A look back at the year in which Neil Armstrong took his ‘giant leap for mankind’, Concorde continued its flight test programme and the hippy culture reached its zenith with the age of the pop festival. However, the summer of ’69 also saw Harold Wilson’s government wrestling with difficult issues such as the sending of British troops to Northern Ireland. Mark Dunton‘s illustrated talk explores the British take on the summer of ’69, using examples from public records to shed light on this eventful time.
Summer of ’69
‘Those were the best days of my life’ sang Bryan Adams in his famous track ‘Summer of ’69’. Bryan Adams’ song appears to be a straightforward exercise in nostalgia, for the time that he bought his ‘first real six string’ guitar from the ‘five and dime’, and he sings about forming a band with ‘some guys from school’. But actually the song is not autobiographical for Bryan Adams (who was born in Canada to English parents) as he was only 9 in the Summer of ’69. Apparently Adams has denied that it has anything to do with the year 1969. But I think that many people have interpreted it as being about that year, including those born after the ’60s, who have picked up the feeling that there was something special and rather magical about this time, and the summer that ‘seemed to last forever’. Now that we’re 40 years on from that time, I thought it would make a great theme for a look at the British experience of the Summer of ’69, as reflected in the very rich archives that we hold here at The National Archives. In this talk I intend to take you on a tour of this eventful period, looking at high politics, historic events and popular culture, weaving my way between those elements to create a narrative which will concentrate on the events of June, July and August of that year, though I may stray outside those date boundaries at times in order to put things in context. I’m also going to draw out some conclusions about this heady time, about the contradictory ways in which you can view the late sixties. I’d be happy to take any questions at the end.
Just to set the scene, 1968 had been a tumultuous year. A rebellious impulse swept around the world. Street protests became the common international currency. In countries as varied as France, Poland, Japan, the United States, Mexico, and many others, the ruling authorities were challenged by strikes, demonstrations and barricades. The protests had several causes. Opposition to the Vietnam War was a key factor. But this fever pitch receeded in 1969 – perhaps this reflected the student revolutionaries coming to terms with the ways of the world, and a reaction against violence as a means of trying to change society. As a generalisation, the mood of 1969, as reflected in youth culture, was more gentle, associated with hippy values and calls for peace and love. This might give the impression that ’69 was a quiet year. Not a bit of it, as we shall see – it was a very eventful time. So let’s begin the story, by starting with a British political story.
Politically, one of the most significant developments in ’69 was all down to this woman – the forthright and flirtatious Barbara Castle. As Minister for Transport she famously introduced the breathalyser to deal with the problem of drink driving. In April 1968 Harold Wilson made her Secretary of State for Employment and First Secretary of State. Barbara Castle had a strong bond with Harold Wilson.
By 1968 inflation was becoming an increasing problem, and was a major factor in the growth of union militancy in this period. Industrial disputes were becoming more and more common. In 1968 some 4.7 million days were lost to strikes. The newspapers were saturated with reports of unofficial ‘wildcat’ strikes – The Times called it ‘The Year of the Strike’. By the autumn of ’68 Castle believed that tough action was needed, and that Government should take a lead. Castle was well aware she was heading into stormy waters – she said ‘I am under no illusions that I may be committing political suicide’. Her biographer, Anne Perkins, referred to the ‘heavy sense of martyrdom’ which was reflected in her diaries at this time.
This was the white paper which brought on the storm, published on 16th January 1969 – the title ‘In Place of Strife’ seems heavily ironic – it was suggested by Castle’s husband Ted a day before publication. Its proposals included the following: the Employment Secretary should have the discretionary power to order strike ballots; in unofficial strikes the government could order a pause of 28 days before strikes took place; with regard to inter-union disputes (which usually meant disputes between rival unions for recognition from employer, I think these used to be a lot more common than they are today) – the government could refer these disputes to an Industrial Board for a binding decision; this was backed up with ‘penal clauses’ – they had to comply with the Board’s recommendations, otherwise they would face heavy fines, and ultimately, prison. A Gallup opinion poll indicated considerable public support for the measures, but leading trade unionists such as Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon and Vic Feather were adamantly opposed. Both the Transport and General Workers Union and the Amalgamated Engineering Union asked their sponsored MPs to vote against Castle’s bill. There were strong rumblings of discontent on the Labour backbenches. Tension grew and grew. In early June there was a weekend of secret talks with Jones, Scanlon and Feather. At one point Wilson said to Scanlon, ‘Get your tanks off my lawn, Hughie!’
