Adult Responses to Popular Music and Intergenerational Relations in Britain, c. 19551975
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An examination of the impact of music on inter-generational relations.

‘Adult Reactions to Popular Music and Inter-generational Relations in Britain, 1955–1975’ challenges the often unquestioned assumption that ‘the older generation’ largely reacted in a negative or hostile fashion to forms of music popular with young people in Britain from the 1950s to the mid-1970s (including rock ’n’ roll, skiffle, ‘beat’ and rock music), and that the music invariably exacerbated inter-generational tensions. Utilizing extensive primary evidence, from first-person accounts to newspapers, television programmes, surveys and archive collections, the book demonstrates the considerable variety which frequently characterized adult responses to the music, whilst also highlighting that the impact of the music on inter-generational relations was more complex than is often assumed. There has been a growing recognition among scholars of the need to reassess the alleged ‘generation gap’ of this era, but this theme has yet to be examined in depth via the prism of popular music. [NP] The book is also distinctive in the thematic approach it adopts. Rather than attempting a chronological survey, it identifies three key arenas of British society in which adult responses to popular music, and the impact of such reactions upon relations between generations, seem particularly revealing and significant, and explores them in considerable depth. The first chapter examines the place of popular music within family life, the second focuses on the Christian churches and their engagement with popular music, particularly within youth clubs, and the third explores ‘encounters’ between the worlds of traditional Variety entertainment and popular music. The work offers detailed appraisals of each of these areas, while also providing fresh perspectives on this most dynamic and turbulent of periods.

While each chapter possesses a certain cohesion in its own right, illuminating and adding fresh perspectives on key topics within post-war British history, certain key ideas reappear throughout the work. The nature and significance of ‘everyday’ multi-generational consumption of popular music constitutes one such theme, as does the manner in which the highly varied, and ever-evolving, character of ‘pop’ in this era frequently, and in various ways, rendered it more accessible to older people and more capable of traversing generational boundaries. The final unifying theme concerns the distinctive way in which ‘old’ and ‘new’ cultural forces continued to interact in the lives of young and old during this transitional era.

Acknowledgements; Introduction; 1. ‘You Go Halfway, Don’t You?’ Family Life, Generational Identity and Popular Music; 2. ‘To Have Done Something’: The Christian Churches, Youth Clubs and Popular Music; 3. ‘You’ve Got to Be Able to Entertain People’: The Encounter between Popular Music and the Worlds of Variety and ‘Light Entertainment’; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.



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Date de parution 28 février 2019
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781783089024
Langue English

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Adult Responses to Popular Music and Intergenerational Relations in Britain, c. 1955–1975
The Anthem Studies in British History publishes a range of studies in British history including social, political, gender, migration, cultural, visual, economic, environmental and war history, as well as the history of the English language and literary history. This series offers a wide perspective on British history studies from all periods and covers compelling and coherent aspects of the topic. Innovative and challenging approaches, as well as studies grounded on emerging research, are welcome.
Series Editor
Marie-José Ruiz – Université de Picardie Jules Verne, France
Editorial Board
Hilary Carey – University of Bristol, UK
Jeremy Crang – University of Edinburgh, UK
Robert Crowcroft – University of Edinburgh, UK
Fara Dabhoiwala – Princeton University, USA
Kent Fedorowich – University of the West of England, UK
June Hannam – University of the West of England, UK
Edward Higgs – University of Essex, UK
Kathrin Levitan – College of William and Mary, USA
John MacKenzie – Lancaster University, UK
Jennifer McNabb – Western Illinois University, USA
Benedicte Miyamoto – Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, France
Jude Piesse – Liverpool John Moores University, UK
Eric Richards – Flinders University, Australia
Ophélie Siméon – Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, France
Marie Terrier – Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, France
Adult Responses to Popular Music and Intergenerational Relations in Britain, c. 1955–1975
Gillian A. M. Mitchell
Anthem Press
An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company
This edition first published in UK and USA 2019
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or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK
244 Madison Ave #116, New York, NY 10016, USA
Copyright © Gillian A. M. Mitchell 2019
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78308-900-0 (Hbk)
ISBN-10: 1-78308-900-8 (Hbk)
This title is also available as an e-book.
Defining Terms: ‘Popular Music’ and ‘Generations’
Chapter One
‘You Go Half Way, Don’t You?’ Family Life, Generational Identity and Popular Music
‘You Play That Again and I’ll Break the Record!’: Parental Objections to Popular Music
‘Half-Teddy Boy’: Old and New in Postwar Youth Culture
‘I Ain’t No Nellie-Lover and I Ain’t No Square!’: The Efforts of Parents to Approve of Pop
A New Career? Parents, Children and Popular Music-Making
‘Enacting the Role of the Hep-Cat Parent’: Adult Approval of Popular Music and Intergenerational Tensions
Whose ‘Kind of Music’? Generations, the Charts and the Audience for Pop Music
How Much Did It Matter? Questioning the Importance of Popular Music as a Symbol of Youth Identity
Chapter Two
‘To Have Done Something’: The Christian Churches, Youth Clubs and Popular Music
The Albemarle Report and the ‘Golden Age’ of Youth Clubs
‘The Gospel Youth Wants to Hear’: The Churches and Youth Work
‘A Means of Expressing Religious Impulses Which Have No Other Outlet’: Popular Music in Church Youth Clubs
Popular Music, Youth Culture and the Modernization of Church Music
A Man Dies : Youth Club Drama, Spirituality and the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Passion Play’
The End of a ‘Golden Age’?: The Decline of Youth Clubs
Chapter Three
‘You’ve Got to Be Able to Entertain People’: The Encounter between Popular Music and the Worlds of Variety and ‘Light Entertainment’
Variety Entertainment in Twentieth-Century Britain: Decline, Resurgence and Reinvention
Variety’s ‘Middle Generation’, Television and Theatre Closures
‘Foreign to What Our Profession Was’: Popular Music Enters the Variety Theatres
Laughing in the Face of Change: The Responses of Variety Veterans to Popular Music
Mocking the Rock: Exploring the Humorous Side of Popular Music
Popular Music and ‘The Spirit of Variety’
Artistic Dilemmas and Stylistic Evolution: Popular Musicians as ‘All-Round Entertainers’
‘Surviving Together’: Popular Music and Variety Culture in the Contemporary Era

I wish to express my sincere gratitude to all who have assisted me in the preparation of this book. I am grateful to the editorial and publishing staff at Anthem Press for their help and guidance, and to the reviewers for their helpful and constructive comments. The research for this book was completed with the assistance of Small Grants from the Carnegie Trust (ref. SHIO-XCC129) and the British Academy/Leverhulme (ref. SG152256); I am indebted to these organizations for their generosity.
I am also grateful to all those colleagues from the School of History at the University of St Andrews and to those associates who offered assistance and guidance during the completion of the work. I wish to thank, in particular, Prof. Gerard DeGroot, Dr James Koranyi and Dr B. Lee Cooper for writing references for my grant applications, and Prof. Aileen Fyfe for her advice on research funding, grant application and publication. I am particularly indebted to Prof. Colin Kidd for his advice and encouragement, and his supportive, detailed and constructive comments on my work.
Particular thanks must also be expressed to Reverend Prof. Ian Bradley for his myriad helpful suggestions and comments regarding the postwar churches and their attitudes towards popular music. Dr Mark Johnson also provided many helpful ideas on this topic during the early stages of research, and Reverend Edward McGhee offered some illuminating thoughts on the role of folk music within the church during the 1960s. Prof. Simon Frith helpfully shared his recent work on the role of live music within cinemas in postwar Britain.
I also wish to thank those who consented to be interviewed, or who provided vital information, for the project, both in person and via email. Reverend Dr Douglas Galbraith, Chris Charlesworth, John Lockley, Dr Anthony Simons and a former member of a Carnoustie church youth club (who wished to remain anonymous) all gave generously of their time, providing detailed and insightful comments which have greatly enriched the work.
In addition, I wish to express my gratitude to Massimo Moretti of CANALPLUS, to Robert Pirie of St Andrews and to David Reed of the British Music Hall Society for their assistance in obtaining archival materials and sources, and to Tony Jasper for his helpful email correspondence regarding the role of popular music within the church.
I am extremely grateful to all the archivists and librarians who have helped me during the research for this project. Particular thanks must be expressed to the Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the organization Churches Together in Britain and Ireland for permitting access to archival materials; Kate O’Brien and Samantha Blake of the BBC Written Archives for their extensive assistance throughout the project; and Dr Sam Riches of the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University, Charlie Morgan of the Oral History Archive at the British Library and the staff at the IBA/ITA Archive of Bournemouth University for their help and advice during the final stages of the preparation of the manuscript.
Finally, I owe a special debt of gratitude to my family and friends for their generosity, love and support. I wish particularly to thank my parents, John and Rose Ann Mitchell, for all that they have done to help and support me; my sisters, Hilary and Roslyn; my brothers-in-law John and Tom; and my nephews, Fergal, Patrick and Dougal. It is to all of them, and to the memory of my grandmother, Hannah Kirk, my great aunt, Margaret McAteer, my uncle, Thomas Kirk, and our dear family friend Bernadette Doyle that this book is dedicated, with much love and appreciation.
BBC copyright content reproduced courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
‘ Call it music? This is TNT!’ declared the Daily Mail correspondent Don Iddon in September 1956. He was referring to rock ‘n’ roll, the American musical trend which had suddenly begun to feature prominently in British headlines. As Rock Around the Clock , an otherwise innocuous film-vehicle for American musician Bill Haley , was screened in cinemas in the autumn of that year, press reports of youngsters ‘jiving in the aisles’, vandalizing cinemas and generally participating in ‘riots’ which were, frequently, spearheaded by ‘Teddy Boys ’ proliferated. For almost two weeks, readers encountered stories of rowdy ‘teenagers’ aiming fire extinguishers at outraged ushers, of widespread disruption in the streets of Manchester and South London and of Alsatian dogs and plain clothes police officers patrolling cinemas. The incidents petered out relatively swiftly, constituting a typical ‘nine-day wonder’ for commentators, most of whom ultimately refocused their attentions on the rather more significant crisis developing simultaneously in Suez. Nevertheless, with their inflammatory language and palpable outrage, the Daily Mail ’s initial reports on rock ‘n’ roll, which described the genre as ‘cannibalistic […] music of the delinquents’, both ‘deplorable’ and ‘tribal’ in character, certainly set the tone for much of the press coverage of the music. 1 Competitors from the Daily Mirror to the Manchester Guardian duly produced various reports on ‘jiving rioters’ ‘whipped into a frenzy’ and ‘savages drunk with coconut wine’ possessed by ‘the spirit of the rock’. 2 However, the Daily Mail ’s original coverage remains particularly infamous, cited not merely as evidence of initial press hostility towards rock ‘n’ roll, but also as a particularly ‘apocalyptic’ articulation of adult responses to the music in society more broadly. 3 The papers seemed to confirm this by printing letters from older readers whose appraisals of the music resembled those of Iddon in tone and style; while some believed that youngsters ought to receive ‘medical treatment’ for their enjoyment of this music, others saw the incidents as ‘a terrible indictment’ of modern life and a threat to the cultural integrity of Britain . 4 The dangers inherent in the licentious ‘jungle beat’ of the music were repeatedly highlighted. Many who were young at the time recalled similar reactions from their own parents and elders. Yet, for many of these youngsters, there was something almost thrilling and galvanizing about the disapprobation which their elders expressed towards their musical choices. As Pete Frame suggested in his history of the music of this era (which he had also experienced and enjoyed at first hand), ‘[m]‌ost teenagers who saw and liked [ Rock Around the Clock ] did so because it made them feel part of a new movement, one from which previous generations were excluded [… I]t was their music. Music which parents and teachers couldn’t relate to or identify with ’. 5
Rock ‘n’ roll, thus, became a potent symbol of what would later become known as ‘the generation gap ’. 6 The cultural divide between the much-scrutinized generation of British youngsters who matured after the war, thereby benefitting from post-austerity affluence and the attendant increase in educational and leisure-time opportunities, and their parents, whose lives had been shaped by the grim privations of the 1930s and war years, became a particular fixation for social commentators in this period. Young people – particularly perhaps those of working-class background who had left school early and were, thus, primary beneficiaries of postwar prosperity and employment opportunities – found themselves frequently in the spotlight, as sociologists, religious commentators, youth leaders and politicians sought to understand them and, frequently, to help and to guide them. 7 This perceived need for ‘guidance’ was heightened by a steadily developing concern that this generation, with its perceived affluence, autonomy and increasingly expressive fashions and leisure habits, could grow beyond the control of adults and authorities. Fears concerning juvenile delinquency were, of course, far from novel. 8 However, highly publicized episodes of general consternation surrounding perceived ‘subcultures’, such as the flamboyantly dressed and reputedly criminal ‘Teddy Boys ’ in the 1950s or the strident, factional ‘Mods and Rockers ’ of the early 1960s, constituted moments in which anxieties surrounding youth culture reached a climax. 9 Even in less drastic situations, however, the self-confidence and independence of the young frequently caused concern. This period, in short, witnessed a heightened preoccupation with ‘the younger generation’ and ‘the teenager’, and popular music was often seen to operate at the heart of this ‘new’ generational culture .
Though able to recognize the generalizations and simplifications to which such scrutiny could lead at times, those who were young in this period nonetheless frequently came to embrace this sense of separation from their parents’ generation. Their recollections of belonging to such a distinctive generational culture seemed to intensify retrospectively, as general interest in, and nostalgia for, the era of their youth increased apace. This appeared to encourage many of them to contribute to the mystique which the period attained in popular memory, by proudly asserting their first-hand experiences and shaping of its cultural upheavals. Such generational mythology proved both compelling and enduring . As with ‘juvenile delinquency’, neither ‘youth culture’ nor discourses of generational difference were postwar inventions, but such ideas undoubtedly increased in importance during the late 1950s and intensified further in the 1960s, as the ‘baby boomers ’ reached young adulthood. 10 ‘Age gap’ narratives would re-emerge with regularity over the ensuing half-century and beyond, and in an academic context, the important work of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) helped to develop the idea of distinctive youth subcultures – from ‘Teddy Boys ’ to ‘Mods ’ and ‘skinheads ’ – operating in defiance of societal norms and established structures . 11
Music frequently featured at the heart of such subcultures; contemporary studies observed the ways in which groups such as the Mods or the ‘bike boys ’ developed intense relationships with the beat and sound of the music to which they listened, using it actively to cement their relationships with the distinctive youth ‘scenes’ which they inhabited. 12 While subsequent scholarship has suggested that ‘membership’ of such subcultural groups was more fluid and sporadic than some of the original accounts suggested, there is no doubt that popular music often seemed to embody, and to encourage, behaviour which ran counter to acceptable adult norms and expectations . Rhythm and lyrics offered bold ‘new form[s]‌ of sexual articulation’ to adolescents, while the intense devotion which fans showed to their idols assumed an all-consuming, quasi-religious character at times; although such developments clearly worried adults, there certainly were many young people who sought to embrace fully the chance to assert and embrace a distinctive, and deliberately ‘rebellious’, generational identity via their musical choices and tastes. 13
The generationally orientated ‘possessive memory’ of those who experienced their youth within this era also served to reinforce the pervasive idea that rock ‘n’ roll and the values of the adult world were intrinsically incompatible. Rock ‘n’ roll itself was, of course, the first in a series of musical trends associated with the youth market, for which the music industry catered increasingly from the late 1950s onwards. 14 Yet, while the diverse popular styles, from skiffle in the late 1950s and early 1960s to ‘beat’, folk and rock music in the 1960s and early 1970s, variously evolved, combined and flourished, creating an ever-richer musical environment for fans, the basic perception that adults were excluded from such musical worlds, and likely to respond to them with suspicion, dislike and even fear, remained fairly constant .
