Brits Eye View - 1973 through the hazy memory of an Englishman.
The BEV Retrospective - 1973.
My historical headings for 1973 are:
- Vietnam war,
- Yom Kippur War,
- US domestic issues,
- UK domestic issues,
The other sections are as usual.
The cover pages of Life Magazine for 1973 are here
. 1973 was a particularly heavy and complex news year. It was also a complicated year in my private life, and it saw the usual 70s almost exponential growth in the entertainment industries' output. If I have left things out that you believe were important, let me know
, or otherwise simply forgive me.
With a successful outcome from the Paris peace talks in the offing, US President Richard Nixon announced in January the suspension of offensive action in North Vietnam. There would be no further bombing there. The Paris peace accords were signed on the 27th - a triumph of diplomacy for US special envoy Henry Kissinger. South Vietnam was not happy with the agreements, and signed reluctantly. After this, the South would have to stand up for itself.
Prisoner exchanges commenced quickly, with the first American prisoners released in mid February, and the last US soldier leaving Vietnam at the and of March. For the Americans, another war was over.
There was some tidying up still to do, but in August, bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail ended. There had been 12 years of combat in and around Vietnam. 58,236 US forces members had been killed, and 153,452 wounded. Time for a sigh of relief.
The adventure could not be described as a victory. After all this loss of life, and expenditure that had profound negative effects on the world economy as a whole, North Vietnam controlled about half of South Vietnam as opposed to roughly zero percent before the US involvement.
For South Vietnam, there was no such luxury as relaxation. The accords allowed the North to continue to supply its forces in the South, but only to the extent of replacements. At first, the South had some success in pushing the Northern forces back, with the assistance of massive US financial aid. The North cooled the fighting to some extent, and adopted a strategy of improving the Ho Chi Minh Trail, now immune from bombing, with a view to a later massive offensive before the the South's military build up and training was sufficiently far advanced.
But then the oil price escalation resulting from the Arab/Israeli Yom Kippur War curtailed the South's military effort, and by the end of the year, Northern forces were back where they had been at the beginning.
The Watergate scandal had its roots in 1972, and evolved through into 1974. There's a huge Wiki
article on the subject, but nonetheless, it was all over the news in these times so I will describe it briefly here.
The story began in June 1972, when five men were arrested for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington DC. They were subsequently tried and convicted in January of this year
In March, one of them - James McCord - wrote to his trial judge admitting that he and his accomplices had been under pressure to say as little as possible about the case. He named former US Attourney General John Mitchell as the instigator of the break-in. In my recollection, from this point on, the Watergate scandal became a constant item in the news, as journalists pursued every possible avenue.
Their revelations led to the resignation of a group of top White House aides including H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, announced by President Nixon on April 30th as I turned 31. Many people assumed at that point that they had been instructed to resign in an attempt to cauterize a suppurating wound in the flesh of the executive.
It didn't work. In May, televised Senate hearings to investigate the affair began. At around the same time, a special prosecutor - Archibald Cox - was appointed. A former While House counsel, John Dean, told the Senate committee that he had discussed cover-up of the Watergate affair numerous times with the President.
Self titled image.
Then a former White House aide told them that President Nixon was in the habit of recording conversations in the White House, and that presumably these might contain relevant information. Nixon ordered the taping system to be disconnected, and refused to hand tapes over to Cox.
Not strictly related to Watergate, but contributing to the the general atmosphere of the time, the Vice President - Spiro Agnew - resigned in October after pleading no-contest to charges of income tax evasion and after allegations of corruption. He was quickly replaced by Gerald Ford.
Yet another Arab/Israeli war broke out on the 6th of October, but the president was so preoccupied by the Watergate events that this had to be dealt with largely by his newly appointed Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, and by the Pentagon.
That month, Nixon fired prosecutor Cox - several White House officials resigned over this move. A new prosecutor - Leon Jaworski - was appointed almost immediately.
By this time, the story had become so bizarre that a novel with the same content would have been regarded as OTT. In mid November, Nixon made a famous speech at a televised press conference. "People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got." It would not stop the juggernaut, which continued into 1974.
Yom Kippur War
As always, there's a massive Wiki article
on this, so I will just be describing it briefly with the emphasis on what I remember of the news at the time.
Egyptian troops crossing the Suez Canal.
An infantry anti-tank missile.
The Arab nations of Egypt and Syria, in particular, had been smarting over the result of the previous Arab/Israeli war in 1967. After the death of Egypt's President Nasser in 1970, he was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. The country's economy was in tatters, and massive reforms were needed. However Sadat did not feel that his political position was strong enough to undertake them, so to bolster it he sought to inflict the blow to Israel that public opinion desired. In preparation for this he had extracted a wide range of military equipment from the USSR, and built up his forces and their level of training. At the same time he did a good job on spreading misinformation about his forces, which he made out to be disorganized and ill equipped.
