Brits Eye View - 1975 through the hazy memory of an Englishman.
The BEV Retrospective - 1975.
My historical headings for 1975 are:
- Vietnam war,
- US domestic issues,
- UK domestic issues,
The other sections are as usual.
I can't describe the state of South Vietnam more starkly than is done in the Wiki
article. "At the start of 1975, the South Vietnamese had three times as much artillery and twice the number of tanks and armoured cars as the opposition. They also had 1,400 aircraft and a two-to-one numerical superiority in combat troops over their Communist enemies." But the south was crippled by the oil price escalation, which meant it was unable to use much of the hardware, and by its economic situation resulting from the world recession and the withdrawal of US aid.
The North struck on March 10th. The result was a debacle. By the 22nd they were marching in triumph through Da Nang, where 100,000 Southern troops, abandoned by their officers, were obliged to surrender. No further resistance in the northen provinces and the central highlands was then possible.
Although it had not been their intention to do so until the following year, the North now went in for the kill. The Politburo ordered the final offensive against Saigon. The VPA were probably now unstoppable. The South called for help from the USA, but none came, the US had had enough of it, and now regarded the South as a lost cause.
The ARVN put up stiff resistance at several points, but it was to no avail. A panic evacuation of US diplomatic, military, and civilian personnel was undertaken - the largest helicopter evacuation in history. By my birthday on April 30th, VPA tanks were in the city, and the South surrendered.
From one point of view, Vietnam had fought foreign intervention and occupation (French, Chinese, Japanese, British, and American), and suffered internal strife for 116 years. But now they were in the position once described by Ho Chi Minh - able to invite those powers, if they chose to come, for afternoon tea.
US Domestic Issues
President Ford hustled away.
In 1975 the incumbent president was Republican Gerald Ford, very likely contrary to his wildest expectations. Democrats controlled both houses, Senate 61/38, House 291/144.
It was a pretty quiet year on the US domestic front. In August, continuing the pardoning roll that he had got onto the previous year by pardoning ex-president Nixon, he now posthumously pardoned Confederate general Robert E. Lee. 110 years before, as he was entitled and required to do by the surrender terms at the end of the Civil War, Lee had taken the oath of loyalty to the USA, and written a letter requesting that he be included. Somehow this got lost in the works, and it was not discovered in an archive until 1970.
Probably unrelated to this, in September, President Ford was the subject of assassination attempts on two occasions, surviving both.
However his tenure as president was to be relatively short-lived. As an indication of things to com, in November, the former Governor of California, ex film star Ronald Reagan entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
In November, the he 222m (729 feet) long freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald
sank during a storm on Lake Superior without sending any distress signal. All 29 crew died. When the wreck was inspected it was found that the ship had broken in half. The event was immortalized in the song 'Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald
' by Gordon Lightfoot.
In December the city of New York, which had been close to bunkruptcy, was bailed out by the Federal Government to the tune of 2.3 billion each year through to 1978 – 6.9 billion total.
UK Domestic Issues.
In 1975 the UK had a Labour government headed by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. At the start of the year, the government had a parliamentary majority of 29.
Following the defeat of the Conservative party in the previous year's second election, MP Margaret Thatcher defeated Edward Heath in a contest for leadership of the party.
The country's economy was in a bad state, and in January, the government abandoned work on the British end of the Channel Tunnel. Cost estimates had doubled since the work started in the previous year. Tunnels were unlucky that year. In February, a major tube train crash at Moorgate station in London killed 43 people.
Another major accident of the year ocurred in May, near Grassington, North Yorkshire. A passenger bus crashed at Dibble's Bridge killing 32 people.
In June, a referendum was held on whether the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community. A majority thought that it should
In September a group of criminals (or political activists, depending who you believe) attempted a robbery at The Spaghetti House restaurant in Knightsbridge, London. The robbery went wrong from the point of view of the robbers, and a six day siege ensued. At the end. the demoralized robbers and their hostages emerged unharmed.
In another notable criminal act of the year, Peter Sutcliffe - the "Yorkshire Ripper" - commited his first murder. It would be six years and another 12 victims before he was arrested and tried.
Other World Events.
In April, communist Khmer Rouge
guerilla forces captured the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, and establishing the genocidal rule of Pol Pot. The inhabitants of the city were largely forced to leave and work in agricultural communes that were indistinguishable from forced labour camps. Eisenhower had to some extent been right about the potential domino effect of the fall of Vietnam.
The following month, in a more peaceful transfer of power, the small state of Sikkim
, which had declined to become part of India after independence in 1947 held a referendum and became a pert of India.
In June, the Suez Canal opened again for the first time since the Six-Day Arab/Israeli war. Peace has persisted between Egypt and Israel and the canal has remained open since that date.
In August, the Helsinki Accords, which officially recognize Europe's national borders and respect for human rights, were signed in Finland. That same month, the Banqiao Dam
, in China's Henan Province, failed after a freak typhoon, and over 200,000 people were killed. The dam was subsequently rebuilt.
In Spain, October saw the end of an era. King Juan Carlos I of Spain became acting Head of State when dictator Francisco Franco conceded that he was too ill to continue. Franco died in November, allowing Spain's transition to democracy. He had controlled Spain for 36 years after the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939.
In the previous year, Portugal had given independence to all of its colonies. The shaky coalition that had been left in control quickly broke down and a civil war ensued involving different Angolan factions, South Africa and Zaire as US cold war proxies, and Cuba as a soviet cold war proxy. In November, the communist faction felt strong enough to declare independence, but the fighting continued.
Business & Economics.
The per capita GDP and the inflation rate for the US this year were $7519, and 9.2%. For the UK, the corresponding figures were $4162 and a whopping 24.2%.