Until now there has been little concerted attempt, on the part of historians and commentators, to challenge such a perception. That young people asserted strident identities by making musical choices of which their elders were likely to disapprove remains a prevalent popular impression of this era, and, indeed, the notion of generational conflict revolving around musical tastes remains potent today. As a result of such subjective impressions, few have perceived the Daily Mail ’s original estimation of rock ‘n’ roll as anything more than a unilateral, even amusing, expression of horrified, ‘square’, adult incomprehension. Don Iddon was, patently, no rock ‘n’ roll fan; he was based in New York City in 1956, and his impressions of the music had undoubtedly been influenced by the incendiary reportage of fairly serious violence which had been linked, by American commentators, to the rock ‘n’ roll scene. 15 Nevertheless, it is seldom observed that the Mail ’s initial reports did exhibit moments of greater balance and nuance. ‘To [use the cinema incidents to] argue […] that [Britain] is going to the dogs is ridiculous’, the paper declared. Although the ultimate assessment of the music remained negative, and the paper recommended ‘the discipline of work and service’ as a remedy for the misdemeanours of the ‘rock ‘n’ roll babies’, the editors did express appreciation for the natural high spirits of this ‘grand [young] generation’, and understood the exhilaration caused by the music. 16 Similarly, condemnatory letters which were printed in the Mail were frequently counterbalanced by correspondence which saw little harm in the music. The Mail ’s major competitors were, likewise, more balanced in their treatment of the music, and of the ‘rioting’ youngsters, than the excitable initial headlines suggested. The Daily Mirror developed a particularly multidimensional stance on contemporary popular music, recognizing that, while vivid stories of ‘Teddy Boy riots’ boosted readership figures, it was unwise to alienate the younger market which the paper sought increasingly to attract. Its stance on pop was, ultimately, epitomized far more by the ‘disc columns’ written by the enthusiastic Patrick Doncaster , or the excitable coverage of ‘Beatlemania ’ throughout the early 1960s, than by stories of youngsters driven to misbehave by immoral music (although such sensational items still made occasional appearances throughout this period). 17 Indeed, although traditionally exhibiting right-leaning sociopolitical tendencies, the Mail itself was certainly not entirely unadventurous in its approach to popular music as the 1960s began. Thoughtful commentary on the ever-developing music scene was provided by well-informed critics such as Kenneth Allsop and Adrian Mitchell , and, like the Mirror and other major newspapers, the Mail eagerly embraced all things Beatle-related as the popularity of the Liverpool group soared to unimaginable heights in the 1960s. 18
In many ways, the newspapers served as a gauge for public opinion during this time – certainly helping to shape it, but also, inevitably, reflecting and responding to developments in wider society. Thus, just as their coverage of popular styles was not one-dimensional, so too were the reactions of the broader adult society to the music considerably more multifaceted and complex than the straightforward ‘generation gap’ mythology suggests. While questioning the absolute nature of adult hostility towards popular music, it is equally necessary to assess the extent to which those who were young at this time truly embraced the idea of belonging to a discrete and unique generation – and to question how far, and in what respects, music served to shape and enhance such self-consciousness. While there is plentiful evidence that young people enjoyed and consumed ‘their’ music with unprecedented enthusiasm in this era, the manner of that consumption – and the extent to which music became a powerful emblem of strident generational identity – deserves closer scrutiny than it has hitherto received. Some undoubtedly built their lives around music – but whether this approach was taken by the majority of youngsters is important to question .
The purpose of this book, therefore, is both to explore the responses of sectors of the British adult population to those forms of music popular with the young from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, and to assess the impact of popular music on generational identities and on relations between generations. It does not attempt to deny the existence of adult animosity and condemnation, nor to minimize the genuine love and excitement which modern pop styles inspired in so many young people in this era. However, in broad recognition of the essential, innate complexities of the human condition, and also of the fact that this was a particularly turbulent era for Britain, as the country emerged from postwar austerity, and attempted to adapt to cope with myriad sociocultural and technological changes, the book seeks to identify the ‘grey areas’ within the ‘black and white’ account of a generational divide fostered and epitomized by conflicts revolving around musical tastes. It thus contributes to a growing body of scholarship which seeks, in various respects, to reappraise the period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s – from the thoughtful, detailed survey-texts produced by Dominic Sandbrook, David Kynaston, Brian Harrison and Peter Hennessy, and the far-sighted work on postwar youth culture by such authors as John Davis, Bill Osgerby and Adrian Horn, to the revisionist pieces which have instigated a questioning of the assumptions surrounding intergenerational hostility in this era – such as the seminal work of Selina Todd and Hilary Young, the writings of David Fowler and recent publications by Patrick Glen and Klaus Nathaus. 19 The book is also indebted to those scholars who have approached the music scene of this era from an historian’s perspective – in particular, the recent studies of Gordon Thompson and Keith Gildart, and the earlier works of Brian Ward and Dick Bradley. 20 It is also informed by the writings of those who work within the discipline of popular music studies – particularly the rich and varied output of Simon Frith, who has commented extensively on many aspects of the postwar music scene, including its relationship to youth culture. 21 The book builds, in various respects, upon the foundations provided by these works, all of which inform and enrich its principal arguments.
The book also seeks to break new ground in the structure and method which it deploys. It adopts a thematic approach, eschewing a more sweeping, chronological focus in order to offer ‘snapshots’ of certain facets of British society in which popular music appeared, in various ways, to make a particularly distinctive impact on older people and on the attitudes of the generations towards each other. The fact that the social institutions and entities discussed in the book are, frequently, strongly associated with negative responses to popular music and cultural change, and with intergenerational conflict, also makes them particularly pertinent to the study. Three key subjects of focus have been chosen. The first chapter explores the particularly pervasive and fundamentally important area of family life, probing in greater depth the widely held assumption that popular music styles frequently caused conflict, and otherwise invariably enhanced generational divisions, within families during these decades. As highlighted, family life has never been considered a particularly sympathetic forum for modern pop music, but the extent to which this was truly the case during this era becomes the focus of this section. The next chapter focuses on the reactions of various Christian denominations to popular music, with a particular emphasis on the activities of church-based youth clubs which experienced a significant, if fleeting, surge in membership numbers from the late 1950s to the 1960s. The churches were affected particularly keenly by social changes during this era; facing decline, they either lamented the circumstances which had effected their receding significance, or were determined to adapt and modernize. Their representatives are, accordingly, usually seen to belong to one of two principal ‘camps’ regarding their attitudes towards popular music, in its perceived capacity as an emblem of changing times; either they adopted a strongly condemnatory stance or else they tried, too earnestly, to embrace the music in the hope of attracting the next generation – to the embarrassment of their younger clients and to the irritation of older parishioners. Assessing the accuracy of such stereotypes becomes the dominant purpose of this chapter, particularly via an exploration of the ways in which church youth clubs – often a vital social outlet for young people – attempted to utilize modern popular music to cater for their young patrons. The final chapter examines a facet of the subject which has often been fleetingly remarked upon as a distinctive curiosity of the era, but which has never been extensively analysed – namely, the introduction of young popular musicians into Variety Theatre shows, a practice which began in the late 1950s but which remained quite prevalent into the early 1970s. The successful young musicians, it was hoped, would help to revive the moribund theatrical form and bring much-needed revenue to struggling theatres. While this was less successful, in the short term, than had been hoped, and while the new generation of performers was not made uniformly welcome by audiences or older co-stars, ultimately the worlds of popular music and Variety came to make a distinctive impact on one another. The generations, and the performance styles which they represented, increasingly fused and intermingled, both onstage and, later, as the Variety genre successfully transferred to the rapidly developing field of television, via the ‘light entertainment ’ show. These cultural fusions would have a dramatic, and enduring, impact on British popular culture.
Owing to this thematic focus, the book inevitably engages with ideas articulated within scholarly works which focus on more specific facets of this period. These include the work of Angela Davis, Laura King and Claire Langhamer on postwar family life, the valuable survey of the Youth Service by Bernard Davies and the collections of essays co-edited by Tony Jeffs; James Nott’s recent monograph on dance-hall culture, which informs the discussion of leisure and dance in the first chapter; and the rich literature on the nature and extent of secularization in postwar Britain, as it focuses on the attempts, by churches, to reach out to the young, and to embrace their culture, as their traditional status receded. The seminal works of Callum Brown, Hugh McLeod and David Bebbington on postwar religious change have proven particularly pertinent. 22 On Variety theatre, there has been considerably less scholarly work completed. Oliver Double’s Britain Had Talent constitutes an invaluable guide to this distinctive theatrical form. He also provides helpful, if succinct, remarks on the manner in which popular musicians entered the Variety sphere from the 1950s onwards. Understanding of the broader world of popular theatre during this period is also augmented by the earlier work of Peter Bailey and J. S. Bratton on Music-Hall (considered to be the Victorian ‘ancestor’ of Variety) and Vivian Devlin on the distinctive Scottish Variety tradition. 23
None of the institutions discussed in the book existed in isolation, of course, and each chapter inevitably finds itself exploring many supplementary aspects of postwar British society and culture which affected, in various respects, the development of its central themes and entities. For instance, all three chapters, in different ways, devote considerable attention to changes in leisure habits, focusing especially on dancing, methods of socializing and the consumption of radio and television programmes. The first two chapters, meanwhile, consider the changing significance and role of the home during the postwar decades. Gender remains a recurrent sub-theme throughout the whole work, as does the concern with juvenile delinquency which proved so dominant during this era. Similarly, the work inevitably comments upon the attitudes of major public bodies, other than those which constitute the principal focus, towards popular music – these include education authorities, the government, the press and broadcasting companies (particularly the BBC).
The work is, therefore, highly focused in its thematic approach, contributing considerably to the developing scholarship on each of the distinct areas under discussion. However, it may also be ‘read’ as a broader social survey of this period as a whole, such is the range of subject-matter which it covers, both directly and in passing. Nevertheless, while endeavouring to explore ‘Britain’ during the period 1955–75, it cannot claim to be a truly exhaustive study of all regions, peoples and countries which comprised the nation. While questions of ethnicity receive some intermittent coverage, the preponderance of evidence and examples relates to what may be considered ‘dominant’ white British cultures. Scotland and England, overall, provide the majority of evidence, although the nature of the coverage does depend on the particular subject-area under discussion. Chapter Three , for example, tends, predominantly, to explore Scottish and English developments within Variety culture, although there is still some fluidity, in recognition of touring performers and shows. However, the chapter on family life and popular music, particularly via its deployment of oral histories, draws examples from a somewhat broader range of geographical areas. There is, thus, a certain malleability – and perhaps, at times, selectivity – in the geographical focus of the study; again, this largely arises from the thematic approach adopted. However, despite this, the work still aims to contribute to understanding of British society as a greater entity.
Defining Terms: ‘Popular Music’ and ‘Generations’
Both of the key terms which are particularly central to this study – namely, ‘popular music’ and ‘generations’ – are far from straightforward to define, their essentially ‘slippery’ nature acknowledged by scholars who have endeavoured to explain them. 24 Semantic debates surrounding the term ‘popular music’ have featured prominently in scholarship, with some commentators, including Simon Frith, noting that it is often deployed quite specifically to describe music which (unlike the more intellectualized, artistically focused ‘rock’, which constructed itself as a separate entity from the late 1960s onwards) is created for overtly commercial purposes. 25 The frequently deployed abbreviation ‘pop’, in turn, represents, effectively, a crystallization of this, connoting catchiness and, possibly, ultimate disposability. 26 Other scholars have, however, questioned such defined boundaries, perceiving ‘no clear difference’ between pop and rock, and, indeed, readily accepting the broad synonymity of ‘pop’ and ‘popular’. As Motti Regev notes, even those who try to assert differences between rock and pop often find themselves inadvertently conflating the two genres. 27 Regev also historicizes the definition process, concluding that the most significant question is not the identification of absolute, ‘inherent’ differences among music styles, but the manner in which they are perceived and constructed by society and by commentators within different time periods. 28 Frith himself is not unequivocal in his definitions; elsewhere in his extensive body of work, he has acknowledged the manner in which different styles frequently overlap. 29 This book finds it most helpful to adopt a fairly malleable definition of the ‘popular’, founded upon identification of whichever styles appeared most prominent and successful at different points throughout the period. 30 Such breadth, in fact, suits this era, during which a great variety of named genres emerged. These include, of course, rock ‘n’ roll, imported from America in the mid-1950s via the work of Elvis Presley , Bill Haley and Chuck Berry , and adopted by young British performers such as Tommy Steele , Cliff Richard and Marty Wilde ; skiffle , its near-contemporary, popularized particularly by the exuberant Lonnie Donegan , and often considered a gentler, more domesticized alternative to rock ‘n’ roll; so-called ‘beat group’ music, a label associated with the proliferation of guitars-and-drums outfits which emerged in the early 1960s (as epitomized by the Beatles ); and folk music , which experienced a transatlantic revival in the postwar period, and became a very stylistically varied entity in 1960s Britain, while also, frequently, demonstrating some concerns with contemporary sociopolitical issues. ‘Rock’, as a more ‘artistic’ style, also becomes a significant concern in parts of the book, while other musical styles, from calypso and folk to trad jazz and ‘twist’, make more fleeting appearances.
