward – laughter and applause greeted the symbolic fall of the former tyrant.

However, perhaps also symbolic of what was to come, Stalin’s boots remained in place, firmly cemented, while the rest of the statue was dragged through the streets by a dustcart. The protest gathered strength outside the Parliament building and protesters clashed with the hated AVO security police at the radio station. Soviet tanks rolled into the city from their bases nearby and a battle developed:

Every street was smashed – paving stones were torn up, the streets were littered with burnt-out cars. I counted the carcasses of forty Soviet tanks. Two monster T34 tanks lumbered past, dragging bodies behind them…a warning of what happened to freedom fighters.

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Street fighting raged on for five days in Budapest, with the rebels being backed by the Hungarian Army and ordinary Police. Sándór Kopácsi, their Chief, wrote an account of these days in 1979, translated into English in 1986. Only the security police remained loyal to the Soviet Union. Hundreds of them were lynched by the rebels, their bodies being hung from lamp-posts. The Russians, many of whom had been in Hungary for years since its ‘liberation’ by the Red Army in 1945, lacked the will and the manpower to crush the revolt. After talks with the new Prime Minister, Imre Nagy, their tanks withdrew from the capital. Seemingly, the Revolution had succeeded. The American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, congratulated the Hungarians on their challenge to the Red Army and assured them ‘you can count on us.’

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The Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Uprising

However, the western powers were distracted by events in the Middle East, where a new friend of the Soviet Union, President Gamal Nasser of Egypt, was ‘making a nuisance of himself’. On 14th October, Britain and France moved against Nasser’s Egypt, which had nationalised the Suez Canal, taking it over from the ownership of a British/French company. Although NATO allies with the USA, they did not inform the Americans of their secret plans to retake control of the Canal zone by force, under cover of an Israeli attack on Egypt across the Sinai desert. Meanwhile, in Budapest, Imre Nagy announced the abolition of the one-party system, promising free elections and the formation of a new coalition government. Revolutionary Councils were recognised and the suppressed political parties, including the Social Democrats and the Smallholders, were hastily reconstituted. The Kremlin apologised for its use of troops against what it now agreed was a legitimate Uprising, following the withdrawal of the troops to the border. This was the moment, 1st November, that the Israelis, in league with Britain and France, launched their invasion of Egypt. When Britain bombed Egypt on 31st October, world attention moved away from events in Hungary and Europe and towards the Middle East. Eisenhower was shocked and angry over the invasion, coming as it did just a week before a Presidential Election for him. He now faced two major international crises simultaneously.

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The Suez affair distracted attention from events in Hungary just as they entered their most critical phase. It split the western camp and offered the Kremlin a perfect cover to move back into Hungary.  However, Khrushchev was also anxious not to be seen as an imperialist aggressor like those who had invaded Egypt, so his decision was delayed. Nevertheless, when Nagy criticised Soviet troop movements near the border, declaring Hungary’s neutrality and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, Khrushchev was effectively presented with an ultimatum to get out and stay out. Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Moscow also helped to stiffen his resolve, as Deng claimed that the Uprising was not simply anti-Stalinist, but an anti-Communist Counter-Revolution. On the 3rd, following another sitting of the Politburo, fifteen Soviet Army divisions, many from non-Russian parts of the Union, and more than four thousand tanks encircled Budapest. The day after, at dawn, they rolled into the capital and shooting began immediately. The following day, November 5th, Britain dropped paratroops into the Suez zone to drive the Egyptians away from the Canal. Nasser reacted by closing the Canal, thus cutting the West’s economic lifeline by sea. Meanwhile, many Hungarians, buoyed up by the propaganda and promises of the American-backed Radio Free Europe, broadcasting continually from West Germany after the Hungarian state radio station was forced of air, believed that the Americans were on their way. The BBC’s Hungarian correspondent, George Mikes, reported that they had heard that the US troops were only two hours away. But they never arrived, the White House settling for a strong protest to the Kremlin instead. Britain, with its troops committed in the Middle East, also sent strong words to Moscow, but could do nothing to come to the aid of a burning Budapest. Despite Soviet claims that the US was behind the Uprising, the speed of events had clearly caught all the western powers by surprise. The US National Security Council concluded that there could be no intervention, military or political, in the affairs of the Soviet satellites, no incursions beyond the iron curtain. Secretary of State Dulles’ plan of ‘rolling back’ Communism in Eastern Europe was put on hold, and Hungary was left to its own limited devices. Khrushchev seized his opportunity and threatened to deploy rockets against the British and French invasion of Egypt, building on the show of strength of his land forces in Hungary. However, even without Suez, it is unlikely that Eisenhower would have risked a world war over Hungary, any more than he would over Poland. In practice, ‘rollback’ was not a viable option, in Europe at least, so the US fell back on the Truman Doctrine of Containment. The Hungarian people had been abandoned in their hour of need and by November 14th the fighting was over, four thousand Hungarians lay dead, with a further quarter of a million fleeing across the border to Austria, many eventually seeking refuge in Britain and the US. Tom Leimdorfer was a fourteen year-old when he arrived in Britain, later becoming a Headteacher. Thirty-five thousand revolutionaries were arrested, three hundred being executed, including Nagy and other ministers in his government. The tragic story of Nagy’s arrest at the Yugoslav Embassy where he and some of his inner circle were seeking asylum, his imprisonment and trial has been faithfully re-told and re-enacted in Márta Mészáros’ film, A Temetetlen Halott.

