OK, this will probably be very boring for you, but I am going to explore some big moments in history from my childhood perspective.
If I don’t do this now I never will, for there can never be a better time than the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy and the first episode of Doctor Who on TV. Those events happened in this week and I’m sure most people will have noticed the coverage in the media.
I don’t have any huge insights into history, just a few moments frozen in time. In my mind and heart I can still see and feel where I was at the time. I find it hard to believe “our young people today” can possibly have such vivid snapshots in their heads as we had then…
Kennedy and cheese & onion crisps…
When the news came over our black and white TV that John F Kennedy had been assassinated, my parents were understandably horrified. It was November 22, 1963, and it had that Friday night feeling.
I remember standing beside the coal fire as we heard the news, next to the familiar fire guard made of black wire netting, with a smooth and shiny brass rail around the top. If I’m not mistaken the news was read out over a TV screen blank except for the BBC world logo.
I went next door to the pub to buy some crisps. They were Tudor cheese & onion crisps, in a greaseproof paper bag with a blue and yellow design showing Henry VIII. I recall there had been an earlier time when all crisps had been plain, with a little blue twist of salt in the packet (or sometimes MANY little blue twists of salt).
I recall being very afraid as I walked the few yards in the dark to the pub, called the Coach & Horses. I had this idea that the assassination would lead to World War III and the end of the world. It was a clear night and in my head I can still hear the frosty ringing of the stars above as I imagined war planes passing over.
I was going later to my brother’s girlfriend’s house in the next village, to stay the night. I often did at the weekend as her modern house had a bathroom and our old cottage didn’t, so I could have a proper wash! This time I feared I would never see my home again.
In my memory the Kennedy assassination is filed in the same place as his killer Lee Harvey Oswald and Oswald’s killer Jack Ruby, and the other assassinations, of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. It’s also in the same place as the space race and the end of the world.
Doctor Who and nail varnish remover…
The day after Kennedy was killed, which would have been November 23, 1963, the first episode of Doctor Who was shown on the BBC, in that early evening slot between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury. I am not really sure if I watched it that day, or a week later, when they aired it again because they thought people would have missed it because of all the Kennedy news going on.
At the time, I didn’t notice that we were watching in grainy black and white. When I saw the first few episodes again this week I was struck by the 1960s fashions – the teacher Barbara Wright was wearing a Chanel-look suit that could have graced Jackie Kennedy – all she needed was the pill-box hat. And of course it must have been pink – even though both were shown on TV only in black and white.
Interestingly with hindsight I note that in the first episode the Doctor’s “grand-daughter” Susan doesn’t know how many shillings in a pound, thinking British currency was decimal and then realising of course we weren’t decimal yet. And those lines were written in 1963 – years before decimal day in 1971!
There was also a line in the episode about it being foggy – and those were indeed the days of the great city smogs caused by smoky coal and cold, foggy conditions. I remember hearing about that on the news, but we lived in the country and had clean fog.
My most vivid memory from the days of the first Doctor are running down the long garden path to tell my Daddy how frightening the Petrified Forest was – which would have been the first appearance of the Daleks. I still hear myself talking twenty to the dozen as I was so excited.
In the playground from then on we would chase each other with our arms sticking out in front, shouting Exterminate! I had several little plastic Daleks, usually in gold with turquoise studs, but I also had a lovely black and gold plastic badge of a Dalek, bought from one of our four village shops (those were the days!), along with a similar badge of a winged Menoptera alien.
It was probably Doctor Who that led me to take an interest in science (as well as history) at school. I went on to do science A-levels. And all because Susan, the Doctor’s first companion and not really his grand-daughter, worked out that you could kill Cybermen with nail varnish remover because it contained acetone, which melted their plastic innards…
My favourite Doctor was the second – Patrick Troughton…
I watched every episode of Doctor Who until half way through the Jon Pertwee era, when I started to get a bit bored because they stopped travelling through space and time and instead seemed always to be chasing aliens around deserted quarries. I went back to it in the Tom Baker days and stayed with it again until Sylvester McCoy came along and it was all too much for me. But I have loved all the Chris Ecclestone, David Tennant and Matt Smith incarnations of the Doctor. On to the next one!
Aberfan and a blue Dansette transistor radio…
The 1960s are full of frozen moments for me. On October 21, 1966, there was the Aberfan disaster, in which 116 children and 28 adults were killed when a colliery spoil tip engulfed a school.
I associate it with a small blue and cream Dansette transistor radio on which I listened to the news as I sat at my bedroom window. I held it in my hand as I listened. Having re-watched the first Doctor Who episode this week, I realise I held the radio in my hand in the same way that Susan did with hers as she listened to pop music in that episode.
My other memory of Aberfan is singing “Jesu lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly”at school assembly. It is a very Welsh hymn, very Valleys, and reminds me of Aberfan to this day. Whenever I hear it sung to the tune called Aberystwyth, the tears well up unbidden. Listen here.
First Men on the Moon and Airfix…
My final memory of the 1960s is the Moon landings. On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11’s LEM (Lunar Exploration Module) landed and UK time it was in the evening. I recall that when we knew they were safely down, we went to bed – and so did Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. But we got up again in the early hours to watch the first moon walk. One small step seen in a VERY poor black and white image on our TV, but flippin’ ’eck, what a momentous occasion.
The thing I associate with this is my collection of Airfix models of the Saturn 1B and Saturn V rockets and, separately, the Lunar Exploration Module. Perhaps not a typical girl, I loved Airfix models, although I was never very neat with my gluing and painting!
Ah, such happy/sad days of the 1960s, accompanied by the music of Telstar by the Tornados…