We can see that the stakes were set very high over ‘In place of strife’ shown by this extract from a Downing Street meeting during the early summer of ’69, on 8th June to be precise. The First Secretary of State is Barbara Castle. To quote it, ‘the First Secretary said it was important for the Government to stand firm. She had lived through such pressure before e.g. on the Fords dispute. The Government had created problems for itself by losing its nerve on major issues, such as prices and incomes policy and House Of Lords reform. The Prime Minister said that he trembled to think what the effects would be abroad and on sterling if the Government simply withdrew its own proposals with nothing in their place. It should be remembered that we were dealing with people who had spent all their life negotiating and were masters of brinkmanship’.
Wilson had a very difficult time indeed in the spring and summer of ’69. His attempt to reform the House of Lords, mentioned in the document we just looked at, collapsed in failure and opposition to Castle’s bill mounted. There were reports of manoeuverings in Cabinet and a great deal of press speculation that James Callaghan, Home Secretary, and Roy Jenkins, Chancellor of the Exchequer, would challenge Wilson for the leadership. On May 4th Wilson made a speech at the Festival Hall where he made an audacious joke – Ben Pimlott, his biographer, describes this – Wilson announced ‘I know what is going on, and paused. Pimlott writes: ‘There was an audible intake of breath from the audience, as his listeners waited in alarm for some embarrassingly paranoid accusation. Then came the punch line ‘I am going on’. The floor erupted in applause and laughter, and the press reaction, for once, was good’.
James Callaghan was totally opposed to ‘In Place of Strife’. He had close relations with trade union leaders and saw himself as the spokesman for the ordinary union member, the ‘keeper of the cloth cap’. He voted against the plans – his own government’s plans – at a meeting of Labour’s national executive.
These tensions are reflected in the minutes of the Downing Street meeting on 8 June. Richard Crossman was the Secretary of State for Social Services. He said: ‘The Secretary of State for Social Services said that if the Government played on the nerve of the PLP [the Parliamentary Labour Party] and the nerve broke we should lose all the Ministers identified with the present policy. This was therefore an important matter of calculation as the Government should not play into the hands of Mr Callaghan who would then become Prime Minister with Mr Crosland as his Chancellor. The Prime Minister said whoever became Prime Minister in that situation would not be able to survive a month because of overseas reaction and an almost certain run on sterling’. That such possibilities were being discussed and minuted in Downing Street meetings is a powerful indication of just how tense things were at this time in government.
The Unions maintained their opposition to Castle’s bill and suggested voluntary agreements instead. Wilson became fatigued through the numerous rounds of beer and sandwiches with the union leaders. The whole business reached a climax on 17th June. At a Cabinet meeting, several ministers, including Callaghan, argued that without an agreement with the unions the backbenchers would not support the bill, therefore a compromise had to be found. Following a stormy and protracted meeting, the Cabinet agreed that Wilson and Castle could negotiate with the unions in the morning, but the penal clauses were to be dropped. You will not find this in the official records, but Barbara Castle’s and Richard Crossman’s Diaries show that Wilson exploded with anger at this Cabinet meeting. Richard Crossman, Secretary of State for Health and Social Services, quotes Wilson as telling his Cabinet colleagues at one point: ‘you’re soft, you’re cowardly, you’re lily-livered’. On the morning of 18th June Wilson and Castle met with the TUC at No 10 and reached an agreement in which the unions gave a ‘solemn and binding undertaking’ to accept TUC advice on unofficial strikes. When Wilson and Castle returned to the Cabinet with the news, they were applauded. Callaghan made a speech in which he promised that no one would work hard than him to win the next election. The atmosphere was very strained. Castle wrote: ‘We hardly waited to listen to him, and hurried out to the press conference, oozing contempt for the cowards from every pore’. The verdict from the press was that the government had surrendered. Castle’s Industrial Relations Bill ran into further difficulties and was dropped. Strikes continued to be a serious problem in the second half of 1969 and in the following years.
The attempt to implement ‘In place of strife’ was a very significant episode in British politics. If the bill had been passed, a great deal of future ‘strife’ might have been avoided. As Dominic Sandbrook has commented, ‘It was perhaps the greatest irony of all that the Keeper of the Cloth Cap [referring to Jim Callaghan], who had done so much to help the unions defeat the bill, would himself be brought down by their excesses ten years later’.
” And now for something completely different”, as they used to say on Monty Python, which was first broadcast in 1969.
To coin a famous phrase from another tv programme, who would have lived in a house like this? 48 Cheyne Walk is in one of Chelsea’s most attractive locations, by The Thames near Albert Bridge. It’s a very elegant house of the Queen Anne type.
Here we see a Room (on the ground floor). There’s a Turkish feel to some of the décor. I won’t keep you in suspense. The owner was one Michael Philip Jagger.