However, the book is not particularly concerned with identifying or delineating such genres precisely. Certainly, each possessed notable basic key features, deployed particular instruments, styles or rhythms, and often developed distinct bodies of fans. That the core of this ‘fan base’ was predominantly young must also, of course, be acknowledged. As noted, young people had become a crucial focus for the record industry by this time. 31 The famous and widely-cited surveys of teenage consumerism conducted by Mark Abrams highlighted that ‘teenagers’ (whom he identified as ‘unmarried’ young people between the ages of 15 and 25) were responsible for almost a quarter of national expenditure on ‘records and record players’. 32 Linkages between ‘youth’ and popular music were also undoubtedly further strengthened by the fact that modern music styles were, generally, performed by very young adults. Gordon Thompson perceives this to have been one of the most significant developments within the postwar music industry, as the arrival of styles which could be played by musicians lacking conventional training served to breed a new generation of performers able to challenge traditional adherence to professional standards of musical skill. 33
Nevertheless, it was also the case that none of the styles so eagerly embraced by the young was, in any sense, musically pure. As scholars frequently note, rock ‘n’ roll itself was, originally, effectively a marketing label utilized to sell a particular fusion of styles to young American consumers. 34 The tendency of commentators to generate publicity for the music scene by boldly announcing new trends, many of which, in actuality, shared essential characteristics with other concurrent trends, became a prevalent feature of this era. Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard had begun as skiffle performers, and Lonnie Donegan started his career in a jazz band, but by the late 1950s they were usually closely identified with one single musical style. Similarly, the ‘death’ of rock ‘n’ roll was frequently announced at the end of the 1950s, following the disappearance of several of its most significant original performers (including Presley , who entered the army in 1958, and Buddy Holly , who was killed in an aeroplane crash the following year), with critics often speculating on whether skiffle or calypso would replace it as the next ‘fad’. This was not, however, the attitude adopted by all observers. Even at this stage, there was some recognition of ‘musical intertexuality’ – of the ways in which the different styles could, and did, fuse together, and of the difficulties inherent in separating genres absolutely. 35
Such fluidity and blurring of boundaries actually provides the book with one of its most significant recurring themes – that is, the many ways in which the essential dynamism and fluidity of the popular music scene, particularly from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, served to make the world of pop more accessible and comprehensible to adults. Critics were certainly highly aware of the great stylistic diversity within the music scene, particularly during the early 1960s; by this time, as rock ‘n’ roll had ceased to seem such a controversial topic of news, commentators frequently deployed the term ‘beat’ to describe various tunes and songs which, though often deemed suitably melodic and pleasant, or redolent of older popular styles, had nonetheless discernibly borrowed or adapted the rhythms with which rock ‘n’ roll had been strongly associated. 36 The once-feared ‘beat’ had, it seemed, become a positive strength for the music industry, offering various exciting possibilities for other musical styles. What was observed within this ‘folding back of musical codes’, as Kevin J. Donnelly terms the process, was not a straightforward dilution, but an ideal and exciting compromise between old and new. 37 The label of ‘beat’, thus, often became, at this time, a byword for an interesting and commendably experimental amalgam which might offer something to audiences of all ages . The flexibility of music terminology was, thus, not only observed, but also positively capitalized upon, by some writers. At certain points, in fact, it seemed to assist adults to attain a better comprehension of the contemporary popular music world, and even, at times, to perceive it as more accessible to them. As the various chapters of the book demonstrate, such perceptions afforded adults of diverse occupational and cultural backgrounds – from church ministers to Variety producers – a ‘springboard’ of sorts, from which they could leap into the musical world of the young, and attempt to utilize it for a wide variety of leisure-related, social, spiritual and even political purposes. In recognition of this, it makes sense to continue to adopt a flexible approach to definitions. The deployment of ‘popular’ as an ‘umbrella’ term for the various genres popular during this period is, thus, not uncontroversial, but it does prove effective for the purposes of this study, and to encapsulate the varied and changing character of, and contemporary discourses surrounding, the many forms of music which it discusses .
Like popular music, ‘generation’ is a term which has been much debated by scholars, with sociologists setting the pace for the discussions which have ensued over the past two decades. 38 It is also similar to ‘popular music’ in that it may be interpreted loosely or with more culturally based specificity. As Bryan S. Turner asserts, ‘in epistemological terms’ there are ‘broadly speaking two approaches to the definition of “generation”’ – the first which centres upon the straightforward identification of a ‘cohort of individuals who are born at a given time’, and the second which hinges on a conception of ‘generational cultures and consciousness where the specific date of a cohort may be less important than the general historical setting of generations’. 39 Both have been valuable to historians, but Alistair Thomson cautions against overly straightforward usage of the term, arguing that it is unwise to conflate, unthinkingly, ‘birth cohort’ with ‘generation’. ‘The formation of a generation’, he argues, ‘requires that it be collectively recognised and articulated at the time of its inception, in the attitudes, practices and ways of being a self-conscious generation, and in how it is defined by others – most frequently, by ‘the older generation’. [… The] active generational consciousness’ of the group in question, he continues, ‘is sustained by a cohort that continues to define and remember itself as a distinctive generation, and to be represented as such in the wider culture’. 40 This notion of generation as construct, dependent upon shared, consciously asserted, and retrospectively re-emphasized values, has undoubtedly proven more ‘excit[ing]’ to scholars than a purely demographically based approach. 41 Those who grew up in the years between the late 1950s and late 1960s have certainly given fresh impetus to debates about generational cultures. Not only was this ‘cohort’ readily identified as ‘a generation’ by contemporary commentators, but it has also, crucially, maintained the necessary ‘active generational consciousness’. Their frequently articulated sense of ‘ownership’ of ‘their’ popular music has undoubtedly formed a vital part of such a sustained consciousness.
Nevertheless, how precisely to delineate this ‘generation’ is not necessarily a straightforward task. Thomson observes a particularly striking generational identity among those ‘baby boomers ’ born between the mid-1940s and late 1950s, and who came of age during the late 1960s and early 1970s, at a time of particularly acute social upheaval. 42 Others may accept broader timelines for particular generational cultures, but have qualified this by noting the importance of ‘intragenerational differences’, and the need to recognize discrete ‘generation units’ within broader collectives such as the ‘sixties generation’. 43 This is often significant with regard to the musical culture of this period as a whole; as personal accounts often highlight, the cohort which discovered Elvis Presley was not necessarily that which embraced the Beatles several years later, and, similarly, those who fit the ‘baby boomer generation’ category literally would have been slightly too young to embrace rock ‘n’ roll fully in the late 1950s. Similarly, those who experienced their teenage years during the heyday of rock ‘n’ roll often felt somewhat alienated by the social changes which they observed during the following decade. Such incremental alterations within a particular age group, wherein a few years could make a critical difference to one’s musical tastes and aspirations, must be acknowledged. The trend for early marriage during this period also meant that ‘settling down’ could beckon all too swiftly, complicating still further any perceptions of a rootless, leisure-focused, thoroughly independent generation. 44 Socio-economic divisions also emerged between those who remained at school beyond the leaving age of 15 and those who entered the workplace as teenagers; experiences of ‘youth’ were often shaped by the nature and extent of one’s education and, as noted, by social class. Others have complicated the broader generational picture by exploring the impact of intersecting sources of identity, such as race and gender , or by assessing the manner in which different subcultural movements, such as ‘Mods and Rockers ’, may subdivide generational sectors still further. 45 The role played by commercial and marketing forces in shaping generational consciousness has also been noted by Carolyn Kitch. 46
However, there is still value in maintaining a broader focus upon a ‘postwar generation’ – defined as those who experienced their teenage years and early twenties roughly between the mid-1950s and early 1970s – as a sector uniquely shaped by such factors as consumerism and affluence, new opportunities for leisure and ‘possibilities in self-expression’, the postwar population ‘boom’, and recurring concerns over juvenile delinquency and rebellion. 47 While undoubtedly not all of those who experienced their youth during this time would have instantly identified with a specific generational label – although plenty would later recall personal experience of, or engagement with, many of the social changes associated with the era – there was widespread and fairly persistent acceptance, especially among adults, of a highly distinctive generational group throughout this period. Discourse surrounding ‘the bulge generation’, as identified by the 1960 Albemarle Report on the Youth Service , or ‘Generation X ’, which Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson scrutinized in 1963–64, or the ‘younger generation’ of the Labour Party Commission in 1959, tended to be defined with reference to such overarching themes as prosperity, unique concerns and challenges, as well as a sense of unprecedented opportunities, self-possession and assertiveness. 48 The ‘symbolic significance’ of the somewhat ‘amorphous’ category of youth almost seemed to outweigh a more precise demographic definition, and this rendered the cultural concept of ‘younger generation’ both more prevalent and more fluid in terms of its membership and identity. 49 It is possible to argue, however, that, by the early 1970s, the notion, at least in its postwar incarnation, seemed to lose some of its impact, amid economic uncertainty and changing social circumstances. As Geoff Mungham highlighted in 1976, the perceptions of an affluent and uniquely confident younger working-class generation which had been so ubiquitous during much of the 1960s had begun to recede, as prosperity similarly declined, by the following decade. In their fear of joblessness, he argued, young people of this decade had essentially re-established powerful associations with the culture of their parents. 50 This is not to suggest that youth cultures ceased to exist, nor that adults did not continue to express concern over ‘youth’. (Worries over the impact of punk rock in the 1970s are not extensively discussed in this study, but they highlight particularly vividly the periodic re-emergence of fears about youth and music. 51 ) Nevertheless, the terms of reference within which debates on youth were framed had, apparently, begun to alter. Thus, while it is wise to exert caution before straightforwardly assuming the existence of distinct generations, both youngsters and adults invested extensively in the broad concept of ‘younger generation’ throughout this whole period.
‘Older generation’ is similarly imprecise as a label, even though, as Thomson himself highlights, it can play an important role in reinforcing the identity of younger generations. While, in familial terms, it may be deployed quite straightforwardly to denote parental or grandparental generations, in cultural terms it often came to assume, at this time, an identity of ‘the other’. As the generation against which ‘youth’ was often defined, in its own right it gained considerably in significance. Identification and analysis of the nature of this group, within the context of this period, presents particular challenges, not simply because it potentially encompasses, effectively, anybody over 25 (if one adheres to Abrams’s view of the threshold for adulthood), but also because most of those born before the war had not extensively experienced, in their own youth, the great encouragement – intensified, as Klitch notes, by commercial and sociological forces – to identify themselves positively in generational terms, an encouragement which their children would later encounter so prevalently. When discourses of generational difference became more widespread and intense in social commentary from the late 1950s onwards, ‘older people’ often found themselves defined almost by a process of exclusion – not ‘young’, therefore automatically constituting a group which should not expect to partake of youth culture. For some, as eminent anthropologist Margaret Mead highlighted, the gulf between generations seemed unbridgeable. ‘They do not know how to teach these children who are so different from what they themselves once were’, she observed of adults in her seminal study of ‘the generation gap’, ‘and most children are unable to learn from parents and elders they will never resemble’. 52 The label of ‘square’ (a colloquial term, initially prevalent in jazz circles, for a person unable to appreciate contemporary popular culture, which was used most extensively during the late 1950s, but which resurfaced regularly throughout this whole period) was often used as a synonym for ‘older person’, and others would expressly identify themselves as part of this group by expressing bewilderment at the fashions and musical tastes of the young. 53
It certainly makes sense to attempt to subdivide this cohort, acknowledging that, for instance, parents of teenagers could, in theory, be of any age from 30 to 60, yet it is equally risky to assume straightforward correlations between a person’s age and his or her attitude towards youth culture or popular music. As this study demonstrates, the opinions of those who saw themselves as apart from ‘the younger generation’ varied intensely, and often confounded preconceptions regarding their likely reactions to youth culture and popular music. Mothers in their mid-thirties might perhaps find it easier to relate to their children’s music; however, others within this age-bracket during the late 1950s and early 1960s, labelling themselves as ‘angry young men ’, resented the new music particularly keenly because they felt that it had summarily swept away the styles which they had loved, and with which they had grown to maturity. 54 Members of this ‘middle generation’ were still sufficiently young to feel affinity with fresh musical sounds, but the excessively juvenile character of the pop scene by the early 1960s had, they felt, compromised both its overall quality and their ability to identify with it. 55 Some 1960s teenagers with parents aged 50 or above recalled their having exhibited particularly negative reactions to their musical tastes – yet, elsewhere, greater maturity seemed to engender a sense of perspective on contemporary developments, and many over the age of 50 perceived merits in modern popular music, often accepting, quite benignly, that times, and fashions, had to change. 56 Attitudes could also, of course, be shaped as much by such factors as religion, class and gender as by age; this was as true for adults as it was for their teenage offspring. Clearly, therefore, no monolithic ‘older generation’ existed in this period, despite the growing significance of the concept, and the definition of the composition of this age group shifts somewhat throughout the book, depending on the context in question. As highlighted, however, acknowledgement that one belonged, in some measure, to this group – finding oneself ‘on the wrong side of the generation gap’, as journalist Colin Reid suggested – often hinged on personal recognition of the fact that, for whatever reason, direct involvement and identification with youth culture, however perceived and defined, no longer seemed a credible possibility. 57 Adults of all ages, thus, cultivated diverse, fluid and often contradictory opinions on popular music throughout the decades covered by this study. Some dismissed it outright, and others scorned proclamations of ‘teenage identity’ and popular music idols as marketing ploys, principally designed to exploit gullible youngsters. Others, though unable to relate to the music personally, accepted and encouraged their children’s love for it, perceiving this as a harmless, and even valuable, means of self-expression, while particularly interested groups of adults sought to study contemporary youth culture and popular music, to understand them and to attempt to harness their perceived power and potential in order to fulfil specific spiritual, cultural or commercial goals. However, they often seemed to feel that they did so, ultimately, as outsiders and as onlookers.
While there is ample evidence of intergenerational suspicion and estrangement throughout this period, and while the fevered discussions of ‘younger generation’ were often linked to notions of jarring modernization and dramatic social change, it was also the case that certain cultural continuities possessed the power to disrupt and confound further any straightforward perception of generational distinctions. This, too, proves a crucial theme for the book. Many people, of all ages, undoubtedly experienced this era as a time of uncertainty and transition, as older cultural institutions and social values began, gradually, to recede, but were by no means entirely redundant, and still possessed enough residual power to shape the lives of the young as well as of the old. For instance, as Chapter One highlights, young people who wished to engage with the world of youth culture which surrounded them also recalled feeling their ambitions tempered by a traditional sense of deference to their parents. Simultaneously, however, many of these same youngsters continued to practise established cultural habits alongside elders – churchgoing, community socializing and, perhaps most notably, ballroom dancing – with considerable pleasure. As the final chapter shows, popular musicians entered Variety shows partially because, despite the decline which the medium faced, this older cultural form still dominated conceptions of how a career in ‘show business’ should be devised, and the young performers were still required to conform to many of its traditions. Thus, just as ‘square’ parents might feel left behind by modern times, so too did many young people acknowledge the power of older cultural forces in their own lives. The recognition that British people of all ages experienced and identified such multiple influences on their lives during this period also further highlights the perils of drawing sharp distinctions between generations.
