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A Fifties Childhood


LP Hartley, in The Go Between said ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ The key word here is differently. In the nineteen-fifties, the time when most of these events took place, things were certainly different. Not worse and not better, simply different. We should not to look back through rose-coloured glasses, nor yet though darkly tinted shades.


This book is an attempt to take a detailed and honest look back at a world now gone. Make of it what you will.


That ‘other world’ is examined via a series of 31 essays. These are the openings of a few of them:


[3] The Call of the Sea: [I] Rain and Snails

It’s a cliché that the sun always shines during the days of childhood. Well, it didn’t always in mine.


[5] Post War

Right through the nineteen-fifties, the constant refrain on the lips of the adults around me was ‘before the war’, in the sense of ‘we haven’t seen those since before the war’ or ‘we had plenty of these before the war’. As far as I and others of my age were concerned, the war they spoke of might as well have taken place several centuries before. In fact, we were no more than a few years away from it. No wonder it still resonated all around us.


[6] Comics

Not long before I started school in November, 1952, my glance fell upon a glossy comic in our local corner newsagent. I was fascinated by the grotesque green creature on the front cover and gave my mother no peace until she’d bought it for me. The creature was ‘The Mekon’, supposedly the malicious ruler of the planet Venus, and the comic was The Eagle.

[14] Frightening the Children

The British Board of Film Classification (until 1985, the ‘C’ stood for ‘Censors’) was founded as long ago as 1912, so I am at a loss as to how I came to be watching a 3D horror film at the age of four or five.


[22] Number Thirty-four

The first family I remember living in Number Thirty-four were the Burtons. My memory of Mr Burton is of a quite elderly (so it seemed to me) man who spoke not at all to my recollection. In contrast, Mrs Burton had a great deal to say for herself. She always seemed to be shouting at her eldest son, Malcolm, an amiable boy some years older than me and far taller.


[24] 1957 And All That

Our wooden radio – they were called wirelesses then but all the same were full of wires and huge glass objects called valves – gave out a ‘beep, beep’ sound. My friend and I listened intently. It was a tinny, unreal noise but it was the most important one of the Twentieth Century. This was October, 1957 and we were hearing a recording of Sputnik I in its orbit around the Earth.


[26] The Yellow Omnibus

To combine poetry and handwriting lessons probably seemed like a good idea to some educationalists of the time. Quite economic and efficient in a way: the sort of thing that would appeal to a certain type of thinking today.


[28] Ban the Bomb

If I’d been familiar with the expression back in April, 1958, I’d have said what I could see before me in Trafalgar Square was a sea of faces. And not only faces: there were banners, a white haired man addressing the vast crowd through an erratic microphone and numerous eye catching black-and-white CND ‘bird’s foot’ symbols.

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