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What of British reactions to the crushing of Hungary? The following letter, signed by Tony Benn and other leading members of the British Labour Party, was written in January 1957, to the Editor of Pravda:

‘We,…who in the past have always worked for a better understanding between our two countries, are deeply distressed at the use of Soviet armed forces in Hungary…

‘First of all, your newspaper has portrayed the Hungarian Uprising as ‘counter-revolutionary’. May we ask exactly what is meant by this expression? Does it include all systems of government which permit political parties whose programmes are opposed to that of the Communist Party? If, for example, the Hungarian people were to choose a parliamentary system similar to those in Sweden and Finland, would you regard that as counter-revolutionary?

‘Secondly, you said on November 4th that the Government of Imre Nagy ‘had in fact disintegrated’. Did you mean by this that it had resigned or that it was overthrown? If it was overthrown with Soviet arms, does this not amount to Soviet interference in Hungary’s internal affairs?

‘Thirdly, do you consider that the present Government of János Kádár enjoys the support of the majority of the Hungarian people? Would it make any difference to your attitude if it did not? We ask this question because on November 15th, according to Budapest Radio, János Kádár said that his Government hoped to regain the confidence of the people but that ‘we have to take into account the possibility that we may be thoroughly beaten at the election.

‘Fourthly, we recall that the Soviet Union has repeatedly advocated the right of all countries to remain outside military blocks. Does this right to choose neutrality extend, in your view, to the members of the Warsaw Pact?

‘Finally, we recall have said that the Hungarian Uprising was planned long in advance by the West and you have in particular blamed Radio Free Europe. Are you seriously suggesting that masses of Hungarian workers and peasants were led by these means into organising mass strikes aimed at restoring the power of feudal landlords and capitalists?

‘Fenner Brockway, Barbara Castle, Dick Crossman, Anthony Wedgewood Benn, George Wigg’

Task: Give the answers you think the Editor of Pravda would have made publicly to these questions. Give this plenty of thought.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers FC v MTK Budapest, 11th December 1956:

Another recent drama-documentary, a collaboration between Lucy Liu, Quentin Tarantino and Andrew G Vajna, A Szabadság Vihara, (‘Freedom’s Fury’) retells the story of the victory of the Hungarian water polo team over the Russian team they had helped to train, at the Melbourne Olympics in December 1956. Following the brutal final, the team disbanded, with many of them going into permanent exile. For the ‘Golden’ football team of the mid-fifties, the events of October/November 1956 brought a premature end to their glory days. They were touring at the time of the conflict, and many of the players decided against returning to their homeland, preferring instead to use their skills in western Europe. Almost exactly two years to the day after the match with Honved, on 11th December 1956, Wolves entertained ‘Red Banner’ or MTK Budapest at Molineux for another floodlit friendly at Molineux. Although not as great a match in footballing terms, the game was, if anything, even more significant. It was held as a benefit match and raised what was then a huge sum of £2,312.3s.0d., which was donated to the Hungarian Relief Fund. At the pre-match banquet, the Hungarians, who had expressed their wish to be known by their original name of MTK, rather than ‘Red Banner’, had promised to play the very best football they could in honour of their gracious hosts. Responding, the Wolves Chairman told his guests that the motto of both the town of Wolverhampton and its football club was ‘out of darkness comes light’ and that he hoped that very soon that would be the way in their native land. They had to wait forty years for the light to shine through the gloom at home. Nevertheless, the match was a worthy contest, as the report below demonstrates.