The inherent individuality of experiences, too, emerges strongly from personal accounts and from contemporary literature; the complex manner in which people, regardless of age or background, negotiated a place for themselves in the world, and the extent to which ‘[generational] consciousness’ is ‘sustained (or not) in individual remembering’ must be recognized. 58 Another key concern of the book, which is not unrelated to this question of individual diversity of experience, is the manner in which, despite the frequent, rather dramatic proclamations concerning the symbolic importance of youth culture and the great significance of popular music as a means of understanding the young, for many people, of all ages, popular music was something experienced casually, in an everyday and even ‘mundane’ fashion. There were many ways of enjoying popular music, and of expressing such enjoyment – not all of which automatically connoted intense devotion to its rhythms or key artistes. Once again, such realizations present new possibilities for understanding, with subtlety, the ways in which popular music affected and shaped generational cultures during this era.
Overall, therefore, as is the case with ‘popular music’, the book adopts a relatively flexible definition of ‘generations’, acknowledging the rich debate which surrounds the topic, but, equally, allowing itself to be guided by the specific circumstances under discussion, and by the manner in which notions of generation were articulated by the representatives of the sociocultural institutions in question – whether religious organizations, popular theatre, the media or the family. There is room in the analysis both for the concept of generations as consciously articulated cultural constructs and for the more etymologically straightforward, family-based definition of ‘generations’ which Turner highlights. In fact, Mead often adopted familial or community-based analogies in her discussions of the ‘young’ and ‘their elders’. 59 This remains a useful approach to the subject, complementing more cultural readings of ‘generations’, and proving especially helpful when discussing popular music within the context of family life .
In building upon the prodigious foundation of existing scholarship, the book also makes use of diverse primary materials. Although it does not attempt sustained or close analysis of music and songs in their own right, it is inevitably enlivened by the variety of popular music created during this period. Popular literature reflecting the music scene – including souvenir programmes, fan publications, journals and trade papers (in particular Melody Maker and New Musical Express ) – and autobiographies of popular musicians, whether written for contemporary fans, or produced retrospectively, are also widely deployed. Newspapers, from the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail to the Times and ( Manchester ) Guardian , are also vital supporting sources. The chapter on family life is shaped by extensive engagement with oral history resources; those first-person accounts which feature in the abundant oral history collections of the British Library (in particular, the Millennium Memory Bank interviews, recorded by the BBC in 1999), and the interviews comprising the Elizabeth Roberts Working Class Oral History Archive, which is held at Lancaster University, afford unique insights into the manner in which individuals engaged with the broader social, cultural and musical changes which they perceived to be occurring around them. 60 (A small number of interviews conducted by the author, both in person and via email, also feature in the study.) Materials, both textual and audiovisual, from other collections, including those of the BBC Written Archives, the British Film Institute, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Archives, Glasgow City Archives, Lancashire Archives, the Victoria & Albert Theatre and Performance Archive, the Church of England Record Centre, the Methodist Archives, the Scottish Catholic Archives and the Scottish Theatre Archive, all provide vital insight on the many themes explored throughout the work. The published memoirs of key representatives of ‘older’ sociocultural traditions – from Variety entertainers to religious leaders and youth workers – also feature prominently. This era also witnessed a wealth of sociological studies and surveys, such as those conducted by the Institute of Community Studies, the National Association of Youth Clubs, and surveyors such as Gallup, and these, too, provide vital insights into observations of sociocultural change throughout this period. 61 There has been no shortage of original and invaluable source material on the various facets of this study.
The book has endeavoured to use this wealth of resources as widely and as imaginatively as possible in its exploration of the diverse ways in which British people, young and old, viewed, utilized and understood popular music, as they endeavoured to relate to each other and to the world around them amidst a period of rapid and dramatic change.
Many of the memories of Cheryl Vines, interviewed for the BBC’s Millennium Memory Bank oral history project in 1999, seemed fairly typical of those of the generation which matured in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but she had one particularly unusual anecdote to share. In 1963, Vines won a competition to meet the Beatles, becoming the envy of her peers as she did so. The occasion was featured in the local press, and it proved an unforgettable experience for Vines. Nevertheless, although she was an avid Beatles fan, she also stressed that her love for the group had originated not so much in deep-seated enjoyment of their music or personalities, but, rather, in a desire to be different from her older sister. When her sister ‘took up the rock ‘n’ roll craze with a vengeance’, she had deliberately avoided doing so, because she always did ‘the opposite’ of whatever her sister chose to do. Eventually, however, she decided to embrace Cliff Richard – albeit expressly because her sister had admired Elvis Presley – and later she turned to the Beatles because ‘they were mine, they weren’t [my sister’s] – she’d kind of moved on’. 1 Vines became a typical Beatles devotee, filling drawers with memorabilia and cultivating a particular love for Paul McCartney . On entering the competition to meet the group, she longed to win and harboured a strong conviction that she would succeed. Again, however, her motivations for participating were mixed – she was clearly a Beatles devotee, but equally she hoped to supersede a classmate who had simultaneously entered a similar competition, organized by Radio Luxembourg . Vines could not remember whether her sister had delighted in her victory – having ‘left home […] she was not particularly interested’ – but her mother , she expressly recalled, had ‘shared [her] joy’. 2 The experience of meeting the Beatles had been exciting – and her favourite, McCartney, had been ‘very pleasant’. However, inevitably, life moved on for Vines, and she eventually became an art student, embracing the ethos of the 1960s as wholeheartedly as possible. ‘We really did think we could change the world’, she said of her generation, and, while attending college in London, she recalled experiencing a particularly enriched ‘freedom’. The ‘general ethos’ of the period had been ‘lovely’ for her – even though some older people had ‘tutt[ed]’ at the miniskirts and long hair sported by her generation. There were limits to the revolutionary attitude espoused by Vines, however. When asked about ‘free love’, she revealed that, though she had often pretended to have been ‘part of it’, it had not been a reality for her. 3
The story of Cheryl Vines is not unfamiliar as an account of a ‘baby boomer ’s’ fairly intense engagement with one of the most visible manifestations of contemporary culture – namely, ‘Beatlemania’ – and the subsequent continuation of her 1960s adventure within the creative art school milieu. Nevertheless, the account also inadvertently highlights less commonly emphasized aspects of this particular generational narrative – not only her rather prosaic initial motivation for becoming a Beatles fan (particularly her desire to differ from her sister), but also the supportive reaction of her mother, and, some years later, the tempering of her revolutionary spirit by more conventional moral attitudes.
Vines’s account of her life in the 1960s serves as a helpful introduction to this chapter because of its blending of more typical perceptions of generational and popular cultures of the period with elements which are, by comparison, unexpected – essentially, she encapsulates the varied, often complex, ways in which popular music played a role, not only in the lives of individuals, but also within families, and in the shaping of intergenerational relations, during this period . This chapter explores such themes further, examining the ways in which popular music contributed to the formation of generational identity, and affected intergenerational relationships, within the family from the 1950s to the early 1970s.
Could popular music – whether embodied by rock ‘n’ roll, skiffle or ‘beat’ – legitimately claim a place within family life? Certainly, when viewed primarily as music ‘performed by young people for young people’, and according to much anecdotal evidence, popular music tended to feature in family life largely as a source of tension. 4 Discourse surrounding the concept of a separate ‘youth culture’ frequently placed this culture firmly outside the boundaries of family life, either by emphasizing negative images of rebellion and ‘unattached’ alienation, and conflicts with elders (as highlighted by some of the press coverage cited in the introduction), or by focusing on the independent cultural spaces and habits which ‘further distanced parent from child’. 5 The music to which young people listened, and which, by 1956, had proven itself to be such a cause of consternation, frequently appeared as the ultimate symbol of a culture irreconcilable with the norms of family life. Reflecting on their lives while participating in projects such as the BBC’s Millennium Memory Bank interviews, or Elizabeth Roberts’s oral histories of the late 1980s, many of those who were young during the 1950s and 1960s, particularly, described musical innovations such as rock ‘n’ roll or the early Beatles records as revolutionizing a hitherto drab musical world and stultifying social scene. That these were genres intended for them, constituting a ‘central element in their sense of [generational] identity’, seemed beyond question as they recalled their early encounters with such styles. 6 ‘The start of the change of everything’, one woman declared, was heralded by the music of Bill Haley . 7 Hearing Elvis Presley on the radio was, for another man, ‘the real turning-point […] just magical’. The fact that the lyrics of many rock ‘n’ roll songs unprecedentedly reflected the singular tribulations of teenage life also played a central role in their significance. 8 So many accounts refer to the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll in terms of a cataclysmic event or ‘explosion’. Music promoter Alan Goldsmith (b.1940), believed that his generation was the first to ‘burst out’ of an otherwise ‘subservient’ and class-bound British system; the 1956 cinema disturbances had perfectly illustrated this bid for freedom. ‘Everyone was jiving and rioting in cinemas when Rock Around the Clock came on […] they had police outside controlling the queues, and kids would […] jive in the aisles, and of course this was rebellious.’ 9 The importance of music in shaping a sense of generational identity is confirmed by the numerous oral accounts which highlight its importance with such dramatic vividness. Equally striking is the manner in which these music styles are used to heighten the sense of contrast between the dull postwar years and the vibrancy of the incoming age of affluence. For many, clearly, rock ‘n’ roll and related styles offered something unprecedentedly and excitingly exuberant. 10
Equally significant to some young fans was the fact that, just as they ‘like[d]‌ pop music [… their] parents didn’t.’ 11 This sort of proprietary generational mythology proved both highly compelling and enduring, cementing foundations for the ‘baby boomer ’ mystique of the 1960s and, once again, reinforcing the pervasive belief that modern pop and the sociocultural values of adults were intrinsically incompatible. In fact, for some, this in itself became an important component of the appeal of the music; youngsters developed their enthusiasms for its rhythmic beat in deliberate defiance of parental expectations. Generational ‘ownership’ of these styles is frequently asserted thus, and retrospective accounts have established the concept in popular memory; intensifying nostalgia for these decades has clearly given such ideas tremendous retrospective appeal. As Keith Gildart compellingly highlights, popular music, as experienced each day in ‘coffee bars, clubs, dance halls and bedrooms’, played a vital role in the lives of many young people . 12 Nevertheless, it is worth questioning whether nostalgia has served to amplify, in the minds of those who experienced the era, the impression of the initial impact which popular music made on them. Such uncertainty constitutes one of the many challenges of using oral testimonies as historical evidence. Stephanie Spencer, who conducted interviews as part of her research into women’s education during the 1950s, noted that many of her informants seemed aware that their interviews constituted a ‘semi-public performance’, with some experiencing, perhaps, a need to highlight particular topics to maintain a sense of historical significance. When people are aware of having lived through a period of historical change, they may feel the need to ‘draw on [broader] discourse[s]’ to contextualize personal experiences. 13 Such approaches to life stories need not be dismissed – they form part of what Spencer calls the ‘web’ of identity which individuals weave, positioning the self within a range of interconnected sociocultural entities – but they do highlight the need for careful interpretation of oral accounts. 14 The peculiar legacy of the 1960s – both as chronological decade and as cultural phenomenon – seems particularly problematic (and perhaps more challenging than that of the 1950s) in this regard. That the stereotypical ‘swinging sixties’ was ‘not experienced by most of the people who were actually there’ has been increasingly highlighted by scholars, often in reaction to popular accounts of the era which largely perpetuate straightforward myths about dramatic sociocultural revolutions. 15 However, as Trevor Harris and Monia O’Brien Castro have noted, ‘everyone would have liked to be there’. Thus, ‘[m]any people who lived through the Sixties […] are actually giving personal value to, and attempting to experience in the present, something which they did not experience in the past’. Eager to demonstrate their links to such mythology and popular fascination, thus, those who recall the period frequently subscribe, at least partially, to the notion of an ‘idealized’ 1960s ‘drenched in revolutionary behaviours’, and frame their own accounts accordingly. 16 Thus, those recollections which unilaterally stress the stirrings of postwar youth culture should be approached cautiously .
Nevertheless, as the story of Cheryl Vines highlights, straightforward accounts of generational divisions exacerbated by ‘explosive’ music did not reflect fully the experiences of all British families. Even those who hailed the dramatic entrance of new musical forms into their lives seldom sustained such a one-dimensional generational perspective. For all the discussion of an independent, and occasionally rebellious, younger generation during this period, very few people would consider such labelling to explain their entire identity, and frustration with such one-dimensional typecasting was expressed by contemporary commentators. 17 Indeed, in the mid-1960s, some politicians and commentators argued that the general emphasis on distinctive, defiant youth culture, which had been heightened by episodes such as the 1956 cinema disturbances or the Mods and Rockers ‘clashes’ of 1963–64, had been excessive. They sought to redress the balance by upholding the image of youth as respectable ‘good citizens’. Such a counterargument effectively peaked in 1967, with the publication of the Latey Report . 18 This influential report, which recommended the lowering of the age of majority to 18, seemed also to restore the wider reputation of youth, apparently encouraging a stressing of continuities, in terms of social attitudes and aspirations, from the adult to the teenage cohort. Journalist David Downes found the ‘conformity’ of Latey’s young informants ‘astonishing’, notwithstanding their ‘adherence to a teenage culture’. ‘The[y …] barely differ from their elders in any important political or ideological respect’, he declared. 19 Such a counterargument, positing the view that British youngsters were, ultimately, just like their parents, undoubtedly explains aspects of generational interaction for some, but, if accepted wholesale, it becomes as inadequately stereotypical as accounts which emphasize perpetual conflict. What is required, therefore, is an exploration of the subtleties amid ostensibly straightforward depictions of the period; certainly, family life, then as now, was far from monolithic. Parents and children of this period were, inevitably, multidimensional, complicated and inconsistent as human beings, and their relationships naturally reflected such complexity. Historicizing such relationships, and reflecting them with adequate subtlety and sensitivity, can present difficulties for scholars. As Frank Musgrove remarked in 1966, ‘[t]‌he family has provided us with some of our most intense emotional experiences’; ‘to examine [it] in an intellectually objective manner’ thus remains challenging. 20 Nevertheless, this era also represented a particularly transitional and unsettling time for the British family as a social institution – changes in residential patterns, in income, and in socio-cultural values all contributed to a sense of instability and uncertainty from the late 1950s to the 1970s, just as they frequently inspired feelings of hope and optimism. Oral history, for all its methodological challenges, is particularly useful as a means of illuminating the contradictions of human lives and relationships – and it is for this reason that Selina Todd and Hilary Young value its capacity to provide ‘insights into family relations that are otherwise hard to elicit.’ 21 April Gallwey, whose research into lone motherhood has also made extensive use of the Millennium Memory Bank collection, concurs; oral accounts allow scholars ‘to understand social practice and the meaning of love and family relationships at the everyday level’. 22 The inherent subtleties of family life, which offer alternatives to a straightforward narrative of generational divisions exacerbated by musical tastes, can be explored via careful usage of personal accounts. Those gathered by the BBC and by Roberts have been deployed extensively in this chapter , alongside numerous other, complementary sources, including newspaper and magazine articles, sociological studies, surveys, films and printed memoirs.
