Oliver Cross: Sixties were overwrought and also a little over-rated

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THE 1960s seem recent to me – I was born in 1950, so the Sixties was the decade I mostly grew up in, and at the time I thought them as cutting-edge as, well, sliced bread.

Mother’s Pride was born in the sixties, as were the Rolling Stones, Dr Who and, according to Philip Larkin, sexual intercourse, which arrived “In nineteen sixty-three...Between the end of the Chatterley ban/ And the Beatles’ first LP.”

Larkin regrets that this happened “rather late” for him. For me it happened a little too soon, particularly as I lived in Lincolnshire, which moved slower than London and the big cities.

I wished that I had been born five years or (being a slow developer) six or seven years earlier than I was, so that I would have been more equipped to join in the sexual revolution – “ a brilliant breaking of the bank”, according to Larkin.

Obviously, if my wish had been granted, I might now be in a care home, but at least I would have some exciting times to look back on.

The sixties, though, when you look at photographs of the time, were more like the 1940s or 50s than the wiz-bang modern world.

The women, dressed as if for the mill, wore headscarves; the men, if not in overalls, went to the seaside in their best suits, leisure clothing only being available to the cravat-and-blazer classes. Prams were huge, cars were scarce, most things were in black-and-white and curry was a foreign country.

Which was why the Beatles-led eruption of unconventional haircuts, mini-skirts, Mini cars and general wildness would have been a wonderful thing for me if I had not been living, for most of the 1960s, within the constraints of pocket money, school uniforms and sexual ignorance.

But behind all that Mary Quant brightness, things were changing painfully slowly.

My friend Pam remembers attending a Leeds secondary modern school in the first half of the 1960s.

Boys, because in those days most jobs involved making, rather than selling, things, were taught woodwork; girls, at the same time as the woodwork classes – which would obviously be of no use any grown woman with a husband to do the woodwork for her – were instead taught how to be wives.

The assumption was that girls might spend a few years working in factories or shops, but that their ultimate destiny was to look after their husbands and children.

So the school that Pam attended, probably quite realistically and even progressively for its time, had a specially-constructed flat meant to mimic the conditions a young wife might face in her first home.

Here, the girls learned to do important wifely tasks, such as correctly folding sheets and making sure to dust the top of the doorframes in case a 7ft tall hygiene inspector came to call; it all now seems ludicrous but the school, as was its duty, was preparing its pupils for the real world, rather than the much more interesting world-to-come.

About the only regular career an ordinary girl could follow was nursing and when my partner Lynne, later to reach the heights of the profession, joined up as a Royal Navy nurse in the 1960s, she had to give an assurance that she had no intention of marrying or having babies and was prepared to work for hardly anything, which was possibly related to nursing’s origins in religious orders (that’s why they’re called ‘sisters’) but now seems a very long time ago.

The Sixties weren’t a revolution; it needed a few more shoves before Britain became, for better or worse, what it is now. They were, though, a starting point.

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