1960 through the eyes of an Englishman

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The BEV Retrospective - 1960.

Early in the New Year of 1960, Kennedy declared his intention to run for president.

In South Africa on the 21st of March, the police forces of the apartheid regime fired on a peaceful demonstration at Sharpeville and killed 69 black South Africans, men, women and children. Police commander Police Commander D. H. Pienaar said: "It started when hordes of natives surrounding the police station - If they do these things, they must learn their lessons the hard way." Now there's a good healthy white attitude! Not a single police officer was ever convicted over this incident, but it did a lot to influence public opinion against the regime in South Africa. I was personally sickened by the scenes; it was like something out of the worst lynch-mob movie fiction that you could imagine.

Elsewhere in Africa, the British colonies of Nigeria and Somalia achieved independence in 1960.

U2 spy plane.
On May 1st, the Russians succeeded in bringing down a U2 spy-plane piloted by the unlucky airman Gary Powers. The U2's flew at too high an altitude for Russian Fighters to get close to them, but this one was finally damaged by a ground-to-air missile. Powers baled out, and was captured, while the plane crash landed but managed to leave much of its internals intact.

The Americans bluffed by marking up one of the previously unannounced U2's in NASA livery and announcing that the pilot of one of these planes had reported getting into difficulties over North Turkey, and was lost. Kruschev then announced the shooting down of a spy plane. Ah, said the Americans, assuming that Powers was dead, this could be the very plane, but there was no intention to violate Russians airspace.

Kruschev pounced. 'I must tell you a secret. When I made my first report I deliberately did not say that the pilot was alive and well.' The Russians had recovered the surveillance camera, and developed its photographs, and Powers had confessed.
The Americans were caught with their trousers down, and immediately accelerated their program to develop spy satellites. As a result, a four power conference that assembled on May 17th in Paris, fell apart in disarray.

Also in May, the strongest ever recorded earthquake occurred near Valdivia in Chile. It caused enormous tidal waves and may have killed as many as 6000 people.

Following changes in the law governing obscene publications in 1959, Penguin Books published an edition of D. H. Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'. They were promptly taken to court, where they produced a stream of intellectual opinion to the effect that the book had literary merit, despite its liberal use of the word 'fuck', and some quite explicit sexual passages. The jury found Penguin not guilty. It had been freed for public consumption in the USA the year before. Given the choice between beer money and literary merit, the beer won, and I did not get round to reading the book until someone lent me a copy some time later.

In November, John F. Kennedy was elected as President of the USA, beating the then vice president, Richard Nixon, by a narrow popular vote margin of only about 120,000 votes. His term would be short but eventful, and his charisma would attract many followers in the USA and elsewhere.

Cloud picture from TYROS-1.

Russian space puppies.

The assault on space continued at a pace. In March, the US probe Pioneer 5 was sent into deep space to test long distance communications. The British radio telescope at Jodrell Bank succeeded in communicating with it at a distance of 407,000 miles, beating the record established by the Russians when they received the pictures from the other side of the moon. Later, contact was maintained to a distance of 22.5 million miles.

Then in April there was another weather satellite - TIROS-1. This was vastly more successful that its predecessor, and the image improvement over the pictures provided by Explorer 6 was amazing.

Then in July, there was GRAB-1 - standing for "Galactic Radiation and Background". This satellite did have some instrumentation corresponding to its title, but primarily it was an electronic eavesdropping device, and it successfully returned some gathered information. Big Brother would be listening to us from now on.

August was packed. Discoverer 13 - ostensibly a space exploration mission in fact was a test of another surveillance satellite that could take 70mm film of ground targets with 7.5m resolution, and return capsules containing film to Earth. The capsules were caught by planes with nets.

The day after, the Russians launched Sputnik 5, which took two dogs into space and safely returned them. Then later there was Echo-1A, a 30m reflective balloon that was put into orbit to passively reflect telephony and TV signals between different points on the Earth's surface.

Finally that same month, the US KH-1 9009 - another surveillance satellite - was launched.

In the world of computing, the first compiler compiler was created by Tony Brooker at Manchester University in the UK, and was used to create compilers for the Atlas computer there. Also, at about this time, computer design using transistors rather than vacuum tubes began.

The Halogen Lamp was reputedly invented in this year, but I don't have a good attribution for this.


After Christmas, I got my move to B-Mess. I moved in with a character known in the hostel as "Pancho", presumably because of his build and somewhat swarthy appearance - he did look rather like a Mexican. Pancho was OK except that he rarely washed the rugby kit that resided in the bottom of his wardrobe and that consequently used to stink rather pungently. He also used to snore loudly, especially when he'd had a few beers, which was quite often.

