1. Describe popular culture in Britain at the beginning of the 1960s.
Popular culture is literally culture that is popular. Whether it is music, fashion, films or the mainstream attitude of society. It appeals mostly to the working class, as they are the largest of all social classes and are the ones who generally follow this social popular trend.
In the media, popular culture is mostly found in filmmaking and television as well as music.
In the early 1960s,culture was not dominated by the values of early to mid-’50s. In fact, one could claim that the so-called ‘swinging sixties’ (the values and culture of the 1960s decade) really began in the late 1950s. For example, in the early 1950s children were expected to dress and act as their parents did. In the late ’50s this changed drastically. In fact, teenagers still hold the rebellious attitude that teenagers in the ’60s held.
In 1960 American artists and groups mostly dominated British pop music – though, later, Britain began to produce its own ‘copies’. Elvis ‘The King’ Presley was the most famous and most influential of all artists in the 1950s. The American wowed teenagers from the mid-1950s. By 1960, Elvis was a mainstream singer.
Another artist – Perry Como – was a singer of sentimental song and was very popular amongst the older generation.
Other British singers such as Billy Fury and Tommy Steele also copied Britain’s more successful copy of Elvis, Cliff Richard. Richard copied Elvis in both style and appearance.
By this time, (1950s) music had stagnated and dulled.
By 1960, teenagers wanted a radical change to the sound of the music. They were tired of the generic ‘boy meets girl’, maudlin sounds of the 1950s. Thus came about the new group, ‘the Quarrymen’. The group, later known as the Beatles, had a unique sound. Teenagers loved it. This was the music revolution. The great change in music culture began.
Television. Though a fairly new invention, in the 1950s its broadcasts were very conservative, in that it was more educational and informative. In the 1950s the BBC was the only channel. The BBC was a government-run corporation whose purpose was wholly to inform and educate. John Reith, the director general of the BBC, insisted that television should not be used to entertain. Pre-1955 T.V. programs were mostly of serious nature. The presenters were male, Oxbridge graduates.
Their accents were posh London, not regional (e.g. Liverpool accents). ITV, the second television channel, changed media culture in the 1960s. Most programs focused on entertainment rather than education. ITV broadcasted shows such as ‘I love Lucy’, which were comedy shows. ‘Coronation Street’ – another new entertaining program – began broadcasting in 1960. One could say that it was revolutionary. For the first time in British television history northern, regional accents were heard. Another program, ‘Z-Cars’, gave a realistic perspective of a British policeman’s job. The program concentrated on the popular, romanticised view of the job and crime.
In the 1950s, three types of film dominated British cinema, none of which were based on real-life British stories. There were Hollywood blockbusters from the USA (Ben Hur and Cleopatra). Ealing Comedies – funny but quaint. Also, there were films that glorified British history (The Bridge over the River Kwai). Ealing Studios, a British film company based in Ealing, shot, what were known as, ‘Ealing Comedies’. These comedies were funny but picturesque. The films were not very successful and mainly appealed to the middle-class citizens as most of the films were based on middle-class life. In the 1950s, in general, the film industry was pretty weak in Britain.
In 1961, British directors began producing a new type of film. This was a revolution in films. The films being produced were more disturbing than any other films made before, in Britain. They commented on problems with society and working class, sometimes satirical of both of these. The films were more realistic than the Hollywood blockbusters and reflected the lives of the working class in contemporary UK. This was far more appealing to British people, as they could easily relate to it. A popular film from the 1960s was ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’. Films such as ‘Poor Cow’ addressed acute social problems. Films similar to ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ also revealed the many social problems and attitudes of the decade.
Conclusively, it is clear that up until the end of the 1950s, the USA and the British ‘elite’ dominated popular culture. In the 1960s, Britain was beginning to have a more radical culture, targeting young people and the working class. This was done through T.V., cinema and music. For the first time the working class were shown on television and the cinema. The seeds of change had been sown and the old elitist (public-schooled) domination of popular culture was diminishing.
