1957 through the eyes of an Englishman

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The BEV Retrospective - 1957.

Sir Anthony Eden resigned as Britain's Prime Minister ostensibly because of health problems, but coincidentally, shortly after the Suez debacle. He was succeeded by Harold Macmillan. The new PM took a different tack. The British economy had been on the up-and-up as it recovered from the depredations of the war, and was in a state of relative boom. Macmillan declared that the people of Britain had "never had it so good". He warned at the same time that inflation was a looming problem, but that was not the bit that made the news headlines. There were a slew of independencies from the now-crumbling British Empire, Ghana, Malaya, and Singapore pulled out. Clinging still to its former role, Britain joined the fusion club by exploding its first hydrogen bomb over Christmas Island in the Pacific.

The Treaty of Rome was signed by France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, thus establishing the European Economic Community. The British still felt that they were still too great a world power to compromise their sovereignty by joining such an organization.

In South Vietnam President Diem's troops of the Republic of Vietnam Army (Arvin) began to counter attack against the incipient Viet Cong, with some American assistance. It was public knowledge that the Americans thought that Diem was "the best of a bad bunch". His civil rights record was atrocious, but they continued to support him anyway.

In contrast to my private life, until October 1957 proved to be a relatively quiet year in terms of international events. But then the USSR sprang a surprise on the USA that caused considerable consternation. The first man-made earth satellite, or "Sputnik" was launched on the 4th of October. The launch spelled out loud and clear, as far as the US public was concerned, that the USSR either had, or would soon have, the capability to deliver thermonuclear weapons anywhere in the world. The USA was thus potentially vulnerable to an attack for which there was no defence. The satellite was also very much "in the face" of ordinary citizens. It was clearly visible to the naked eyes of US citizens in the night sky, and emitted a constant regular beeping signal that any radio ham with a short wave radio could receive, and which was broadcast regularly by just about every TV and radio station on the planet. To compound the original shock, on November 3rd, the Soviets launched the mongrel Laika into space in a second, larger satellite. The Soviet authorities said Laika died painlessly after a week in orbit but much later evidence showed that the dog actually died of over-heating and panic a few hours after take-off.

Only Eisenhower seemed unphased. Five days after Sputnik 1 he issued a statement congratulating the Soviets on their achievement. He was in a position to know that the USA was not that far behind, and was in fact planning to launch a reconnaissance satellite that would be much more sinister for the Soviets than the harmless beeping Sputnik. Before Sputnik, there had been worries about the legal position of such a satellite over-flying Soviet territory. Then Sputnik, in over-flying the USA, had more or less established the principal of the freedom of international space, leaving the Americans with a watertight riposte - well you did it first!
Without doubt though, Sputnik unequivocally ended any perception by the US public that the USA had technological superiority in all

areas. It provoked a flurry of spending both on higher technical education, and on government research organizations.

Apart from the space flight's which I've treated as news/history, a major innovation of the year was the application of ultrasound to medical diagnosis. The technique was developed by Professor Ian Donald and colleagues at the Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital in Scotland.

I think it's fair to say that this was one of the more significant positive developments of the century given the extent to which it is used in current medical practice.

A somewhat more negative discovery was announced in the UK by the Medical Research Council, who concluded that "The link between smoking and lung cancer is one of 'direct cause and effect'". It would be a long time before I and many others would take this warning seriously.

Youth group members - Brenda top left girl.

50s dancing.

Smart 50s male dress.

A working class dance hall scene.

Brenda, who incidentally was a redhead, and I saw each other regularly at the Sunday school, and at the youth group. On other evenings, as often as not, we'd join the small gang of kids who used to congregate around the phone booth at the bottom of Staybrite Avenue, and sometimes we'd go to the movies, where we could snog in relative privacy. I also spent quite a bit of time at her house, where her parents seemed quite friendly.

