DIARY 18 March Taking to the streets

Taking to the streets

At the time I moved to London, my awareness of politics was very low. Unable to vote, I had never been asked to make any political choices. But in this momentous year, 1968, history was on the move.

Traf Sq 1968

Trafalgar Square 17 March 1968

On Sunday 17 March I took the Piccadilly Line and made my way to Trafalgar Square. I was attending my first demonstration, against the war in Vietnam. I had never been in such a large crowd before; even going to see the Blues at St Andrew’s could not match this crowd. Reports said there were over 80,000 people.

Most of those on the demonstration appeared to be in their twenties or younger; students, hippies, many too young to vote. Much like myself[1]. There were a few older people who were identifiable as pacifists, including the occasional priest, nun or Buddhist. CND members were prominent, identified by their duffle coats.

Hue MArch 1968

The destructive liberation of Hue by South Vietnamese and US troops 1968

The war in Vietnam had lasted for years. The USA decided it had to ‘stop the spread of communism’ by sending hundreds of thousands of troops and billions of dollars’ worth of equipment. 1968 was to be the crucial watershed year of the war. The North Vietnamese Army launched its Tet Offensive in January 1968, their attempt to end the war. In response, the US poured in more and more men and equipment. By the end of 1968 there were 820,000 troops in the South Vietnamese Army and 536,000 US troops.

 My-Lai-massacre-vietnam-war-usa-military-pentagon  My_Lai_massacre

My Lai 16 March 1968

The people on the demonstration, including myself, had seen all this in colour on television and in magazines We had witnessed forests sprayed with defoliants, napalm fire bombs ripping across the treeline, terrified Vietnamese farmers and their children, angry and desperate American troops slogging through jungles. The demonstrators would have been even angrier if they knew what had happened at My Lai[2] on the previous day.

 Ali Redgrave HAwking

Tariq Ali, Vanessa Redgrave and Stephen Hawking (left) on the demonstration

Two of the leaders of the demonstration, Tariq Ali and Vanessa Redgrave[3], made their way to the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square to present a letter of protest. They were allowed through a cordon while the rest of the protesters were held at bay by hundreds of policemen.

Protests of 1968  Girl on the floor

Grosvenor Square 17 March 1968

Ordered to leave, many protesters refused and tried to break though the cordon. In response, the Police broke up the demonstration using horses; over 200 demonstrators were reported injured. This was before the Police had special riot units and protective gear[4]; nevertheless, these ‘bobbies’ with their pointed helmets and big boots demonstrated what they could do.

 I left as the trouble flared up; being on my own I thought it wiser to go back to my digs in Acton. This was the first of many demonstrations that I would attend over the next few decades. I learned a lot from this one. Here was a place where I could express my opinions and be part of a group of like-minded people. I began to learn that there was a possibility that we might change the future. I could now identify at least some of the enemy. This was one spark of many that would turn 1968 into an inferno.

Copyright Derek Perry 2018.

For newsreels of the day:




[1] In 1968, the voting age was 21. Already seen as anachronistic, the voting age in the UK would be reduced to 18 in 1969, just in time for my 21st birthday when I would have got the vote anyway.
[2] The My Lai Massacre was the mass murder of unarmed Vietnamese civilians by US troops in South Vietnam on 16 March 1968. Between 347 and 504 unarmed people were massacred by the US Army soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated. It would take a year and eight months for details to emerge.
[3] Tariq Ali has long been associated with the New Left Review. Ali was involved with The Black Dwarf newspaper and joined the International Marxist Group (IMG) in 1968. He continues to be a writer and political activist. In 1961, Vanessa Redgrave was an active member of the Committee of 100. Redgrave and her brother Corin joined the Workers Revolutionary Party in the 1970s. Since then she has maintained an acclaimed acting career and remains a political activist.
[4] Riot shields and helmets were developed in the early 1970s. The Special Patrol Group (SPG) was set up to control public order in the 1960s but was unarmed and had no special equipment. One of the SPG’s most controversial incidents came in 1979, while officers were policing a protest by the Anti-Nazi League in Southall. During a running battle, demonstrator Blair Peach was struck on the head and died as a result of his injuries; a report later stated that it was an action of the SPG. In the inquiries which followed, a variety of unauthorised weapons were found in the possession of SPG officers, including baseball bats, crowbars and sledgehammers .