In view of the innate complexities of individuals, and of the family units which they formed, it is perhaps unsurprising that, on closer inspection, evidence may be found both to challenge the notion that all parents loathed the music of their children during this era, and to confound the simplistic idea that all youngsters invariably adored modern ‘pop’ and cherished its strong symbolic importance in their lives. Interestingly, however, few scholars have demonstrated much interest in exploring the greater variety of reactions to popular music which were expressed by both older and younger people during this period, or in considering their potential to enhance understanding both of popular music and of family relations in the postwar decades. Broader reappraisals of the 1950s have certainly challenged straightforward perceptions of what would eventually be dubbed ‘the generation gap’ – and the work of Todd and Young proves particularly important in this regard. While acknowledging the emergence of a distinctive youth culture, these scholars argue that this culture thrived, in part, because of the active approbation of the parent generation. Anxious to see them prosper, parents lent emotional and practical support to the novel social ventures of their children. This chapter further explores such a thesis by examining the extent to which such apparent parental approval was evident in response to youthful music-related activities, whether dancing, listening or performing, throughout this period. Gildart’s Images of England through Popular Music , via its explorations of the sociocultural impact of particular music ‘scenes’ and styles, offers helpful reflections on the ways in which youngsters fully embraced the delights of popular music while remaining grounded, in various respects, within their communities. 23 This chapter builds upon such ideas, particularly by analysing young people’s attitudes towards both ‘their’ music and the styles which seemed representative of their parents’ generation. Meanwhile, several scholars, including Simon Frith and Christina Williams, have questioned the often-expressed, yet frequently unquestioned, belief that popular music invariably assumes a pivotal, quasi-transcendental, importance in the lives of the young. Williams queries the extent to which popular music ‘really matter[ed]’ to the youngsters whom she interviewed, while, in 1972, Frith observed the multifarious ways in which teenagers in Keighley, Yorkshire, engaged with music, noting a complex interplay of individualism and collectivism in their tastes and activities. 24 Similarly, pioneering scholars such as Tia DeNora and the ‘Music in Daily Life ’ project coordinators highlight the rich individuality of people’s ‘everyday’ responses to music of all types. While DeNora explores the ways in which music may be ‘mobilized’ by people to help ‘produc[e]‌ the scenes, routines, assumptions and occasions that constitute “social life”’, the ‘Daily Life’ project, conducted in Buffalo in 1992, utilizes extended interviews with an eclectic range of people, in order to assess the multifarious ways in which (and indeed the varying extent to which) humans attribute significance to music. 25 Ruth Finnegan’s ‘micro’ study of music-making in Milton Keynes during the early 1980s also offers a compelling alternative to broader accounts of ‘national’ music trends by exploring the singular complexities of the ‘musical worlds’ which were nurtured within one particular community. This included a vibrant, varied rock and pop scene in which people of various age groups played an active role. 26
Works like these – and in particular, that of DeNora – also aid understanding of how precisely music works in the lives of those who listen to and enjoy it. 27 Highlighting the ‘bike boys ’ whom sociologist Paul Willis interviewed for his study of British youth in the late 1960s, DeNora notes the manner in which the ‘boys’ extolled the power of the rock ‘n’ roll ‘beat’ in their lives; more than simply part of an ‘image’, it played an ‘active and dynamic’ role, contributing profoundly to their identities, as they enter[ed] into ’ it and ‘[went] with it’. 28 Similarly, what British people – young and old – meant when they said that they enjoyed different pop styles during the 1950s and 1960s should be explored carefully, particularly considering that multiple simultaneous meanings are possible. Words cannot always easily encapsulate such ‘meanings’, but first-person accounts do frequently suggest various uses for, and engagements with, popular music. Parents could confound generational expectations by stating that the beat of rock ‘n’ roll really ‘got’ them, as much as it did the ‘bike boys’, while children might state that, as long as they could dance to a record, they did not mind which generic category it represented. (As the chapter demonstrates, the relationship between popular music and dance attained heightened significance for many during this period.) Similarly, while the demographically diverse ‘addicts’ of ‘pirate’ station Radio Caroline , as identified by a 1964 BBC survey, avidly consumed music as an apparently routine, yet essential, accompaniment to daily activities, Beatles fans adored their heroes not simply because of their music, but also because they embodied ‘the total pop package’ – their image and demeanour mattered as much as their records. 29 ‘Enjoying’ popular music, thus, was not a straightforwardly similar experience for all individuals; the work of DeNora reminds scholars of this.
Clearly, DeNora’s work, alongside the broader scholarship on music consumption and tastes, provides vital foundations for this chapter, in its highlighting of the diversity of human, and cross-generational, engagement with music . However, it is not, generally, historical in focus, and, although the surveys of Finnegan and Frith have particular relevance for the latter part of the period, none of the works deals extensively with the late 1950s or 1960s. This chapter builds on the helpful ‘strands’ discernible within such scholarship by offering a nuanced portrayal of the reception of, and attitudes towards, popular music within the family during this era.
As highlighted in the introduction, ‘generations’ are not clear-cut entities during this period, and, especially with regard to the young, it is particularly vital to recognize the importance of ‘generational units’ for the eventful time span covered by the chapter. Although the original ‘rock ‘n’ roll teenagers’ of the late 1950s appeared, broadly, to share certain socio-economic characteristics with those who embraced the more experimental rock world some ten years later, and although both ‘units’ were discussed by commentators in a broadly similar fashion, clearly the cultural habits, aspirations and musical tastes of the young did not remain static. Recognition of subtle, incremental change is frequently required. Similarly, discussions of a ‘parental generation’ obscure the fact that parents could, naturally, range widely as regards age, beliefs and life experience; such differences could prove significant in shaping reactions to popular music. The significant impact of gender on responses to music is also highlighted; it appears that, for various reasons, mothers and fathers often reacted differently to the music enjoyed by their children. Furthermore, although most of the evidence deployed reflects white British family units comprising two parents, there is some consideration of diverse regional, cultural, religious and, indeed, interpersonal factors in the shaping of family dynamics. ‘Family’ was not a monolithic entity, and, although by no means comprehensive in its coverage of the subject, the chapter acknowledges, and endeavours to respect, such variety .
The chapter commences by exploring the widespread perception that popular music represented a particularly potent cause of generational division within families of the 1950s and 1960s. Undoubtedly, just as, for many youngsters, popular music seemed straightforwardly to bespeak an all-consuming cultural freedom, and unprecedented self-expression, there were many parents for whom the music symbolized only immorality, cacophony and social dislocation. Intergenerational clashes over musical taste and, equally importantly, over activities to which the music was linked (whether frequenting dance halls, encountering the opposite sex or even engaging in ‘delinquent’ behaviour) did occur frequently. Both young men and women encountered such parental suspicion, but arguably girls bore the brunt of such anxieties, as their desire for social autonomy was seen to threaten their ‘respectability’. Other parents simply disliked the music, and were driven to distraction by their children’s insistence on gratuitously showcasing it within the home.
Nevertheless, as the work highlights, such unilateral distaste by no means characterized the totality of parental attitudes – as their children were frequently obliged to recognize retrospectively. Indeed, the young music fans themselves, while in many cases longing to embrace a more ‘rebellious’ identity, and to participate in the youth culture which was being discussed on all sides, rarely harboured an overt desire to upset their parents. Older values and customs still prevailed sufficiently for them to ‘fear’, or at least respect, their elders; yet, equally, ‘love’ for one’s older relatives – a quality difficult to historicize, but powerfully present nevertheless – also served to curb more renegade impulses, and some children even expressed enjoyment of socializing with their own families, a situation which offers a powerful alternative, or complementary, vision to that of the independent teenage scene during this period .
The love which parents, in turn, felt for their children meant that they were often loath to suppress their autonomous leisure activities outright. Support, although at times begrudging, was often demonstrated as youngsters attended dances and purchased records. At times, however, as had seemed to be the case with Cheryl Vines’s mother, the support was unequivocal. As Todd and Young suggest, postwar parents, particularly those from working-class backgrounds, enjoyed seeing their children express themselves, hoping that this might lead to opportunities superior to those which they had known as youngsters. The fact that Vines’s mother was expressly identified as the ‘joy[ful]’ parent was not insignificant. Nevertheless, although youngsters often recalled greater approval of their activities to have emanated from their mothers, both parents frequently aimed to help their children lead a different life, free from the privations which they had known. Nowhere was this more evident than in those cases where youngsters decided to form musical groups of their own. Although perilous ventures in many ways, such activities were frequently strongly supported by parents, many of whom came to admire the music which their children performed. Parents of those who managed to sustain a full-time career in popular music were often deeply proud of their unique achievements .
Some parents did find themselves unstintingly enjoying the music of their children; the music industry and media increasingly sought to encourage this, as initial concerns about the youth-centric focus and musical calibre of rock ‘n’ roll receded somewhat. The success of the Beatles was, in particular, considered a triumph for a universal, cross-generational type of pop, but other manifestations of contemporary music culture – such as the enduring BBC-TV panel-show Juke Box Jury or the early 1960s trend for novelty pop dances such as the twist – accommodated, and even encouraged, active adult participation. Nevertheless, those elders who infringed on the pop scene frequently did so at their own risk; while certain musical developments seemed appropriate for parental approval, overenthusiastic parents potentially attracted ridicule and resentment from their children and peers. Attempting to play the ‘hep-cat parent’, as one publication phrased it, could become socially perilous.
Nevertheless, the extent to which the pop scene of this period truly ‘belonged’ to young people, and symbolized their distinctive identities, may also be questioned. The music charts serve to highlight certain ambiguities within the industry during this time. Although the ‘top forty’ became increasingly associated with the youthful record market, it also, frequently, exhibited an almost bizarre range of genres. Devised to reflect the contemporary charts in all their diversity, the BBC-TV programme Top of the Pops managed to become, simultaneously, a vital focal point for young music fans and a ‘family show’ in the more traditional ‘light entertainment ’ vein. Young people were undoubtedly vital to the identity and scope of the contemporary music scene, but they were by no means its sole market. Parents, and adults generally, continued to buy records and to find a place within the culture of pop throughout the late 1950s and beyond . Extensive stress on the symbolic importance of popular music for youth identity-formation also fails to recognize the more ‘everyday’, even ‘mundane’, manner in which many people, young and old, consumed their music throughout this period. Rather than constituting a quasi-transcendent experience, or an automatic signifier of generational identity, popular music was frequently deemed most valuable as an accompaniment to daily life, leisure, dancing and socializing. This did not signify, necessarily, that the music had scant importance for young listeners. However, it demonstrated that enjoyment of music styles could – as the story of Cheryl Vines highlights, and as DeNora’s scholarship confirms – be motivated by a complex network of concerns, from the prosaic to the more profound or culturally driven. Enthusiasm for music does not manifest itself similarly in all individuals, and this was as much the case in 1960 as it remains today. Additionally, while certain commentators believed that the most acclaimed of the musicians themselves wished to become spokespeople for ‘their generation’, symbolizing and leading a separate youth culture, in fact many frequently expressed more moderate views on the subject. Developing as performers seemed, increasingly, to matter more to them than did becoming icons of any youth revolution. Rigid and straightforward associations between the younger generation and popular music are further challenged by the fact that, by the end of this period, many of those who had been rock ‘n’ roll fans in the 1950s were now parents themselves. This did not necessarily lead to a renunciation of their love for the music of their youth – instead, many of them not only rediscovered, or maintained, the tastes of their earlier years, but also wished to share these with their children. This inspired various revivals of 1950s and 1960s music styles, the consequences of which remain discernible today. The emergence of a new parent generation by the mid-1970s – a generation for whom modern popular music was not jarring or threatening, but an intrinsic aspect of life and leisure – further compromises straightforward perceptions of ‘generation gap’ with regard to music tastes .
The chapter, thus, demonstrates that popular music occupied an important, varied and frequently highly contested position within family life; it also hopes to show that popular music itself may provide a rich and unique array of insights into the nature of intergenerational cultures and relationships, and the postwar family unit, from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s.
