1964 through the eyes of an Englishman

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The BEV Retrospective - 1964.

1964 was an election year in the USA, and also in the UK as it turned out. In January, Senator Barry Goldwater declared his intention to run for the presidency. In the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, Goldwater was regarded as something of a right wing fanatic. Many Europeans thought that his election might precipitate WW3. However the people of Europe don't get to vote in US elections, so we viewed the process with the usual mystification, and on this occasion with some apprehension.

His probable opponent, the incumbent by inheritance Lyndon B. Johnson - LBJ, was at the other end of the spectrum. In his State of the Union address that month he proposed legislation for a 'War on Poverty' federal legislation along the lines of Roosevelt's New Deal. This was in response to poverty rates around 19%.

The same month, plans to build the World Trade Center in New York City were announced, and Kenneth Kuanda was elected prime minister of the British colony of Northern Rhodesia.

In March, the US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara promised further economic and military aid to South Vietnam. LBJ had initially regarded the conflict in Vietnam as a low priority affair, and did not get on with his foreign affairs advisors. Eventually though he was convinced that the situation was deteriorating there as the Viet Cong took advantage of the political chaos caused by a sequence of coups following Diem's assassination.

There was an enormous earthquake in Alaska that month, 9.2 on the moment magnitude scale. Earthquakes above 9 on the scale are classified as great earthquakes, and can affect areas across thousands of miles. At the time this one was second only to the 9.5 quake in Chile in 1960. It has an energy release estimated at about 90 gigatons. It killed around 130 people. If it had happened in New York or San Fransisco, the consequences would have been unimaginable.

During April the South African ANC leader Nelson Mandela was on trial in Pretoria on charges of sabotage and crimes against the state. In his statement at the start of the trial he said, "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die". He was later sentenced to life imprisonment.

LBJ signs the Civil Rights Act.
During the next couple of months, things went both ways for LBJ in the USA. On July 2nd, he signed into law the Civil Rights Act, a piece of landmark legislation that would profoundly change the status quo in race relations and sexual equality. The act had been introduced by Kennedy, largely at LBJ's instigation. It prohibited discrimination on grounds of race and gender in public facilities, education, voting, government, and employment. The Republican presidential candidate, Goldwater, voted against it, despite the fact that as LBJ remarked on signing, it would probably sacrifice the Democrat's support in the South for a generation. Goldwater said "You can't legislate morality", in which I think he was to be proved profoundly wrong. The act did not have much in the way of teeth to start with, but it was to get them later.

Human rights aside, the same month, another 5000 US military advisors were dispatched to Vietnam. Then in August there was the infamous "Gulf of Tonkin" incident. On the 2nd, the US destroyer Maddox reported that it had been attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. On the 4th it and another destroyer reported a further attack. NSA revelations much later would indicate that the Maddox fired first in the first engagement, and that the second engagement was bogus.
at the time LBJ and his advisors believed the reports, and ordered retaliatory air strikes against North Vietnam. As a result also, Congress passed a joint resolution that granted the president the authority to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without the benefit of a declaration of war. This was the top of a very slippery slope.

The old - Sir Alec Douglas Home, the new - Harold Wilson.
In the UK, after pushing his government's term to the limit in the face of unpopularity, the Conservative Prime Minister, then Douglas-Home (Supermac having retired the previous year because of ill health) asked the Queen to dissolve parliament.

The election was held on 15th October, and after 13 years of Tory rule, the Labour Party under Harold Wilson was elected by the very slim majority of 4 seats.

That month, Dr Martin Luther King, having been instrumental in the drive toward the Civil Rights Act, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. China joined the nuclear club by exploding its first 'A' bomb. Northern Rhodesia received its independence, becoming Zambia, with Kenneth Kaunda now as president.

In the USSR in October, Nikita Khrushchev was deposed as leader, and Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin took over.

The US election was held on 3rd November, and LBJ thrashed Goldwater, much to the relief of most Europeans. Following the election, the NSA recommended a three stage escalation of bombing of North Vietnam.

Gemini vehicle in orbit.

One of the early syncom satellites.

In the USA, in February, LBJ announced that the United States had developed the A-11 jet that was capable of sustained flight at more than 2,000 mph and altitudes greater than 70,000 feet. I don't think we ever heard anything more about it, as it turned out that anything you could usefully have done from the A-11 could be done by rockets or satellites - but nice try!