DIARY 12 March 1968 French connection

French connection

I have no idea where my interest in France came from as a teenager. I was good at French, passing my ‘O’ level with a grade three; not bad for someone whose main subjects were scientific. French was not considered a suitable subject for a boy; including and especially by my fellow pupils. I recall my class destroying a new French assistant within three weeks with a concerted barracking. He soon left dejectedly but we were not punished for our bullying.

PAris Match Algeria

Paris Match 1967

As a paper delivery boy at the local newsagent, it was my job to deal with the special orders for magazines. In Raddlebarn there was one person who read the Times Literary Supplement, one other who ordered the Scientific American, and one who read Vogue; all delivered to the posher houses on the way to the university. A couple of people would get magazines in Polish and someone else had an order for Paris Match.

 Caveau UF 2-magots UF Beatnick 4 UF 

How I imagined French intellectual life when I was a teenager

I ordered an extra copy for me. It probably helped my French but I never came to understood the complexities of French politics; at the time there was some impenetrable scandal over Algeria. I affected a ‘French’ look with a black polo neck sweater and Gauloises to give flavour; I even had a beret. Being the only ‘beatnik’ in Selly Oak meant that I had no-one to talk to so I became the proverbial outsider and thus an existentialist, as far as I understood what that might mean.


Poets: Verlaine, Rimbaud, Baudelaire

When I reached London, France would be part of my new intellectual world; I read Verlaine, Rimbaud and Baudelaire. I discovered Zola, Camus and Sartre; I went to the French Institute in Kensington to see plays by Jean Anouilh and films by Jean Cocteau. Jean-Luc Godard became a favourite film-maker.

My girlfriend was to join a school trip to Paris in spring 1968. Although there was little chance that we would be able to meet in Paris, I decided to follow her on my first trip outside England. I would spend £5 for the return trip from London to Paris on a student discount ticket.


Copyright Derek Perry 2018.






DIARY 31 January 1968. Goodbye, Dad

Dad died today

I took the phone call in Mrs Haggar’s front room at my digs in Acton. Dad had been ill for years and suffered a heart attack just before Christmas. He was at home and suffered another a few weeks later but he died when he was taken to Selly Oak Hospital by ambulance.

Dad’s death was half-expected but it was still a shock; I cried. I went to Birmingham immediately and he was cremated at Lodge Hill Cemetery a few days later. I was now the man of the house although how I was to fulfil that role from over 100 miles away was not explained.

In our largish, overcrowded, working class family we were not used to expressions of emotion. Dad epitomised this as the head of the family, the breadwinner; Mom was not expected to work but to ensure that we were brought up efficiently and obediently. Dad inspired respect rather than love; I could not admit how much I cried at my loss.

We had watched Dad suffer for several years. His arteries must have been clogged after years of smoking Woodbines and food fried in lard. He became short of breath and heaving crates of milk as a milkman became difficult. He took easier jobs, as a warehouseman in one of the new supermarkets and then worked in Lewis Woolf’s factory making rubber goods. These jobs did not last and, needing a sedentary occupation, he became a microscopist at Cadbury’s. It was his job to check the size of chocolate powder before it was used to make Dairy Milk.

He had shoulder pain which he treated with Elliman’s Universal Embrocation; sometimes I had to help with the application and I can still remember the smell. His medication involved doses of Warfarin, a blood thinning agent originally used as rat poison, which was remarked on with some humour.