‘You Play That Again and I’ll Break the Record!’: Parental Objections to Popular Music
The woman who declared that while youngsters ‘like[d]‌ pop music’, their parents ‘didn’t’ was certainly not expressing an unconventional view of postwar society and family life. It would, of course, be incorrect to suggest that the prevailing popular perception of strong parental dislike for youth-orientated popular music was entirely groundless. Many parents of popular music fans objected to the ‘new’ music, and to their children’s unequivocal love for it, albeit for a variety of reasons. Some simply disliked the sound and style of the music (as demonstrated in responses to the 1956 cinema disturbances, objections to the ‘tribal’ or ‘jungle’ sounds of rock ‘n’ roll abounded, as did complaints regarding poor musicianship or the alleged indistinguishability of lyrics). Particularly during the late 1950s, fears were often expressed over potential links between delinquency and rock ‘n’ roll, while others agonized over the apparent immorality of certain artistes – particularly Elvis Presley , and, subsequently, his apparent British ‘counterpart’, Cliff Richard . 30 Such displeasure seemed, frequently, to be linked to deeper anxieties about changes in youthful social and consumption habits, and to fears concerning loss of parental ability to moderate and influence these. Such concerns emerged regardless of whether youngsters were independent earners or still in full-time education. One 18-year-old worker interviewed by sociologist Peter Willmott noted that his parents, perceiving him as ‘still dependent’, criticized his purchasing of records, although he felt ‘entitled to do as [he] like[d]’ with his earnings. 31 Meanwhile, Belfast schoolgirl Jenny McDonald (b.1946), a self-confessed ‘Elvis Presley fanatic’, acknowledged becoming ‘a great worry’ to her parents as she ‘tr[ied] to do [her] homework with the radio […] hidden somewhere, listening to rock ‘n’ roll music’. 32 Such secretive engagement with the pop world also alarmed the parents of David Noble of Kingswood (b.1943). A confirmed Cliff Richard fan, Noble acquired a portable radio in order to tune into the BBC Light Programme’s Pick of the Pops on Sunday afternoons (‘up against the radio’) – a practice which did not meet with the approval of his Methodist parents. 33 Pat Danes of Welling was ultimately given a Bush radio by her parents, but this was partly due to their increasing irritation at her repeated playing of certain records on the family stereogram. ‘[Y]ou play that again [and] I’ll break the record’, she recalled their ordering her in sheer frustration. ‘Because’, she explained, ‘you could only afford a couple of records at a time, and you did play them […] all the time, which must have been annoying.’ 34 Similarly, Lynette Goode of Wisbech (b.1942) recalled only being able to listen to Radio Luxembourg (a cherished alternative to BBC fare for many pop fans) while her father was out on Friday evenings, not merely because he disapproved of ‘modern stuff’, but also because ‘he didn’t like his radio being messed about with’. 35 Shared radios and record-players undoubtedly caused problems for families, with the BBC’s Caroline survey demonstrating that younger members were often forced to concede to the preferences of elders . 36
Whereas introducing popular music into restrictive domestic spaces caused problems for some youngsters, concerns of a more moral nature drove the Nobles’ dislike of their son’s beloved music; its ethos, they felt, ran counter to their ‘strong Christian’ values. Publicists for Noble’s favourite, Cliff Richard , swiftly allayed fears concerning his immorality, but clearly, for some parents, the singer symbolized a threatening realm of unfamiliarity. 37 Nevertheless, love for rock ‘n’ roll did not diminish Noble’s commitment to his personal faith. Despite flirtations with certain controversial youth fashions (he wore a Teddy Boy-style bootlace tie and tried the ‘crew cut’ hairstyle), and although he became involved in organizing rock ‘n’ roll dances, he remained keen to lead a ‘clean, pure life’. 38 Furthermore, most of his musically based activities took place within the comparatively safe environment of youth clubs operated by the Methodists and by Fry’s, the Quaker-founded confectionary company for which he worked. Yet this was not a vision of church-based socializing with which his parents could identify, and, to Noble’s undiminished regret, they could not fully accept his music and leisure activities . 39 Joyce Storey (b.1917), who brought up two of her daughters in Bristol during the 1950s, and the younger two amid the later 1960s, also found rock ‘n’ roll ‘absolutely disgusting’ morally, reserving particular distaste for Elvis Presley and another (unidentified) singer ‘who gyrated all over the place’. 40 Matters only worsened for Storey during the ‘even more challenging’ late 1960s. When asked why she had reacted thus, she speculated that her own ‘straight-laced’ upbringing had rendered the music beyond her understanding – ‘I just wasn’t ready for that’ – while additionally acknowledging that her daughters’ embracing of the music symbolized their ‘growing up and growing away’ from her, ‘which made [her] feel, as a person growing older, a bit inadequate’. 41
Storey’s comments highlight that, for some parents, concerns relating to the stylistics of the music were ultimately superseded by deeper fears about the social and leisure activities to which this music might be linked. Parents of girls seemed to agonize particularly profoundly about such matters, as novel musical styles and leisure activities became increasingly intertwined. Claire Langhamer suggests that anxieties concerning the financial and leisure-time independence of young single women had peaked during the interwar period and seemed ‘neither threat nor anomaly’ by the postwar years; the tendency for girls to marry at an increasingly early age often ‘nullified’ any concerns about their premarital pursuits. 42 Nevertheless, parents undoubtedly continued to worry about their daughters during the 1950s and 1960s. In an era during which, as oral recollections abundantly demonstrate, extramarital pregnancy remained, for many, the ultimate disgrace, parents sought to curtail, or at least to regulate, the freedoms which their daughters sought as they embraced the latest clothing styles and attended local dances. 43 Langhamer certainly notes the undiminished importance of dance hall culture in the lives of young single women into the postwar period. 44 As demonstrated by those youngsters who had jived in the cinemas to Haley ’s music, so much of the pleasure derived from the new music was bound up in the joys of moving to their distinctive rhythms; ‘rock ‘n’ roll ’, after all, was both musical form and dance style. The testimonies gathered by Crafts et al. for ‘Music in Daily Life ’ frequently highlight the manner in which, even for very casual consumers, the act of dancing has the power to enhance enjoyment of music. 45 Undoubtedly, this was equally the case for many – male and female – in Britain during the 1950s and 1960s. Both the rock ‘n’ roll style and the other similarly uninhibited forms of dancing which accompanied pop trends (such as ‘the twist’ of the early 1960s) freed many girls from the obligation to find a male dance partner or to cultivate expertise in regimented dance steps. 46 As Todd and Young note, the ‘emotional spontaneity’ of the newer dances frequently became a liberating source of ‘creativity’ for teenagers, especially for girls. 47 ‘You could be either girl or boy […] pushing and twirling’, as Margaret Burns (b.1941) evocatively described the energetic, freeform jive-style which accompanied rock ‘n’ roll. 48 As discotheques became more widespread during the 1960s, the opportunity to spend an evening simply ‘bobbing about […] round your handbag’ often seemed highly liberating for young women . 49 Nevertheless, parents inevitably worried about the potential moral consequences of such freedoms. 50 The testimonies of women who participated in dances as teenagers amply highlight how prominently ‘appearance’ and dress featured within the excitement which the music provoked in them. Lynette Goode recalled ‘immediately want[ing] a pony-tail’ hairstyle, after discussing rock ‘n’ roll with school friends, ‘because all the girls that liked rock ‘n’ roll had a pony-tail’. 51 For Goode, retrospective discussion of the music evoked very specific memories of ‘full skirts’ and ‘nipped-in waists’. 52 Such intense focus on articles of flamboyant clothing often amplified the unease with which adults reacted to the new activities; Pat Danes remembered her father’s somewhat ‘fuddy-duddy’ reactions towards the clothes which she bought with her earnings, while Lynette Goode ’s ponytail, despite being barely an ‘inch long’ initially, incurred the disapproval of her teachers. 53 Devotion to particular artistes also created new forms of social activity and behaviour for youngsters and, once again, for young women in particular – whether queuing ‘around the clock’ for concert tickets, thronging backstage areas in search of autographs or screaming helplessly when confronted by their favourite artistes. 54 Adult concern at such behaviour was frequently expressed. 55 Thus, parental objections to the music styles often combined dislike of their specific sound with more profound fears concerning their perceived moral and social consequences. Both boys and girls faced parental displeasure, although there seemed a greater urgency in the worries of the parents of daughters regarding the consequences of the social and sartorial advances which accompanied the music .
‘I think parents became rather alarmed [by the music] because they couldn’t see that they had control anymore’, suggested Bristol musician Brian Holley (b.1939), ‘or not so much control’. 56 Holley’s additional, qualifying comment, alongside Joyce Storey ’s remarks concerning the activities of her daughters, certainly confirms the perception that this was an era in which the growing financial and social autonomy of youngsters frequently conflicted with more traditional emphases on adherence to parental – and particularly paternal – authority. The postwar years witnessed many changes which possessed the potential to alter conventional family dynamics. Despite the stereotypical depictions of stultifying domesticity with which the 1950s, particularly, are often associated, the presence of married women in the workplace actually increased at this time. 57 Additionally, the relocation of urban families to new towns or suburban estates frequently effected a de-emphasizing of the older, extended family model, and a newfound significance for the nuclear family, within which there was scope for traditional marital roles to be rendered more fluid. 58 ‘[T]‌he marital relationship has been undergoing a profound transformation in the direction of the “joint” relationship’, Colin Rosser and Christopher Harris declared as they observed working-class communities in Swansea during the early 1960s. 59 Langhamer has also highlighted the tentative growth, postwar, of the concept of romantic, ‘companionate marriage’, as greater affluence allowed ‘love’ to ‘eclipse […] “pragmatism” as the ideal basis for partnerships ’. 60 The nature of the parent–child relationship also seemed to evolve; Todd and Young argue that ‘the parental regulation’ which informed earlier family relations – and particularly the relationship between fathers and daughters – became ‘greatly relaxed’ after the war. 61 The role of the father certainly appeared to be particularly in flux. Laura King has highlighted popular cultural celebrations of the man who was both masculine and paternal; ‘a stronger link between [these] two [qualities] could serve the purpose of encouraging men to become more involved fathers’, she argues, and the notion that commitment to family ‘could constitute a desirable part of masculine identity’ strengthened accordingly. 62 Although divorce rates began to rise steadily after the war, ultimately this, too, bespoke new possibilities for self-assertion within relationships. 63 Nevertheless, as Helen McCarthy argues, ‘the optimistic narrative of the democratised family was not all-powerful’. 64 Greater freedom to dissolve one’s marriage frequently came at a price; Angela Davis highlights the onerous burdens placed on divorced mothers who struggled to support young children. 65 While women’s wages could make a crucial difference to the family income, ‘the value attached to […] a secure male-breadwinner remained’, and ‘exiting paid work’ post-marriage was still deemed ideal for young women. 66 King similarly stresses that ‘including fatherhood as part of dominant ideals of masculinity could reinforce men’s status when under threat’, even while appearing to denote a relaxation of traditional roles. 67 Ultimately, the tendency to ‘underlin[e] men’s authority’ and ‘patriarchal traditions’ prevailed in this transitional era. 68 David Kynaston also notes the retention of the emphasis on the ultimate authority of the father during the postwar years; fathers, he demonstrates, could become brutally unstinting in their use of violent, bullying tactics to ensure that their primacy was maintained. 69 Even amid somewhat less drastic circumstances, fathers, it seems, frequently continued to expect to be obeyed and respected by wives and children alike .
It is certainly telling that, despite the assertions of Todd and Young, many who were young during this era pointedly recall stronger objections to their musical tastes and pursuits to have emanated from their fathers. Mothers often seemed, comparatively, more supportive. While Lynette Goode ’s father ‘only liked classical music’ and frowned on Radio Luxembourg , her mother ‘didn’t used to take any notice, she used to let us have [Luxembourg] on’. 70 Jenny McDonald remembered that, while her father remained ‘quite disapproving’ of rock ‘n’ roll and related fashions, ‘[her] mother was warmer and softer and appreciated it’. 71 Even David Noble acknowledged that ‘[his] mother, to a degree, relented a bit’ regarding his activities, while his father could not seem to manage this. 72 Despite their keen retrospective awareness of social and generational context, interviewees frequently attributed this disparity to the individual personalities of their parents – a ‘fuddy-duddy’ father, or a ‘warmer’ mother, for instance. Nevertheless, Willmott ’s survey of the family lives of Bethnal Green boys also observed that, overall, fathers were ‘indeed regarded as “less understanding” than mothers’. 73 Willmott explored the possibility of a Freudian-derived ‘Oedipal’ explanation for this. However, he also attributed this contrast in perceptions of parents to the greater ‘remote[ness]’ of fathers. 74 Closeness between girls and their mothers, both before and after marriage, and particularly in working-class communities, was also observed by contemporary commentators including Richard Hoggart in Yorkshire, Willmott and Michael Young in London, Rosser and Harris in Swansea and, later, in the mid-1970s, Angela McRobbie in Birmingham. 75 Lise Butler suggests that Willmott and Young, and others affiliated to the Institute of Community Studies (ICS), may have been excessively influenced by psychologist John Bowlby , who placed particularly strong emphasis on the mother–child relationship. 76 Nevertheless, the findings of the ICS did not exist in a vacuum. Todd and Young also cite contemporary evidence which suggests that ‘mothers in particular’ wished their children to experience a better life than they had known, perhaps ‘t[aking] vicarious pleasure in their teenagers’ leisure pursuits’. 77 It is also possible that lifestyle and daily routine rendered some mothers more aware of, and receptive to, the musical and leisure spheres of their children. A 1967 survey of leisure-time pursuits conducted by the Rotary Club of northern Manchester noted ‘the tremendous part [… played by] sound radio […] in the lives of women up to the age of 50’, highlighting particularly its significance for mothers who remained at home throughout the day. 78 Robert Silvey of the BBC Audience Research Department similarly remarked upon the avid consumption of BBC Radio 1 (the ‘pop music’ station established in 1967) by ‘housewives’. 79 Whether such extensive engagement with radio helped to breed greater overall familiarity with, and even enjoyment of, the pop world among mothers is worth considering . Such gender-based contrasts in parental reactions to popular music certainly featured in films of the period; in Live It Up! (1963) starring David Hemmings and featuring jazzman Kenny Ball, singer-actress Jennifer Moss and upcoming group The Outlaws, the parents of protagonist Dave (Hemmings) debate their son’s profound dedication to music, and to his own amateur outfit, ‘The Smart Alecs’. ‘Where’s the harm?’ his mother demands, as his father despairs at the numerous letters from ‘jazz clubs’ and ‘top ten clubs’ which their son receives. ‘He’s not getting into any mischief.’ His father, however, is eager to see Dave get this ‘out of his system’. Eventually, Dave’s father presents his son with an ultimatum – if ‘The Smart Alecs’ fail to progress significantly, he must ‘settle down’, presumably into a conventional working life . 80
Gender was not, however, the only possible mediating factor with regard to parental reactions to popular music. Attitudes could also depend on the ages and generational outlooks of the parents in question. David Noble ’s father had been 50 at his birth, and Noble seemed to believe that this exacerbated his inability to understand or accept his son’s musical tastes. Vera Tucker (b.1940) also felt that her parents, while in their thirties, ‘acted older than they were, always’, and were very much ‘part of the old regime’, disapproving of many youth-orientated activities . 81 Noble’s recollections also highlight the role which religion could play in determining the reactions and attitudes of parents; location, likewise, could give rise to variations in responses to the music. John Chalkley (b.1938) enjoyed Bill Haley ’s music, and, although forbidden by his father to buy rock ‘n’ roll records, was eventually allowed to perform in a skiffle group. However, growing up in a small village, he believed, considerably limited the extent to which he and his peers could truly rebel, if indeed they had wished to do so. ‘[I]‌f you were doing something, by the time you got home your parents knew about it .’ 82
Nevertheless, as many of these interviewees were themselves able to recognize, such intergenerational disparities and conflicts were seldom as absolute as they first appeared. Disapproving fathers, and indeed mothers, could often prove open to persuasion, compromise or softening where their attitudes to popular music and related social activities were concerned. Chalkley ’s father, as highlighted, considered rock ‘n’ roll unacceptable, but, alongside many adults, deemed skiffle more respectable. 83 Reactions could also depend on interpersonal relationships and on specific individual circumstances. Despite her emphasis on her ‘strict’ father’s disapproval of the ‘things that teenage girls [did] in those days’, Jenny McDonald nevertheless noted that he was fundamentally a ‘fair’, moderate man. As long as she and her siblings ‘achieved academically […] that kept him happy, so we could rock ‘n’ roll’. 84 (That her father held such high educational aspirations for his daughter is in itself noteworthy. 85 ) Pat Danes , who, unlike McDonald, ‘couldn’t wait’ to leave school, still acknowledged her father’s authority, yet, interestingly, despite this, and although some of her records and clothes were disliked by her parents, she conceded that ‘some of the rock ‘n’ roll they liked, strangely enough.’ In retrospect, Danes felt that, having been exposed to diverse musical styles, from Music-Hall (her mother frequently, and quite adeptly, played the piano for family parties) to swing-band and jazz, ‘[she] was given a very good outlook on music’ by her parents. 86 Their opposition to modern pop was not absolute, and there was room for compromise. Within other families, too, individuals shared gramophones and radios quite equably, able to respect differing tastes, rather than automatically perceiving them as sources of conflict. A diary entry completed by an 18-year-old boy indicated that, on one occasion, rather than going out to meet friends, he had ‘[s]‌tayed in with [his] mother, had a talk with her, and played some records – [his] rhythm and blues and her classical records’. 87 ‘I never got sent to my bedroom with a transistor when Bill Haley came on the scene with […] rock ‘n’ roll’, singer Helen Shapiro recalled of her teenage years amid an open-minded, musical family. ‘We listened to it all; standards, jazz, rock, whatever.’ 88 A Barrow woman remembered spending a lot of time listening to records and the radio with her family as she grew up in the early 1970s; mostly ‘pop […] but my dad also bought some classical records as well’. ‘There was a bit of a division’ in tastes, ‘but not much’, as her parents enjoyed much of the pop of this period. 89 Interestingly, in fact, the woman who told BBC interviewers about ‘loving pop music [while her] parents didn’t’ subsequently revealed that her parents had actually purchased her first records for her during the early 1960s. The EP Beatles records, which she had received aged 10, had made her feel ‘terribly proud’ that she was ‘almost being treated like a teenager’. 90 Thus, generational taste differences, even when fairly sharply defined, did not always cause division within the home, and, evidently, love of music could frequently cross, or at least render less rigid, generational boundaries .
