At the Queen's coronation in June , Dutch historian JH Huizinga looked at the happy crowds greeting the new monarch and 'grieved' for the British. They thought that 'history would not deal with them as it had dealt with other nations which had strutted their brief moment of power on the world stage The first volume of Dominic Sandbrook's spectacular history of the Sixties is a chronicle of how the realisation of irreversible national decline hit the British after the Suez crisis. Alert readers will have noticed that Suez was in , but Sandbrook breaks with precedent and yanks the Sixties out of the culture wars in which, according to taste, it was either the devil's decade or a time of liberation for the oppressed, and seeing it as a part of long, slow changes in British society. A second novelty, and for baby boomers an ominous one, is that he can't remember the Sixties. He wasn't born until
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At the Queen's coronation in June , Dutch historian JH Huizinga looked at the happy crowds greeting the new monarch and 'grieved' for the British. They thought that 'history would not deal with them as it had dealt with other nations which had strutted their brief moment of power on the world stage The first volume of Dominic Sandbrook's spectacular history of the Sixties is a chronicle of how the realisation of irreversible national decline hit the British after the Suez crisis.
Alert readers will have noticed that Suez was in , but Sandbrook breaks with precedent and yanks the Sixties out of the culture wars in which, according to taste, it was either the devil's decade or a time of liberation for the oppressed, and seeing it as a part of long, slow changes in British society.
A second novelty, and for baby boomers an ominous one, is that he can't remember the Sixties. He wasn't born until Never Had It So Good is a sign that the period is slipping from memory into history, and young Sandbrook's great advantage is that he can see how the similarities between people who then saw each other as enemies were as striking as the differences.
The supposedly socialist film director Lindsay Anderson sounded like Colonel Blimp reviewing a shabby working-class regiment when he lamented the backwardness of British proletarian life. Every return from sophisticated Europe was 'an ordeal. It isn't just the food, the sauce bottle on the cafe tables, and the chips with everything. It isn't even saying goodbye to wine, goodbye to restaurants.
For coming back to Britain is like coming back to the nursery'. The middle-class leaders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament were as convinced that the British could continue to lead the lesser breeds as the most diehard empire loyalists. Sandbrook is as at ease discussing the treacherous way Harold Macmillan dealt with his colleagues as the passion for apocalyptic science fiction when the Cold War threatened to turn hot.
He explains the vicious misogyny of the 'new wave' working-class films by pointing to how the consumer boom encouraged domesticity and the power of women, and shows how that consumerism meant most people didn't give a damn about the loss of empire. There are hundreds of killer quotes and anecdotes. Colin Wilson whose demented claims to be the 'major literary genius of our century' were taken seriously by literary London for a year or so, fell from grace when the father of his girlfriend burst into his flat with a horsewhip crying: 'Aha, Wilson, the game is up!
We know what's in your filthy diary! When Selwyn Lloyd was offered a post at the Foreign Office by Churchill, he replied: 'But, sir, there must be some mistake. Except in war, I have never visited any foreign country.
I do not like foreigners. I have never spoken in any foreign-affairs debate in the House. I have never listened to one. Sandbrook covers a vast amount of ground. But he does have a theme: 'The yearning for an alternative to the old-fashioned, complacent Conservatives who were thought to be running the country into the ground. The mood articulated by the casts of Beyond the Fringe and That Was the Week That Was or the staff of Private Eye wasn't a desire to change the system but to open it up.
It takes a very closed ruling class to turn such natural Conservatives as Richard Ingrams into rebels. So tight and secretive was it that a journalist didn't realise that Sir William Haley was the editor of the Times and a former BBC director general, and went through a whole interview thinking he was Bill Haley, the rock'n'roll pioneer.
As a scrupulous historian, Sandbrook avoids drawing modern parallels, but the reader can't avoid being struck by the cunning of history. With the old Tories gone, the Sixties were meant to end elitism and bring a meritocracy. Instead they cleared the road for a new elite which sustains itself in power by insisting it is against the establishment and an education system which makes it all but impossible for bright working-class children to get on.
The book begins with the failure of Sir Anthony Eden's Suez adventure, which allowed all the tyrants in the Middle East to buttress their power by posing as anti-imperialists. Today, Tony Blair is accused of being the new Eden, although his Iraq adventure has shaken the foundations of Middle Eastern tyranny. It is a tribute to Sandbrook's literary skill that his scholarship is never oppressive.
Alternately delightful and enlightening, he has produced a book which must have been an enormous labour to write but is a treat to read. Topics History books The Observer. Reuse this content. Most popular.
Never Had It So Good by Dominic Sandbrook
Superb evocation of time and place. Dominic Sandbrook. In the Suez Crisis finally shattered the old myths of the British Empire and paved the way for the tumultuous changes of the decades to come. Arguing that historians have until now been besotted by the supposed cultural revolution of the Sixties, Sandbrook re-examines the myths of this controversial period and paints a more complicated picture of a society caught between conservatism and change. He explores the growth of a modern consumer society, the impact of immigration, the invention of modern pop music and the British retreat from empire.
Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles
Your saved articles can be found here. Join now to start saving articles today. In January , Anthony Eden resigned as the British prime minister and left with his wife for a cruise to New Zealand. He was seeking to restore his shattered health after the Suez crisis of On the voyage, he forged an improbable rapport with his year-old cabin steward who was called John Prescott, and is now the deputy prime minister. It is just one of the countless serendipities scattered through this rivetingly readable debut by a young historian who was not yet born when the s ended.
The 60s? They began in '56
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