1963 through the eyes of an Englishman

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The big freeze.
The BEV Retrospective - 1963.

1963 started with "The Big Freeze", the most vicious winter since 1739, and significantly colder than the one in 1948 that I remarked on previously. There was snow on the ground until March 6th.

That January, the Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell died suddenly, triggering a party leadership election which chose Harold Wilson as leader the following month. The French president Charles De Gaul vetoed UK entry into the European Economic Community.

In February, the Kennedy administration made travel, financial and commercial transactions by United States citizens to Cuba illegal. It's my opinion that this move, which was sustained by all subsequent administrations, made the Castro hold on Cuba last much longer than if normal relations had been resumed a decent length of time after the missile crisis.
In March, Dr Richard Beeching, the head of the nationalized British railway system, produced a report detailing how he proposed to extract the railway system from the massive financial losses it was making. The Beeching Report called for widespread closures of local railway lines and frequently stopping trains. Over the following years it would lead to substantial closures, but it would not put the railways into profit.

On April 12, Dr Martin Luther King and a group of civil rights activist colleagues were arrested in a Birmingham, Alabama protest for "parading without a permit". Later in the month, King published his open "Letter from Birmingham Jail", explaining his views on civil rights protest.

At about the same time the U.S. nuclear submarine Thresher sinks 220 miles east of Cape Cod with the loss of all 129 hands. Two days later, across the Atlantic, the Soviet nuclear powered submarine K-33 collided with a Finnish merchant vessel in the Danish straits. Both vessels made it to port.

Christine Keeler.
In June, there was a classic 'British cabinet minister has affair with pretty young model' episode, made more spicy by the fact that the cabinet minister was defence, and that the model - Christine Keeler - was also having it off with a Soviet Naval Attache.

There was a tradition in British politics that the sexual peccadilloes of cabinet ministers should be discretely ignored, but some wag in the Labour opposition could not resist, and brought the scandal up in parliament on grounds of the security risk. The minister John Profumo resigned. Apparently the sixties were swinging by now.

In the US that month Alabama Governor George C. Wallace stood in the door of the University of Alabama to protest against integration, before stepping aside at the insistence of federal marshals and allowing African Americans James Hood and Vivian Malone to enrol. The same day, Kennedy made a civil rights speech promising a Civil Rights Bill that would give "the kind of equality of treatment that we would want for ourselves." The day after, black civil rights activist Medgar Evers was murdered in Jackson, Mississippi - his killer would eventually be convicted in 1994.

Kennedy visited Berlin later in the month, where he visited the Checkpoint Charlie Berlin Wall crossing point, and made his famous 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech to a crowd of 120,000.

At the beginning of August, the United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union signed a nuclear test ban treaty. That month in England, an audacious team of robbers stopped a travelling post office train carrying 2.6 million pounds in cash (that's about 50 million in early 21st century value), and made off with it. This was the biggest robbery in British history.

In Washington, Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to an audience of at least 250,000 during a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

That summer, the Kennedy administration became increasingly disenchanted with the Diem leadership in Vietnam, and there was talk of regime change. The CIA had contacts with generals who were in fact plotting such change, and they let it be known that the USA would support such a coup. On November 2nd, the generals ousted and killed Diem, along with his brother. Kennedy was apparently shocked; not having appreciated that Diem would be killed. South Vietnam descended into political chaos, and the North took advantage of this to increase their support for the insurgency. Kennedy once again found it necessary to increase the number of US military advisors.

In the UK in October - British peer Alec Douglas-Home succeeded Harold Macmillan as British Prime Minister as Maclillan was having health problems.

JFK mortally wounded at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
The following month, on the 22nd of November, John F. Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas by a gunman who for all we know is as yet unknown. The vice president - Lyndon B. Johnson - was sworn in as president. The primary suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself killed two days later by a night club owner called Jack Ruby. A commission - the Warren Commission, established by LBJ - concluded later that Oswald was the assassin, but there was so much contradictory evidence and opinion that few are convinced this was the case.