On May 28 1969 at 7.45 pm Jagger came out of 48 Cheyne Walk, turned right into Cheyne Row and got into his white Mercedes. There he was stopped and spoken to by several police officers. Jagger moved quickly back to the house accompanied by the Officers, who later claimed that Jagger had shouted ‘Marianne, Marianne, don’t open the door. It is the law; they are after the weed’ – this was strongly denied by Jagger at a later stage. Marianne Faithfull did open the door and Detective Sgt Robin Constable told Jagger he had a warrant to search the house for drugs.
The officers claimed to find one quarter-ounce of cannabis (here is a photograph of the exhibit which was produced in Court at a later stage) and also a folded piece of paper containing some white powder, and these items were then apparently taken for tests. Jagger and Marianne were taken to Chelsea Station and charged. At Great Marlborough Street court, they pleaded not guilty to possessing cannabis. The case was adjourned until June 23, and Jagger and Marianne were bailed at £50 each. Jagger claimed that Detective Sgt Constable had tried to plant drugs and then solicit a £1,000 bribe from him and this became the basis of his defence.
This is part of Jagger’s statement made at his Solicitors on 23 June following the hearing at the Magistrates Court. He is talking about a conversation with Robin Constable which he claimed had occurred immediately after the hearing earlier that day. Jagger claimed that the ” big piece” of hashish that the police had found had shrunken in size since the night of the raid – all very mysterious. To quote from the statement, ‘after the matter had been heard and we came into the room in which we had originally stood, Robin Constable came out too. He spoke to me in a low voice and said, “Notice the quantity was down, not a quarter pound piece anymore was it?”. I said ” yes, but you know it wasn’t mine”. Constable said, “I didn’t bring it, someone else did”. I said “Who else”. Constable said “To know that will cost you a big drink”. I said “Drop a note through my door”. And you can see that the statement is clearly signed by Mick Jagger. The final court case was delayed while Jagger was in Australia to film Ned Kelly – it was eventually held on 26 June 1970 (click next slide).
And here are some press cuttings of the case. Jagger was fined £200 with 50 guineas costs for possessing cannabis resin. The charges against Faithfull were dismissed.
Another member of the Rolling Stones had appeared as a defendant in cases of possessing drugs in ’67 and ’68.
Brian Jones – here he is leaving West London Magistrates Court circa 1968. There is tragic story to relate about Brian Jones’s demise, but let’s just backtrack a bit in order to highlight his importance.
Lewis Brian Hopkin-Jones was born in Cheltenham on 28 February 1942. His parents encouraged him to take up music, initially through piano lessons, and he soon discovered his musical talent. He learnt to play the clarinet and the saxophone. In 1962 Brian left Cheltenham for London. He became a virtuoso blues musician and he used to enjoy hanging out at Ealing Jazz club. He placed an ad in Jazz News magazine seeking musicians to form a rhythm and blues group, and he duly recruited Ian “Stu” Stewart, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards into his newly formed band. The line up took a while to settle down, with Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman joining after a few try-outs. It was Brian who came up with the name ‘Rolling Stones’ after a Muddy Waters track. In this early period Jones was very much leader of the group. The Rolling Stones started to make an impact on the music scene at their residency at the ‘Crawdaddy Club’ at the Station Hotel in Richmond (opposite Richmond Station). They went on, of course, to have tremendous success, and to make some of the most exciting records of the ’60s.
The adventurous musical talents of Brian Jones were shown by his playing of dulcimer on ‘Lady Jane’, marimba on ‘Under my thumb’, and sitar on ‘Paint it Black’. Jones was also adventurous in his choice of clothes, as he became a sort of pioneering dandy, pushing the boundaries style-wise. But the increasing emphasis on the Jagger-Richards partnership, and Jagger’s high profile as lead singer displaced Jones from his original post of leader. Jones increasingly experimented with drink and drugs – you can see in photographs how his looks gradually deteriorated, particularly after ’65 – he developed bags under his eyes – and his mood swings led to an alienation from the rest of the group.
In November 1968 Brian Jones bought Cotchford Farm, near Hartfield in East Sussex. This once belonged to AA Milne and featured many relics of Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin. Another side of Brian Jones’s character was shown here, for he loved these associations with childhood. Philip Norman, Biographer of the Stones, records that, when musician and friend Alexis Korner visited Jones at Cotchford, it gave Jones ‘special delight to show Alexis the sundial – under which Milne’s original manuscripts are reputedly buried – and the bridge over the little stream where Pooh and Christopher Robin invented their Pooh-sticks Game’.
Some who saw Jones around this time felt that he was beginning to get himself together, laying off the drugs and excitedly discussing future musical projects. In late May 1969 Mick Jagger, Keith Richard and Charlie Watts visited Jones at Cotchford and they agreed that Jones would leave the Stones – it was a (sort of) mutual agreement. On June 9 Brian’s departure from The Stones became official – a statement was put out which read, “I no longer see eye to eye with the others over the discs we are cutting”.