President Assad of Syria was better placed politically. He too had undertaken a large build up of his forces with the plain aim of recovering those parts of the Golan Heights lost in 1967. Punishment of Israel was probably also included in his policy!
The two Arab nations struck Israel in what was supposed to be a surprise attack on October 6th, the Jewish Holy day of Yom Kippur, which also coincided with the Muslim month of Rammadan in that year. In fact, the Israelis had a pretty good idea it was coming, and their military head David Elazar wanted to launch pre-emptive strikes. However this idea was turned down by Prime Minister Golda Meir on the grounds that if Israel attacked first, they would be less successful in getting support from the USA.
Egypt attacked across the Suez Canal into Sinai with a force of 100,000 men, 1350 tanks, and 2000 guns against a relatively weak Israeli force - 450 men and 290 tanks - occupying the Bar-Lev line on the east bank of the canal. Initially the Egyptian attack was quite successful, with substantial bridgeheads being established on the east bank of the canal. Israeli armoured counter-attacks were beaten back by infantry well equipped with Russian anti-tank weapons. A brief period of stalemate ensued. The Egyptians were hesitant to attack beyond the cover of their surface to air missile system on the west bank of the canal, and the Israelis declined further major action until they were fully mobilized.
Having successfully delivered a very bloody nose to a badly coordinated Egyptian offensive out of the bridgehead on the 14th, the Israelis commenced a major offensive on the 15th. Their plan had included waiting for the inevitable attack. So now they crossed the canal, and attacking toward Cairo to the south-west, and Suez city to the south. There was stiff resistance from the Egyptians, and the outcome was far from a done deal. But the offensive caused s flurry of diplomatic activity organized by the USA and the USSR that resulted in a cease-fire on the 22nd. This was promptly broken, both side blaming the other, and the Israelis re-commenced their attack to the south, cutting off the Egyptian 3rd army in Sinai - desperate stuff!
Syrian tanks on the Golan Heights.
To the north on the Golan Heights, the initial Syrian attack was resisted frantically by much smaller Israeli forces that soon became dangerously fragmented. The Syrians came close to positions where they could have threatened the Israeli heartland. Once again the effectiveness of the Israeli air force was blunted by SAM batteries, but the Syrians' use of Soviet anti-tank weaponry was less successful than that of the Egyptians because of the uneven terrain.
After the first two or three very difficult days, arriving Israeli reserve units initially contained the Syrian advance, and then from the 8th of October, began to drive the Syrians back. By the 10th, they were back to their starting line. At that point Golda Meir made the political decision to continue the attack.
Forces sent by Jordan, and Iraq caused some problems in this, and the Israeli advance was halted by the 14th. The Syrians were prepared to counter attack on the 23rd, but decided it would be best to go along with the Egypt/Israel cease-fire.
Following threats (probably bluster) of unilateral intervention from the USSR, preparations by the US to intervene also if that happened (probably not bluster), an escalation of the nuclear alert levels, and a masterly speech by the new US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, a further resolution was passed by the UN Security council on the 25th, calling for a renewed cease-fire. This latter mostly held, though exchanges between the Egyptians and the Israelis continued sporadically for several days.
A summit conference in Geneva followed, and an armistice was eventually agreed whereby the forces in Egypt and the Sinai disentangled themselves, and the Israelis withdrew to their original line on the Golan Heights.
US Domestic Issues
In 1973 the incumbent president was Republican Richard Nixon - described by some as 'Tricky Dicky'. Democrats controlled both houses, Senate 54/44, House 255/180.
I have already covered a lot of the events of this year, but some additional reminders are required.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
President Richard Nixon was inaugurated for his second term in January. As we have seen, it was not to be an auspicious year for him.
Just two days later there was a very significant Supreme Court ruling - one that has caused contention in US society ever since. In a case now well known as Roe v. Wade, the court overturned state bans on abortion. The judgement was qualified, in that is distinguished between stages of pregnancy. In the first three months it said that states had no right to interfere with a woman's privacy.
In the second three months, states were allowed to regulate abortion in ways that were "reasonably related to maternal health" (defined in a companion case of Doe v. Bolton).
In the last three months, states were allowed to legislate as they saw fit, excepting "in appropriate medical judgement, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother".
