Ysenda Maxtone Graham

In the dark early 1960s, at least we had the Beatles

The first half of the decade saw towns bulldozed, the Beeching cuts, everyday racism, political scandal and the threat of Armageddon. But there was also Beatlemania…

Harold Wilson with the Beatles at the Variety Club Awards ceremony, March 1964 [Getty Images]

‘These things start on my birthday – like the Warsaw Uprising – and spoil my day,’ wrote the understandably self-pitying Barking housewife Pat Scott in her diary on the first day of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. ‘And then to spoil it more, Ted [her husband] took his driving test for the second time and failed.’ It is clashes like these, of the personal and humdrum against the political and global, that make David Kynaston’s close surveys of Britain in the second half of the 20th century such fascinating and lively documents. Yes, the world might be about to end, but that was no excuse to spoil Pat’s 37th birthday.

In the eighth book in his social history series Tales of a New Jerusalem about Britain from 1945 onwards, Kynaston takes 600 pages to cover just two years and four months, from 6 October 1962 (just before Cuba) to Churchill’s funeral on 30 January 1965, after which, commented the Observer, Britain’s era of importance and grandeur was over, and it woke up in ‘the coldness of reality’, with ‘the status of Scandinavia’.

So, with this brick on your lap, sit back and brace yourself for discovering what happened on pretty well every one of those 847 days. You never know what’s coming next, in Kynaston’s marvellous, long, semicolon-divided paragraphs describing a typical single weekday on which, for instance, Margot Fonteyn danced at Covent Garden with Nureyev for the first time, Dennis Lee in Yorkshire paid his first visit to a Chinese restaurant, the first supermarket in Carlisle, Fine Fare, opened, and Mr R. Stockting, the owner of Gillott Lodge Hotel in Edgbaston, stated: ‘I do not take coloured guests because it is a small, compact hotel, and in a family atmosphere such as we have, it would be embarrassing to us and to them.’

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