Her father had been in the tank corps during the war, and I would try and coax information out of him about what that had been like. In common with most other war veterans, he was pretty tight lipped about it. The only story I remember was one he told about being lost in the streets of a ruined city somewhere in North Africa. He and his crew were trying to extricate their tank from the streets and get back to open ground, but were lost. So the tank stopped, and he stuck his head out of the top for a quick shufti around. In the next road, across the rubble in between, a German Panther tank had also stopped, and its commander was doing exactly the same thing. The two men looked at each other, said "Oh shit" or the equivalent, and banged down the hatches. Both tanks took off in opposite directions, and they never saw each other again. Made-up story perhaps, but I guess it was better than the one about seeing your best friend fry in a brewed-up tank that had taken a direct hit.

We explored a sexual relationship. Initially it was just what the social anthropologists like to call 'heavy petting'. It included, that is, almost everything short of real sex - French kissing, playing with each other's parts to the point of orgasm, etc. This was mostly a vertical activity, carried on outdoors in winter and early spring under the cover of darkness. It must have been very messy for her. At that age a young man can be quite prolific, so there must have been a good deal of clandestine underwear washing and drying. I was loth to wash my hands after such encounters. I loved the smell and taste of her on my fingers - finger pie, heady days. I thought it was fantastic to have a pretty regular "sex life", and she seemed to be equally enthusiastic. I think at that time we were both quite happy.

Somebody at school lent me a cheap paperback sex novel during this period. We read it together, and discovered that there were bits we were leaving out, like pussy eating and dick sucking. I was eager to try out the pussy eating, and did, but Brenda was more dubious about giving head.

Given these levels of stimulation, the discussion arose inevitably about 'going all the way' and by May this had developed into a definite intention. It thought it required some warmer weather - we were still an outdoors couple - and it required me to obtain a condom, or 'French letter' as they were more commonly known in England then. The English of course attributed these to the French, who were well known to be a bunch of sex maniacs. The French, in their turn, called them English overcoats, the English being known for their profligacy and their tendency to adultery.

I barely the balls to walk into a chemists shop and buy some. In those days they weren't on a display rack in the shop so you could just pick up a packet and hand it to the person at the check out. I had to ask for them, and then the man behind the counter said "I beg your pardon", so I had to repeat myself at more than a mumble, and everyone else in the shop turned round and looked at me. Then the man asked me what kind I wanted. At that point I crumbled, muttered something, and fled the shop.

Eventually I scrounged a couple from another boy in the fifth form, one Graham Taylor - known as 'Smiler', who was renowned in the school for his sexual prowess. This reputation was solely self-promoted. There was not a shred of evidence for his achievements in this department, except that he possessed condoms. This could of course have been simply part of the act.

I wanted at least two because I'd never actually seen one, and wanted to find out what they were about before the actual event. I extracted one of them from the aluminium foil package to examine it and determine what I was dealing with, then I tried it on. I was gratified to find that it was a reasonable fit and that I did not get lost inside it. I took it that this meant I was of average size. The other one I kept in a tobacco tin that my father had emptied and discarded as some sort of cover. I had a collection of such tins, so the content of one of them was unlikely to attract attention.

A suitable sunny day arrived, and we took ourselves off to a secluded part of Cottingley Wood, where there was a small grassy depression to provide a little extra privacy. The deed was done. I don't think the earth moved for either of us. It was rather quick - what can I say; a young lad doesn't stand much chance under those circumstances. Also, Brenda was a virgin, so there was some bleeding and discomfort for her. However I certainly enjoyed the various sensations, and would have been back for more the same weekend, given half a chance, if there had been a ready supply of condoms, and she hadn't been a bit sore.
Very shortly after, Brenda and her family went on two weeks holiday in the Lake District or somewhere. I had the address, missed her, and foolishly wrote to her to tell her I loved her and asking if her period had turned up as expected. She wrote back and confirmed that it had. Of course, her mother read my letter, and when they got back, all hell broke loose.

Brenda's parents consulted mine. We were interrogated and made to confess our joint sin, and a lot of hard words were spoken. At the same time there was some thankfulness that we had taken precautions. In the end, short of cutting off my dick, which no one actually threatened to do, there was not much to be done about it. We were put under curfews and banned from spending time alone together.

