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.