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“IF YOU REMEMBER THE SIXTIES,” Comedian Charlie Fleischer observed, “you really weren’t there.” Well, true, I was at Worcester Poly—majoring in mathematics, of all things—and later in grad school at Cleveland’s Western Reserve/Case WRU. But remnants of the London Wild ’n’ Crazy Sixties were to have a lasting influence on my life. Of which more anon.
These tidbits on London’s Sixties arose from reading “Chelseafication,” by Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite in the London Review of Books, September 22, 2022.
Early Sixties’ London. Sutcliffe-Braithwaite begins by noting, “In the early 1960s, London was boring. The population was in decline, the buildings were black with pollution and there were still bombsites in the City. Public transport was hard to come by after 11 p.m. and many shops in the West End closed at 1 p.m. on Saturday, not reopening until Monday. Sunday was so dull that in 1964 a guide was released with tips on what you could actually do on the Sabbath.”
Other than the bombsites, she might have been describing Worcester or Cleveland. I recall “half-day” Saturday shopping and you couldn’t even steal 3.2-beer from a drugstore on a Sunday.
Fashion. “The people looked old fashioned,” Sutcliffe-Braithwaite says. “Mary Quant recalled that women ‘wore stiletto heels and corsets. They had no bottoms … but seats. They didn’t have nipples but great appendages of bosom and none of these things fitted together: the bosom came into the room first and the woman would follow.’ ”
Again, I know what she’s talking about. In pre-bra-burning days, nipples seemed to be limited to girlie magazines. Bosoms were promoted by pointy bras, and our crowd thought Kim Novak’s bras were the best.
Waterloo Sunrise. Sutcliffe-Braithewaite is reviewing Waterloo Sunrise: London from the Sixties to Thatcher, by John Davis, Princeton University Press, 2022.
She writes, “As John Davis points out, the idea that London started to ‘swing’ in the 1960s was largely the concoction of journalists in need of a story, most of them American. But in Soho and on the King’s Road in Chelsea, ideas were taking shape that would eventually change what people all over the country wore, what they listened to and what their houses looked like.”
Thinking Automotively. And, curiously enough, what they drove. One of England’s oddities out of the Sixties was the Austin Mini Moke, a minimalist Mini that became the rage for getting around London. Mick Jagger may have owned one, and there’s even archival film of the limo-riding Stones encountering a hippie-filled Moke.
And, what’s more, Mini Mokes played important roles in my life. Back in August, 1973, my first published work (well, my first non-mathematical one), was a Moke article in R&T. It led to another later Moke adventure described in “From Sea to Shining Sea” here at SimanaitisSays.
“Chelseafication.” Sutcliffe-Braithewaite recounts of Sixties’ London, “In fact, social elites were alive and well. The ‘expectant rich’ were the first gentrifiers: before it was known as gentrification, estate agents called it ‘Chelseafication’, as bright young things began to move from the mansions of Mayfair to the townhouses and cottages of Chelsea.”
In time, this gentrification went more than a little whacko. Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’ policy introduced in 1980 allowed tenants across the country to buy their own council houses (sort of the equivalent of our public housing).
Sutcliffe-Braithewaite says that in London this “led ultimately to a resurgence of the private rental sector, further acceleration of house prices and a crisis in social housing. In 1989, the two-bedroom council flat in which I now live was sold to its tenants for £18,500; in 2017 we paid £383,000 for it.”
By contrast, our U.S CPI Inflation Calculator has $18,500 jumping to $37,097.62.
Sutcliffe-Braithewaite observes, “By 2020-21, 27 percent of households in London were private renters, and the average private rent in London was £340 per week, more than twice the average outside London.”
Driving Free Or? Several American cities come to mind: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and particularly New York City. On the other hand, for better or worse, we can still freely drive within these cities. These days, London has a Congestion Charge, an Ultra Low Emission Zone, and a Low Emission Zone.
London ain’t so Wild ’n’ Crazy anymore. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022