1962 through the eyes of an Englishman

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The BEV Retrospective - 1962.

In January, Cuba's new leader Fidel Castro made his international political affiliations quite clear, when he entered into a trade pact with the Soviet Union. The USA had already reacted to Castro by substantially reducing the quota of sugar that was allowed to be imported from Cuba. The Russians agreed to take the corresponding amount. In February, Kennedy imposed a trade embargo against the island by executive order.

In March, Boeing had its first taste of jet passenger plane disaster when a 707 crashed after take off from New York. The plane's rudder had fallen off. There was a further 707 crash at Orly airport in Paris in June, followed by another in Guadeloupe later the same month.

In the UK at this time, the law was such that large numbers of people from the British Commonwealth had the right to migrate to the UK and to become British citizens. Large numbers of people from Pakistan, India, and the West Indies had been exercising this right, and there was a feeling of alarm amongst the British population that their country would be swamped by immigrants. I remember that my Mother was quite vocal at the time as she saw areas of Bradford where she had lived as a girl becoming largely Pakistani. The Conservative government of the time now responded to this anxiety by passing the Commonwealth Immigration Bill, which severely restricted the rights of entry. This was one of the first tastes of the variety of measures that would be adopted by Europe and the USA to curb immigration.

In July, fourteen nations, including The USSR, China, North and South Vietnam and the USA signed an agreement promising the neutrality of Laos. By this time, taking into account the 18,000 committed by Kennedy the previous year, the number of US military advisors in Vietnam must have been about 20,000 at all levels of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Despite these advisors, the ARVN was conspicuously ineffective in dealing with the Viet Cong and the North Vietnam army troops it now faced.

US representative presenting evidence of missiles at the UN.

Soviet submarine B-59 near the embargo line.
In August, the now-single Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her apartment, presumably as a result of a drug overdose. There were lots of rumours though, including one that she was involved with Kennedy, and was bumped off by the CIA or some other body to avoid a scandal.

All this was relatively mild stuff, but then, on October 14th all hell broke loose. A U2 spy plane's photographs showed that a number of Soviet nuclear missiles had been set up in Cuba. A week later, Kennedy went on TV to announce this and to castigate the Soviets. He declared a naval blockade around Cuba and threatened that if any missile were launched from Cuba the USA would retaliate against the USSR. The world was shocked and stunned. Soviet vessels with contents unknown were headed toward the arc of US Navy vessels blockading Cuba, which had orders to stop them by any means necessary. There was a very real and urgent feeling that a nuclear WW3 could break out at any minute. It was not a pleasant sensation.

I wondered if there would be a future for us and our baby. Retrospectively I'm glad that at that point I had not seen the nuclear explosion scene from the much later movie 'The Terminator'. I think if an image like that had been embedded in peoples minds at the time there could have been panic.

There were frantic diplomatic and undercover communications between Kennedy and Khruschchev. At what was arguably the most crucial point, Kennedy switched track and responded to an offer Khruschchev had made earlier that was not the subject of the current thread of negotiation. It was a gamble. By that time the US was at DEFCON 2, and on the 27th, the US Navy was dropping warning depth charges over Soviet submarine B-59 that was patrolling the blockade line. The B-59 carried nuclear armed torpedos, and had orders to use them if it was damaged

At that point Khruschchev chose to accept the out-of-sequence communication. He agreed to the removal of the missiles from Cuba after getting Kennedy to promise publicly that he would not invade the island. Privately it was also agreed that US missiles would be withdrawn from Turkey. The world breathed a sigh of relief, and things returned cautiously to normal.

In December, the once German, and then British colony of Tanganyika gained it's independence and declared itself a republic, with Julius Nyerere as its first President. It would merge with Zanzibar shortly afterward to form the United Republic of Tanzania.
The UK was plagued by particularly bad fog and atmospheric pollution - shortly to be christened 'smog' - at this time. It should be born in mind that the use of coal for domestic heating and in schools and factories was still prevalent. Also that in those days, Britain was still a manufacturing country.

Also in December, Kennedy and the British Prime Minister Macmillan met and concluded an agreement whereby the US would supply the UK with Polaris missiles.

John Glen getting aboard his Mercury capsule.

The ubiquitous compact cassette.


In January, the US launched the Ranger 3 probe that was intended to crash land on the moon, taking pictures as it dived. Unfortunately it had control problems on the way out, and missed the moon by about 37,000km.

But then on February 20th the Americans more or less caught up with the Soviets at the man-in-space game, when John Glen did three orbits in a Mercury capsule - Friendship 7 - launched into space by an Atlas rocket.

Ranger 4 - a close relative of Ranger 3 - was launched in April. Unfortunately the guidance system and most of the instrumentation packed up shortly after take off. However, the trajectory was sufficiently accurate that the probe did crash on the far side of the moon In August Mariner 2 was launched on a path which took it within 35,000km of Venus and successfully returned data on the Venusian clouds and surface to Earth.

By now the instrumentation and computers used by the US space vehicles were built using integrated circuits comprising less than 100 transistors - often much less.