On the space exploration front, NASA embarked on the Gemini sequence. The Apollo program, targeting the moon, had been started first, but the two man orbital vehicles of the Gemini program were launched before any Apollo launches when it was realized that some intermediate steps were required. In April Gemini 1 was launched, the first test of the Gemini vehicle, with no crew. The test was generally successful.

In August, Syncom 3 was launched, and became the first satellite in a geostationary orbit. Geosynchronous is when the orbit period matches the Earth's rotation period, a geostationary orbit is a geosynchronous circular one directly over the equator. A geostationary satellite appears to be in a fixed position when viewed from earth, so you can point a simple fixed antenna at it. This satellite was used to beam the television coverage of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo across the Pacific to the United States. Its successors provide the signal that you point your satellite TV dish at.

Still ahead in some ways, the Russians launched Voskhod 1 into orbit with a three man crew in October. They still had the edge on massive launch vehicles.

In November NASA launched Mariner 4 toward Mars to take television pictures of that planet the following year.

In computer technology, April saw the announcement of IBM's System/360. This was one of the most successful computer systems in history, coming in a range of computer sizes and modules all sharing the same operating system and software. For any nerds out there who may be reading this, it's worth noting that System/360 introduced a number of industry standards, such as:
  • The 8-bit byte,
  • Byte-addressable memory
  • 32-bit words
  • Two's complement arithmetic
  • Commercial use of microcoded CPUs
The following month, yet another computer language was introduced in the form of BASIC, destined to become my second-least favourite computer programming language.

There were two significant civil engineering events. First, in September, the Forth Road Bridge opened over the Firth of Forth in Scotland, being at that time the longest suspension bridge in Europe. Then in November - the Verrazano Narrows Bridge between Staten Island and Brooklyn in New York opened to traffic. The latter became the world's longest suspension bridge at that time.
On the nature of the universe and all that, the first published recognition of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation as a detectable phenomenon appeared in a brief paper by Soviet astrophysicists A. G. Doroshkevich and Igor Novikov.

Back in Abingdon, life generally went on at a steady pace. I gave up on fishing - patience was never my strong suite. The magazine "Wireless World" published a design for a transistor audio amplifier, and that triggered me into a further frenzy of amplifier building. It was a good design, and I would use the resulting amplifier for several years.

Helen became a delightful baby, and I do have a picture of her from around that time. I'll post it when I get a scan of it from her younger sister.

In October, Elaine and I and Helen went up to Yorkshire for the wedding of Elaine's cousin Barbara, of bridesmaid fame. This visit coincided with the general election, and consequently neither of us voted. This would not have made any difference to the outcome, as Abingdon was going to have a Conservative MP regardless.

Elaine and I watched the election results as they came in with a bunch of our friends, and the other locals, 'locked-in' at the Fisherman Inn in Bingley, until the uncertainty of the result left us too tired, or too drunk to continue further. Getting 'locked-in' was a characteristic British phenomenon of the times. In those days the pubs were required by the law to close at 10:30 in the evening, and to cease to sell alcoholic beverages. Under some circumstances, celebrations or whatever, the landlord would lock the doors, with the remaining customers as his 'guests'. The implication was that he would provide drinks for free, but in fact under these circumstances money generally continued to change hands. As often as not, the police would turn a blind eye as long as there was no trouble.

Dolphin Square.

Soho in the early 60s.
In November it was time for the examinations that would be the culmination of my chemistry studies at Oxford Tech. This involved a week in London, with examination papers each day, and with some days devoted to practical examinations. I stayed at a place called Dolphin Square, which was a very large block of flats in central London. A part of the building was set aside as student accommodation, and I got a room there for the week. I think the accommodation was arranged by the the Royal Institute of Chemistry. In the evenings, if I had any energy left after the days exams, I explored central London, including Soho, which at that time was a hotbed of 'strip clubs' and overpriced pick-up bars - 'clip joints' - where you could find prostitutes. I steered clear of the clip joints, as they had a pretty bad reputation, but I did see my first stripper that week. She was a black girl, and danced to the the new Supreme's single "Baby Love". It made me pretty horny.