The effects of these precautions were of course minimal, though they, or the shock of our discovery, or both, did stop us from repeating the experiment. They didn't stop us from seeing each other though, and former activities continued clandestinely.

Remarkably, given the distractions of my love affair, the new company I'd been intruded into in the fifth form at school, and the fact that I'd missed a whole year of tuition, I passed all the 'O' level examinations I took at the end of the school year. That was chemistry, maths, physics, history, geography, French, and German. Some people got 8 or 9 'O' levels, but this was only through the subterfuge of taking religious instruction and basket weaving or whatever. I didn't like to sit in examination rooms well enough to bother with those.

During the summer holidays, as part of the 'keep them apart campaign', my dad got me a job in a machine shop that made alloy aero-engine parts, where I had to mask the mating areas of parts with masking tape before outside was sprayed with protective lacquer.

After the holidays it had been determined that Brenda, being of an artistic rather than an academic bent, would leave Bradford Girls Grammar School, where she had been studying, and go to the Bradford Art College. This move was the undoing of our relationship. At the art college there were older boys, or men, and the inmates of the art college were very hip and bohemian by my standards. In particular there was a boy called Billie Ebbage, the older brother of a boy in my class at Bingley Grammar. Billie was grown up - 21 maybe - and sophisticated, and rapidly swept Brenda off her feet.

A scratch band at our youth group.
She humiliated me by bringing him to our youth club to show him off, I could tell they were fucking each other, and I was heartbroken. I retired to lick my wounds, gave up women, and did not attend the youth club for a few weeks.

Looking at these words now, this seems, as it indeed it was, a brief interlude in the life of a young man. But it was my first experience of love, sex, and heartbreak, and as such it still ranks high in my estimation of life experience. Strangely, there was no song of the day that I particularly associated with either the inception of the relationship, or with my rejection. In the top 20 from September 1957 to December, you'd have been hard put to find one.

At the same time though, exciting up-beat numbers by new stars like the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, and from my point of view best of all, Buddy Holly, excited my attention. By that time I had acquired my first guitar, and I think that learning rough renditions of the Buddy Holly and Everly Brothers songs gave me something to do to take my mind off the rejection, and restored some of the self esteem I'd lost.

My musical interests were also expanded at about this time in company with my friend Jeremy Law. His elder brother, Peter, had a small collection of jazz records. These were mostly traditional jazz, by the Ken Colyer and Chris Barber bands. However, there were also records by Jerry Mulligan, and the Modern Jazz Quartet - completely different styles of music.

The award winning movie was "Bridge on the River Kwai", directed by David Lean, and starring Alec Guinness among others. Other than that, there is not a lot on the list for the year that stands out. Elvis Presley starred in "Jailhouse Rock", but by then I thought he had lost his edge and become over commercialised.

The British film "Hell Drivers" got good reviews from my friends, but I missed it. Must've been doing something else.

Of the records that made it to the British top 5 that year, the ones that stick in my mind are:
  • Little Richard - Long Tall Sally
  • Nat 'King' Cole - When I Fall In Love
  • Peggy Lee - Mr Wonderful
  • Elvis - All Shook Up, Teddy Bear
  • Diamonds - Little Darlin'
  • Pat Boone Love Letters In The Sand (sad, but true)
  • Buddy Holly/Crickets - That'll Be The Day, Oh Boy
  • Jerry Lee Lewis - Great Balls Of Fire
There was also a nasty outbreak of "skiffle", which was British poor man's blue grass music, featuring groups Like "Lonnie Donegan & His Skiffle Group" (for example - "Cumberland Gap"), and the "Charles McDevitt Skiffle Group". Skiffle groups became very popular amongst teens because you only needed the most basic of instruments: a guitar, an old washing board, and a base made out of a tea chest, a broom stick, and a piece of string. We formed one at our youth group.

The first British TV show devoted to popular music appeared in this year. "Six-Five Special" was pretty awful, but you had to take what you could get.

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