And so we move to the fateful day of July 2nd, exactly 40 years ago today. Here I’m read some extracts from Philip Norman: ‘ Wednesday July 2nd was an uneventful day at Cotchford Farm – hot, sunny and silent but for the mumuring of bees. It was a day in which the high pollen count brought suffering to asthma and hay fever victims all over Britain. In rural Sussex, naturally, the pollen count reached its maximum’. Jones suffered from asthma and was heavily reliant on his inhaler. Norman records that ‘Brian and Anna [that’s Anna Wohlin, his girlfriend] spent the early part of the evening drinking and watching Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In show on television’. Shortly after ten they headed over to the swimming pool.
There they were joined by Frank Thorogood and his girlfriend – Thorogood was a builder who was doing some work for Jones at the Farm (and was living there as well). Relaxing by the pool, the four of them drank brandy, vodka and whisky and Jones took some amphetamine pills. At around midnight Jones and Thorogood dived into the pool for a swim. It was there that Brian Jones died.
At the inquest at East Grinstead, all three witnesses stated that had gone into the house for a few minutes, leaving Jones in the pool, and when they returned he was lying face down at the bottom, totally still. They tried to revive him but to no avail. By the time the police arrived he was dead. According to Dr Albert Sachs, Consultant Pathologist at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, death was due to drowning ‘associated with alcohol, drugs and severe liver degeneration’. All sorts of alternative theories have been put forward, particularly the theory that Jones was killed by Thorogood, and the story that Thorogood had made a death bed confession. There were some mysterious circumstances surrounding the death. But I’m with Dominic Sandbrook on this one, when he argues that the Pathologist’s statement is ‘by far the most plausible explanation for Brian Jones’ death’. Sandbrook goes on to comment ‘If any explanation beyond that of simple accident is necessary, it is that he was a victim of his own demons, his self-confidence eroded by chronic insecurity and his physical health undermined by drink and drugs’. However you look at it, it was a tragic loss of a brilliant, highly creative and special person. Bill Wyman later wrote: ‘Brian Jones had died, signalling the end of an era. The Rolling Stones could never be the same. The band changed, but the band went on’.
Arrangements for the Rolling Stones to play a free concert at Hyde Park on Saturday 5th July were already far advanced when news of Jones’s death came. The group decided to go ahead with the performance, ‘as a memorial to Brian’ (Charlie Watt’s suggestion). An estimated 250,000 people poured into the park on that hot afternoon. A series of bands played first. When the Stones eventually arrived on stage Jagger’s appearance was remarkable, in Philip Norman’s words, it looked like he was wearing ‘a little girl’s party dress’. He addressed the crowd: ‘Now listen, will you just cool it for a minute, because I would really like to sat something about Brian�about how we feel about him just going when we didn’t expect him to.’ He then read two stanzas from Shelley’s Adonais, the poet’s elegy on the death of John Keats, beginning: ‘Peace, peace he is not dead, he doth not sleep – He hath awakened from the dream of life’. As Shelley’s words died away, the Stones’ stagehands opened several cardboard boxes and shook them towards the crowd, releasing several hundred white butterflies. Although this was a powerful visual image, as Dominic Sandbrook comments, ‘Conservationists, however, objected that many of the butterflies must have suffocated in the cramped boxes, and London’s gardeners complained for weeks that that they had caused terrible damage to their plants’. The Stones went on to give a rather shaky musical performance, but perhaps that wasn’t surprising given the circumstances.
The National Archives holds an Office of Works, Royal Parks Division file entitled ‘The use of Hyde Park for pop concerts’. Here’s an extract from a Metropolitan Police report on that file relating to the 5th July concert. It reads: ‘Most of the arrangements made by Blackhill Enterprises were successful and the artistes arrived and left without much difficulty. However, the provision of barriers and stewards around the stage was unsuccessful as this area was full of people when the Rolling Stones appeared’ (though you can’t see it here, in the margin someone has written ‘because of lack of control’). It continues:’ The stewards, who were a group of motor cyclists dressed in Nazi type uniform and called “Hell’s Angels” were totally ineffective despite their forbidding style of dress and general appearance’.
Following the concert Jo Bergman, the Rolling Stones Publicity agent, wrote a letter of thanks to Mr Hare, superintendent of the Central Parks. It reads: ‘Dear Mr Hare, the Rolling Stones have asked me to write to you to express their thanks and appreciation for the help which you and your department contributed to last Saturday’s concert. I hope there was no damage done to any Park property, but if so, would you please let us know, and we will try to sort out any problems’. The file shows that there was only a small amount of damage, considering the huge numbers who attended. Some of the trees were damaged and Blackhill Enterprises, the concert promoters, offered the Department a tree to be planted as a goodwill gesture which I think was accepted.