TASK: MEANINGSImage

Find these words and phrases in the text below. Rather than trying to translate them, try to explain their meanings in English:

humiliating victories –
floodlit defeat –
lair –
to demonstrate a brand –
to give the impression of holding something back –
to unleash the kind of power –
to witness –
previous occasions –
’The Molineux Murmur’ –
customary ’roar ’ –
fairy-tale ending –
cool under pressure –
to make a debut –
to save their blushes –
proud unbeaten record –
to palm away –
to drift outside –
smartly hit shot –
ruck of players –
cool, calculating football –
all too frequently guilty –
talented –
to acquit yourself well –
a string of acrobatic saves –
the solemnity of the occasion –
the fare served up –
the course of events –
stricken country –

MTK’s team was packed with Hungarian internationals, three of whom had played in the humiliating victories over England a few years earlier. They became only the second team to escape floodlit defeat at Wolves’ Molineuy lair, demonstrating a brand of top-class individual fooball artistry. In the game itself, Wolves gave the impression of holding something back. Certainly they didn’t unleash the kind of power we had witnessed on previous occasions…. The rather subdued Molineux crowd, sensing this, produced what can only be described as ’the Molineux murmur’ instead of the customary ’roar’. The biggest cheer came when Johnny Hancocks replaced Jimmy Murray eight minutes from time. Everyone was looking for the little magician to provide a fairy-tale ending, but the winger only touched the ball three times…. Wolves couldn’t break down the visitors’ defensive system, which was one of the coolest under pressure ever seen at Molineux. The Hungarians took the lead in the sixth minute, Palotás whipping the ball past the diving Bert Williams following some excellent work by world-famous centre-forward Hidegkúti. Portsmouth schoolboy Pat Neil, making his debut for Wolves, saved their blushes and their proud unbeaten record under the Molineux floodlights. He scored the equaliser after Veres palmed away a corner. Neil was unmarked, having drifted outside the goal-area: his smartly hit shot passed through the ruck of players to beat Veres to his left.… The cool, calculating football of MTK saw them too frequently guilty of trying one pass too many… At half-time, the talented Hidegkúti was replaced by Karasz. The game wasn’t exactly dull; there were chances at both ends. Both goalkeepers acquitted themselves well, making a string of acrobatic saves, but the solemnity of the occasion, set against the backdrop of the Russian crushing of the Hungarian Uprising, was really responsible for the fayre served up that night. The day after the match, the Hungarians were on their way to Vienna, where their future movements would be dictated by the course of political events in their stricken country.

QUESTIONS AND TALKING POINTS: READING ’BETWEEN THE LINES’

1. Why might Wolves have been ’holding something back’ compared with the way they had played ‘on previous occasions’?

2. What two other reasons are given for MTK leading at half-time?

3. How and why were MTK seen as being ’too clever’ by the Wolves fans?

4. What three other reasons are given to explain why, in the second-half, the game was less exciting, though ’not exactly dull’.

5. Why was the Hungarian team unsure about ’their future movements’ after the match?

British Journalists’ perspectives on the Uprising and ‘Goulash Communism’:

In October 1981, Gordon Brook-Shepherd wrote an article for the Sunday Telegraph in commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Hungarian Revolt:

“It has been one thing to hear everyone in Budapest – diplomats, Government officials, party men, and even anti-Communist intellectuals – affirming that János Kádár was the mainstay of Hungary’s hard won stability and unity. It was quite anoher thing to hear survivors from a feudal world…declare that, though Communists were all atheists, Kádár himself was ‘a good man’. Moreover things, on the whole, were ‘better than they used to be’. Seldom in Eastern Europe have I heard such a telling tribute paid across such a wide gulf. For this verdict came, among others, from a family who had made their dutiful daughter break of her engagement purely because the fiancé was the son of a local party boss…

“The first (cause of acceptance of Kádár) was the irrelevance of so much of our fine talk about the struggle for freedom, when applied to a country like Hungary, which suffered so cruelly a generation ago from western rhetoric unsupported by Western aid. Freedom fotr them today id defined as a weekend house, a better apartment in the city, a shorter wait for a better car, more frequent foreign travel and for the intellectuals (as one of them put it to me), ‘the privilege to go on censuring ourselves’. If you do not get what you like, you eventually like what you get.”