I liked the hostel. The dining room was congenial, and I got a place at a table with a bunch of people who I liked. The food suited me, and further entrenched my love of potatoes - in the spring they'd give you lashings of boiled new potatoes with lots of butter; very healthy. I also liked the showers. There was a communal bathroom area with big old fashioned showers that had a high flow rate and an apparently infinite supply of hot water. There was a large communal lounge that had a brick Wharfedale speaker enclosure in one corner - music was still mono in those days - with a Quad amplifier and a decent quality hi-fi record deck. People would put on whatever suited them, and you could stay or leave at your pleasure unless there was a large majority against. As a result you got to hear quite a bit of unfamiliar music. The experience extended the knowledge of classical music that I'd acquired from my parents, which consisted mostly recordings of favourite operatic arias and overtures recorded on the old 12" 78 rpm shellac records.

We spent our evenings talking in the lounge, or visiting each other in our rooms, or if there was money left, playing cards, dominoes, or darts at the Sports and Social Club, which was a 30 yard walk from B Mess front door. The Sports and Social Club consisted of a large bar surrounded by an area containing tables and chairs, and a larger room suitable for meetings and dances. They sold Morlands beer, the sort I'd been introduced to the previous year at the Horse and Jockey a mile south down the A34. By now of course I was completely habituated to the stuff, and it tasted quite normal, even after the odd trips that I got to make up to Yorkshire, when I could get 'proper' beer. The bitter beer was a shilling a pint, and the mild eleven pence. They also sold rough cider - scrumpy - but most of us left this alone. I had learned my lesson quite soon after I arrived at Harwell when one lunchtime I foolishly consumed two pints of scrumpy - probably on an empty stomach. I was legless in the afternoon, and more or less had to hide until finishing time. It was cheap though, sixpence a pint I think, so if you were hard up it served as a last resort.

In the real world, there was also homework to do from Tech, which often got postponed until Sunday afternoon or evening. On Saturday there was sometimes an impromptu dance at the SSC, and on Sunday evening a travelling man came and showed a more-or-less up-to-date movie. If it was a good one, the homework would likely get done on the bus going to tech on Monday morning.

Satellite picture of 'B' Mess.
B-Mess, like the hostel in Abingdon, was mixed. The women had their own areas, with their own sanitary facilities, but there was no prohibition on visiting other than informal ones imposed by the women themselves, and the tacit one on bathrooms. Women were relatively scarcer here than they had been in Abingdon, and I never had a girl friend from the hostel there.

Originally the RAF sergeants mess, it was a generally 'H' shaped building, with the cross bar running roughly north/south, and with the dining hall and the kitchens behind the cross bar. The cross bar contained the common rooms, and the uprights of the 'H' the accommodation. Across the road, and a little to the west there was a newer block of buildings with single rooms comprising an annex.

One floor of the north wing was populated by the AERE drivers, the chauffeurs who drove the top brass about. They imposed segregation in their part of the hostel, lived in pairs, and were generally regarded as being lesbians, which I think was generally true.

The Social Club was situated just below (to the east of) where you can see the tennis court in the picture, but it's gone now, demolished.
At work I graduated to making differential thermal analysis (DTA) measurements on the dehydration of UO3. This sounds something of a mouthful, but is actually quite simple in principle. You heat up two substances in the same oven or furnace in two separate compartments, with the temperature increasing steadily. In each compartment there's a temperature measuring device. One of the substances is a placebo - something that you don't think will be affected by the change in temperature - and the other is the substance you are testing. You measure the difference between the two temperatures. As some chemical reaction occurs in the tested substance, you see temperature differences corresponding to the release or absorption of energy, in this case, heat.

Differential thermal analysis setup.
You can calibrate such a system by using a test substance that has a reaction where the energy release is well known, but often you don't even need to know this, since what you're interested in is the temperature at which the reaction occurs, and the speed with which it happens. You don't need to know the amount of energy released or absorbed absolutely.

In practice, it was a little more complicated. First you had to build your furnace. In my case, this consisted of a ceramic (alumina - Al2O3) tube hand wound with a NiChrome wire heating element. This in turn was wrapped in a winding of asbestos tape (yes, nobody cared about asbestos in those days!), and surrounded in a tubular aluminium sheet body. The furnace was completed by asbestos ends plugged into the aluminium tube at each end with a hole in the middle just big enough to fit the tube. The body of the furnace was filled with mica insulation.