Inflation was stoked from the beginning of the year when in January, OPEC agreed to raise crude oil prices by 10%. UK inflation reached a peak in this year, and archives released in 2005 show that the government were seriously worried about financial meltdown.
A whole new generation of computers emerged in this year, mostly using an operating system called CP/M
, and a component interconnection system known eventually as the S-100 Bus
. The earliest of these machines to be successful was the Altair 8800
based on the Intel 8080 microprocessor
. The essential components had been designed or completed in 1974, but the Altair machine successfully brought them together in this year.
In April, a young computer programmer/entrepreneur called Bill Gates founded a company called Microsoft, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He and Pul Allen approached Altair, and said they were working on a computer programming language called BASIC for the Altair machine. Altair showed interest, and Gates and Allen had to quickly put together an 8800 simulator on a mini-computer, and then created BASIC on that.
The company name Microsoft becomes a registered trademark on November 26.
Away from the world of computers, in July, an American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft docked in orbit, marking the first such link-up between spacecraft from the two nations.
In the UK, in November, the first petroleum pipeline pumping oil from the Forties oilfield
via Cruden Bay, and hence overland to Grangemouth in Scotland, came on line.
The Angel at Baildon.
I had been keeping a low profile for some time, and working on the construction of a five-string banjo. My interest or possibly obsession in that had arisen from my liking for Bluegrass music
. I had possessed banjos before, but I wanted one that had 'an authentic bluegrass sound'. However at any one time I never seemed to have the money to buy one.
At this time my wife Elaine was working at a company that I think was called Denbyrain, where they made the kind of waterproof fabric used for Gaberdine raincoats. One of her friends there told her that a pub called the Angel in Baildon (that's to the north eat of where I was living, but not far) did a 'Folk night' - that's folk as in folk music. Elaine thought I might be interested, and though there's a considerable gulf between bluegrass and what passes for folk music in England, I thought it might be interesting to go. So the next Thursday night, we did.
I took a banjo because I thought I could use it in a more folksy fashion, more as in Irish music. Now of course, going to a new pub usually means meeting new people, and often at social gatherings like the folk night, roughly half of them are women. In particular we met a married couple called Bob and Bunty. Bunty was another Geordie girl, quite attractive, and she seemed to like talking to me, and in fact seemed to quite like me.
You can guess the general direction of this. After a few weeks at the Angel once a week, she and I were talking on the phone, and then started to meet some evenings and weekend days. It wasn't long before we were lovers.
I had not thought much about where it was going. Probably I was looking for another reasonably long term girl friend with not much in the way of strings attached. We had not really discussed it, but it seems possible that Bunty had different ideas.
One Friday night after I'd been to the Elmer, and probably had a fair amount to drink, as I was going off to sleep, the phone rang downstairs. It was Bunty. She told me she'd had a row with Bob, and had packed a suitcase and left, and she was more or less asking me what I was going to do about it. At that point, Elaine came down and asked who the hell it was. I said it was Bunty because I could not think of a plausible lie. Elaine snatched the phone and proceeded to lay into her.
I was probably quite drunk - certainly not in a clear-thinking state. I pulled the phone wire out of the connector on the wall, ran upstairs and put on some clothes, grabbed my wallet, car keys, and chequebook, and fled.
Bunty was standing at the end of her street with a suitcase, rather more composed than I was. She got in the car and we drove off, heading across the moors to the north. More or less by accident we arrived at the Troutbeck Hotel in Ilkley, where they had a room.
The next few days is a blur in my memory. We went into Harrogate the next day with nothing thought through, looking for somewhere to live. A couple of days later I went back to Saltaire to get my things. Elaine was conciliatory, and I could have made peace, thought about the children, and gone back, but in another spur-of-the-moment arbitrary decision I didn't.
Bunty and I found a place in Harrogate quite quickly. It was the top two floors of a Victorian house in St Mary's Avenue, off Cold Bath Road, and it was initially a dump. But it turned out that Bunty was a dab hand with a paint brush and wallpaper, and with a bit of work from me on the bathroom, by Christmas that year it was quite a pleasant place.
Divorce proceedings materialized quite quickly on both sides. I had to pay a fair chunk to Elaine and the children. Bunty left Bob with the house and took the car. She was a primary school teacher, so when it was sorted out, between us we were not paupers. We settled into life in a new town where I would live for quite a few years.
A new BBC TV comedy series made its appearance in this year - 'Fawlty Towers
'. It starred the multi-talented John Cleese
as hotel owner Basil Fawlty, his then wife Prunella Scales as his fictional wife Sybil, and Andrew Sachs as Manuel, the hotel's supposedly Spanish porter and waiter.
It is almost impossible to describe this show unless you have seen a few episodes, though the Wiki article does a good job. You may also need to be British. Common English speech of a generation has been permeated with quotations from the show - "you'll have to sew them back on again first."
Although it was very funny, there were times when I had difficulty watching an episode through to the end. Basil would get himself into such convoluted situations that one could barely stand to watch the final disaster unfold.
The film poster for 'Jaws'
In the US, the top five US movies by box-office takings were:
The British films I have picked out are:
I'm ashamed to admit that of these, I have only seen 'Jaws', 'Monty Python, and 'The Man Who Would Be KIng'. How I missed 'Tommy', and 'Rocky Horror', I don't know.
Other films that caught my eye in the year's list were Woody Allen's 'Love and Death', Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Stepford Wives, John Wayne's penultimate film 'Rooster Cogburn', Three Days of the Condor, and A Boy and His Dog.
This years number one hit singles in the UK were:
This list does not give a good impression of the tremendous number of great songs that were released or peaked in 1975 in the US and the UK, and elsewhere. It's really difficult to choose: