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1966: When Britain was the envy of the world


The 1960s was arguably the most upbeat and exciting decade of the twentieth century and beyond. Even those who argue against this have to concede that for most of us it was the decade in which our whole way of life changed for the better, like never before in modern history.

The British government’s post-war slum clearance program and the rebuilding of our war torn cities was helping to improve living standards while at the same time removing many painful reminders of the destruction and heartache suffered during the Second World War. We were a good two years into the 1960s before we really began to feel that we had moved on from post-war austerity. By the end of 1962, most of us at last felt able to celebrate the prospects of more prosperous times ahead.

Britain was in a post-war boom period and unemployment was very low. British goods and services were in great demand and we had a thriving manufacturing industry. The majority of ordinary working people had much more disposable income than their predecessors and were financially better off and more able to enjoy life. We were now living in peaceful times and although our country was saddled with wartime debt there was a greater sense of optimism and adventure, especially among the younger generation who were keen to embrace any new ideas that might help improve the mood of the country and even change the established British way of life.

The famous sixties’ Cultural Revolution began to take hold in 1963. It started in Britain and changes happened very quickly. We were by now rapidly distancing ourselves from what we considered to be the dull and staid fifties culture. We had grown tired of the 1950s rock n’ roll and crooner styles of music and the early-60s chart-toppers like yodelling Frank Ifield and twisting Chubby Checker. We were now heralding the age of the new style ‘pop-groups’. The ‘merseybeat’ sound had arrived with bands like The Beatles, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas, and The Searchers, and a host of other ‘soon to be famous’ pop-groups were at the same time gaining wider public attention; these included London favourites The Rolling Stones and The Dave Clark Five. It was these early-1960s pop-groups that paved the way for an abundance of other British groups and solo artists to make their own breakthroughs in the music industry.

The ‘mod’ fashion scene had already taken hold in London and by 1964 was fast spreading around the country. The ‘swinging sixties’ had well and truly arrived and the whole world was talking about this British Cultural Revolution. The fashionable clothes shops around London’s Carnaby Street, Kings Road, and Kensington were already well frequented by London’s ‘mod’ subculture set, and fashion innovators like John Stephen, Mary Quant, and Barbara Hulanicki were familiar names to them. It was not long before the fame of these and other London based fashion entrepreneurs spread around the world. England and more especially London quickly became a magnet for tourists from all over the globe. London was fast becoming the cultural capital of the world; the place to be and to be seen in. Everyone wanted to be part of the London vibe. Towns and cities throughout Britain also became tourist hotspots like never before as coach-loads of visitors sought out the birthplace homes of the newly emerging 1960s celebrities; none more so than Liverpool where they went in their droves to see the homes and music venues associated with Liverpool’s ‘fab four’, The Beatles.

By 1966, commercial radio was at its height of popularity with 45 per cent of the British population now listening to sixties’ popular music broadcast from offshore pirate radio stations and Radio Luxembourg rather than the old-fashioned BBC radio stations. People of all ages were now embracing sixties’ fashions, not just the young and trendy. Older men from all walks of life had abandoned the traditional short back and sides’ haircuts for more fashionable styles and older women were now wearing increasingly shorter mini skirts. It was the year in which credit cards were first introduced in Britain by Barclaycard, the Daily Express named 16-year-old Twiggy ‘The Face of 1966’, and Time Magazine dubbed our capital city ‘Swinging London’. If there was ever a time for England to host the football World Cup then it had to be in the swinging sixties. No football World Cup had ever before received as much worldwide attention as this one. Celebrities from around the world used whatever influences they had to get hold of tickets, not necessarily because of their interest in football, but more so because the tournament was being held in England and the final was to be held in London. And yes, if ever there was a time for England to succeed in winning the football World Cup then it had to be in 1966, the year in which Britain was at the centre of the world’s cultural stage and London was the featured star of the show and widely regarded as the greatest capital city in the world.

By Paul Feeney

Swinging Britain

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