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27 November 2014
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Summer in the Sixties
David Aaronovitch, Guardian journalist and contributor to I Hate the Sixties

Summer in the Sixties

Snapshot of the era - Social and Political moments

The Sixties were an era of memorable events, fads and fashions. To jog your memory, we have highlights for art, social/political moments, sport, music, TV, films, style and toys along with information about related programming in the BBC FOUR season.

Programmes exploring historical and social movements in the BBC FOUR season:

The Gay Decade

The Race Age

I Hate the Sixties

Sixties Dinner with Portillo

Martin Luther King 'had a dream', the Vietnam War raged on and the birth control pill was made available to all…

• Thousands of protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square to protest against the H-bomb in April 1960. It was the largest demonstration London had seen that century.

• On the 22 December 1961 the first American soldier was killed in the Vietnam War. This bloody and drawn-out conflict lasted until American troops were finally withdrawn by President Nixon in 1973.

The decade was marked by widespread demonstrating and riots against the war across the globe.

This catastrophic war cost a total of three million Vietnamese lives (military and civilian) and 58,000 US lives.

• Troops in East Germany sealed the border between East and West Berlin in Germany in 1961 creating the Berlin Wall. It wasn't pulled down until 1989.

John F Kennedy was sworn in as US president in Jan 1961. He was assassinated with a gun shot to the head in November 1963.

• The world breathed a collective sigh of relief as the Cuban Missile crisis ended on 28 October 1962 after the superpowers reached an agreement ending the immediate threat of nuclear war.

• Health Minister Enoch Powell made an announcement in 1961 that would radically change women's lives: the birth control pill was made available to all British women.

Today in Britain, approximately one in three of all sexually active women take it.

• The fight for racial equality moved closer to victory as Martin Luther King voiced his dream for racial harmony in the USA on 28 August 1963.

• The Glasgow to Euston mail train was ambushed and £2.6m stolen in August 1963 in a heist that became known as the Great Train Robbery.

Nelson Mandela, the leader of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, was jailed for life for sabotage on 12 June 1964.

• Sir Winston Churchill died aged 90 on 24 Jan 1965.

• The British government announced for the first time in June 1965 that they would introduce a drink-drive limit.

The Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, were each sentenced to life imprisonment at the Moors Trial in May 1966.

Brady was found guilty of three murders whilst Hindley was found guilty of two.

Mary Bell, an 11-year-old school girl, was found guilty of a double killing in Dec 1968.

Race discrimination laws were tightened in 1968 as a new Race Relations Act came into force, making it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people because of their ethnic background.

• American Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon on 21 July 1969.

And a handful of cultural milestones…

Elvis touched down on British soil in March 1960 while his plane was refuelled in Scotland. Between then and his death in 1977 he never returned to Britain.

• The saucy contents of Lady Chatterley's Lover excited the nation: copies completely sold out on the day of release (10 Nov 1960).

Within a year Lady Chatterley's Lover had sold two million copies, outselling even the Bible.

• 'Ukelele King' George Formby died in March 1961.

Marilyn Monroe was found dead on 5 August 1962.

• BBC TWO was the first channel in Europe to offer the nation colour TV in March 1966.

• Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones appeared before magistrates charged with drug offences in May 1967.

Concorde flew for the first time in March 1969

Political power in the Swinging Sixties

The Swinging Sixties opened with the Conservatives in power and a general sense of economic affluence and continued full employment.

But in 1964 Harold Wilson led Labour to victory after 13 years of Conservative rule.

His programme promised planning, economic growth and a scientific revolution in the service of social improvement.

Labour then went on to win a bigger majority in the 1966 elections.

This second term proved more problematic for Wilson: the pound was devalued in 1967, and the economic plan was abandoned.

Reform of the House of Lords and of industrial relations fell by the wayside, and an attempt to enter the EC failed.

Many of the Wilson government's initiatives, however, have proved to be far-reaching achievements: the foundation of the Open University; the liberalising of laws affecting homosexuals and obscene publications; and the ending of capital punishment.

However, disillusionment amongst voters was caused by harsh economic measures designed to rescue sterling, the decline of Britain's old international role, and for some, by Wilson's support for the American war in Vietnam.

As a new decade began in 1970 Labour lost the General Election.

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