Hella Pick wrote in ‘the Guardian’ at the time of Kádár’s seventieth birthday in 1982 that, while at first he was both feared and reviled in the late fifties for his role in helping to suppress the revolt, ‘much of what Mr Kádár did’ was put into ‘the back drawer of memory’. It may not have been forgotten or forgiven, but in the early eighties, most Hungarians accepted that he had genuinely helped them ‘to rise from the ashes of the Uprising’ to gain both self-respect and respect in the eyes of the world. Pick concluded that, even in a free election, Kádár would feel confident of victory.

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The invention of ‘Goulash Communism’ was an example of Hungarian innovation. The term refers to the variety of socialism as practised from the early 1960s until Kádár’s now infamous ‘last speech’, his death and the dissolution of Communism in 1989. With some elements of a free market, private enterprise and an improved human rights record, it represented quiet reform and deviation from the strict Leninist principles adhered to by other Communist bloc countries. Since a ‘goulash’ is made with an assortment of ingredients, the term shows how Hungarian Communism was a mixed ideology not based on pure dogma, but on more mixed first principles, or ideology. Goulash communism focused much more on the material well-being of the citizens than had been the case before 1956. It provided a wider latitude for discussion and dissent within the limits of a state socialist system. Hungary by the late eighties had become the favourite destination not only for East German holiday-makers, but also for Westerners who could see a Communist country with their own eyes without having to bear the harsh realities of hard-line Soviet Communism. Goulash Communism meant that Hungarians did not have to queue for the meat and groceries needed to cook an edible goulash.
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The Eighties: Educational Exchanges

The link between Coventry and Kecskemét went back decades, one of twenty-six twinnings resulting from the Blitz of November 1940. It had, however, been dormant since the Hungarian troops had been sent to help suppress the Prague Spring of 1968. Together with Tom Leimdorfer, the Quakers’ Peace Education Advisor at Friends’ House in London, himself a Hungarian exile from 1956, I met teachers from ‘behind the iron curtain’ at the second International Teachers for Peace Congress in Bonn in May of 1988. Although we knew that ‘one swallow does not a summer make’, we were particularly impressed by the frankness of Hungarian delegates who reported how, after establishing exchanges with other countries, children were enabled to speak out about their experiences of violence in their societies. In the Autumn of 1988, a group of us, Quaker teachers, were invited to visit Hungary, as the guests of the state-sponsored, but increasingly independent, Hungarian Peace Council.

On the first full day of our visit, the anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, our guide and hostess became very excited about two announcements on Kossúth (state-controlled) Radio. The first was that the Uprising would no longer be described, officially, as a ’Counter-Revolution’ and the second was that the Soviet troops would be invited to leave the country. This came as a dramatic confirmation of the sense we were already getting of a far freer atmosphere than we knew existed in other Warsaw Pact countries, including the one we were looking across the Danube at, the then Czechoslovakia. We visited Kecskemét a few days later and a link was formed with KATE, the English Language teachers association in the town, who needed an invitation to attend the International ELT Conference at the University of Warwick the next year.

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So, with the the support of Coventry City Council and the Teachers’ Centre in Coventry, an exchange was established through the One World Education Group, with myself as facilitator. The twelve KATE teachers were hosted by Coventry and Warwickshire Friends and teachers in the Spring of 1989, and a twelve-strong OWEG group were invited to Kecskemét the following summer. At the time, the Exchange Project was reported in the local press in Hungary as having the purpose ’to educate for peace, to develop mutual understanding within the scope of a subject which is not compulsory in school in order that the children should have an all-embracing picture of the world’. In explaining the purpose of the exchange, we tried to emphasise that ’Britain is not too great to learn from Hungary’, the Petö Institutes in Birmingham being just one example, and that Hungary was considered to be a bridge between East and West. Hungary no longer meant just ’goulash, Puskás, and 1956’. We were beginning to learn about Hungarian expertise and aspirations in Science, Mathematics, Music and Art, as well as in society in general (there were even later exchanges of police forces!) In July 1989, just after the barbed wire was first cut in May (Tom Leimdorfer was there, twenty miles south from where he escaped by crawling under it in December 1956), the Lord Mayor of Kecskemét reminded us that whilst it was important that the Iron Curtain should be removed physically, ’it also needs to be removed in people’s hearts and minds…as more and more educational links are forged between ordinary people in the East and the West, so it will become impossible for politicians to keep the existing barriers up, or to build new ones…’ Coventry had long been interested in reconciliation between Western and Eastern Europe – we could now help bring this about by our practical support for the teachers and people of Kecskemét. This public statement, from a then member of the ruling communist party in what was still a ’People’s Republic’, gives a clear indication of the importance of these exchanges and contacts between ’ordinary people’ in the tearing down of the curtain and the fall of the wall, now nearly a generation ago.