The subject of “Pop” Concerts in Royal Parks was debated by the House Of Lords on 25th June. Here is a quote from Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe.
Now we’re going to look at a historic event of world-wide significance that Summer.
On May 25th 1961 President John F Kennedy addressed Congress and declared ‘I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to earth’. In July 1969 this goal was fulfilled.
Saturn 5 carrying Apollo 11 was launched on July 16 1969 from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. It carried Neil Armstrong, Commander, Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot, and Edwin Eugene ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, Jr.
At 9.18 pm British time on 20th July 1969 the lunar module Eagle landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquillity. Soon after this Neil Armstrong descended the ladder of the Eagle and became the first human to set foot on another world declaring that it was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” – at the risk of sounding pedantic, it reads even better if you put it as ‘one small step for a man’. This is an image from a TV camera which relayed this back to millions of viewers on earth. There was a real sense of the global village coming together as one to watch this historic event.
Sadly, very little film of the BBC’s coverage, with James Burke, Cliff Michelmore and Patrick Moore survives. According to what I’ve read, the BBC played David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ during its coverage, which was newly released. The single took a long time to make an impact on the charts, finally entering the top ten in October, but it has come to be regarded as a classic record.
This is Buzz Aldrin photographed by Neil Armstrong who appears in the Visor’s reflection.
Buzz Aldrin with the US Flag. The National Archives holds a Foreign and Commonwealth Office file on the Apollo Programme. It is mostly full of congratulatory messages to NASA and the US Administration but these are interesting in their own right.
Here we have a telegram from this file from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to Washington dated 21st July. It begins: ‘The message from the Prime Minister which follows should be delivered to the White House for the President when the lunar astronauts are safely back within the mother-ship. You should not deliver the message until it is certain that the astronauts are back in the mother-ship’. You can see the concern – it wasn’t just about getting the timing right, it was being sure that the astronauts were safe. The main message, from Harold Wilson, reads: ” I told you when you telephoned me this afternoon how excited everyone was in the United Kingdom by the success of the Apollo 11 mission, but I held back my formal message until I knew that the astronauts had returned safely to their mother-ship. Now that they have completed their historic moon landing, I send, on behalf of her Majesty’s Government, to you, to astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, and to all associated with it our warmest congratulations on the magnificent success of the Apollo 11 mission. This epic voyage of discovery is an inspiration to us all. We offer our hopes and prayers for the crew of Apollo 11 for the successful completion of their mission and a safe return to earth”.
And here are the lunar astronauts making their return from the moon – this is the Lunar Module, the Eagle approaching the mothership, Command Service Module Columbia for docking, with earthrise in background on July 21st. I think the word ‘iconic’ is much overused these days, but surely if any images deserved that adjective, these do.
The British Press reported the event enthusiastically.
The crew of Apollo 11 were placed in quarantine after returning to Earth and visited by President Richard Nixon. Of course, if you believe the conspiracy theorists, all these pictures are faked and the message of congratulations I showed you would have been a pointless charade. I will just mention that Buzz Aldrin punched Bart Sibrel, a Conspiracy theorist film maker on 9September 2002 and this was captured on camera.
The incredible achievement of the moon landing was not the only fantastic technological development that year.
We now turn to Concorde, the famous supersonic passenger airliner. It was the product of an Anglo-French government treaty, and it brought together the manufacturing capabilities of Aerospatiale and the British Aircraft Association. It entered service in 1976 and went on to make regular transatlantic flights to the United States from London and Paris. But it was first flown in 1969. Concorde 001 made its first test flight from Toulouse on March 2nd of that year. Like many people I am fascinated by its graceful form.
The first UK-built Concorde flew from Filton to RAF Fairford on 9 April 1969.
There were large crowds and hundreds of members of the press at Filton. The flight test programme continued through mid-1969, and Concorde 001 first went supersonic on 1st October. There’s an interesting back-story to Concorde, which can be traced in the records, and which I’d like to share with you. To look at this we’ll need to back-track a bit from 1969.
We hold a whole file on the subject which caused a raging controversy in the ’60s – entitled ‘Concord’ – notice, without the e on the end – ‘spelling of name’. The aircraft was initially referred to in Britain as “Concorde” , with the ‘e’ – the french spelling. The story has grown up that the name was officially changed to “Concord” without the ‘e’, the British spelling, by Harold Macmillan after he had been insulted by General de Gaulle on a visit – apparently De Gaulle had had a cold and said he couldn’t see him. Now I haven’t seen any direct evidence of Macmillan’s involvement, but it was the case that Anglo-French relations were pretty strained at times, particularly due to De Gaulle’s use of the veto on two occasions regarding Britain’s application to join the EEC.