We were expected to tone down our natural rebelliousness in case we upset our Dad and triggered a heart attack. This was difficult for us four teenagers who found it easier to avoid being at home. Even when he was ill we always deferred to him. There were tense times when sometimes we miscalculated.

Dad’s death was a loss but with growing up and trying to find our own place in the world, the family readjusted. My sisters were building their own families; I had left home. I was glad to relinquish being man of the house when I tried to admonish my younger brother for some misdemeanour and found myself looking up at a burly fifteen-year-old rugby player.

I wished I could stay with Mom but I had to go back to London. If she said anything or showed emotion I was not there to witness it. Her life’s work, looking after Dad and us, was coming to an end. I did notice a void, sad-eyed expression but with her burdens lifted she began to relax.

Back in London I felt that emptiness which comes when one of the greatest influences on your life suddenly ends. It does not matter if that influence was benign or the opposite; I was adrift. I slowly realised that I was now my own person; I just didn’t yet know what that might mean.

I share the same regret we all do that I never talked to our Dad. I did not know what he did in the war although he was a soldier for its whole six years; I did not know how he felt about it. I did some research at the National Archives in Kew, the Army Museum in Chelsea and the Regimental Museum in York but it was all about his regiment and did not mention subaltern Corporal Perry.

Dad was a stamp collector; I inherited his collection of tens of thousands of stamps. I could not maintain it so I decided to concentrate on an appropriate smaller collection: the stamps of George VI. Because he was the head of the British Empire, this means a collection of stamps from some 70 countries from Aden to Zanzibar.

I sold the other stamps and tried to fill the gaps in the collection. I am still adding to it but this remains a memorial to Dad and a family heirloom.

 Biography. Harold and Ethel Perry          1936 Soldier / 1940 Wedding day / 1967 Grandchildren

Harold Ernest Perry
1912 – 1968


DIARY 22 January 1968 Scientific method

Scientific method


Chelsea College in the early 1960s.

At Chelsea College I became a scientist, white coat and all. Doing experiments rather than watching them as we had done in school. As pharmacists we had to know a lot – botany, anatomy, chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology, neuroscience. Even physics; the science behind making a medicinal tablet is astonishing. Just imagine; each tablet has to have an exact measured dose, bulked up with an inert substance, compressed so that it remains firm, and uncontaminated. All that for an aspirin.

It was odd therefore that one of our first practical sessions was to learn how to make pills in the nineteenth-century manner. A pointless exercise, even for historical reasons. The main requirement for success was sweaty palms. Thank goodness for tablet manufacture.

Dope under the scope 2

Dope under the ‘scope.

Botany meant studying plants under a microscope, not just to identify them but to assess their medicinal worth. Perhaps it was a sign of the times but the sample I had to investigate was marijuana. A very small sample it was; you don’t need much for a microscope slide.

Muscular system

Studying anatomy made me feel like a doctor although learning lists of bones, muscles and so on was never my forte. I did at least learn how all my internal organs fitted together. And I could dream of wierd voyages amongst the Islets of Langerhans, through the Sphincter of Pylorus to the lacunae of Morgagni, passing the Zonule of Zinn.

I found biochemistry fascinating. My pin-up poster was of the Krebs Cycle[1] with its circular process of chemical changes showing how all organisms release stored energy through oxidation of chemicals derived from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. And all done within each cell of the body.

Pharmacology, the study of how substances act on cells, organs or the whole organism, was central to my studies. Such experiments could not always be done in a test tube. Sometimes we had to use living creatures (go to the next paragraphs if you might find the details upsetting). To demonstrate how drugs can act on the body, we would be given live frogs prepared by a technician who had a special skill in scrambling their brains by inserting a needle in the back of their heads. The live but brain-dead creature would then be given shots of nicotine to stimulate its muscles; the poor thing could be made to jump at will.


Titration in action.