Since I have been tracking it, I should note that the World Trade Center officially opened in New York City with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
In my memory of the times, another important event that I should mention is that Henry Kissinger - previously the US US special envoy for Vietnam, was appointed as United States Secretary of State on September 22 - just in time by all accounts.
In reaction to massive aid given by the US to Israel during the Yom Kippur war, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), led by Saudi Arabia, initiated an oil embargo against the USA and various other countries. The effect was almost instant, with the price of crude oil doubling before the end of the year. By November 25th, Nixon signed an act authorizing price, production, allocation and marketing controls. Gasoline was rationed, with long queues forming at gas stations.
Of course, when it comes to prices, the old adage that what goes up must come down rarely applies. The oil price hike would have lasting consequences for the oil producing nations and their customers.
UK Domestic Issues.
In 1973 the UK had a Conservative government headed by Prime Minister Edward Heath. Taking into account by-elections the government had a parliamentary majority of 27.
Border poll voting paper.
On the first of January, the UK, accompanied by the Republic of Ireland and Denmark, entered the European Economic Community (now the European Union). This move had been on Edward Heath's list of things to do promised at the 1970 election.
The government was, at this time, still struggling with inflation of prices and wages. It had imposed a price and wage freeze the previous November, and now in February it published a Green Paper on prices and incomes policy laying out limitations on wage and price increases to be imposed when the 90 day freeze expired. The suggestions were not popular. On May Day about 1,600,000 people stopped work in support of a Trade Union Congress "day of national protest and stoppage" against the government's anti-inflation policy.
In March, a poll was conducted in Northern Ireland to determine what proportions of the population wanted union with Ireland, or to remain in the UK. This was something of a pointless exercise, since nationalists had been encouraged to boycott such a poll. The 'remain-ins' won hands down. To emphasize the point that this was pointless, Provisional IRA bombs exploded in Whitehall and at the Old Bailey the same day. The following month, 6 Irishmen, were arrested by the Irish Naval Service off County Waterford, on board a coaster carrying 5 tons of weapons destined for the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
On all fools day - 1st April - Value Added Tax was introduced in the UK. This was a precondition of EEC membership, and replaced the previous system of purchase taxes. Initially there was a split rate - 8% generally except for exempt and zero rated items, and 12.5% for electrical goods.
The National Union of Mine Workers remained a thorn in the side of the Heath government. By the middle of the year it was encouraging its members to 'work to rule', and the result was that coal stocks diminished to the extent where continuity of electricity supply would become impossible in the following winter. In consequence, the government introduced legislation establishing a 'three day week' - referring to the restriction on industrial use of electricity to three consecutive days in each week. This came into effect on December 31st.
Business & Economics.
The per capita GDP and the inflation rate for the US this year were $5631, and 6.16%. For the UK, the corresponding figures were $3223 and 9.2%.
There were two very significant financial events in this year - at its beginning and at its end. On February 13th the dollar was devalued once again for the second time in 14 months. Since the abandonment of the Bretton Woods policy in 1971, many world currencies had shifted to floating values determined by market forces. Currencies became commodities, and were traded, and speculated on. Unfortunately by 1973, nobody in the world believed the the dollar was worth what is was supposed to be valued at. Dollars were being sold in huge quantities, and central banks were being obliged to buy them at the nominal price to prop up the financial system. This could not be sustained, and some sort of melt-down appeared to be imminent.
So while months of haggling preceded the previous devaluation, the 10% devaluation at this time was agreed internationally within just a few days. There's a good article on the subject at time.com
The result would be good for US manufacturers who exported products, but would stoke inflation because of the increased price of imports. Some imports would in fact be eliminated. Presumably sensing the dollar's problems, Pan American and Trans World Airlines cancelled their options to buy 13 Concorde airliners.
Then at the end of the year there was the shock of the sudden large increase in the price of oil. This would pump vast sums of money into the coffers of the oil producing nations, and make the balance of payments problems in countries like the US and the UK even worse.
The net effect of various factors caused a considerable slump in stock prices in this year, in the US, and particularly in the UK.
In April, a new company called Federal Express officially commenced operations, with 14 small aircraft from Memphis International Airport.
RJ45 Ethernet Connector.
Two important building blocks for the Internet were created in 1973. Number one was the TCP/IP protocol suite
. This is this set of protocols that allow two computers anywhere in the world to interconnect and exchange information (given a favourable government). Number two was Ethernet
. If one of the machines connecting to another is situated in an office, then chances are that it is connected to some central computer in the building that is actually connected to the Internet. The connection from the machine on your desktop is quite probably via a LAN (local area network), and the most common LAN system by far is Ethernet.
