Describe Popular Culture in Britain at the Beginning of the 1960’s

The 1950’s were a conservative period. The country was recovering from the ravishes of war and many people wanted society to return to how it was in the 1930’s. America was leading the way forwards however much the older generation disliked it. New music was appearing such as Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard. More consumer goods could be afforded by the middle classes creating a better standard of living. Televisions began to be purchased widely as did refrigerators and washing machines. The standard of living of the average person living in Britain rose during the 1950’s. The popular catchphrase used in the 1959 election by Harold Macmillan was ‘you’ve never had it so good’ which in my view sums up the 1950’s; and by 1960 change was imminent. The culture of the 1960’s reflects Britain at this time.

Attitudes of many people in Britain were still very conservative entering the 1960’s. However, things had begun to change for many groups in society. Women were still second class citizens but a large proportion of them had begun to work. They were paid less and did most of the manual jobs. Some male attitudes towards women still hadn’t changed very much and many saw women still as ‘baby machines’. It was generally unheard of in 1960 for women to wear trousers in public, let alone to work. Many women began to demand equal rights, and by the mid to late 60’s much had changed for women.

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In the later years of the 50’s Britain saw a large influx of immigration from the Commonwealth. There were jobs available in Britain and better living conditions. By the 1960’s Britain had become a multi-cultural society. The large majority of immigrants arrived from the West Indies and India. They suffered from large amounts of racism and were given the poorly paid jobs. Many did menial work and failed to buy a house for many years. It wasn’t until the later 1960’s that Britain became a more tolerant society.

Crime was at a low in the late 1950’s to 1960. Few needed to turn to crime due to the increase in wealth by the large majority of people. Capital punishment was still being used despite an increasingly large number of people turning against it. Crime was in fact at a lower rate than in today’s society.

Drugs were starting to be used by a certain group of people. It was not until the later 1960’s when drugs became more widely used. Times were changing but the society was still very conservative with few people using drugs.

Attitudes towards sexual behaviour had not yet begun to change by the early 1960’s. It was still a very conservative society although in the later 1960’s it became more permissive. The contraceptive pill had been discovered but was not widely used. Many women still believed that sex before marriage was a sin although this did change.

Britain was still very much a class society although times were changing. The middle classes were expanding and the upper classes were starting to lose the control.

Cars in the 1950’s became more widely available. Ownership was rapidly increasing throughout the 50’s due to the reduction in price. In 1960 the Mini was brought out alongside cars such as the bubble car made by a German company. They were advertised on television and on the radio as a necessary possession and fun. In 1959 the first motorway to be built in Britain the M1 was opened. Travelling long distances was becoming much easier and accessible for the general public. Public transport began to suffer problems due to the huge increase in cars. The steam trains effectively died out being replaced by the newer and more economical electric and diesel powered engines. Less people were using them as a method of transport and there were large cuts in the workforce.

There was a new period beginning in the holiday industry. Some were still very traditional like Butlins, bed and breakfasts and other holiday camps. However with people owning cars they experienced a new found freedom. Places such as the Costa del Sol became popular with British holiday makers. Package holidays grew in popularity as did camping and caravanning holidays. The new found freedoms experience with the new transport was shown in various ways throughout culture in the 1960’s.

As in any period of time the media always shows how the culture was changing. Until the early 1960’s the British television was dominated by the upper classes. There were only two channels, BBC and ITV with BBC 2 starting in 1965. However the television industry underwent a period of change in the early 1960’s Programmes began to get shown with people from middle and working classes on. Coronation Street was first broadcast in 1960 and others soon followed. The television started to reflect the society around it and soon became the most popular activity. Dramas began to be shown like ‘Cathy Come Home’ which were watched throughout Britain and had great impacts on society. Campaigning programmes also began to be broadcast for example Tonight and other news based programmes. There were more programmes for the teenage and child markets. The 6 -5 Special was first followed by Ready Steady Go. These had major impacts on the youth culture of the 1960’s.

During the 1950’s radio was the most accessible and widely listened to form of entertainment. There were such stations as Radio 2 and 4. These were listened to by adults and children alike. However by 1960 things were changing. The teenage market had developed and they were demanding their own radio station playing their music. Many pirate radio stations set up, such as Radio Caroline. These played popular music of the time and aimed themselves to the teenage market. In the late 1960’s Radio 1 was created. This was aimed at the older teenage market. The 1960’s were a period of change for the music industry.

Newspapers were widely read although there were less tabloids than today. These were aimed towards the adult generation and left most teenagers and young people to find out the news from the television. They were generally more serious which reflects the culture of the early 1960’s. Magazines were also much more serious. Women read ‘Women’s Own’ and nothing else was available. Young children had many different comic books at the time, Dandy, Bunty etc. It was not until the mid to late 60’s that more revolutionary magazines like Cosmopolitan were created. There were very few music or hobby orientated magazines either.

The traditional British film industry was in decline in the late 1950’s. Typical romances were shown along with early action films. They all contained only upper class people. By 1960 new comedies were becoming popular. A change was underway with more people with working class accents getting into the film industry. These were more popular with the general public who enjoyed being able to watch a film that they could relate to. The first person to enter the ‘new’ film industry was Michael Cain, who soon became a teenage icon.

The media of the early 1960’s reflects the change that was occurring in British society and culture of the time.

Around 1960 there were 5 million people who now classed themselves as teenagers. This had become a whole new market for companies and advertising in the late 1950’s. More of these young people had more money than ever before and could afford many new products. Throughout the 1950’s the influence of American culture had been great. British teenagers wanted to be like their American counterparts and have coffee bars and their own fashion and music tastes. The society was changing and the demands of the new market were met.

New music in 1950 and started the revolution in youth culture. Elvis Presley was frowned upon by the older generation but the youths were fascinated by the new concept of ‘Rock and Roll’. Cliff Richard became the British teen symbol and began the British music industry. Adults however were still listening to Frank Sinatra and the Joe Loss Orchestra. They couldn’t understand the new music with their sexual lyrics and movements. In 1962 the Beatles released their first record. They were still relatively unknown playing in places like the ‘Cavern’ and Hamburg.

New fashions were starting to become the new way to be revolutionary. Teddy Boys began to make a statement in society as did the Rockers. Many teenagers and young people in the early 1960’s though, still wore their parents fashions. Boys wore short trousers and shirts whilst girls wore skirts. Fashion as everything else in the late 1950’s to early 60’s was still very conservative.

Popular culture in the early 1960’s was still much the same as it had been throughout the 50’s. Although a teenage market had emerged, little had really changed by 1962. The British culture was still very conservative. However things were soon to change. The 1960’s were dramatically different to the ways the older generation had grown up. America looked to Britain as the culture capital of the world. New pop groups emerged and life became ‘swinging’ for many young people. The older generation still did not approve but were powerless to do anything. The early 1960’s can be described best as ‘a grey period’ and not as the ‘swinging sixties’ which came later.

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