As it turned out I had a special skill in quantitative analysis in chemistry. The equipment was relatively simple – burettes, pipettes, conical flasks, very accurate chemical balances. But it needed a steady hand and accurate observation and recording. I could work out the composition of a chemical solution using titration or distillation. Fifty years later I would have no idea what that means. My supervisor suggested that, even in my first year, I should consider doing research or even a PhD.

But I had other diversions.


[1] Krebs won a Nobel prize for it.

DIARY 23 December 1967 Christmas

Garland collage

Home for Christmas 1967

I had always enjoyed Christmas; it was a perennial big family event. Mom and Dad did their best with presents for us children. The decorations, saved from previous years, were brought out; the artificial tree and glass baubles; paper garlands with string passed through them so that you could fold them flat and use them next year.

We usually managed a turkey although we might have beef or chicken instead. The table was always elaborate, whatever we had. Mom and Dad did not drink but at Christmas Dad would go down to the off licence with a two-pint Winchester and have it filled with British Sherry. Mom might buy a liqueur called ‘Green Goddess’ which was rarely drunk by anyone.

We would attend midnight mass on Christmas eve. The next morning, we would wake up and look for a pillow case full of presents, usually a plastic toy, a comic annual from an aunt, a tin of sweets, some new clothes, a game and an orange. It was a pleasant time for the whole family.

In 1967 year, things were a bit different. We were not children anymore; my elder sister had her own toddlers and was living in Kings Norton with her husband; my younger sister was working at Cadbury’s and at a newsagent on Saturdays[1]. My brother was fourteen and wishing he could leave school. I was the odd one out who went to university.

1967 Derek Perry
Was this facial growth even fashionable at the time?

I had returned to Birmingham after my first term at Chelsea College. I was now older, almost a man at age 19, and I had increasingly grotesque facial hair to prove it. I don’t think Dad or Mom approved but they said nothing; Dad’s attitude was that it was my choice and I had to live with the consequences. I received funny looks in Birmingham; there were suggestions that my orange neckerchief and pink shirt made me look effeminate, not helped by my new accent which was said to make me sound ‘posh’.

Dad was seriously ill. He had suffered a heart attack a few weeks previously and, after a short time in hospital, had been sent home. There was bemusement that he was being given rat poison[2] as a medication but he was short of breath, suffered occasional chest pains and could walk only a short distance. Dad had been ill for a very long time. Today we would call it COPD[3]; it was not his first heart attack and it would not be his last.

We were careful not so say or do anything to upset the peace but it put us all under a lot of strain. It was worse for Dad’s new grandchildren. As normal toddlers they would be lively and noisy but their visits were restricted because of the strain they might put on him. This was a pity because he loved them both and they brought him a lot of pleasure.

The decorations and tinsel were faded; the wonder of childhood was subdued; Father Christmas wasn’t real; illness spread melancholy rather than cheer. I escaped to see my girlfriend; she lived with her Mother in Selly Oak and they did not share my family’s festive traditions.

Nevertheless, we watched the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour on television and were satisfied that it made us feel better while irritating the older generation.

After seven years at school I had managed to lose contact with all my former school friends. Most of them lived on the other side of the city in places like Acocks Green or Sheldon so we were unlikely to bump into each other. Roy and Rayner remained my closest friends but their teenage years were also over. Roy was engaged to Sue and training as a policeman but was already considering it an unsuitable career. Rayner was applying to join Birmingham Repertory Theatre and was looking for work as an actor. I was already a stranger from out of town. 

I was glad to get back to London as soon as possible. I was not happy to leave my girlfriend but we were planning weekend visits which promised more than miserable damp days in Selly Oak.
                                                                                                                                               © Derek Perry 2017

[1] She would later become full time manager of the shop.

[2] Warfarin is an anti-coagulant, introduced in 1948 as a rat poison. By the end of the 1950s it had been approved for the treatment of thrombosis and embolism and is still in regular use.