This year saw another step forward in genetic engineering, when the first genetically modified organism - an E. coli bacterium - was created by inserting antibiotic resistance genes. That sounds to me to have been a dangerous thing to do - couldn't they have introduced genes to make it less resistant?
A UPC bar code.
The National Association of Food Chains (NAFC) selected the IBM UPC barcode as a standard for product identification in supermarkets etc. Thirty some years later, it is still in universal use.
The hand-held mobile phone also made its debut this year. Martin Cooper, a Motorola researcher and executive is considered to be the inventor of the first practical mobile phone for handheld use in a non-vehicle setting. Motorola had been involved in a long race against Bell Labs to make the first practical device. Using a modern, if somewhat heavy portable handset, Cooper made the first call on April 3 to his rival, Dr. Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs.
Here is the customary list of space activities:
- April 5 - Pioneer 11
is launched on a mission to study the solar system,
- May 14 - Skylab
, the United States' first space station, was launched,
- July 25 – The Soviet Mars 5
space probe launched,
- December 3 – Pioneer 10
sends back the first close-up images of Jupiter.
In October, after 14 years of construction work, the Sydney Opera House
was finally opened by Queen Elizabeth II. Later that month the 1500m span Bosphorus Bridge
in Istanbul was completed, connecting the continents of Europe and Asia over the Bosphorus for the first time.
I found myself at work this year in a situation where there was so little new that I am pushed to describe what I was doing. I had essentially been converted into a manager, and I discovered that this was not my bag. But the money was decent, so I resolved to do what was necessary, and look for some sort of fulfilment or entertainment in the job on the side, or elsewhere.
My boss, Bert Masterson, used to nag me to try to make something theoretical or academic out of my position - that way I could get promotion. But there was nothing of that sort there. We had pushed the research and technical services staff as far as we could along the path of accounting for their time. We had the numbers, but there was no way that was clear to me that the numbers could be used to do anything useful. To do that, you'd have had to go straight to a market model. If a project wasn't making money, then it should be axed. That would have meant, in my book, that we could just have sacked 50% of the Scientific Services staff on the spot. I could not see that any of the research projects were likely to make money in the foreseeable future.
I suppose I should have written a paper that said this, in blunt terms. That's what I'd do now, but there is a lot of difference in your self confidence between age 31 and age 68. Also the Electrical Power Engineers Association, the union that we SSD staff all belonged to, would probably not have appreciated such a contribution.
They did well for us. All they had to do in pay negotiations was to say that they might find it necessary to instruct their members to work to rule. That in itself would have been enough to disrupt power supplies. The government was not inclined to argue.
So I resolved to stay cheerful, come up with any ideas I could think of to perpetuate my job, and otherwise pursue my own interests, which in this context were by now rather firmly fixed on computers and computer software.
In my personal life I was still hurting from the loss of Jean and Linda. I kept a low profile for some time, and Elaine and I used to go out in the evenings as a couple rather more than we had before.
Somewhere in the early part of this year I, or we, met another couple who I knew very vaguely - I can't explain how at this range. I think they came into the Commercial Inn, and we got talking. They told me, or us, about a pub they went to on Wednesday nights, and said we should give it a try. Our social life had got a bit stagnant, so we did. I am vague about the actual pub. I could well have been the Dog and Gun on Trough Lane, to the west of Cullingworth - actually I think nominally in Oxenhope, in West Yorkshire. Anyway, it was a Timothy Taylors
pub, probably the first of those that I used regularly.
The Dog and Gun.
Sure enough, Alan and Mavis were there, along with a couple of friends, Colin and Enid - a Geordie
couple, who lived in Cullingworth. I can not remember where Alan and Mavis lived, but it was somewhere relatively local. Everyone was friendly, except Enid, who seemed a bit quiet, and it was a good pub - up on the moors, miles from anywhere - stayed open late. We went again the following week, and Mavis took me aside, and explained that Enid had been a bit antisocial because she had been embarrassed, since she had developed an instant crush on me! I was to talk to the girl. I did, and once we got talking, we had no problem. We were invited back to Colin and Enid's house in Cullingworth after the pub. There was more beer there, and Enid had cooked corned beef pasties and mushy peas - a real treat when you've had a few beers and it's late enough at night to have developed an appetite again.
There was music, and Enid and I danced together, initially freestyle, and then in a smoochy way. Everybody else did too, so we were not particularly out of order, but it was clear to me that there was something happening, though nothing was said. I gave her and Mavis my work phone number.
This sequence - Wednesday night, Dog and Gun, back to Colin and Enid's - became a fixture. I found myself increasingly looking forward to pasties and peas and dancing with Enid. Her name, incidentally, is of Welsh origin. She was a couple of years older than me.