2. Why did groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones have such an impact during the 1960s?
Both the Rolling Stones and the Beatles were very successful bands in throughout the 1960s. They were a great impact on popular culture, music culture etc. The two bands sparked a revolution in music, introducing music, which, in the 1960s, was quite bizarre. However, their music was almost an instant success. The Beatles began in Liverpool, playing at small clubs and bars, often without being paid. They incorporated American-style music into their own, creating a more radical, eclectic style. The Rolling Stones began in 1962, becoming the best blues band in Britain.
The music that the two bands played was revolutionary and changed the course of British pop music. The Beatles songs were very well written – most were by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The simple lyrics were very attractive and seemingly more modern. This simple style inspired other bands – even today. Songs such as ‘Love Me Do’ are good examples of this simplistic style. Throughout the 1960s the music became more complex and lyrics more sophisticated.
Both the Rolling Stones and the Beatles played a mixture of music genres. They played rhythm, blues and rock and roll. Their music was constantly adapted to appeal to teenagers. Fundamentally, it was the band’s style of music that influenced the world’s media industry, not the mixture of genres. As their sound developed it became more mature. The ‘Sergeant Pepper’ album and the song ‘Eleanor Rigby’ are good examples of the Beatle’s more sophisticated music. The Beatle’s songs also began to openly suggest their use of drugs. For instance, ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’ and ‘I am the Walrus’. Perhaps one of the reasons to why the Beatles music was so radical and influential is because they were one of the few bands that wrote their own music. The Rolling Stones however, wrote only a handful of their own songs. Their lyrics were very different to the Beatle’s. Their music was quite crude. The Rolling Stones were overtly sexual, reflecting the open attitude to sex of the 1960s. A song, which is a prime example of this, is ‘Satisfaction’. Like the Beatles, they were openly suggestive about the use of drugs. ‘Brown Sugar’ is a good example of this.
Both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had excellent managers who were able to market them very well. The hair. The clothes. The sound. This was all decided on by the managers. The managers defined their image. They got them gigs. They were the train that brought them to superstardom.
Also, the huge record companies such as EMI realised that there was huge amounts of money to be made through these groups. The royalties from the exploited talented groups added up to colossal amounts. The global exploitation and exposure of these groups had, of course, huge impacts on not only Britain but also western countries alike.
The Beatles business manager – Brian Epstein – saw that they were very different from other bands. He changed their appearance so that they looked unique. This was very appealing to teenagers. Epstein allowed their charm and wit to be exposed to the media, which added to the alluringness of the band. He also organised the USA tours that made them superstars. The Beatles music manager – George Martin – helped develop their unique sound. (Clearly uniqueness is very appealing to teenagers) Martin also helped develop their music so that it became more sophisticated in the later years of the 1960s.
The Rolling Stones manager – Andrew Oldham – played a huge part in that the group was perceived and marketed. The ‘Stones’ started out as Beatle look-alikes, but were later reformed by Oldham to create a completely new style. They became involved in numerous drugs and sex scandals and became known as the ‘bad boys’ of pop. One sex scandal in which the Rolling Stones were associated included an infamous incident with well-known pop singer Marianne Faithful who reportedly made erotic use of a Mars Bar. They were living up to the original meaning of ‘Rock & Roll’ – black American slang for ‘sex’. The Rolling Stones mirrored the teenage rebellious side of the ’60s but also encouraged it.
Another reason to why the bands were such a great impact in the 1960s was the advance in technology. This encouraged the exposure of music groups. Televisions were very cheap and could be bought on credit. Channels aired music programmes such as ‘Top of the Pops’ and ‘The 6.5 Special’, both of which had mostly teenage audiences/viewers. Another invention was the transistor radio. This small compact machine allowed teenagers (the largest group that listened to pop music) listen to music in their own rooms. Also, there were new portable record players. Moreover, the famous 7″ vinyl (a.k.a. the singles) was invented. This allowed to groups to sell one song at a time, promoting the sale of that song and ultimately it’s album. Another use of the 7″ vinyl was the ‘EP’ (extended play), which usually held four tracks rather than one. These inventions were cheap and affluent Britain’s teenagers could easily afford them. Meaning, groups could easily be promoted without the worry of people not being able to buy records or listen to their music. Yet another invention was the Juke Box. These were often seen in coffee bars, and teenagers could use them to listen to their favourite stars.