Sources:

Peter Fisher, The Great Power Conflict after 1945, Blackwell History Project, 1985

Margaret Rooke, The Hungarian Revolt of 1956, Longman Case Studies in History, 1986

John Shipley, Wolves Against the World: European Nights, 1953-80. Stroud: 2003

Jeremy Isaacs & Taylor Downing, The Cold War. Bantam Books: 1998

György Bolgár, Made in Hungary, Budapest, 2009

István Bart, Hungary and the Hungarians: The Keywords, Budapest: 1999.

Video Posts (Extracts) & Links:

Freedom! (History Channel): http://youtu.be/TrbID90o0_I

Fifties Football (Sky Sports/FIFA): http://youtu.be/DvlFSN4ONhw

BBC2 Newsnight Report, 2006: http://youtu.be/0Zei1xmguxc

BBC Schools Drama-Documentary on Hungary 1956 (GCSE Modern World History): http://youtu.be/Z7XRqnn4j6Y

The Last Speech of János Kádár (Útolsó Beszéde – in Hungarian with subtitles): http://youtu.be/j7jyrS3I4xM

The Fifties: Friendly Floodlit Football   1 comment

In the ‘season’ following the Queen’s Coronation, 1953/54, undoubtedly the best football team in Britain were Wolverhampton Wanderers, from the ‘Black Country’ in the English Midlands. They were champions of the English First Division, the original name of what is  now known as ‘the Premiership’ and they had beaten Glasgow Celtic in a ‘floodlit friendly’ at their home stadium, ‘Molineux’. Although this was the first time they had won the Football League Championship since they had been founder members in 1888/9, in previous ten seasons, excluding the war break, they had finished second three times, third twice, had two other placings in the top six, and had also won the FA (Football Association) Cup. They had a deserved reputation as a fast-attacking and well-disciplined team of tremendous athletes. In the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, the Wolves captain Billy Wright also captained England, and two other players scored against the host team in their 2-0 victory, before the team lost to Uruguay in the quarter-finals, the team which the Hungarians beat in the semi-final to go through to the ill-fated 3-2 defeat in the final against West Germany. With their emphatic 6-3 win against England in 1953 at Wembley, Hungary had become the first team from outside the British Isles to defeat England on home soil, and they had followed this up with a 7-1 humiliation in Budapest before the World Cup.

Both these defeats were still fresh in the minds of English fans when, in December 1954, the ‘Mighty Magyar’ club team of the Hungarian Army, ‘Honved’, arrived in Wolverhampton. Their team contained many stars from the national, ‘Golden team’, including the legendary Lieutenant-Colonel Ferenc Puskás and his well-drilled fellow-soldiers, Bozsik, Kocsis, Grosics, Lorant, Czibor and Budai. Kocsis had been the leading scorer in the World Cup, so, following their own sensational win over Moscow Spartak a month earlier, the ‘Wolves’ were eager to welcome the tormentors of England to Molineux. The game was played under the new floodlights on a Monday night, 13th December, with 55,000 cheering fans watching at the ground and many more on the new phenomenon of TV. The BBC broadcast the game live, which pleased the National Servicemen who were allowed to watch it in their canteens, as well as on the radio, to which millions more tuned in, as not many people had acquired TV sets at this time. Just as they had twice led out their national teams in 1953/4, Billy Wright and Ferenc Puskás were again side-by-side. The visitors immediately began to play with fantastic ball-control and speed of passing. By half-time they were 2-0 up and in full control, their precision passing and speed of attack drawing gasps of appreciation from the crowd. The first goal came from a pin-point Puskás free kick which found the head of Kocsis and the ball flew past Bert Williams in the Wolves goal like a bullet. This was followed up by a second from the speedy winger, Machos, who was put through the Wolves defence by Kocsis. That was in the first quarter-hour! Williams pulled off a string of saves to keep the score down to two at the interval. As the teams left the field, the crowd rose to salute the Hungarian artistry, but were worried that the home team might be humiliated in the second half, just as England had been at Wembley year earlier.