‘Half Teddy Boy’: Old and New in Postwar Youth Culture
In some respects, it was becoming more difficult for parents to object to their children’s musical preferences too extremely by this point. Wider social and commercial forces increasingly recognized, and frequently capitalized upon, the concept of youth as an independent sector entitled to hold, and voice, its own unique viewpoint. When Joyce Storey expressed her distaste for youth culture, her daughters simply ‘laughed’ at her, finding her objections ‘funny’; though clearly heartfelt, her protests were not deemed sufficiently threatening to make a meaningful impact on their behaviour. Theirs was being perceived as, and even being encouraged to become, an increasingly self-possessed, self-expressive generation. Certainly, many of those interviewed by Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson for their 1964 study Generation X made no effort to suppress their helpless rage against their parents. One ostensibly ‘“nice” middle-class girl’, while acknowledging that she was ‘hell to live with’, still blamed her parents for her outbursts. ‘[Y]‌ou want life, and they seem to be a big barrier between you and the life you want. So you fume and rage against them as they begin to rage against you.’ 91 To some extent, wider social changes underpinned such expressive assertiveness, as acceptance of children’s rights increased. Musgrove wrote in 1966 of ‘the power of parents [becoming …] radically curtailed and the rights and interests of the child protected’. 92 ‘[C]hildren were’, as Brian Harrison argues, ‘being taken more seriously’ from an increasingly early age during this comparatively affluent era. 93 Analysis and recognition of the specific needs of youngsters of all ages undoubtedly intensified postwar, manifesting themselves in the increasing prevalence of ‘child-centred’ education, the flourishing of literature and television programming specifically for youngsters, and holistic parental ‘instruction manuals’ (such as those of Bowlby , Benjamin Spock or Frederick Truby King ). 94 Adolescents, meanwhile, seemed increasingly emboldened by their ‘greater knowledge and experience’ and ‘earlier physical maturity’. 95 Many of Musgrove’s interviewees felt able to ‘air [their] views’ in discussions with their parents, with one 14-year-old boy declaring that he felt ‘an individual in [his] own right’ at home, and another stressing the importance of ‘a say in [domestic] things’, including ‘interior decoration’. 96 Penny Tinkler has highlighted the widespread desire to ‘discover, shape and cater for teenage tastes’ during the late 1950s and early 1960s, an aspiration which became particularly evident within the magazines for adolescent girls which emerged during this period. These variously highlighted, and aimed to cultivate, the sense of autonomous ‘selfhood’ of their readers. 97
There were, admittedly, limits to the nature and scope of such ‘selfhood’ for girls. As both Tinkler and Stephanie Spencer note, the heavily pop music-orientated ‘love comic’ Valentine , which began publication in 1957, predominantly for working-class girls, ultimately maintained a focus on ‘heterosexual romance’, reflecting the trend for early marriage and the conservatism which continued to temper women ’s aspirations in this period. 98 Furthermore, such features as ‘problem pages’ and strip-cartoons would frequently culminate in the advocacy of cooperation whenever conflicts with parents were highlighted. 99 Somewhat paradoxically, however, readers were still encouraged to ‘make up [their] own minds’ about their futures, and features betrayed a certain awareness of the inevitability of domestic tensions which, despite the conciliatory advice which was usually offered, seemed nonetheless to recognize the right of teenagers to hold autonomous viewpoints, and even to disagree openly with their parents. 100 Such revised household ‘rules’ also applied to boys. One 15-year-old schoolboy who wrote to the BBC in 1960 requesting an earlier broadcast time slot for Pick of the Pops bemoaned the problems of youngsters who ended up ‘picking an argument with their parents’ over late-night access to the radio. 101 Children’s entitlement to debate with elders in this manner was certainly being increasingly recognized, even respected, in some quarters. The populist Daily Mirror , striving to attract a younger readership in this period, advocated that youth ought to be able to ‘let off steam’ freely, catering for this requirement via a ‘Teen Page’ feature allowing younger readers to raise issues which concerned or enraged them, and many in authority, from politicians to church representatives, apparently saw value in supporting the rights of young people to greater self-expression. 102 While some detractors perceived such support to be insincere or cynical – the actions of ministers seeking to swell congregations, or of editors aiming to boost circulation-figures – the traditional view that youngsters should be ‘seen and not heard’ was considered increasingly outdated . 103 Undoubtedly, and regardless of familial attitudes, many young wage earners, even while living at home, wished to shape their own lives; spending their earnings on items of their choosing – including records and dancing sessions – often figured prominently in such desires. Mark Abrams observed the use of ‘comparatively high wages’ of young industrial employees to finance items ‘which form the nexus of teenage gregariousness outside the home’. 104 Such gratuitous expenditure was not, of course, ubiquitous or limitless; Elizabeth Roberts found that, of all her Lancashire interviewees who had been young adults in the 1950s and 1960s, only one had not been required to ‘contribute financially to the household’, even if only limitedly. 105 Meanwhile, those teenagers who remained in education beyond the leaving age of 15 generally relied on pocket money, and, as plaintive ‘Teen Page’ correspondence highlights, this seldom financed a particularly extravagant social life. 106 Even young workers were not necessarily as abundantly affluent as popular opinion assumed them to be. 107 Brian Holley , for example, recalled earning only £2.50 a week as a motor mechanic during the late 1950s, and, since he gave some of his wages to his mother, he struggled to afford his first guitar, a Spanish model which cost him £9 on hire purchase. 108 Nevertheless, those who could use their earnings to buy non-essential items clearly relished the opportunity, and frequently asserted their right, to do so. A Preston man who used his wages to purchase ‘one record a week’ and to finance trips to dance halls and clubs recalled that, while his parents occasionally ‘commented on about’ such matters, ‘they couldn’t go too far, could they? […] because [he] had paid for it’. 109 Despite her father’s disapproval of some of her fashion choices, Pat Danes was also thrilled to be able to afford her own ‘nice clothes […] hairstyles, and […] music, of course’. She also made a point of buying a luxurious present for her mother each month. 110
Yet this economic autonomy, while apparently recognized, and even at times celebrated, in the wider society, was not always so straightforwardly validated within individual family units; as Willmott found, not all parents could readily accept their children’s newfound spending power or independence, and ultimately Roberts did not believe that the advent of ‘the teenage consumer’ significantly challenged traditional familial hierarchies. ‘Despite […] manifestations of independent thought and action, it remains difficult to describe the majority of young people as being truly independent’, she argued. ‘[Most …] continued to live in their parents’ homes and to observe, by and large, their parents’ rules .’ 111 Many seemed to accept, relatively unquestioningly, the status of their parents as authority-figures. In Live It Up !, despite his numerous independent social activities and the money which he lavishes on musical pursuits, Dave readily agrees that, if his band fails, he’ll ‘do what [his father] want[s]‌’ – ‘Okay, Dad. Anything’, he instantly responds. Similarly, rebellious moments notwithstanding, people like Danes , Jenny McDonald and David Noble all stressed the strong ‘respect’ which they maintained for their parents, and for adults generally. Although acknowledging the anxieties which her behaviour frequently caused, McDonald had still ‘craved [her father’s] approval’, and noted that the strong ‘respect […] instilled in [her] by [her] parents’ had ‘coloured an awful lot of [her] own personal development’. 112 Danes recognized that, while the demeanour of youngsters might occasionally have been ‘a bit cheeky’, she remained ‘very respectful’ of her father. ‘I think a lot of the teenagers then were still very respectful to their parents and their grandparents.’ 113 Another young man from Barrow, who felt that he, like most of his generation, had experienced a phase where he ‘hated the si[ght] of anyone in authority’, nevertheless recognized that ‘father was always boss’ and that he had seldom witnessed youngsters going ‘out of [their] way to bait [their parents]’. Appearing ‘respectable’ remained important for his generation; these values, again, were strongly enforced not merely at home, but also at school and in society. 114 Holley , similarly, felt that he had ‘come from a generation that were used to being told what to do’, and that ‘those in authority’ continued to shape their attitudes throughout their youth in the 1950s. Such perceptions, he felt, did not begin to ‘disintegrate’ until the following decade . 115
In keeping with many of his peers, Holley also remembered the ‘immature’ and somewhat naïve outlook of his cohort. Particularly in comparison to subsequent generations, that his peer group ‘knew little of the world’ seemed, to him, evident in retrospect. ‘Innocence’ and ‘harmlessness’ were also qualities highlighted by those who recalled the 1950s and, indeed, the 1960s; once again, such values often compromised any rebellious impulses which they may have experienced concurrently. Some associated such adjectives, perhaps rather nostalgically, with simpler, kinder times; Wigan musician Roger Gregson (b.1937) remembered the ‘harmless’ freedoms of the early British pop festival scene, while music enthusiast Ian Fraser (b.1942) nostalgically described ‘a good atmosphere’ at the dances of his youth. ‘Nobody got upset, nobody got wound up.’ This, he believed, was a consequence of the essentially uncomplicated nature of the period. 116 Such views could often be shaped by the precise portion of the era in which one’s youth was experienced. Some of those who had identified most closely with the youth culture of the 1950s actually blamed the 1960s for compromising some of this apparent innocence. Gregson felt, for instance, that the late 1960s drug culture spoiled the music festivals, while one of Roberts’s interviewees (b.1933), expressing affection for 1950s culture, considered the 1960s as an era in which ‘standards were falling’ and ‘discipline was going out through the window’. Like many detractors of this decade, he believed that the consequences of this change were still tangible in modern times. 117 Nevertheless, Cheryl Vines , who experienced young adulthood during the much-criticized later 1960s, found that, despite attending art college and experiencing some of the cultural changes with which the period became associated, this had been, for her, a ‘lovely time’, and a ‘gentle’ period. ‘It was peaceful; people really were kind .’ 118
For many of those who were young during this period, thus, embracing modernity did not mean dispensing entirely with older, accepted standards of behaviour or discipline. Similarly, despite their exploring new music and social habits, they were not entirely cut adrift from the cultural worlds of their parents. The man from Barrow (b.1946) who described ‘drink[ing] in the local pub where all these local fellows of any age [including his own father] congregated’, as a natural part of the prevalent post-work leisure culture in his community, was not atypical. 119 Despite the strengthening of the concept of the nuclear family at this time, many sociological surveys consistently stressed the continuing importance of ‘“belonging” to a family wider than the immediate nuclear unit’ in communities throughout Britain, with children still ‘keeping close’ to parents even after marriage. 120 The severing of intergenerational and familial ties was not, they argued, as absolute as perceptions suggested. Such surveys, as Butler once again cautions, were not necessarily unbiased, nor devoid of subjectivity; anxious to shape Labour Party welfare policy via his research, Michael Young later admitted that he and his ICS colleagues may have seen ‘what their politics wanted them to see’. 121 Angela Davis, similarly, notes that, although post-marital support from the extended family remained significant to many women, several of her informants had not considered their families or communities especially close-knit, nor their relationships with their mothers particularly warm. 122 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the dangers of overemphasizing a ‘nostalgic picture of urban life’, evidence from other sources frequently complements the ICS findings on the endurance of community and familial networks. 123 Many recollections of the period demonstrate, for instance, that it was entirely possible for young adults to enjoy socializing with their elders while still developing their own autonomous habits in this regard. Peter Stead argues that Welsh popular culture during the 1950s ‘nurtured and valued all-rounders’, demonstrating that ‘[y]‌oung people who on Saturday had gone to the movies and then dancing might still go to chapel on Sunday’, while ‘mak[ing] time for the choir, the band, a game of rugby and even a few hours of snooker’ on weeknights. 124 A youth worker deployed in rural Eastern England during the early 1960s suggested that, in small villages, ‘the ages are forced to mix far more […] than in urban communities’; in such places, ‘the question of being “a square” or not “with it” d[id] not arise’. 125 Nevertheless, although evidently very deeply embroiled in various facets of contemporary youth culture, Pat Danes also recalled the ‘marvellous’ parties held by her family in Welling. Neighbours flocked to these events, which she considered rooted in East London traditions, despite the diverse entertainments on offer – ‘knees-ups […] just a mixture of everything’. Danes remembered the excitement which her mother would engender whenever she played (popular Trinidadian pianist) Winifred Atwell’s numbers on the piano, but equally prevalent were old Music-Hall songs. Danes continued to participate in the lively gatherings after her own marriage, although they had eventually ceased with the passing of the older generation. 126 Ray Davies , songwriter and founder-member of the Kinks , harboured similar memories of joyous, music-filled family gatherings in East London; the older songs performed on these occasions appeared to inspire many of his own subsequent compositions. 127 Ian Fraser , like Danes, identified strongly with youth culture, and loved the vitality of rock ‘n’ roll and skiffle , but he, too, maintained links to older traditions, particularly on the coach-trips and ‘beanos’ which he helped to organize for his employers. Wartime songs and ‘the old, silly old’ Music-Hall numbers filled the air on these occasions because ‘they were the things that everybody knew the words to’; the impact of this bygone artistic form remained quite tangible for him . 128