Another reason for the great impact for these two bands was general affluence.
In the 1960s Britain was a very prosperous country. Prime Minister McMillan said ‘You’ve never had it so good.’ Meaning, the people of the country had never been doing so well financially. The country had a huge percentage of employment and average weekly wage had doubled. Therefore children had more pocket money. Children and teenagers, being the largest consumers of music, encouraged the success of the Beatles and the ‘Stones’.
The 1960s – the ‘swinging sixties’ – was a time of great social changes. The Beatles represented egalitarianism and the proletariats – the working class boys with regional accents who acquired much fame and fortune. The Rolling Stones reflected the sex revolution (thanks to the invention of the ‘pill’) and the growing drug scene. Both bands reflected teen rebellion. If these bands started 10 years earlier they may not have been such an impact because attitude to sex, drugs and rock and roll was totally different and in fact, frowned upon. This is can be seen from the way that the older generation (the teenagers of 10 years earlier) scowl at this sort of lifestyle.
Both groups gained a world-class status. On the Beatles first tour of the USA they were deemed a phenomenal success. The Beatles music is, even now, widely admired and lives on even through Britain’s younger generation of today – though they broke up in 1969. In 1964 the ‘Stones’ visited North America and were almost an instant hit with teenagers. Even today their concerts are usually sold out.
The Beatles and the Rolling Stones made a huge impact in Britain during the 1960s. The quality of their music credits a lot to this impact. The new technology gave them maximum exposure. Their excellent management, which drew the attention of large record companies such as EMI, was also a key factor that aided their impact. The way the groups mirrored teenagers with their rebellious attitude was another factor. Another factor was the general affluence of Britain.
3.To some people the 1960s were the best of times; to others it was a period when many things went wrong in society. Why do people have such different ideas about the 1960s?
There are two views on the 1960s. For many, the ’60s were a period of positive social and political liberation. The views of traditional society were challenged, and fundamental ideas about the role of authority were changed for the better.
For others, however, it was a threat to traditional moral values. The 1960s seemed to create a more dysfunctional society where discipline and restraint was lost. The whole concept of society had changed for the worse.
Traditional views on the role of women was challenged – the birth of the Women’s Liberation Movement (WMV). In the 1950s there was still much gender inequality. Women were regarded as lower in the social hierarchy than men. In the 1960s, women gained more equality, partly due to ‘the pill’, legalisation of abortion and changes in divorce law. This sense of equality has developed and progressed ever since. In the 1960s there was the highest percentage of university-educated women than ever before.
The National Housewives Register was set up in 1960. This sparked the birth of similar groups such as the Pre-School Playgroups Association. These were not explicitly revolutionary groups, though their founding showed that women wanted a better role for themselves in Britain (socially and professionally), and were not prepared to wait to be ‘given’ one by men. Towards the end of the decade feminist movements were very influential.
These changes in the social hierarchy appeared to be quite radical to some of the public and some were horrified. People felt that this change in the traditional society would cause a breakdown in the relationship between men and women – a change for the worse. Before, women were expected to, as what seemed natural, accept their traditional role in life as a mother and wife. This would now be seen as primitive, and it was in the ’60s where the traditional role of a woman was re-interpreted. Some expected traditional marriage to break down irrevocably. These fears were made a reality when laws changed, demanding sharing of financial assets equally, in divorce.
Another factor that caused people too see that the 1960s were good was ‘the pill’ (contraceptive pill). ‘The Pill’ enabled women to plan their pregnancies effectively, for the first time. The contraceptive pill was one of the liberating factors of the ’60s. Women could chose between a career and a family or both, when they felt it the right time. The pill also helped with issues such as acne and painful menstruation.
Even though there were plenty of positive factors of the pill, it was still frowned upon by the older generation. They believed it would lead to an increase in promiscuity between men and women. The pill could have lead to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. The older generation also believed that the pill would encourage sex before and outside of marriage – which it did. Some men felt it gave women too much independence. Many felt that Christian marriage and the ‘traditional’ (sexist) role of women in the family would be wrecked.
