The world started to become colourful on Christmas Day 1961. I know this because just before, my mother insisted my father buy a colour film for his camera so he could take some images of our family Christmas. My Grandmother was dying of cancer and mother wanted some nice photographs of Nanny with the family, one last time. Those images heralded the beginning of a process that took until the mid 1960’s to become complete.
I have a very long memory. I remember the late 1950’s when my father would drive his Ford Anglia to Ashkins, the Jewish delicatessen in Shepherd Bush, West London where he would buy olives and salami [about the only place you could get such things in those days]. I would wait for him in the car, looking across the road at the bomb sites left over from the Second World War and the smoke blackened houses all around. The road he parked on was still cobbled, embedded with tram lines. Everything around me looked run-down, unpainted, uncared for. People walking by were colourless and depressed looking.
There weren’t many cars on the road but those that did trundle along the bumpy, city streets were still predominantly black, with the occasional olive-green or cream Morris Minor thrown in for good measure. Fashionable people dressed in “sensible” colours like grey or brown and hem lines were below the knee. Men wore hats and there were still plenty of “demob” suits in evidence, worn by people like my uncle Basil.
Rock and Roll music was kept off of the BBC and “popular music” consisted of sentimental ballads like “By A Babbling Brook” or “True Love” and light entertainment, programmes like “The Billy Cotton Band Show” or “The Black and White Minstrels” that we watched on our black and white, 405 line, Sobel TV.
May 24th was Commonwealth Day when the local shops were full of bunting flags our mothers would buy for us, so we could wave them at school during a special assembly. The head teacher of my primary school publically complained that the name had recently been changed from “Empire Day”. She said we should be proud of our empire that extended over “pine and palm”.
Amazingly, rationing had finished in Britain only the year before I was born and when my mother got together with her sister, the conversation inevitably returned to the Blitz and how a row of houses in the next street was flattened by a 1,000lb land mine, dropped by a bomber on a parachute; how a Polish bomber crash landed in the field behind the family house and how they watched the London docks burn for three days and nights from the back bedroom window. Outside the family home, the 1960’s were progressing but inside it remained 1946 for twenty or more years.
As the tide of the 1960’s started to rise we, the younger generation began to become aware of other voices. Voices of people who had come to maturity after the war, who did not respect the old values, who wanted to live their lives in a different way. I watched and laughed at the TV satire show That Was The Week That Was, although I didn’t always understand what was so funny.
The changing times were brought home to me, when an anti-nuclear Aldermaston march was directed away from the main road into London and along my street. For hours, beatniks holding placards walked eight abreast down Carr Road, Northolt. Men in beards and duffle-coats and women with wild hair shouted out “come and join us!” as I hung on the garden gate watching the spectacle. It must have been about 1962 or 1963 and was the first time I actually saw evidence that a Counter Culture really existed.
To be honest, the 1960’s didn’t really start until about 1964, when more young people started to grow their hair and you could hear The Beatles on the radio. All of a sudden, colour was everywhere to be seen. Shirts were colourful, cars were colourful and people started painting their houses different colours. For me, the world became full coloured in 1965 when I saw the movie “Help!” A Beatles fantasy set in the Caribbean. From that moment onwards, I was seeing in colour and the world was never the same again.