At the beginning of the decade these cost around $1000 apiece, but nonetheless, the space programs purchased most of the production and thus fuelled rapid growth and increased productivity in the manufacturing processes.

On July 10, 1962, "Telstar 1" - the first active communications satellite - and also the first commercially sponsored sponsored space launch, was put into service. Unfortunately, because of a splurge of nuclear weapon testing that happened at about the same time, there was a lot of radioactivity in the Van Allen belt that messed up its electronics. By the following February, it had died. Nevertheless, on July 23, it relayed the first live transatlantic television signal, establishing capabilities that we now take for granted.

The Dow corporation in the US introduced silicone breast implants in this year. This was an invention that would come back to haunt them in the courts, and would be responsible for a large number of very improbable looking tits in the subsequent years.

The Philips Company of the Netherlands invented and released the first compact audio-cassette in 1962. They too would leave their mark on the world, with untold highways littered with their unraveled contents.

The fibre-tip pen is also attributed to this year.

So it was 1962, and still not noticeably swinging if you divided your life between Harwell in Berkshire, and Bingley. But life was pleasant.

At about that time, I was promoted from Scientific Assistant to Assistant Experimental Officer, and transferred to the custody of another Senior Scientific Officer - a Scot called Ted McIver - in another Chemistry Division building known simply as 429. This was newer, and somewhat less hazardous than the main Chemistry Division building. You could eat your lunchtime sandwiches in there if you wanted to, and the radiation protection regime was more relaxed. Half of the building was also used by another division for some electronics project or other, so there were people there you could scrounge components from for electronic hobby projects.

Ted was among other things, a crystallographer. He taught me the rudiments of X-Ray Crystallography, and we applied that to the study of the structure of the numerous oxides of Uranium. By then, the newer generation of nuclear power stations were slated to be built using Uranium Dioxide - UO2 - ceramic pellets in their fuel elements. This stood up to the stresses of temperature, irradiation, and fission better than the Uranium metal used in earlier reactors. What we wanted to know was how its structure changed as there were small changes in the ratio of Uranium to Oxygen in the material. This was relevant to its interaction between the element pellets and their enclosing casing.

UO2 is very rarely exactly that. There's pretty much a complete spectrum of compositions between U3O8 and UO2, and these variants have different densities and other properties depending on the exact composition. So for starters we needed some way to prepare specimens with fine gradations of Oxygen content. Well, Ted had come across some literature that showed you could use Zirconium Oxide, doped with a little of some other quadrivalent element, as an electrolyte that would support the transfer of oxygen ions if it was heated to some suitable temperature. The Uranium Oxides we were interested in also have some electrical conductivity, so he'd determined that if we built an electrolytic cell with Zirconia as electrolyte, and with an Oxygen source/sink at one side, and a UO2 pellet on the other, we could force or remove small measured quantities of oxygen from the UO2 by passing a controlled electric current one way or the other through the cell.

It was my job to build the cell and the associated electronics to control the current, which as right up my street. It involved electrical assemblies and exotic substances mounted on the end of a blank ended Zirconia tube enclosed in an inert gas environment inside a tube furnace. We had to wait a while because we had to import the tube from the USA, but in the meantime I built a mock up using an Alumina tube. When the Zirconia tubes arrived I took it to pieces, made the switch, and lo-and-behold, we were in business. I'd then titrate UO2 pellets with oxygen to get different compositions, then we'd grind them up and put them in a Silica capillary tube and X-Ray them. Ted would study the pattern of diffraction lines created on X-Ray film as a result and do the maths to see how the structure changed.

I enjoyed that. It was practical work I could relate to, and I believe we were pretty successful in meeting our objectives. It certainly beat the Nickel Oxide work, but I did not escape from that substance completely. Ron Dell made the suggestion that a mixture of Nickel and Nickel Oxide pressed into pellets would provide an electrode with a constant Oxygen potential that we could use as a fixed level on one side of the cell, and that is what we used.

In the same group there was another SSO called Eric Waite, and another EO called Greg Embley, who was a vintage car fanatic. These three taught me to play bridge at lunchtime since they had just lost one of their regular players.

Standard Vanguard.

Countryside near Austwick.
Before all this, one weekend in June, or thereabouts, the game of Russian Roulette that Elaine and I had been playing in consequence of my trips to Yorkshire turned out as could be have been predicted, and Elaine got pregnant. We quickly came clean and told both sets of parents. After the initial indignation and recriminations, practicality set in and a wedding was quickly arranged. There were to be guests from both ends, Yorkshire and Harwell.

My friend Tom Bailey had a Standard Vanguard car - something a little larger than the car that Mike and I were doing the Yorkshire run in. It could manage five of us without too much congestion, so Tom, me, Giles Aylmer, Pete Havard, and Malcolm Henry came up to Yorkshire for the wedding.

Elaine and I were married at Saltaire Parish Church, and there was a pleasant reception at Frank Stead's Masonic lodge where I believe he was 'Grand Master' that year. I quite enjoyed the wedding, and all my friends lusted suitably over Elaine's cousin Barbara, who made a gorgeous bridesmaid - I don't know if Pete Havard scored there, but it would not have surprised me. There is a still-existing picture of this occasion that I'll plug in here when I get a scan of it from my sister.

