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If you remember the 1960s, you definitely weren’t there

The 1960s are remembered for very little, apart from separating sex from babies

By on Monday, 29 April 2013

In 1963 the Fab Four were packaged for their triumphant US tour a year later (PA)

In 1963 the Fab Four were packaged for their triumphant US tour a year later (PA)

Here is an interesting article that you may have missed from yesterday’s Observer, which has some illuminating things to say about the sexual revolution, which began 50 years ago, back in 1963. Perhaps we should remember 1963 (the year of my birth, incidentally) in the same way as we remember 1789?

In the early days of that summer, while John Profumo was still battling to salvage his reputation, other events were also helping to change the way the country saw itself. In America the first Bond film, Dr No, premiered, finally selling the idea that the British could be sexy, while in June a British-made contraceptive pill became available for the first time. And, all the while, the hits from the Beatles’ first album were being played throughout the country, as the Fab Four were packaged and made ready for their triumphant American tour in the first weeks of 1964.

“It was the beginning of the separating out of babies from sex,” comments novelist Fay Weldon. “The pill made an enormous difference to women quite quickly and [Christine] Keeler, although she was naughty, became a sort of role model, so that you would have been quite pleased if she came to dinner, as long as she stayed away from your husband.”

Fay Weldon’s comment is so true, and she is ironically at one with what Pope Paul VI taught in Humanae Vitae. The Pill seperates babies from sex, making sex seem a purely recreational activity, and the role model for young women becomes the ultimate good time girl Christine Keeler. Of course Pope Paul thought this a bad thing (as do I). I wonder what Fay Weldon thinks of it now? But whether one thinks it good or bad, it has to be accepted as a fact: reproduction and sexual intercourse have been seperated, and the consequences are certainly profound.

The article also has this insight from Roger McGough, the poet: “I was brought up Catholic in the north and a lot of my work has been about that feeling of being outside, looking in,” he said. “I may have been in [60s band] the Scaffold and part of the Mersey Beat, but it all seemed to be happening in Carnaby Street. Then, when I did get down to London, it was always happening somewhere else. I guess there were some people who for a time, due to drugs or drink, were able to see themselves at the centre of things.”

In Liverpool though, remembers McGough, it felt like the end of things, as industries shrank and the docks closed. “The 60s were a party being given by the government to hide what was really going on,” he said.

McGough’s insight is important. For everyone having a good time like Christine Keeler, there were lots of people not enjoying themselves. His experience is one that many people can perhaps recognise. The promise of nirvana made in 1963 may well have brought fulfilment to a few, for some time at least, but for many the promise merely served to underline their frustration. Even today we live in a society where free love is supposedly the norm, but how many of us in fact are truly loved? As I have written elsewhere, the permissive society may promise free love, but what it delivers to most is merely free access to porn.

There is a famous saying about the Sixties, which says that if you can remember them, you were not there. I once closely questioned a relative of mine who was twenty and living in London in 1963. I asked what he got up to. He concentrated for several moments, but eventually had to admit that he could not really remember anything much about the decade. I drew my own conclusions.

I myself have but one clear memory of the sixties. I was sitting on the garden wall of our house in Balzan, in Malta, and the babysitter (the entire family must have been out having fun) said to me: “Well, tomorrow it will be 1970.” The Sixties? I missed them entirely.

  • Vince

    “As I have written elsewhere, the permissive society may promise free love, but what it delivers to most is merely free access to porn.”

    There is nothing free in this world. Everything has eventually a price – or a cost.

  • NatOns

    Never a truer word was said in jest – I recall the 1950′s and 1960′s with more clarity than for much of what I did last week (or even yesterday) .. I was not ‘There’ among the In-Crowd of booze sozzled, drug befuddled, Call-Girl-using, pimped-out boy-loving, living pop-art aesthetes and hangers on. Sadly, it would seem rather too many of our clerics (young and old alike) were – or wanted to be – tuned-in to that whole swinging, liberating, reinvigorating Youf-Cultcha scene .. like daddio, toon ma gitar, man! Or rather, and perhaps worse, a significant sub-set had genuinely bought into the prevailing post-Stalinist-Marxism spiel .. which was undoubtedly going to reshape the whole world for a better, more humane, and ever more people-centred future .. these then actually set about imposing it with a Mao-ist Cultural Revolution brutality.

    It would be hard to imagine Blessed John XXIII and the awesome Josef Ratzinger – or even our beloved Jorge Bergoglio and that wonderful minister of God John Carmel Cardinal Heenan – seeking to be part of the Marxist Revolution or the abusive bed-hoppers. Yet some of their brethren in the clergy were indeed already swept into pursuing exactly that sort of ideology, and leading others to conceive that it is an excusable or perhaps normal, if extreme, live-affirming behaviour. And the rest of us, well, I must affirm we were all rather too busy living through boom-bust-boom, You’ve-Never-Had-It-So-Good, This-Will-Not-Effect-The Pound-In-Your-Pocket, The-Wind-Of-Change and Burning-With-The-White-Heat-Of-Technology social mayhem in providing for our families, supporting our parish life as best we might, building schools, hospitals and churches across the globe, and all the while hoping against hope that the Fathers at the Vatican – in Council or Curia – really would know best .. not planning to have us skip around under wide open windows with multi-coloured sacred balloons and faux ethnic, tie-dyed, all-religions-are-the-same liturgies.

    “The Pope I knew was not in the least like this mythical John. My Pope John was more like a benevolent parish priest. I doubt if he had read many of the books of contemporary theologians. He made scholars smile when he told them the name of his favourite bedside book – Father Faber’s All for Jesus.”

  • $24570317

    “As I have written…” – Must be true then.