The world was taken aback, and for a long time afterwards a popular question was "can you remember where you were when you heard the news that Kennedy had been shot?" I remember that I was at Snowhill Station in Birmingham. Someone had heard the news on the radio, and it spread like wildfire. JFK did not have much time to make his mark. He was undoubtedly charismatic, and extremely popular, particularly among the young. His handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis was bold but careful, and he may have averted a war. Nonetheless I suspect he is remembered more for image than for substance.


Deltic diesel locomotive.

It is quite surprising, given the development of nuclear weapons and space flight, that the use of steam trains on the UK's prestige rail route - that of the Flying Scotsman (London/Edinburgh) - persisted until this year.

The locomotives that pulled this famous train were typified by the "Mallard", which held the steam train speed record. The last steam Flying Scotsman made its run in January. Future 'Flying Scotsmen' would for some time be pulled by diesel locomotives of the Deltic class that had been developed over the previous couple of years.

This does not sound like very high tech stuff, but the diesel engine that powered these locos was actually quite advanced, using sets of three pairs of opposed cylinders, and having no valves. The government had ordered development of a diesel engine for Motor Torpedo Boats back in 1943, and the Deltic engine was the final outcome. If you're interested in that sort of thing, it's worth taking a look at this link - far too much to describe here.

Orbital space flights were now a commonplace. In this year there were the following:
  • Mercury 9 - did 22 Earth orbits piloted by astronaut Gordon Cooper,
  • Vostok 6 carried the first woman, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, into space.
  • NASA launched Syncom, the world's first geosynchronous communications satellite.
That last one is a significant first. We now rely on satellites of this kind for much of our international communications.

Speaking of communication, in July of this year ZIP Codes are introduced in the USA.

In the nerd world, the ASCI - American Standard Code for Information Interchange - character encoding was introduced. Before then, each computer manufacturer had used his own encoding, and character data was not readily moved from system to system.

Elaine with Helen.

RolleiCord camera.

A wier pool on the Thames.

As we moved into the new year, the snow held off for a while, and the roads were reported to be passable by January 2nd, so we decided to make our planned car trip with my mum and dad to Abingdon. At that time of year, in that car, a good proportion of the trip was bound to be in darkness (it gets dark at about four in the afternoon in the north of England in January). As we drove south, the snow was deeper, and flurries of snow would appear in the light of the headlamps. This was worrying, but after a while we satisfied ourselves that is was just "off the trees". The snow was cold and dry, and the smallest breeze would dislodge it. "Off the trees" became the mantra of the trip, and we arrived safely in Abingdon before midnight. The snow returned in February.

Our focus in Abingdon was now on making sure the house was ready impending arrival of the baby, and more or less on time on the 20th of February, Helen Samantha Teale was born at the Abingdon Maternity Hospital half a mile down the main road from where we lived into Abingdon.

I sent a telegram to my father, who shared the same birthday, saying just 'Happy Birthday Grandad'. Elaine stayed there two nights - things were more relaxed in those days, then she came home and there were three of us.

Elaine's mother Lucy quickly came down from Yorkshire by train and stayed for a couple of weeks to help Elaine with the initial shock of coping with a newborn. I was just in the way under those circumstances, and would not learn much about baby care until Lucy went home.

For a while, Elaine breast fed Helen, but it didn't work out too well, so we switched over to bottle feeding. The doctor gave Elaine some pills to stop her lactation. I learned to make and administer the milk and to change nappies. In 1963 we still used the old squares of towel-like cotton material fastened with a safety pin and then covered with a pair of plastic panties. The pills were a disaster. Within two months Elaine's breasts, which had been a joy - particularly during her pregnancy - collapsed to a shadow of their former selves. I was mortified, and though Elaine didn't say much about it I knew it was a great blow to her also.