The actual working bit consisted of an Inconel (that's an Iron, Nickel, Chromium alloy with good high temperature corrosion characteristics, and a small coefficient of thermal expansion) cylinder about 40mm long, and wide enough to be a reasonable fit inside the tube. Down through the top of the block, at equal distances from the centre, were drilled two 8mm holes about 25mm deep, and through the bottom of these, a narrower hole that went through the bottom of the block. Into each of these narrower holes I would cement a twin bore ceramic tube to accommodate the temperature sensor wires.

In the bottom of the block, a rebate was machined to accommodate a supporting silica tube that would hold the block in place in the furnace with the furnace standing on end. The block and the furnace body parts were made in the Chemistry Division workshop, and the rest was up to me.

The temperature sensors were NiCr/NiAl thermocouples, and I had to make these with junctions that were as close to the same geometry as possible by welding together the wires many times until
I had two junctions where each little glob of welded material was a good match for the other.

Then I'd tread the four wires through the ceramic tubes in the bottom of the metal block, and insulate the wires from each other with further twin bore ceramic tube segments. At the bottom of the supporting silica tube, the thermocouple wires ended at a ceramic electrical connector block, where they were connected back-to-back - NiCr to NiAl, The unconnected ends were then connected to one of the input terminals of a suitably sensitive Honeywell temperature recorder to give the differential temperature, and the two ends corresponding to the placebo chamber were connected to another input to measure the actual temperature in the block.

Got all that? Well it's OK, there won't be a test.

Then the actual work began. Initially you'd set the thing up by heating something inert like Alumina powder in the twin tubes in the Inconel block and determining a heating regime that would give a nice straight line from both of the inputs. The differential one had to stay at zero millivolts, while the actual temperature increased also in a nice straight line corresponding to a steady rate of temperature increase.

This was a bit tedious. I did not initially have any electronics that would enforce this, so I had to accomplish it by using a variable transformer and simply setting out in my notebook the settings I had to use minute by minute to achieve the required result. Actually this was not as bad as it sounds. The characteristics of a tubular furnace are such that at its centre, where my metal block was situated, it heats up in a pretty linear fashion if you apply constant power to it. Consequently most of what I had to compensate for was the change in the resistance of the heating element wire as the temperature increased, and with NiChrome wire, this is not marked, only about 2% in the range of temperatures I was interested in.

When I got round to the actual experiments I'd use UO3 that had been heated up to the maximum temperature as placebo, and the hydrated material as the test. Then each of my hydrated batches got measured by this technique a couple of times before I handed them over to Vic for the fluorination testing.

Coarse Rugby.
In the early months of that year I joined the AERE Rugby Club and got a place on the 3rd team in which I was placed as a wing forward. This was coarse rugby at its finest. We'd take off on Saturday morning in a hired coach, play in pissing-down rain against some other club's 3rd team on a rough pitch that was usually a sea of mud and cow shit, wallow in the communal after-match bath or shower, then retire to a club house or local pub where we'd get very drunk and sing a lot of vulgar rugby songs. Sometimes some of the AERE girls would come along as our support, and not behave much better.

On days when we didn't have a match, we'd watch the superior play of our 1st team against some visitors, skip the bath, and spend the evening similarly.

I vividly remember such a match against a team called 'Whitney Blankets'. Whitney was a town to the west of Oxford, famous for the manufacture of these articles, probably primarily for consumption by the British Army. It was not, for a change, actually raining, but it was bitterly cold, and the ground was harder than it should have been for safe play. They had a scrum half who was about five feet tall and five feet wide, quick, nimble, and aggressive. He put down my roommate Pancho in the first half and broke his collar bone. I was annoyed by this, and succeeded, under the influence of the cold and the adrenaline, in nailing him between a set-scrum and the touchline without suffering too much pain myself.
He went down on the hard ground with a very satisfying crunch, and had to be dragged off. Afterwards, a few pints later, we were all the best of friends.

One Saturday night when we had no match, and the 1st team were playing away, the rest of the 3rd team lads took off in cars to go to Oxford or somewhere, but I was too late, and there was no room for me, so I was left consoling myself with a couple of pints when two girls from Abingdon turned up looking for the rugby crowd. One of them - Anne - worked at the AERE, and the other - Joyce - was a friend who lived near her, and they were looking for some fun. Well, there wasn't much to be had at the Sports and Social Club that night, so after we'd all had a few drinks, I was dragged off, not unwillingly, on the last bus to Abingdon, where Joyce's parents were away for the night.