Arguably, however, the links between this generation and the culture of their parents were most vividly manifested in the realm of social dancing, a pastime which, as highlighted, remained intrinsically linked to the world of popular music. Despite the significant changes to dance style and etiquette which rock ‘n’ roll and the later discotheques encouraged, and although, generally, the ballroom culture nurtured during the interwar period seemed to begin its steady decline by the late 1950s – as James Nott highlights, the ‘palais de danse’ increasingly struggled against competing leisure outlets – older ballroom dancing styles were not obsolete, and cross-generational appeal for them remained throughout this period. 129 A 1960 documentary made for the BBC-TV arts series Monitor revealed the ongoing prosperity of the ‘industry’; ‘five million people go dancing each week; there are four thousand dance schools, and ten thousand qualified teachers’. 130 Many of those who recalled the era – both the 1950s and the 1960s – not only described learning to dance ‘properly’, and attending Saturday night ballroom dances, but also frequently expressed enjoyment of such events. Margaret Burns of Herne Bay, Kent, had enjoyed the ‘pushing and twirling’ of rock ‘n’ roll, but equally she remembered that ‘a lot of [her] social occasions’ in this period had been ‘with [her] parents’, via the social club attached to the bus company for which her father worked. Traditional ballroom dance styles dominated these occasions. Taught to dance by her parents, Burns would eagerly attend ‘all the big [bus company] dos’, and the ability to dance became a non-negotiable skill for any prospective boyfriends. 131 Burns did ponder how ‘typical’ this might have been for the period, recognizing that her ‘provincial’ culture had scarcely offered abundant leisure alternatives. 132 The experiences of youngsters in heavily populated urban areas, with more youth-centric leisure outlets, may have differed from those described by Burns. 133 Nevertheless, one of the Millennium Memory Bank interviewers mentioned to another informant that he had been struck by the number of young people who had gone with their parents ‘to the Labour dance, to the Conservative dance […] the hospital dance. […] It was a family thing, I promise you.’ 134
Not all of those who participated in older social dance forms were especially enthusiastic practitioners, but for some it provided a means to a particularly vital end. 135 John Powles (b.1935) recalled the ‘pretty staid’ atmosphere of the dances which he attended in his youth, but he persevered, since it was ‘a way of meeting girls’. 136 Girls clearly relished the greater freedoms of the more modern, relaxed dance styles partly because the formal ballroom scenarios could seem, in the words of one woman, ‘totally horrendous and humiliating and traumatic’. 137 For others, however, ballroom dancing became a crucial pastime; Andrew Davies has highlighted the ‘opportunity’ which the form offered to ‘working-class youths’, as well as girls, to ‘develop skills of their own’. 138 Ian Fraser became an adept ballroom dancer, regularly attending dances at a local Technical College in the early 1960s, at which ‘between 4 and 500 youngsters’ would enjoy ‘tea and soft drinks […] and everybody was ballroom dancing – cha-cha-cha, Latin American […] ballroom jive’. 139 Some younger people who became expert dancers actually felt wary of the more freeform modern styles – in some cases, having matured in the 1950s, they felt themselves marginally too old for rock ‘n’ roll , and retained their affection for more traditional dancing styles . 140 For Fraser, however, it was possible to feel attached to the unfolding, exciting youth culture while also belonging to the more established ballroom world; the proliferation of Saturday night dances (‘you could travel anywhere and find a dance going on’) undoubtedly afforded youngsters abundant opportunities to form strong generational communities of interests. 141 His dancing separated him from the ‘heavy rock ‘n’ roll’ devotees, and his group was, at times, considered ‘in some ways as the goody-goodies’, perpetuating an outdated culture. However, Fraser stressed that his group still brimmed with youthful exuberance. ‘We were just as raucous and rowdy as anybody else’; it was simply that they ‘did different things’. 142 Fraser’s account also vividly demonstrates the ways in which the newer dance styles, often inspired by popular music trends, began to infiltrate the wider ballroom scene and, eventually, to become an accepted part of it. ‘Some rock ‘n’ roll, [although] not a lot’ gradually featured at the Technical College dances, but when, in the early 1960s, a couple performed ‘the twist ’ during an interval, initially bemused onlookers ‘couldn’t understand what this peculiar gyration was all about!’ However, Fraser recollected, ‘eventually, of course, we all ended up twisting, and it became part and parcel of our dancing classes’. 143
Admittedly, the absorption of these modern styles into dance hall culture occurred unevenly. The dances described by Fraser appeared largely an informal, young person’s forum, and although they largely conformed to older stylistic practice, there was clearly room for development, in reflection of changing trends. 144 However, elsewhere, and particularly in venues (both commercial and informal) which were still largely controlled by older people, there were attempts to ban, or to limit, jiving or rock ‘n’ roll dancing, especially when it first emerged in the mid-1950s. 145 ‘Lots of places wouldn’t allow it at all’, Vera Tucker recalled. ‘You were at a dance, so you danced properly. […] [I]‌t was jungle music, they used to say!’ 146 Tucker remembered other premises begrudgingly permitting ‘one dance’, and such restriction appears to have been a common compromise – others recall ‘jivers’ being forced to dance ‘behind the chairs’ surrounding the dance floor, or the establishment of ‘jivers’ corners’ in certain larger venues. 147 Margery Lonsdale (b.1940) described the short bursts of be-bop and rock ‘n’ roll which were eventually permitted in the Palais at Consett. ‘I think they were a bit afraid if they had a whole night of rock ‘n’ roll the place would be wrecked! They seemed to think it incited people to wildness.’ 148 However, many venues, unable to ignore the economic potential of the new styles, began to grow more accommodating. Some public ballrooms held lunchtime rock ‘n’ roll sessions for youngsters, while Butlin’s Holiday Camps established various ballrooms, each of which was dedicated to a particular style (promotional literature highlighted that several camps boasted a ‘Rock ‘n’ Calypso ballroom’, for instance – although there was also ‘Old Time dancing nightly in separate ballroom’). 149 As Sandra Trudgen Dawson highlights, the holiday camps ‘recognised the growing […] consumer power of Britain’s youth’ and became an important showcase for emergent popular music talent (Cliff Richard briefly worked as an entertainer at the Clacton camp), thereby ‘contribut[ing] to the emerging pop culture’. 150 Nevertheless, more traditional tastes were evidently respected by the camps. Elsewhere, many accounts of the period describe a gradual, largely uneventful and quite organic, infiltration of new styles into the ballroom world. Norma Morgan (b.1937) recalled receiving ‘lessons in rock ‘n’ roll and jiving’, alongside instruction in more traditional styles, in Staffordshire ballrooms during the mid-1950s. 151 Pat Danes , frequenting ‘local hops’ in this period, described the manner in which the hired bands would ‘play a quick step, and […] then it’d start getting a little bit faster and then […] they would go for it [i.e. with rock ‘n’ roll]’. 152 Another Barrow resident recalled diverse styles showcased at cricket club dances; however, that ‘groups’, rather than dance bands, were increasingly providing the music also highlighted, in his view, the ‘change[s]’ that were ‘just coming in’ during the early 1960s. 153 Recollections like these certainly suggest that new styles were often accommodated with comparatively little difficulty; while they did not necessarily dominate, they became part of the scene in due course, and younger observers often described a fairly smooth fusion. Music and dance, once again, seem almost inseparable in such accounts. That youth culture of the period could so often seem a hybrid of old and new – yet a distinctive entity, despite this – is, thus, clearly demonstrated by the manner in which social dancing was embraced by this sector throughout the 1950s and even, apparently, for much of the 1960s. 154 Many clearly continued to derive great pleasure from more traditional dance styles, often alongside parents and elders; this remained an important cultural focal point, crucially linked, as it undoubtedly was, to social and romantic pursuits. Nevertheless, equally, the singular impact which younger people, and their tastes, began to make on British dance culture clearly owed much to the music styles which they perceived as their own; as music and dance continued to forge such inextricable links, the former seemed to rejuvenate the latter .
Social dancing, regardless of style, frequently provides further evidence of the ‘innocent’ fun which characterized the period for so many, again confounding straightforward perceptions of intergenerational antagonism. For others, however, ‘innocence’ possessed more mixed connotations, particularly when it became synonymous with ignorance – above all of sexual matters – and a certain repression. 155 ‘[Sexual matters] certainly weren’t talked about in the home’, recalled Jill Duhamel of Devon (b.1941). ‘I think the boys were probably brought up with the same.’ 156 Roger Gregson concurred; at least prior to the 1960s, ‘you learned [about sex] after you got married’. 157 Even once more knowledge was attained, youngsters – and, as highlighted, particularly young women – remained in terror of the prospect of premarital pregnancy, and extramarital sex or cohabitation remained utterly taboo for the majority, no matter how intense their retrospective identification with the youth culture of the era. Vera Tucker , whose recollections of the period were otherwise of great ‘freedom’, married in 1960 aged 20, and declared there would have been ‘no question’ of living with her fiancé before marriage. 158 Such values were impressed on youngsters of both sexes. As a professional musician and rock festival organizer in the later 1960s and early 1970s, Bristolian Mike Tobin (b.1942) felt deeply engaged with contemporary youth culture (although he, too, considered it ‘very innocent in many, many ways’), but he equally described his generation as being ‘the last’ to accept that it was ‘the done thing’ to marry in the event of premarital pregnancy. 159 Cheryl Vines , while at Art College in the late 1960s, believed that her contemporaries actually felt less ‘fear of pregnancy’; nevertheless, she still remembered an unmarried Canadian girl who had travelled to London to give birth to, and arrange adoption for, her baby. 160 Attitudes had not, perhaps, changed quite so considerably, even on the cusp of the 1970s. Despite widespread talk of the ‘permissive society’, as Gallwey notes, contraception was not readily available to all women, and ‘the continuing popularity of marriage and exceptionally low age at which women married’ (indeed, the ‘all-century low’ for average marriage age for men (24) was reached at the comparatively late date of 1971, while the ‘mean age’ for women at that time was an equally youthful 22) also tempered such notions of increased sexual and personal freedom. 161 For many who lived through this period, such residual values seemed almost to serve as an unofficial yardstick by which to measure how truly ‘modern’ or ‘rebellious’ their own young lives had been, as ultimately, and even despite themselves, they found themselves conforming, at least in part .
Evidently, therefore, the widespread perception that this period constituted an era of greater simplicity, and a largely comfortable intermingling of older mores and habits with more novel excitements and freedoms, was accompanied for some by a sense of nostalgic fondness. For others, social attitudes may have seemed primitively stifling in character. Regardless, all such recollections, when viewed collectively, confound further the notion of this era as a time in which youth freely ‘let off steam’ while breaking decisively away from prevailing social and familial strictures.
Nevertheless, retrospective recognition of such ‘innocence’ and continuities, or of the apparently deep-rooted ‘respect’ for established social codes which remained in this era, certainly did not automatically signify that rebellious impulses were not heartfelt, however limited or mediated their manifestations and ultimate impact. Not all young people shared the view of the Barrow resident that ‘baiting’ one’s elders was always reprehensible or unthinkable. ‘You’d really hate an adult to understand you’, one youngster told Charles Hamblett in 1964. Being able to ‘mystify and worry them’ constituted ‘the only thing you’ve got over them’. 162 Musical preferences frequently proved an effective way to provoke ‘worry’ and irritation. For Mike Tobin , ‘listening to music which […] parents would hate’ had, in fact, been an intrinsic part of the appeal of modern pop – ‘[t]‌he more they railed against it, the more you wanted to hear it’. 163 Recalling the infrequent occasions on which numbers by ‘Elvis or […] Little Richard’ would be played on the well-loved BBC programme Two-Way Family Favourites , ‘Stepfather would threaten to turn the radio off and you would want to turn it up’. 164 ‘[A]ll kids go for music that they think their parents aren’t going to like’, agreed Dave Collett . 165
There was, likewise, some ambivalence – even bitterness – regarding the ‘respect’ which often underpinned relations with the parental generation for certain young people. While some later bemoaned the apparent loss of such values in contemporary society – even if, like Jill Duhamel , they recalled having identified with teenage culture during the 1950s and 1960s – the feelings of Pat Danes were decidedly mixed. 166 ‘I think we were kept down’, she reflected, ‘and all tried to break out’. The extent of the rebellion, she believed, would ‘depend on how daring you were’. Despite admitting that she was attracted to boys whom she labelled ‘borderline Teds ’, Danes carefully distinguished them, and herself, from ‘the real Teds that really went to town’ and ‘enjoyed every minute of [the] freedom’ which they had claimed for themselves. However, her account of her youth clearly indicates that, despite feeling beholden to certain traditions, she still managed, principally via fashion and music, and through her treatment of her mother, to assert her own identity within the family and to challenge, albeit stealthily, traditional authority. Her memories of the period remained ‘pretty happy’ overall. 167
As highlighted, the one-dimensional attitudes adopted by some commentators during this period meant that, for them, ‘rebellion’ denoted becoming absolute, James Dean -style rebels, deeply alienated from adults and parents. 168 However, as Mary McCormack observed in her study of generational differences, while conflicts between parents and teenagers were commonplace, and often intense, such turbulence was seldom ‘life-and-death’, and was usually ‘relatively short-lived’; ‘parental influence’ over adolescent children prevailed. 169 Indeed, in reality, many of those teens who reneged in some fashion during this era did so in a manner which, though undoubtedly sincere, was ultimately characterized by moderation, and seldom by malice. Growing up in a devoutly Catholic Liverpool community, Cilla Black , a self-confessed ‘tomboy’, enjoyed wandering around her home singing American pop vocalist Frankie Lymon ’s ‘I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent’; it was a curiously ambiguous generational anthem with which she seemed, at some level, to identify, and she generally loved the exuberance of rock ‘n’ roll – yet Black also very consciously remained ‘a good Catholic girl’, regularly attending Confession, and terrified of ‘bringing shame’ on her parents. 170 A Preston woman who had been a rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast and keen dancer had otherwise considered herself largely a sympathetic onlooker as she observed ‘beatnik’ rebellions against ‘conformist’ society. The sense of being ‘neither one thing nor the other’ – supporting change, yet never feeling fully part of it and wishing ‘to be different’ – emerged strongly in her recollections of the 1960s. 171 As highlighted, notwithstanding the tendency of many informants to perceive this as a remarkable period, there were plenty who acknowledged having felt, at the time, that there was a ‘swinging sixties’ occurring elsewhere, and affecting them sporadically, but not yet fully evident within their communities. 172 As Harrison suggests, while ‘London set much of the permissive pace in the 1960s’, it was later acknowledged that ‘sixties trends moved only slowly across the country in a shift that was certainly not confined to one decade’. 173 The ten years which literally comprised the 1960s were, thus, a relatively sedate and uneventful time for many young Britons. ‘You read about it’, remembered one Barrow woman of the social upheavals associated with the decade. Her recollection of a group of schoolgirls playing truant to attend a Manfred Mann concert was ‘the swingingest event [she could] remember ’. 174 (Those 1950s teenagers who had married and started families by the 1960s similarly felt that their chances of experiencing a ‘swinging’ decade were decidedly limited.

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