Certainly the file we have shows that Civil Servants dug their heels in over the issue as well as Government ministers. Here we have a memo from W P Shovelton, an Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Aviation , dated 21st January 1963. It reads: ‘US/AIR A has noticed that many authorities (e.g. Daily Telegraph, Observer, Bristol Siddeley House Journal to name only 3) continue to use the spelling Concorde (with the ‘e’). Can direct hints be placed in the right quarters at the right time that the spelling is as in English. We don’t want the French spelling gradually to gain world currency with all the implications that would mean. On the contrary we want the British spelling to gain world currency’. One of the concerns was the worry that, if the French spelling was adopted, the layperson would assume that the aircraft was principally French in origin. But you don’t need to read between the lines to see the nationalistic concerns. The issue dragged on for several years. It was Tony Benn, Minister of Technology in Harold Wilson’s Government, who sorted the matter out.
In December 1967, at the French roll-out of Concorde at Toulouse, Tony Benn pronounced on the subject. Here is an extract from his speech in which he used his charm to good effect: “Britain, like France, has a great stake in Concorde. Our years of co-operation have only been marred by one disagreement. Up until now we have never been able to agree as to how Concorde should be spelt. In English Concord ends with a plain ‘d’, exactly as it is pronounced. With splendid generosity our French friends here insist upon adding an ‘e’. No amount of argument or discussion, no series of committees or Ministerial meetings have ever produced an agreement on this point. It is intolerable that we should continue in this way. I have�’
‘I have therefore decided to resolve it myself. From now on the British Concorde will also be spelt with an ‘e’. The letter ‘E’ symbolises many things.
” ‘E’ stands for excellence, for England, for Europe and for Entente – that alliance of sympathy and affection which binds our two countries together’. But even this speech provoked further controversy. In his memoirs, Benn states that he received a letter from an irate Scotsman claiming ‘you talk about ‘E’ for England, but part of it is made in Scotland’ (I think it was the nose cone). Benn deftly replied that it was also ‘E’ for Ecosse (the French name for Scotland) and he said ‘I might have added ‘e’ for extravagance and ‘e’ for escalation as well!’ as it was very expensive, though Benn remained a champion of Concorde and was on its last flight in October 2003.
The success of the Concorde prototypes in ’69, coupled with the moon landing, gave a feeling of unstoppable technological progress, and a feeling that everything was possible, but that Summer, in part of the United Kingdom, there were serious problems.
The conflict in Northern Ireland known as ‘The Troubles’ is conventionally dated from the late 1960s. There was a growing campaign for Catholic civil rights. In January 1967 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was set up – its aims included legislation to prevent discrimination; a fair basis for electoral boundaries and housing allocation; ‘one man, one vote for local government elections; and the disbanding of the B Specials (official title Ulster Special Constabulary). Terence O’Neill, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1963 to 1969 introduced some reforms, but many people in the Protestant community were unhappy about these reforms, whereas many in the Catholic community felt that they did not go far enough. There were violent incidents in 1966 which resulted in deaths, but affairs in Northern Ireland were rarely discussed in Westminster until 1969. In October 1968 there was a major clash between Civil Rights demonstrators and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the RUC, in Derry: there was huge anger over the apparently indiscriminate use of batons by the RUC. The situation deteriorated further with a violent incident at Burntollet Bridge, near Derry, in January ’69. Sectarian violence started to escalate. On 28th April Terence O’Neill resigned the Premiership and handed it over to James Chichester-Clarke. He was a distant relative of O’Neill, a Londonderry farmer and a former major in the Irish Guards. The situation in Northern Ireland worsened. There was looting in Derry in July, and riots broke out in Belfast in early August.
The Battle of the Bogside began on 12 August. The Bogside is a predominantly Catholic neighbourhood outside the city walls of Derry. The riot resulted from a confrontation between Catholic residents of the Bogside, police, and members of the Apprentice Boys of Derry who were due to march past the Bogside along the city walls, to commemorate the relief of the city by Protestant troops in late July 1689. The disturbance developed into a major battle. The RUC used CS gas. The entire community in the Bogside seemed to mobilise against the RUC. Fighting broke out in Belfast, Armagh, Newry and elsewhere. By 14th August, it looked like Civil War. The violence was relayed on television screens to British citizens on the mainland. As Dominic Sandbrook puts it, ‘to many viewers watching the evening news, it was simply inconceivable that riot and destruction on such a scale could take place in a part of the United Kingdom where people listened to the Beatles, tuned into Coronation Street and shopped at Sainsbury’s’.