[3] COPD is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease including emphysema.

DIARY 17 November 1967 King’s Road, Chelsea. Part 2

Swinging down the King’s Road, Chelsea. Part two

King’s Road or Kings Road? I go for the apostrophe; it was originally ‘The King’s Private Road’, literally. King Charles II had it built for his own purposes to allow him to travel between London and Kew.

Mary Quant opened her boutique on King’s Road in 1955 when young people were beginning to demand their own fashions. Property prices shot up as it became the boutique centre of London; gentrification set in, squeezing out the bohemian artists and writers. By the late 1960s, King’s Road became the place to be seen and its regular customers were the new celebrities of swinging London.

Many boutiques sold clothes designed and made by the shop owners, similar to established fashion houses. Prices (still in guineas[1]) were out of the reach of many people, especially students on a grant. My student colleagues at Chelsea College showed very little interest and I would walk alone past the colours and noise of the boutiques. King’s Road, however, had competition; Carnaby Street and Portobello Road were becoming even more lively and cheaper.

Carnaby collage.jpg

I was introduced to Carnaby Street by a young woman I met in a café one day. It was just a friendly encounter as we both tried to find somewhere to sit. She was shopping in King’s Road but said she didn’t like it because the shops were too snooty. She was about 19 and dressed in the short-skirted fashion that identified her as a ‘dolly bird’ in the sexist slang[2] of the time. I had finally met my first real Londoner, complete with East End accent. She called herself Debs.

This was not a pick-up ruse.  She told me about her boyfriend, Courtney, and I told her why I was in Chelsea. She promised to take me to Carnaby Street which she said was much more fun. A few days later we went there and she showed me the brasher, less pretentious boutiques. She headed straight for Aristos boutique and went upstairs saying she knew the owner. Aristos Constantinou[3] was sitting cross-legged in traditional tailor pose sewing the finishing touches to an orange mini-dress. We sat in the shop, drinking instant coffee and deafened by the pop music coming through the speakers. Despite, or perhaps because of, the noise, there was a steady stream of customers.

It was certainly more fun than Chelsea. The clothes were more affordable, made in the tailors’ workshops and sweatshops of the East End and Finsbury Park. This was where their customers came from too, rather than the well-heeled corners of Knightsbridge and Sloane Square. They developed their own fashions, including military jackets, trouser suits for women and patterned suits for men.

Aristos Constantinou became known as ‘the power of Carnaby Street’. He later joined up with his brother, Achilleas, and set up Ariella Fashions which supplied department stores and boutiques. The new fashions spread across the country at prices anyone could afford. And if you couldn’t get to a boutique, you could order fashion by post from Biba and many other mail order companies. The ‘rag trade’ expanded with old and new companies opening boutiques. A well-established fashion chain called Lewis Separates, selling women’s skirts, blouses and cardigans, opened a shop on King’s Road selling the new styles, renamed it Chelsea Girl; it became the first nationwide chain of boutiques.

Even then, I couldn’t afford the clothes. My mother offered to make me a dressing gown which she did after I had described the kaftan style and paisley pattern I wanted. I would wear it as a shirt but it still looked like a dressing gown.

I met Debs and her boyfriend a couple of times when we might go to a club such as the 100 Club. Once, she even arranged a blind date but there was nothing I could say to Sandra, a bouffanted, powdered trendsetter and she wasn’t impressed by me as a hairy scruffy student. I realised that I was out of place and let Debs and company drift away.

But, I had a taste of trendy London and it was pleasant. I was still alone but if I was lonely I did not feel it at the time.

[1] A ‘guinea’ was 21 shillings. A pound (£) was 20 shillings. This was a ruse to make prices look less than they were and was commonly used for fashion and high value items. The practice fell out of use with metrication in 1971 to be replaced by prices ending in 99p. 

[2] I never really got on with much of the slang of the 1960s such as ‘fab’, ‘groovy’ or calling everyone ‘man’.

