Arena on 1966: an agenda of change

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2016 by kmflett

Arena on 1966: an agenda of change


On Sunday 24th July Arena on BBC4 ran a programme based around Jon Savage’s book on 1966. Savage’s thesis is that 1966, 50 years ago, is the pivotal year in the development of the trends we can see in modern Britain in 2016.

There are other claims for the year perhaps most notably Mark Perrymen’s book on the 1966 World Cup which arguably emphasises somewhat more the differences with the present day.

Even so for anyone who has caught any of Dominic Sandbrook’s TV cultural history programmes about post-1945 Britain, the Arena programme suggested a different approach and perspective.

Sandbrook is an engaging writer and TV presenter but his thesis, whatever cultural event he is detailing, is that nothing much can disturb the conservative nature of British society in the end.

Savage presents a rather more disruptive view of history.

The Arena programme carried a fascinating range of excerpts from the UK in 1966. Films like Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment and the War Game, together with a reminder of how challenging politically and sexually bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones could be 50 years ago.

There was also a very interesting section on the move of young women to London to pick up a job and struggle to find appropriate accommodation in order to be part of the fast changing culture focused on the Capital.
The overall impression was of a society changing from the stultifying conservatism of 1950s Britain (I was born in 1956 and I can well remember, for example, what Sundays were like in the 1960s..) to something more open and diverse.
The change took time. In 1966 neither male homosexuality or abortion were yet legal.

Just watching the Arena programme you might I suppose get the impression that this was a rather middle class affair, which to some extent it was. In reality though the people that listened to the popular music of 1966 and picked on the cultural trends were overwhelmingly working-class. They picked up from the mood for change the possibility of challenging the boss at work.

A look at how this process worked its way through would be interesting and Savage provides the basis for this whereas Sandbrook never would.

Finally there is the awkward issue of the 1966 Wilson Labour Government which the Arena programme touched on in terms of the wage freeze of that year.

Certainly the 1966-1970 Labour Government was much criticised from the left, rightly so in my view. But in an era of capitalist prosperity it did also have some achievements to its name as well. That is the wider context of 1966 perhaps. People saw change, voted for change, but as ever how it worked its way through was both messy and complex.

Again Savage and the Arena programme provide an excellent basis to follow through on some of that


2 Responses to “Arena on 1966: an agenda of change”

  1. An interesting article Keith.I was born in 1951, the start of 13 years of conservative misrule, as my late father was fond of saying! Yes, Sunday’s were terrible and only got more exciting, to me, when I discovered Motown etc and went to afternoon sessions at the local dive, the dungeon club. I’m reminded of Tony hsncocks, a Sunday afternoon at home

  2. “In reality though the people that listened to the popular music of 1966 and picked on the cultural trends were overwhelmingly working-class. They picked up from the mood for change the possibility of challenging the boss at work.”
    A bit fanciful. The “possibility of challenging the boss at work” was based on the existence of strong workplace organisation which had been built up since the late forties. Hence the evil shop stewards who had been demonised throughout the fifties and whom the corrupt Wilson was already preparing to attack. An account that leaves that out is mere trivial impressionism. An illiterate buffoon like Sandbrook wouldn’t know what a shop steward was if one ran up his troiuser-leg.

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