Afterwards Elaine and I spent a 'honeymoon' of two days at a little guest house at Austwick in the Yorkshire Dales, a place you could reach by train. It's funny the things you remember. We picked wild mushrooms from a cow pasture while out walking on the Saturday, and the guest house cooked them for us for our Sunday breakfast - the best mushrooms I've ever tasted. Other than that, I think we enjoyed the novelty of being able to have sex any time we liked, in comfort, and I'm sure I had a beer or two in the evenings. Then it was back to Shipley on the train.

The AERE (Harwell) had a welfare department to look after youngsters like me who got their girl friends pregnant.

They fixed us up initially with a widow in Abingdon who had a bigger house and presumably smaller income than she needed - one Mrs Inverarity. It was to her house that we travelled after our remaining stay in Yorkshire. She was a kindly soul, old to me, but probably only in her fifties. We had the big bedroom as a kind of bed-sitter, and we ate with her in the dining room. She and Elaine took turns to do the cooking and shared the housework. It was a tidy and rather preciously decorated semi-detached house, and I was not entirely comfortable there. But it was OK, and it would not be for long, as the welfare department would attempt to get us into an Abingdon council house before the baby arrived.

Since the pregnancy, I had gravitated to the company of a lad from Bristol, Mike Davis, who used to attend Oxford Tech on the same day as me, studying metallurgy. He'd been at Harwell a year longer, but had a similar history. He'd got his girlfriend Cherry pregnant shortly after he came to work there, and now had a council house in Abingdon, and had two children, girl and boy. Mike and Cherry and Elaine and me became friends, and Elaine would go round to see Cherry while I as at work to chat or go to the shops.

The baby it was determined, would be Richard Stephen if it was a boy, or Helen Samantha if a girl - you did not have the luxury of foreknowledge via ultrasound in those days. Elaine seemed to have a reasonably painless pregnancy. She had some morning sickness to start with, but no bad mood swings or particularly strange appetites. Her tits grew satisfyingly, and it was not until the last month that she became particularly uncomfortable, which I gather is about par for the course.

The house at Buscot Drive.
The council house materialized late in the year. The Abingdon council estates were much pleasanter than those I'd been accustomed to back in Yorkshire, where they were regarded as the pits. The houses in Abingdon were of better design, were built in a warmer coloured and probably higher quality brick, and had pleasant little gardens. We got a small two bedroom one just around the corner from Mike and Cherry, who had a three bedroom house. We'd saved enough from wedding presents and income to be able to furnish it basically with a little help from parents, and it already had a cooker and a fridge. So there we were in a place of our own. We had it more or less sorted out by Christmas, at which point we made the trip back to Yorkshire by train.

As we went, the weather turned to come from the east, and it got cold. It was a White Christmas - particularly so in the south of England. We met all our Yorkshire friends at the Fisherman Inn on Christmas Day lunchtime - drinks on the landlord, who at that time was a Greek called Courstas, married to an English woman. Frank and Lucy Stead came for Christmas dinner at by parents house - a bit of a crush at 32 Ash Grove. Elaine and I stayed at their house in Saltaire.

Just before the New Year it snowed heavily again, with drifts up to 2m deep, and once more particularly so in the south. This made us apprehensive, since it was the intention that we would pack as many things as possible into my dad's small Morris Minor 1000 car, and that he and mum would take us back to Abingdon and stay for a day or two.

Sean Connery as James Bond.

At the movies, in the US the award winner and box office topper was David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia". I think that everyone from my generation has seen this movie several times.

Second at the box office was "The Longest Day", a WW2 movie about the allied landings in Normandy on 'D Day'.

Other films that catch my attention from the list retrospectively were "Mutiny on the Bounty", "Lolita", "The Manchurian Candidate", and "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?".

British cinema came up with one of these - Lawrence - and a few other significant flicks. The first James Bond film "Dr No" came out in this year (I think that everyone from my generation has also seen this movie several times). There was another kitchen-sink drama "A Kind of Loving" , and yet another angry young man film "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner".

So there were some decent films, but in the UK the entertainment happening of the year, or of the decade, even though it was barely recognized at the time, was The Beatles.
Brian Epstein and the Beatles signed a record deal with Parlophone/E.M.I on June 4th. A few days later the Beatles moved into the Abbey Road studios with music producer George Martin, and started work. On October 5th - just before the missile crisis - the first 'real' Beatles single "Love Me Do" was released in the UK,

coinciding with the film "Dr No". It entered the British charts on October 11th. Unfortunately there appears to be little in the way of photographic evidence of the foursome from this year.

Other songs I remember from the British charts of the time were:
  • Ray Charles - I Can't Stop Loving You,
  • Carole King - It Might As Well Rain Until September,
  • Roy Orbison - Dream Baby,
  • Chris Montez - Let's Dance,
  • Tornados - Telstar,
  • Del Shannon - Runaway,
  • Miscellaneous hits by Cliff Richard and/or Shadows
You can see from the 'depth' of this list that it was time for a change, and the stage was now set.

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