After two or three weeks, Mavis phoned me to say that she and Enid were going out on the Friday night to some pub somewhere, and would I be coming? I did, and my measure of enthusiasm can be measured by the fact that I spun the Saab on a wet road on the way there - a difficult thing to do, since it was a very stable car - fortunately without side effects. Mavis went to talk to someone else, and left Enid and I to talk. I have no idea what was said, but the situation became very clear - we were looking for a time and a place.
At that point, inexplicably, I did one of my characteristic sidesteps. At work we had taken on a new clerical assistant called Valerie. After she'd been there for a couple of days, it became her who always brought anything that needed to come to my office, or visited me on the slightest of pretexts. Once she was there she would usually stay and talk for some time. She got more exposure than Enid, and I was definitely interested.
Her husband managed a pub somewhere in the western hinterland of Harrogate, and one day she suggested that we go there at lunchtime to see where she lived while her husband was away somewhere. Now if that's not a promise, I don't know what is. We went, but when we arrived, there were staff around, and I felt uncomfortable, and she wasn't exactly laying it down, so nothing happened. Later though I arranged to meet her on one of my Friday nights - a long excursion from Saltaire. We went to some pub, had a few beers, then parked somewhere on the way back, and had sex.
The next day she came to my office and said that she was very surprised and upset that I had done that to her - a bit of a shock, since she seemed willing enough at the time. I said I was sorry, and dropped that particular relationship like a stone. Fortunately she did not cause any ripples, and we remained on speaking terms - but it was a lesson to me, something I had not encountered before. Nowadays it is called 'Sexual harassment in the workplace'. But from a 70's man's point of view, it is difficult to register the difference between someone who is chatting you up because they want to be considered for promotion - i.e. more money (how innocent is that?), and someone who fancies a fuck.
I had kind of put Enid on ice during this episode, which lasted a few weeks - maybe even a couple of months. Wednesday nights had continued as before, but I had not pursued the possibilities further. However, it seemed that no great harm had been done. Colin had a company car as well as the family car, so Enid and I arranged to meet one lunchtime at a pub on the way to Harrogate. The purpose was unspoken, but fairly clear. We had a couple of drinks, then went of in the Saab and found a quiet lane. She'd put her diaphragm in before she set out, so we were OK, and the event was quite striking. It seemed that we were a complete 'click' - we had the knack. Enid came numerous times, and I did it twice. Throughout our relationship she remained the only woman I have ever 'known' who would be multiply orgasmic consistently. For me it was an enormous turn-on - it made you feel like Superman. My fate was sealed!
A favourite parking spot.
And so this became a way of life for some time. Enid would get away whenever she could when the kids were at school. We would meet in Otley, have a beer and a sandwich, then off to our chosen spot. Enid also organized it so that as well as the Wednesday venue, she and Colin and the kids would come to the Commercial at Esholt on Sunday lunchtimes. Then in the warm weather the whole bunch of us - them, Elaine and I and Richard and Rachel would go to St Ives in Bingley with a picnic. It was all very cosy. How Colin did not tumble I really don't know - perhaps he did but wasn't inclined to say anything. Just as well either way, since he was built like a bull. Enid told me that his main preoccupation was drink, and that he hadn't paid much attention to her for a long time.
As the weather got colder toward winter, we'd borrow my friend Brian's house occasionally so that we got the luxury of a bonk in bed.
Of course, by now this had got serious. In addition to our meetings, we spent a lot of time on the phone when I was at work. The Love word featured regularly in our conversations. And so the year passed. I don't remember much of anything else.
An innovative TV series aired on British TV for the first time this year - Last of the Summer Wine - a title whose poignancy I can see more clearly now. It featured three men of retirement age - Compo, Cleggie, and Foggy - and their rather silly adventures as they tried to amuse themselves on a low budget in a medium size Yorkshire village. It would run until 2010 - the longest running sitcom anywhere ever.
Film poster for 'The Wicker Man'
At the cinema the top five US movies by box-office takings were:
'The Sting' won the academy award, and Glenda Jackson and George Segal did pretty well in 'A Touch of Class' (below).
The British films I have picked out are:
Other films that caught my eye in the year's list were High Plains Drifter, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Offence, Paper Moon, Serpico, and Soylent Green.
This years number one hit singles in the UK, with the odd number two, were:
This was the time of 'Glam Rock' - a musical movement that I did not have much time for. All the recordings sounded like they were made by the same team. The number ones the British charts were unprepossessing - crap even!
A balanced international view of what was popular and good is probably more like this:
This sounds like an anthology of the 70s, but it's just one year. 1973 was indeed a busy year.