Speaking of which, by this year, Mike and Cherry and Elaine and I were pretty close. Mike and I saw each other on technical college days, and on the bus to work, and the two women spent a lot of time together during the day. Given that the times were what they were, and that both of them were by now on the pill, the inevitable happened in due course.

One evening at Mike's house with the kids fast asleep, and when we'd all had a few beers or ciders, the joint relationship progressed to the point where Mike and Elaine went upstairs together and left me and Cherry alone on the sofa. The swinging sixties had reached Abingdon.

That night I learned something that I had not really known before. Cherry was willing, and eager, and we made love quickly, not knowing how long we had. I had been highly enthusiastic about sex since I first discovered it, and as far as I can recall I had enjoyed every occurrence, even the dragon! And I had a good sex life with Elaine. But this was something different. How can I put it? It felt like the two of us were specifically designed the one to interact uniquely with the other - clunk, click! There was no embarrassment or anxiety about it, we just did it, and intuitively reacted to the other's needs, as if we'd being practising for ages. We may have repeated the performance before Elaine and Mike reappeared - memory fails one over time.

I have often wondered why it is that certain pairs of people 'click' in this way. Is it purely in your head, or is it body chemistry, pheromones or something of the sort?
Whatever it was it made an impression on me, and I concluded that it was likely that the two of us would be drawn together by this phenomenon, and that could create difficulties.

There were a couple more similar evenings before someone got cold feet and put an end to it, I'm not apportioning blame. Amazingly to me in retrospect, both Cherry and I let it go, just pulling occasional rueful faces at each other, and feeling each other up under tables and so on. I think there was a tacit understanding that there was no rush. We would return to it later when the moment was right, or when the moment was wrong, depending how you read it. I never felt like I loved her, and I'm pretty sure she was the same, we just wanted to fuck.

This was a music year. I ran a search restricted to records that made the top three in the UK. The results are shown below - it's like an anthology of music in the sixties. The performers with links were all British acts, or close. At the very beginning of the year, you'd be hearing my favourite early Beatles song - I want to hold your hand - coming down from its chart peak at number 1 in December.

In the UK charts this year you would have found:

#ArtistTitleMonth Comment
1BachelorsDiane JanAn Irish group, around since 1962 - first top 3 record
2Gerry & PacemakersI'm The OneJanMersey Sound group, like the Beatles, managed by Brian Epstein - emerged 1963
1SearchersNeedles And PinsJanMersey Sound group - emerged 1963
1Cilla BlackAnyone Who Had A HeartFebMersey Sound singer , also managed by Brian Epstein - emerged 1963
2Dave Clark FiveBits And PiecesFebLondon beat group - emerged 1963
2HolliesJust One LookFebManchester group - just emerged from the woodwork
1Billy J Kramer & The DakotasLittle ChildrenFebMersey singer, Manchester band, managed by guess who, Brian Epstein - emerged 1963
3Rolling StonesNot Fade AwayFebLondon band, formed 1962, emerged 1963. First high level chart entry.
1Peter & GordonA World Without LoveMarBritish duo - emerged from the woodwork, Beatles connections.
2MillieMy Boy LollipopMarJamaican origins - first bluebeat hit
2BachelorsI BelieveMar
1BeatlesCan't Buy Me LoveMar
1Four PenniesJuliet / Tell Me Girl (What Are You Gonna Do)AprEssentially a one-hit wonder
1SearchersDon't Throw Your Love AwayApr
1Roy OrbisonIt's OverApr
3Chuck BerryNo Particular Place To GoMay
2Brian Poole & The TremeloesSomeone SomeoneMayLondon beat group - emerged 1963
1Cilla BlackYou're My WorldMay
3P J ProbyHold MeMay
3Swinging Blue JeansYou're No GoodJunMersey Sound group - emerged 1963
3Jim ReevesI Won't Forget YouJun
1AnimalsHouse Of The Rising SunJunNewcastle rock/blues band - emerged from the woodwork
3Dusty SpringfieldI Just Don't Know What To Do With MyselfJulBritish solo pop singer - emerged 1963
1Rolling StonesIt's All Over NowJul
3Barron Knights with Duke D'MondCall Up The GroupsJulGraft together bits of other peoples songs to a steady rhythm - yuk
1BeatlesA Hard Day's NightJul
1Manfred MannDo Wah Diddy DiddyJulBritish Beat, R&B and pop band - emerged from the woodwork
1HoneycombsHave I The RightJulLondon pop/beat group - emerged from the woodwork
3Julie RogersThe WeddingAugOne-hit wonder
1KinksYou Really Got MeAugInfluential British rock/pop group - emerged from the woodwork
1Herman's HermitsI'm Into Something GoodAugManchester pop group - emerged from the woodwork
2Four Seasons featuring The Sound Of Frankie ValliRag DollAug
3SupremesWhere Did Our Love GoSep
1Roy OrbisonOh Pretty WomanSep
3SearchersWhen You Walk In The RoomSep
1Sandie Shaw(There's) Always Something There To Remind MeOctBritish pop singer - emerged from the woodwork
3Rockin' BerriesHe's In TownOctBirmingham pop band, popularity restricted to the UK - emerged from the woodwork
3Manfred MannSha La LaOct
3Val DoonicanWalk TallOctIrish comedian/singer - not my style
1SupremesBaby LoveOct
2KinksAll Day And All Of The NightOct
2Petula ClarkDowntownNovEstablished British pop singer
2Gene PitneyI'm Gonna Be StrongNov
1Rolling StonesLittle Red RoosterNov
1BeatlesI Feel FineDec
3Sandie ShawGirl Don't ComeDec
1Moody BluesGo NowDecBirmingham rock band - emerged from the woodwork
1Georgie Fame & The Blue FlamesYeh YehDecBritish R&B singer/piano player - emerged from the woodwork