Phtograph: Londonderry, August 1969: Rioters threw petrol bombs, stones and iron bars at armoured police cars
Late on the afternoon of 14th August, Chichester-Clarke and his colleagues asked the Home Office to send troops into Derry. Here is part of the statement released that day: ‘ The Government of Northern Ireland has informed the U.K. Government that as a result of the severe and prolonged rioting in Londonderry it has no alternative but to ask for the assistance of the troops, at present stationed in Northern Ireland, to prevent a breakdown of law and order’. James Callaghan, Home Secretary, was on an plane flying back from Cornwall when the request came through on the radio-telephone. He wrote ‘permission granted’ on a note, and an army battalion went into Derry that same afternoon – the fighting died down.
But in Belfast the fighting continued. Here is a note of a telephone conversation between the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary on Friday August 15th at 11.10 am. [read document].
Gerry Fitt of the Republican Labour Party, who held the Belfast West seat, sent this telegram to Harold Wilson on 15th August: ‘Demand immediate recall of Parliament in view of serious situation in Northern Ireland where many innocent lives may be lost within hours’. Under pressure from local Catholic residents, Fitt phoned Jim Callaghan and asked for the troops to be sent in. According to Gerry Fitt, Callaghan replied ‘Gerry, I can get the army in but its going to be a devil of a job to get it out’. But Callaghan did give the go-ahead for troops to be used in Belfast later that day, and this again brought the violence to an end. According to Richard Crossman, who had a meal with Callaghan that night, Callaghan remarked ‘By God, it’s much more fun being Home Secretary than the Chancellor. This is what I like doing, taking decisions’. Callaghan also later reflected on the irony that it was the Catholics of Northern Ireland who begged the British Government to send the troops in.
British soldiers were initially welcomed into nationalist communities when they arrived in August 1969. (Picture courtesy of MoD). The reaction of many Bogside residents was ‘thanks for saving us’. British troops were offered tea and sandwiches. But this honeymoon atmosphere was not to last for long and the troops came to be seen by nationalists as an ‘army of occupation’. Violence exploded in Northern Ireland on a huge scale from 1970 onwards.
On a lighter note, I mentioned that people were listening to the Beatles earlier. What were they up to in the Summer of ’69?
The Beatles were busy recording Abbey Road, at EMI Studios in, naturally enough, Abbey Road, St Johns Wood. The classic album cover is another photograph which deserves the description ‘iconic’. The main body of recording was done between April and August ’69. The cover photograph was taken in Abbey Road on August 8th at about 10 o’clock in the morning, and generations of fans have been making the same trip across the Zebra crossing more or less ever since the album was released in September ’69. Its my favourite album of all time, by the way, for the wonderful sequence of music on the second side. What else was happening in the hit parade? Let’s look at the Top 10 for the week ending 19th July, around the time of the moon landing.
Of particular note here is ‘Something in the Air’ by Thunderclap Newman, which topped the charts for 3 weeks that July. It was produced by Pete Townshend, who also played bass on it. It perfectly captured the mood of the times, with its ‘blissed-out’ vibes and refrain ‘we have got to get it together now’. It seemed very appropriate to be the No 1 single at the time of the Apollo 11 mission. I should also mention Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival, with its ‘lazy paddle-wheel beat’ as Philip Norman describes it – this record was a great favourite of Brian Jones, apparently it was constantly on his turntable in the weeks prior to his death.
So what was the weather like, in the summer of ’69? Its quite difficult to find a source that will tell you, in meaningful terms, about the quality of summers from historical periods. Diaries are a great source, it seems to me. Richard Crossman’s diaries are excellent for their insights into high politics, I quoted them earlier. From looking at them you can also guage that the weather, focusing on southern England, was particularly good in June and July. For example, on 8th June he records ‘We are having the most perfect June weather here’, on 13th June he writes ‘It was enormously hot’, and on 13th July he says ‘we are having a splendid summer now’.
At Wimbledon that year, Australian Rod Laver won the Grand Slam Men’s Singles final and Ann Jones won the Ladies’ Singles final – Ann Jones is one of Britain’s most successful ever tennis players.
The English Cricket team had a strong line-up at this time. England was captained by Ray Illingworth.
In 1969 England defeated New Zealand and West Indies in two three-match series, in both cases by two wins and one draw. Once again, now for something completely different.
