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1966 and All That

The Beatles, Swinging London, mini skirts and Mini cars – what a great time it was to be young. Dennis Ellam remembers a remarkable year

What a wonderful year it was, to be young – or let’s be more specific, to be young and British. Of all the so-called Swinging Sixties, there’s surely no doubt which of them was the most colourful and creative and the one that brimmed over with sheer excitement at everything new. It has to be the year of 1966.

History will record this was a landmark year and that Britain was its focal point. Its reputation was sealed, that April, by a Time magazine cover story... ‘London: The Swinging City’, the headline ran.

Giddy with excitement, after four days touring the streets and checking the evidence, Time reported: “This spring, as never before in modern time, London is switched on. It swings; it is the scene. Ancient elegance and new opulence are all tangled up in a dazzling blur of op and pop.

“The city is alive with birds (girls) and Beatles, buzzing with mini cars and telly stars, pulsing with half a dozen veins of excitement.”

Not that we needed to be told. We young Brits already knew we were in the right place at the perfect time.

The cultural and social upheaval that began in Britain with The Beatles was now, a couple of years later, reaching its zenith. Pop music and fashion were intertwined into a whole new form of culture, TV and cinema broke down old boundaries, British inventions and British op-art design led the world – and to top all of that, England won the World Cup. As we used to say then, it was all a gas.

That may sound like the familiar refrain, ‘how much better things were back in the olden days’, but it’s a fact that the legacies of Britain in 1966 are still around us today. Consider, for example, the Coachella festival happening this autumn in California, billed as the greatest-ever gathering of musical giants in all of history (if you don’t count Woodstock, presumably).

As well as Bob Dylan and Neil Young, its line-up includes The Rolling Stones, The Who, Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, and right away what do you notice? Two-thirds of the show are British. Some of the veterans who were making London swing, vintage 1966.

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