In March, for the first time in history, all Top Ten singles in the UK chart were by British bands or singers.

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.
February saw the beginning of the Beatles invasion of the USA. Their single, I Want to Hold Your Hand, reached number 1 in the UK, and a week or so later they made their first visit to the US, where they performed on the Ed Sullivan show with an estimated audience of 73 million. They could do no wrong. If you just look at the UK pop chart as above, you'd not get the impression that the Beatles were doing all that well. But the Beatlemania phenomenon was, if anything, more pronounced in the USA than it was in England. In this year, Billboard Magazine reported that sales of Beatles records make up 60% of the entire singles market. That's the order of magnitude that we're talking about.

To rant on about this more, on April 4 the top 5 positions in the US Billboard chart were Beatles hits. On April 11, the Beatles held 14 positions on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Apparently, in this year, the American singer-poet Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to the cannabis substance, an introduction that would have repercussions for their musical compositions and style later in the decade.

Amongst the significant number of British groups and singers that emerged in 1964 or the year before, was the Rolling Stones, one of the few groups from the sixties that still performs in the international arena to this day.
British TV got a new pop music program "Top of the Pops" at the beginning of this year. This was a welcome change from the previously available options for keeping up with the pop music scene.

In March, the accessibility of pop on the radio was enhanced by a new station - Radio Caroline. Before that, your options had been the BBC, which was not renounced for being either hip, or cool; or Radio Luxembourg. Radio Luxembourg was a commercial station broadcasting from, guess, Luxembourg. Its output was 95% pop music, but its power and distance were such that you could only get a decent signal in the UK at certain times of day, primarily in the early evening.

Radio Caroline broadcast from a ship anchored in the North Sea, just outside British territorial waters. It was consequently immune from the laws governing broadcasting in the UK, but that did not stop it from getting hassle from the authorities.

Michael Caine in his first starring role.
Nonetheless, it was quite a success, and would in time establish the proposition that the British system amounted to a restriction on free speech.

In the US, there was new and interesting stuff. You'll see from the table above that the Supremes had a couple of big hits. MoTown was starting its serious run of successes. Also, the Beach boys had a hit with one of their classic records - "I Get Around".

So you want to know about films/movies? The US award winner was "My Fair Lady". Box office wise, you could choose from "Mary Poppins", "Goldfinger", "The Carpetbaggers", " From Russia With Love", and surprise surprise, "A Hard Day's Night" starring the Beatles.

British film output this year included, of course, "Goldfinger", and "A Hard Day's Night", the usual cluster of "Carry on ..." films, and two other notables; Dr Strangelove, starring the up-coming Peter Sellers, and one of my favourite movies of all time "Zulu" with a debut performance by Michael Cain, a stalwart one by Stanley Baker, and a stirring one by half the Zulu nation.

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