In the second half, however, Wolves called upon all their reserves of fighting spirit and energy. They scored a penalty soon after the restart, and with fifteen minutes left, and the skilful Hungarians tiring on a very muddy pitch, Swinbourne scored twice to win the game 3-2. The crowd went wild with joy on a night on which it became good to be an English football fan once more. They were singing all the way home on the bus, and there were great celebrations in the canteens where the National Servicemen were watching. ‘Wolves are champions of the world’ was one of the headlines in the national newspapers the next morning. However, if this was seen a ‘revenge’ for the ‘dents’ in national pride which the defeats of the previous season had inflicted, this was a friendly, since the European Champions’ Cup had not yet come into being. For the great Magyar teams of that season, the events of October/November 1956 brought a premature end to their glory days. They were touring at the time of the conflict, and many of the players decided against returning to their homeland, preferring instead to use their skills in western Europe.

Almost exactly two years to the day after the match with Honved, on 11th December 1956, Wolves entertained ‘Red Banner’ or MTK Budapest at Molineux for another floodlit friendly at Molineux. Although not as great a match in footballing terms, the game was, if anything, even more significant. It was held as a benefit match and raised what was then a huge sum of £2,312.3s.0d., which was donated to the Hungarian Relief Fund. At the pre-match banquet, the Hungarians, who had expressed their wish to be known by their original name of MTK, rather than ‘Red Banner’, had promised to play the very best football they could in honour of their gracious hosts. Responding, the Wolves Chairman told his guests that the motto of both the town of Wolverhampton and its football club was ‘out of darkness comes light’ and that he hoped that very soon that would be the way in their native land.

The MTK team was packed with Hungarian internationals, three of whom had played in the humiliating victories over England two seasons  earlier.  They became only the second team to escape floodlit defeat at Wolves’ Molineux lair. The home team were not exactly howling at the Hungarians’ gates, however, and ‘the Molineux Murmur’ soon began as the crowd senses that they were holding something back. To be fair, they could not break down the visitors’ defensive system, one of the coolest under pressure ever seen at Molineux. The Magyars took the lead when Palotás whipped the ball past the diving Bert Williams after some world-class work by centre-forward Hidegkúti. Wolves drew level from a Hooper corner, which was palmed away by Veres, only as far as Neil who had drifted outside the goal area and was unmarked. His smartly-hit shot passed through the ruck of players and beat Veres on the line. The cool, calculating football of MTK sometimes became over-complicated. They were all too frequently guilty of playing one pass too many.  At half-time, the talented Hidegkúti was replaced by Karasz. After that, the game was far from dull, with both goalkeepers acquitting themselves well by making strings of acrobatic saves.

The solemnity of the occasion, set against the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian Uprising, meant that the fare served up on the night was not as tasty as that in the Honved game two years earlier. The day after the match, the Hungarians made their way back to Vienna, unsure of their future movements, given the course of events in their stricken country.

Main Source

John Shipley, Wolves Against the World: European Nights, 1954-1984.

ACTIVITIES: WWFC v MTK, 11th December 1956

MEANINGS: Find these words and phrases in the text. Rather than trying to translate them,  try to explain their meanings in English.

humiliating victories –

floodlit defeat –

lair –

to give the impression of holding something back –

’The Molineux Murmur’ –

customary ’roar ’ –

fairy-tale ending –

cool under pressure –

to palm away –

to drift outside –

smartly hit shot –

ruck of players –

cool, calculating football –

all too frequently guilty –

talented –

to acquit yourself well –

a string of acrobatic saves –

the solemnity of the occasion –

the fare served up –

the course of events –

stricken country –

 

QUESTIONS AND TALKING POINTS: READING ’BETWEEN THE LINES’

 

  1. Why might Wolves have been ’holding something back’ compared with the way they had played against Roumania CCA, (they had beaten them 5-0 in October)?

  2. What two other reasons are given for MTK leading at half-time?

  3.  How and why were MTK seen as being ’too clever’ by the Wolves fans?

  4. What three other reasons are given to explain why, in the second-half, the game was less exciting, though ’not exactly dull’.

  5. Why was the Hungarian team unsure about ’their future movements’ after the match?

 

 

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