Now a young man always lives in hope, and is rarely rewarded, but on this occasion it was out of my hands. After another drink or two, both of them stripped off and said, come on, let's go to bed. Not being shy in this respect, I went along, piling-in in the first instance with Anne, who appeared to be both willing, since she presented me with a condom, and judging by the fact that she was wet as hell, ready. As you'll probably understand, that encounter did not last very long, but it was very pleasant - sexy, and light hearted. Anne had been a virgin, and consequently went to the bathroom afterwards to do a bit of cleaning up. The whole thing must have been organized and premeditated to some extent,

B Mess Christmas cabaret.

The fancy dress party.
because when she left, Joyce beckoned me over to her bed, where I could quite definitely have performed just as well again, since in my book she was the sexier of the two. Unfortunately, as it turned out she'd just started her period, and though she was inclined, she wouldn't, so I had to settle for some passionate kissing, a good grope, and a hand job. Anne, when she reappeared, was not a bit put out. It was all most satisfactory from my point of view. I slept like a babe with Joyce, and in the morning I was given breakfast and put on the bus back to Harwell: no regrets and no embarrassment all round. That was fun.

The summer that year was decent. In the absence of rugby, we enjoyed our break from Tech, played volleyball on a field beside B-Mess, and I would walk in the countryside as I had done back home. Harwell is in a cherry-growing area, and I recall that in that first year when I could buy fresh cherries at a roadside stand outside the AERA main gate, they were extraordinarily good. I developed a group of B-Mess dweller friends: Giles Aylmer from Lincolnshire, Bob Bailey who was a Geordie, Richard Bullock from Woolwich, Peter Havard from Dorset, Malcolm Henry from Cheltenham, and Ron Perkins from Lancashire.

I got home once or twice during the year for long weekends, and when I did, the relationship with Elaine continued as if uninterrupted, with fond meetings and sad goodbyes. She also came down to visit for a long weekend during the summer. I was jealous because Malcolm Henry's girlfriend Julie used to come and stay at weekends from time to time. He lived in the annex, and so had a single room, and I persuaded him to stay in my room for the weekend so Elaine and I could use his. This was not sold to parents in quite this way. That was the first time I'd ever slept with a woman. It was a good thing that we were on pretty intimate terms, as it was a very small bed.

B Mess had a tradition of putting on a Christmas cabaret and fancy dress party. This was held on the Saturday night of the week before Christmas, so that the inmates could comfortably disperse to their family homes for Christmas. I joined in with this enthusiastically, and put a fair amount of effort into both the cabaret, which was on some vulgar ancient Roman theme, and on my fancy dress. As far as I can remember through the alcoholic haze, it was a pretty good do.

It was the sixties, but I'd have to say that they were hardly swinging yet, though the seeds had been planted for some aspects of it when 'the pill' - the combined oestrogen/progestogen contraceptive pill - was approved for use in the USA that year.

Shower scene.

The Drifters.

At the movies, in the US the award winner was The Apartment. This was a rather cynical comedy about an employee - Jack Lemon - whose apartment is commandeered five nights a week by philandering bosses.

The box office hit was Disney's "Swiss Family Robinson", which grossed almost twice as much as it's nearest rival. The other best sellers were "Psycho" - famous for it's in-shower stabbing scene, "Spartacus", "Exodus", and the John Wayne classic "The Alamo".

British cinema had a weak year. The only films I remember from the list are another "kitchen sink" drama - "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning", and the WW2 film "Sink the Bismarck!"

The songs from the British charts that stick in my mind were:
  • Eddie Cochran - Three Steps To Heaven,
  • Johnny Kidd & The Pirates - Shakin' All Over,
  • Cliff Richard & The Shadows - Please Don't Tease,
  • Shadows - Apache (Cliff Richard's backing group, had hits of their own),
  • Roy Orbison - Only The Lonely,
  • Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires - It's Now Or Never (I'll let this sneak by),
  • Drifters - Save The Last Dance For Me.
There were hits from the Everly Brothers, but not my favourites. Also further down the charts was Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang". At about this time guitarist Duane Eddy embarked on a series of guitar solo recordings that were pretty popular, but also got to be rather repetitive.

The last song on my list was, for my money, the classic of the year. It was produced by Lieber and Stoller, who at that time had a trainee called Phil Spector. Some think Spector may have had a hand in this, and it definitely has elements that could be precursors of the Motown Sound.


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