In 1967, abortion became legal in Britain. Before 1967 there was an estimated 100,000 illegal ‘back-street’ abortions each year. These illegal abortions were potentially very dangerous. Unwanted pregnancies often led to, what was known as, ‘shot-gun’ marriages. These relationships only took place because of the child. These relationships were often very unhappy. Legalised abortions liberated potential children and parents of any emotional disarray. The abortions were also much safer and strictly controlled. This legalisation enabled women to have control over their bodies. Women could ultimately decide if they were to have the child, when and where.
Abortions, however, were seen as a danger to society. The Catholic Church opposed abortion as it went against its doctrines. Some people believed that women could use abortion as a birth control. This was not its correct usage. Some also believed that it would undermine society and social values as marriages could be reduced to physical, sexual acts only, thereby weakening British society.
Also in 1967, a divorce became much easier to obtain. Previously, divorce was far too expensive for most people. Divorce meant that people could escape unhappy or violent marriages. Children did not have to suffer in violent and unhappy households.
Nevertheless, some also opposed divorce. It seemed to render marriage vows obsolete/easy to break. Divorce could also traumatise children, as most did not enjoy seeing their parents splitting up. Children would also turn to crime, developing serious social problems as they lacked a stable background. It – of course – undermined traditional family values.
Another legislation passed in 1967 was the legalisation of homosexuality and private, homosexual relationships. Gay people were able to be open about their orientation. They were no long subject to blackmail or jail. However, in the 1960s, there was still little tolerance or sympathy for gays or lesbians. The Church, naturally, opposed this legalisation as it contradicted its dogmas. Others believed that the legalisation of homosexuality affected society as it struck at the basis of family.
In 1965, capital punishment was abolished. The government felt that there would no longer be mistakes where wrongly convicted people were executed. This marked a civilised society. However, people felt that there was now no longer a strong enough deterrent for really serious crimes. Society had become too liberal.
A variety of events occurred throughout the 1960s. Great events such as England’s first ever victory in the football world cup in 1966. This reflected that England was growing in terms of athletics; also, this victory brought great pride to Britain. There was also many accomplishments in space technology. Man had finally reached the final frontier. Yuri Gargarin – the first man in space. Neil Armstrong – the first man on the moon. This reflected the huge technological advancements throughout the 1960s. Another event was Martin Luther King’s speech – ‘I had a dream’. This marked the beginning of equality between black and white people. This reflected the huge changes in society in the 1960s.
The bad events include events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. This had a huge impact on not only Britain, but also the whole world. . This was a dangerous reminder of the dangers of the world and that not everyone was totally safe. In fact, this never-ending threat of another world war encouraged people, such as hippies, to try to live life ‘to the full’. This ultimately encouraged sex and the use of drugs, as well as crime. People adopted a ‘we are going to die anyway’ attitude. Also in the 1960s: the assassination of two great people – John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. This mirrored the amount of seemingly pointless hate in the world. Other events include the building of the Berlin wall and the Vietnam War, which reflected more threat and danger that was present in the world.
A significant event that horrified the people of Britain was the Profumo Affair. It was a political scandal in 1963, which was named after the then-Secretary of State for War, John Profumo. Profumo had developed a brief relationship with a showgirl named Christine Keeler and then lied about it in the House of Commons when he was questioned about it. Keeler was also involved in relationships with the naval attachï¿½ of the Soviet Embassy (Russia was not an ally of the UK at the time). The scandal forced Profumo to resign and it seriously damaged Prime Minister Macmillan’s and his government’s reputation. This event reflected the corruption of the British government at the time.
Conclusively, it appears that particularly the contemporary younger generation perceived the 1960s as a decade of great social progress and liberalisation. No doubt, it was a decade of great financial progress as well. Also, the contemporary younger generation saw it as a decade of the breakdown of traditional authority, political power and a greater egalitarianism.
Still, there is the more conservative view, held by the contemporary older generation of the 1960s, the traditionalists. They saw that the 1960s were a period of time where there was great damage done to society, where old, then-respected values were diminished or destroyed.