A Northern Wind—Britain 1962-63 by David Kynaston

David Kynaston’s book A Northern Wind is a social history of 1962-1965 in Britain. It has fascinating stories and details of people’s everyday lives.

This was the early 1960s. Flower power and the anti-war movement didn’t exist, and mini dresses and the swinging sixties were in only their early days.

Abortion was illegal, homosexuality was criminalised, and divorce was still hard to access.

Yet by the end of the decade global liberation movements would change the world for good.

The book covers the weather, the Profumo scandal, the football scores, the rise of Harold Wilson’s Labour to government and changes in the British economy.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis panic ensued as nuclear disaster seemed imminent.

On 24 October 1962 “some 500 demonstrators were outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, clashing with police as they chanted ‘Hands off Cuba’ and ‘Viva Fidel, Kennedy go to hell’,” it documents.

It delves into cultural changes as The Beatles rose to fame, with their first chart success in October 1962.

It explores the conflicting Mods and Rockers subcultures.

This book is part of a longer project analysing the period between post-war 1945 and the rise of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. During this volume, the upheaval of 1968 hadn’t arrived.

But the book does show some of the precursors to 1968. Ideas about sex, poverty and class were in flux.

Older social attitudes still had a quasi-Victorian view of society. But a newer generation was pushing back against the rigidity of the past.

And many young workers income doubled between 1958 and 1966, with a bit of spare cash to spend on clothes, music, concerts, travel and fun.

This didn’t please everyone. “We are only just beginning to see that the problems of raising the level of living, the quality of education, housing, and medical care of the poorest third of the nation calls for an immense amount of social inventiveness,” LSE university professor Richard Titmuss wrote.

On the other hand sociologist Peter Townsend commented, “Poverty is not an absolute state. It is relative deprivation.

“Society itself is continuously changing and thrusting new obligations on its members. They, in turn, develop new needs.”

Class inequalities in housing, health care, education and income were rife. And a rise of the middle class meant people started to define class as what type of houses people lived in, what attitudes they had and who they were seen with.

One woman said when discussing class that she didn’t like “the snooty kind of person who always makes you feel they’re better than you”.

This reflected the attitudes and divides among different classes.

And it came alongside a sharp rise in class struggle. In 1965 9.7 million people were trade union members, amounting to 42.4 percent of the workforce with 629 trade unions.

In the 1950s there were never more than 800 strikes, excluding miners’ strikes.

But in 1960 alone there were well over 1,000 and in 1964 1,5000, also excluding miners’ strikes.

Economic changes like full employment and rising prices, and social changes like rising expectations, fuelled this shift in a new era of the working class.

Overall the book provides detailed insight into what culture, society and life looked like, especially at the bottom.

A Northern Wind is published on 28 September and is available for  £30 from bookmarksbookshop.co.uk


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