We didn't have much in the way of social life. Me and Mike Davis would go to a pub called the Eagle on Northcourt Road across the Oxford road from where we lived occasionally. We also must have got up to the AERE at weekends sometimes. I think Mrs Inverarity used to babysit for us sometimes. I say this because I do have a distinct memory of dancing to some of the early Beatles records at a Social Club dance there, and I'm pretty sure that would have to be 1963.

Mostly, we were home birds, because we didn't have the money to go out, and in any case, with Helen around there were new simple aspects to life, like going for walks down by the Thames with her in her pushchair.

At work, we switched over the focus of our work to Uranium Carbide - another candidate material for fuel elements in civilian nuclear reactors. I don't remember too much about the details of this work, except that it was pretty much an extension of the techniques we'd used for UO2.

At that time I became infected by some of the guys at work with the photography bug, which for a time took over, or at least competed with my interest in audio amplifiers. I bought an ancient 2-1/4 square RolleiCord twin-lens reflex camera - a poor man's Roleiflex - and learned to use it. You'd think that as a result, I'd have some pictures of these times, but sadly I don't. They've all got lost somewhere in life.

I also got somewhat into fishing while we were in Abingdon. That was something that didn't cost an arm and a leg to do, and we had a good fishing river - the Thames - nearby. I never caught much; just a few perch, which didn't taste very nice when you cooked them - rather like cardboard in fact. Once I hooked a large pike that escaped as I tried to gaff it out of the water - a ferocious beast, I'm not sure what I'd have done with it if I had got it on land.

Before November, only one of our parents had seen the baby, so that month we went up to Yorkshire to show her off. I returned alone because I did not have much leave left, while Elaine stayed on with her parents until Christmas. Thus it was that I learned of Kennedy's death where I did. I went back to Yorkshire for Christmas and the New Year.

Steve McQueen or possibly his lookalike stunt man.

The Beatles in May 1963.

The academy award winner in the US was a British film again - "Tom Jones", a film that managed to be both hilariously funny and sexy.

"Cleopatra" was the big box office hit in the US, but the two films from that year that stick in my mind were nowhere near the top of that list. They were "The Great Escape", notable for Steve McQeen's performance, and Hitchcock's "The Birds".

British films that stand out, leaving aside Tom Jones, were: The James Bond film that year, premiering in October, was "From Russia with Love". Once again, Bond was played by Sean Connery.

Musically, the year belonged to the Beatles. Hits wise in the UK, Gerry and the Pacemakers gave them a run for their money, but the Beatles were of a different order.

The Beatles hits that year were:
  • Please Please Me - January, #2
  • From Me To You - April, #1
  • She Loves You - August, #1
  • I Want To Hold Your Hand - December, #1
Lets do 'She Loves You':

Carrol James - a DJ at WWDC in Washington - got hold of a copy of "I Want To Hold Your Hand", and played it on the radio prior to Capitol Records planned release date of Jan 13th. Capitol threatened to sue, but the song spread like a virus to other DJs, and in the end Capitol rush-released it, and it became the fastest selling British single in America.

Gerry and the Pacemakers had:
  • How Do You Do It - March, #1
  • I Like It - May, #1
  • You'll Never Walk Alone - October, #1
Other British pop groups simultaneously appeared out of the woodwork, for example, Freddie & The Dreamers, and Brian Poole & The Tremeloes. However, the other songs that stick in my mind are:
  • Bobby Vee - The Night Has A Thousand Eyes
  • Cliff Richard et al - Summer Holiday
  • Searchers - Sweets For My Sweet
  • Dusty Springfield - I Only Want to Be With You
  • Be My Baby - The Ronettes
  • The Crystals - Da Doo Ron Ron
My featured track - The Night Has A Thousand Eyes - is below (if the link is broken, please report it and I'll try to find another):

The latter two in the list above are among the earlier examples if Phil Spector's MoTown sound, another musical phenomenon which was on a roll in 1963.

The American singing poet Bob Dylan's second, and maybe most influential album was released this year. Among its tracks were "Blowin' in the Wind", "Down the Highway", "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall", and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right".

The first episode of a new BBC television series "Doctor Who" was broadcast in the UK.

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