    This is probably well-known to many, but as an undergraduate, in the late 50s, I was told by a theology student that a possible way of getting away with some improbable proposition was to preface it with “for Christ has said….”.

    PS: I never noticed the 60s.

  • J.R.G,.Edwards

    Somebody’s spellchecker seems to have malfunctioned: “seperated” (twice)!

  • $362439

    My father was a railwayman who worked the trains that ran in and out of London waterloo. He used to tell me that Christine Keeler was a regular in his restaurant car.
    In interfering with the power to create a human being, the Pill went beyond violating the First Commandment and attacked the very basis of the Lordship of God. Either the control of human fertility is reserved to God alone, or He is not Lord in the sense the Bible says He is.

  • James M

    “Here is an interesting article that you may have missed from yesterday’s Observer, which has some illuminating things to say about the sexual revolution, which began 50 years ago, back in 1963. Perhaps we should remember 1963 (the year of my birth, incidentally) in the same way as we remember 1789?”

    ## It’s good to see the Observer agreeing with Mgr. Lefebvre (true prophet that he was) & the SSPX:

    “What, then, was the Council? It was the large-scale penetration within the Catholic Church – or churchmen – of the principles governing the modern world since, especially, the French Revolution of 1789. Both friend and foe of the Council (e.g. Cardinal Suenens and Archbishop Lefebvre) said that it was the Church’s 1789. Now one may or may not like those principles, but they are what they are, and whether or not one likes them, they will have such and such effects: “liberty”, “equality”, “fraternity”, “the rights of man”, “pluralism”, are amongst the main ones, and they are objective in their working.

    Now from the moment these modern principles began to gain wide acceptance, let us say from the time of the French Revolution onwards, they were clearly, firmly and repeatedly denounced by the Catholic Popes and by the Catholic Church, up until Vatican II, as being principles of godlessness which would destroy the Church and civilization if they had their way. In other words, between the modern world, as such, and the one true God, there is an irreconcilable war.

    Not so, said the friends of these principles. They said that the modern world is nice, that God is nice, and so since everybody is nice, there should be an end to the war. They said that the modern principles can and should be taken into the bosom of the Church which can purify them (so says Cardinal Ratzinger) and reconcile them with the still true (?) principles of the good old Catholicism.”

    ## Those Catholics who condemn “liberalism” are condemning Vatican II – but unlike Mgr. Lefebvre, they do not follow the logic of the condemnation they make. Trying to purify the “modern” principles is not like trying to purify customs and usages practiced by those outside the Church – it is like trying to purify blasphemy, sacrilege, atheism, witchcraft or adultery. Christian terrorism or Christian adultery are unpurifiable – just as liberalism (of the kind condemned) is unpurifiable. It is particularly lamentable that V2 adopted false ideas just in time for the sexual revolution :(.

  • Kevin

    “In Liverpool though, remembers McGough, it felt like the end of things, as industries shrank and the docks closed”.

    And Margaret Thatcher was not prime minister.

  • ZuZuLamarr

    I was born in the 1960′s. From what I heard and saw in archive films and from anecdotes etc. it was like Celtic Tiger Ireland… and, like all animals, they leave stinky deposits behind….

    Like concrete, damp-ridden hovels called ‘bullrings’ which replaced row upon row of terraced houses that may have been run-down … but at least, in those terrace houses, communities were closer knit.

    Those same communities were compulsorily uprooted and moved to anonymous, just-as-bad overspill estates, for the most part.

    It’s the decade of let it all hang out … twenty years after the horrors of World War II!

    It was meant to be a decade of modernity but, instead, it heralded much damage.

  • $24570317

    The closure of the old docks in Liverpool, London and around the world had nothing to do with Margaret Thatcher.
    New docks were built because cargo ships were changing. The age of the large bulk carriers and the large container ships was with us – and the old docks could not cope with them.
    Many of the old industries died or shrank because either there was little need for their products or, more commonly, their work was better, and more cheaply, done elsewhere.

  • Calabria6

    Vince is right, of course: free love is bait and switch. But Profumo became a significant figure for his work with the disadvantaged. Christine Keeler a role model? Maybe for Fay Weldon. The crucial thing was the disposable income of youth at the end of the 50s. That changed the world. It didn’t take the pill to separate sex and babies. A nice construction, but not historically convincing. The 60s were a marvellous time. The Beatles and the Stones – and, yes, Scaffold – and Vat. II and lots of other good things, such as the effective end of brutalist architecture by ’70. Morally, it wasn’t the 60s that went sour; it was WW1 and the succeeding 40 years. Those years really gave relativism, already nascent in earlier centuries (anyone for Machiavelli?) a nudge. So I figure that this take on history is wrong. I have never taken drugs but I do miss the sixties I remember so well.

  • Jo

    The 1960s did lots of good things too….civil rights, women in the workplace and higher education, raised awareness of domestic and sexual abuse, enironementalism. You will certainly never make a historian if you judge a period of history on ONE element: in this case, contraception. Bad history, bad academia.
    I don’t see why anyone should condemn women to a life of infinite childbearing. If you want to have 15 children, fine. But women that don’t should not have to put up with it and they should NOT be punished through copious pregnancies of unwanted children.

  • Andreas Claus

    Remarkable! The longer the 1960s and 1970s are going more and more and remain classic, even when fading away, the lesser we can put our own memories back of that important period – even if we have been born early enough. Why? Because there was no YouTube and anything else. Think the analog experience was better for us and should be kept for a longer while. What a pity, that the originals are more and more dissapearing, because the times are permanently changing. There are too many media for nothing today, because the audience that used to come automatically for concerts until the mid 90s stay away now. And the new generation of concert goers has its new and own stars. We never learnt out!