[3] Aristos Constantinou became very rich and moved to Bishop’s Avenue, Hampstead commonly referred to as Millionaire’s Row. By coincidence, I lived near his factory in Wood Green in 1985 when I heard that he had been shot dead in unconfirmed circumstances. Despite hanging round these parts of London I never met anyone else who could be described as a ‘celebrity’.

Aristis collage

Aristos in the late 1960s, with his brother and his Carnaby Street shop

© Derek Perry 2017

Please get in touch if I have used your picture without acknowledgement.


DIARY 2 November 1967 King’s Road Chelsea part 1

Swinging down King’s Road Chelsea part 1

If you are new to London, don’t bother with an expensive sightseeing tour bus unless you like an open top in the rain and commentary in 12 languages. Just take the number 11 bus. I would get on it near Manresa Road on King’s Road and it would take me eastwards towards Victoria and thence to the City. It would pass Sloane Square, Victoria, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, The Strand, Fleet Street and the Bank. Get off anywhere and within a short walk you will find most of London’s worthwhile sights.

Although I would arrive at South Kensington station in the morning and walk to college, the most useful bus was the number 11. It would take me to cinemas, clubs, demonstrations, galleries; or I could simply stay on until the terminus at Liverpool Street and take in the sights.

That is, if I wanted to escape from King’s Road. In 1967 it was the epitome of swinging London with new boutiques pioneered by Mary Quant and others, bars and clubs frequented by pop stars, lurid colour schemes applied to both buildings and vehicles, and bright young things in their mini-skirts and paisley shirts.

Collage Kings Road

Of course, I quite liked it. The vibrancy, the music that blared from shops, cars treated as art objects with two fingers in the face of stuffy 1950s London. Here I was in a place that seemed unique and promised to be the centre of a new expanding universe providing what some of us young people wanted.

It might have looked wildly chaotic to the staid observer but it was really not much more than a fashion statement, however revolutionary the mini-skirt and psychedelic colours appeared. The celebrities were pop stars or the entrepreneurs themselves such as Mary Quant and Alvaro Maccioni the restaurant owner.

There were some attempts to show that this was a dangerous place; but King’s Road was no Haight-Ashbury with its free love and drug-taking. I recall a popular sensationalist magazine called Titbits which asked the question ‘Are our girls in danger in swinging Chelsea?’. This headline was above a picture of a group of young women walking down King’s Road arm-in-arm. They need not have worried. These women were all known to me as fellow students and with their knee-length tweed skirts and sensible shoes they were completely incorruptible. King’s Road, with its new shops and restaurants patronised by some of the better-off was something of a breath of fresh air in a London still showing the scars of the Blitz, dirty buildings and grey streets. I had to go to Soho or Covent Garden (still a vegetable market) or the East End to find the darker places where there might be danger.

Collage My places

Not that I could actually go to many places in King’s Road. As a penniless student I could not afford the entry fee or the price of drinks and I knew no-one who could introduce me. Fortunately, there was a new concrete shopping centre called King’s Walk with a Boots and a supermarket where I could buy my essentials. The places I could afford were the Picasso Café where I ate my first proper spaghetti and the Six Bells which served ghastly Watney’s keg beer; I was forced to drink bottled brown ale. I chose this pub because Dylan Thomas had been a regular and they had jazz upstairs on Fridays; this was old bohemian Chelsea. I could buy a meal at The Chelsea Kitchen or The Stockpot. It was free to go into Gandalf’s Garden where you could lounge on large cushions and drink herbal tea. Late at night you could have tea and a sausage sandwich at a stall in Sloane Square; this is where I witnessed the cliched conjunction of a man in evening dress, a drunk, and a ragged homeless man all together at 2am one morning.

In the evening, I would meander back through the streets of South Kensington and take the Piccadilly Line back to Turnham Green and unremarkable Acton.


© Derek Perry 2017