DIARY 27 Jul 1967 On the brink

1966 Derek Perry retouch

The way I looked when I was a schoolboy. Note the school tie, tied with the narrow end showing, with a Windsor knot, wide end tucked in the shirt. For some reason, I am not wearing my fashionable black square-rimmed glasses. My hair was fair and curly, a bit of a disappointment because I could not style it as a ‘Beatle-cut’.

On the brink

Today is my girlfriend’s birthday. She has just turned 17 and goes to school in Bournville. I am 18 and have just finished school in Kings Heath.[1] I am waiting for my ‘A’ level results to see if I will be going to university in London in October.

I met my girlfriend the previous year at a youth club. I had walked other girls home from the same club but, as relationships go, they often didn’t last longer than that walk home. Some only allowed me to take them home for safety’s sake, including one girl who I considered to be very pretty with the latest bobbed hair style. The next night, my best friend walked her home; she must have like him a lot more than me because they are still married to each other.

This girlfriend was different to the other girls I had met. She was intelligent and knowledgeable. She read a lot and went to see arty films and knew about obscure musicians. She taught me how to pronounce ‘Dvořák’. I was also considered to be highly intelligent; that is a fact and not a boast.[2] But I was very ignorant of culture, politics, geography, history, literature. You don’t get these things at a boy’s school; we had sport and science.

My girlfriend opened the door to culture. We went to see foreign films, visited art galleries, listened to folk and jazz records, and went dancing. I can’t remember what we might have done to celebrate her birthday but it could well have been a Swedish film, perhaps by Ingmar Bergman. I recall seeing Smiles of a Summer Night with her.  In Birmingham, in those days, the only place to see foreign films was the Cinephone cinema on Bristol Street. This was not an art house movie theatre by any means; its staple fare was soft porn, usually Scandinavian. Bergman was probably shown simply because it was Swedish.

Until then, my life had been unremarkable. Within the petty hierarchies of family, school and church I had achieved some recognition; eldest son, head boy at primary school and class leader at Sunday school.  My place was assured and comfortable. Physical horizons were limited and stretched not much further than school and church (later replaced by the youth club). Intellectual horizons were equally narrow and my personal mental map was a landscape lacking in imagination.

I did not really know why I wanted to go to university, especially one in London. I was clever and going to university seemed to be what clever people did. I could see Birmingham University’s tower from Raddlebarn Road, so I could at least imagine what university looked like if only at a distance. I thought it was just a bigger school with lots of people who studied a lot. My mental image of a student was someone with glasses wearing a tweed jacket, tie and a college scarf round his neck. I had chosen a subject (pharmacy) that was only available in a few places, including Nottingham and London. My future was decided when I was offered a place at Chelsea College of Science and Science and Technology, newly recognised as a college of the University of London.

There I was, somewhat naïve, waiting to go to Chelsea which was in the throes of being ‘swinging’ London. This boy, whose mind was already being stirred by new ideas and experiences, was beginning his personal voyage of discovery. It would prove to be eventful.

[1] King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys, Vicarage Road, Kings Heath.

[2] Some years later, in my late thirties, I went for some psychological tests to assess my mental health. They established (I forget the precise mathematical formulation) that if you took a group of 1000 people with a similar background to mine, I would be in the top five according to my ability to solve certain intelligence tests. Their conclusion was that I was probably bored because I was too intelligent. Perhaps like Marvin the Paranoid Android in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Marvin is the spaceship’s robot, afflicted with severe depression and boredom, because he has a ‘brain the size of a planet’. I am not sure that I trust a diagnosis of mental illness based on a humorous fictional fantasy.

DIARY FIRST ENTRY 1 July 1967

In 1967 I was 18 years old. I had just left school and expecting to go to university. I was on the threshold of becoming an adult, which was exciting and bewildering enough for this working class youth from Birmingham. But little did I know that Britain was in the process of unprecedented social and cultural change which would sweep me along with it.

It is now over fifty years since the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Fifty years since homosexuality was de-criminalised, Half a century since new laws were introduced promoting equal pay and making racial discrimination unlawful. At about this time, censorship was relaxed, abortion made legal and the contraceptive pill became easily available.

In 1967 we saw massive demonstrations against the war being waged in Vietnam by the USA. In a few months time, in May 1968 there would be a near revolution in Paris with other uprisings across the world including Czechoslovakia. The British Empire continued the decline it had suffered since the 1940s.

This blog will be my real time diary from fifty years ago. I will attempt to re-imagine what I was doing, thinking, feeling, reading, watching, experiencing at that time. I did not keep a diary at the time so I cannot be certain about dates or names in some cases. It will be how I remember it, with some hindsight, but I will try not to make things up. This is a true story. I will only use real names with permission.