In 1969 the hippy culture reached its peak. What was meant by the term ‘hippy’? It was a youth movement which originated in the US. The word ‘hippy’ was derived from the words ‘hip’ and ‘hipster’. These words were in currency in jazz circles in the 1940s and 50s. Black Americans used these words to describe sex appeal and style. By the end of 1965 the word ‘hippy’ had established itself, particularly in San Francisco. It came to describe young bohemians who created their own communities, used drugs such as cannabis and LSD, celebrated the sexual revolution and listened to rock music. They were fascinated by eastern philosophy and spiritual ideas. Very few young people in the US or Britain actually ‘dropped out’ of mainstream society to become hippies in the full sense, but many adopted hippy fashions – long hair, jeans, flowery items of clothing. Hippy fashions and values had a huge impact on culture, and by 1969 you could see its influence everywhere. You can see it in this (click on next slide) road safety poster encouraging motorcyclists to wear helmets, which has a psychedelic quality.
Even the children’s favourite Scooby-Doo was influenced by hippy values, particularly in the shape of Scooby’s minder Shaggy, whose voice was delivered by American DJ Casey Kasem. Scooby-doo began its original US run in September 1969.
One particular festival held at this time came to symbolise the counterculture of the late 60’s – Woodstock, a music and art festival, held in the rural town of Bethel, New York from August 15 to August 18th. Nearly half a million people attended. It was captured for posterity in a 1970 documentary film. In England, as we have seen, pop promoters had already staged the Hyde Park festival in June (in fact a series of festivals at that venue), and the crowning glory was the Isle of Wight festival (click on next slide).
This festival was our Woodstock – it was on a smaller scale admittedly, but it was also legendary. It was held on August 30th and 31st at Woodside Bay near Ryde, with headliners being The Who, and Bob Dylan and The Band.
An estimated 150,000 attended the Isle of Wight festival.
Its often said that the hippy ethos was killed off by Altamont, California, in December ’69, when a member of the audience, Meredith Hunter, was stabbed to death during a Rolling Stones concert, but tragic though that event obviously was, I think it’s a bit of a lazy cliché to say that it marked the end of the hippy dream. Hippy culture continued to permeate mainstream culture right into the early ’70s, in terms of music and fashions. But its also important to keep a sense of perspective about just how many people engaged fully with ’60s youth culture. It is interesting to note that the top three best selling albums of 1969 were, in reverse order, ‘His Orchestra his Singers’ by Ray Coniff, The ‘Sound of Music’ soundtrack, and, at No 1 the ‘Best of the Seekers’. Now I’m not criticising , I like of lot of that material myself – but these were not revolutionary sounds. Abbey Road was at No 4.
In his excellent book ‘White Heat’, Dominic Sandbrook makes the point that – quote: ‘although popular accounts of the era concentrate on the small group of affluent, self-confident young people who welcomed change, millions of others clung firmly to what they knew and loved’. Many people carried on with their hobbies, d-i-y,gardening , stamp -collecting – whatever it might be, just as they always had done, and there was a strong sense of nostalgia for the past, reflected in the popularity of TV programmes such as Dad’s Army which began in 1968.
Back briefly to politics, and as we saw earlier, April to June 1969 was a particularly difficult time for Harold Wilson, when questions were asked about his leadership, and poll ratings slipped. From the late Summer, however, Wilson bounced back in the polls. It was felt that the Government had handled the crisis in Northern Ireland well. Also, the economy was doing better – the trade figures for September were good – they showed a big rise in exports from July to August. At the Labour Party conference, Wilson was back on his best campaigning form and delivered a bold and witty speech which was very well received. Despite this, he was to go on to lose the 1970 General Election to Edward Heath’s Conservative Party but that’s another story.
So, to reach a conclusion: the Summer of ’69 was certainly not a quiet time; as we’ve seen, it was all happening. And we’ve also seen how the public records held here at the National Archives help to enrich our understanding of modern history. The minutes and notes in our files, and telegrams in particular, give a powerful sense of immediacy, of history being recorded in the making, right at source.
One of the most remarkable and attractive features of ’60s culture was the incredible, seemingly unstoppable optimism of much pop music, beginning with the Beatles’ breakthrough in ’63, and although pop culture did reflect changing times, with darker tones creeping in, its an optimism that carries on into the late ’60s and beyond, despite the violent events of ’68. These times were, after all, dubbed ‘The Age of Aquarius’ in the Musical ‘Hair’. Its an optimism that could well be justified given the historical achievement of the moon landing and the rolling-out of Concorde – a feeling that everything was possible. But, as we’ve seen, that summer of ’69 also saw turmoil in Harold Wilson’s government over Barbara Castle’s attempt to reform the Trade Unions, as well as over Harold Wilson’s leadership, the death of Brian Jones, the eruption of violence in Northern Ireland and the sending of troops there. To understand the ’60s, one has to acknowledge the contradictions – the tension between the optimistic pop culture revolution and the gloomy, darker elements. That’s the reason why to some, they were the ‘swinging sixties’ and to others ‘a decade of disillusion’. Though I realise the dangers of mythologising the ’60s, it’s a decade that I still see as a golden age in many ways.