BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014
Press Office
Search the BBC and Web
Search BBC Press Office

BBC Homepage

Contact Us


Summer in the Sixties
Jean Marsh plays Sara Kingdom in Dr Who which features in Time Shift – Fantasy Sixties

Summer in the Sixties


Art and the 60s

Three part series starts Thursday 1 July

London's art scene in the Sixties wasn't just swinging - it was exploding.

A tidal wave of ideas, experimentation and social revolution brought the era of Pop Art; a landmark moment in the development of Abstract Art; and the early days of Conceptual and Performance Art.

The radical, flower-power Sixties spirit which gave birth to peace activism and civil rights also brought such highly influential artists as David Hockney, Bridget Riley, Anthony Caro, Patrick Caulfield and others to the fore, changing the artistic landscape forever.

With archive footage and a rare cast of interviewees, many of whom haven't spoken on camera for decades - if ever - BBC FOUR tells the extraordinary story of London's art world in the Sixties.

Each of the films highlights a different aspect of this era. With its tale of two influential dealers - businessman Kasmin and wildly promiscuous socialite, 'groovy Bob' Fraser – one most closely conjures up the Sixties of folklore.

Another tells the story of St Martin's School of Art, where the seeds of today's contemporary art were sown. It traces art's progression, in just 10 years, from Henry Moore's bronzes, via Anthony Caro, to Gilbert and George serving up baked beans in ice-cream cones.

A third considers artists working outside the commercial art world whose stance reflected the countercultural politics of the time.

From the makers of BBC FOUR's BritArt, and accompanied by a major exhibition at Tate Britain, this is the captivating and often eccentric story of one of art's most definitive decades, told by the artists, dealers and collectors themselves.

The Truth about Sixties TV

Saturday 5 June (opening night of season)

Even people who have never seen it claim that television in the Sixties was better than it is now, perhaps the best there has ever been.

For three decades, commentators have hailed Civilisation, Cathy Come Home, Dad's Army and The Wednesday Play as prime examples of a 'golden age' of television.

Far less time is spent recalling the ratings success of Miss World and The Black and White Minstrel Show.

As part of BBC FOUR's mind-expanding trip back to the Sixties, writer and broadcaster Mark Lawson takes a fresh look at 1960s television and explodes some long-cherished myths about the era.

Interviewing leading figures from Sixties television, he discovers that few of the practitioners of the time now regard it as a 'golden age' of television.

Dipping into the archive he uncovers some of the loved, loathed and plain bad programmes of the decade.

The archives do reveal remarkable achievements but the vaults are also filled with material which suggests an age not of golden television, but of tin or something baser.

Comedies such as Curry and Chips, dramas including The Dustbinmen and Hot Line, a live phone-in programme that went disastrously wrong, all question the long-held assumption that 'they don't make 'em like they used to'.

Lawson explores the television of the Sixties and finds that while the medium existed then in a very different world, the questions and tensions affecting television are surprisingly similar to those facing viewers and makers of television today.

Is 60s television simply lucky that it was so bulky and expensive to keep shows for posterity at that time that most of the failures have conveniently vanished or died live on air?

Or perhaps in a decade when television was technically infantile, an audience excited by the novelty of the box in the corner would forgive almost anything.

Mark sets out to discover whether the 'golden age' truly existed or is a smug myth perpetuated by nostalgics and the artistic and political enemies of television today.

A Night in the Sixties

Saturday 5 and Sunday 27 June

For two whole evenings during Summer in the Sixties, BBC FOUR takes the schedules back forty years for two dream evenings of 1960s classics.

From children's to news to entertainment – even the weather forecast – almost every component in A Night in the Sixties is authentic programming from across the decade.

Highlights feature from ITV as well as BBC ONE and the fledgling BBC TWO.

Throughout the evenings there will also be important televised news and entertainment clips from the era such as the moon landings and the Beatles.

Additional archive programming

Classic 1960s programmes will also air throughout the season alongside new documentaries and Sixties films.

Highlights include BBC FOUR screening the whole series of cult Sixties phenomenon The Prisoner.

Time Shift: Black And White Minstrel Show – Revisited Sunday 6 June

With around 14 million viewers, the blacked up singing and dancing routines of the Black and White Minstrel Show ruled BBC ONE's weekend schedule for 21 years from 1957 to 1978.

Time Shift tells the strange story of the rise and fall of the Black and White Minstrel show.

To its devoted viewers it was 45 minutes of harmless, glamorous escapism. To others it had less palatable connotations and in one of the most extraordinary turnarounds in broadcasting history, the once top-rated show was banned from the small screen.

Combining fresh interviews with original minstrels Bob Hunter, Les Want, dancers Dorothy Mitchell and Kay Matthews and comedian Keith Harris with expert insight from historians, authors and critics, the show is put in the spotlight.

The premise of the show was simple: blacked up men and gorgeous women with sing-along dance routines performed in the grandest manner television could muster.

Intended as good clean family entertainment for a post war Britain, it aired at the same time as the 1958 Notting Hill riots – some of the worst racial violence the country had ever known.

But it was nine years later that debate about the show's future was sparked when a petition, signed by 200 people, branded it 'racist, hideous impersonation' and called for it to be taken off air.

Fans responded and the row spilled out in the press but still the show went on.

In the Seventies, more unease emerged and audiences declined.

Minstrel Les Want recalls that Diana Ross refused to go on stage at a Royal Variety performance while the minstrels were in the auditorium.

Attempts to revitalise the format with comedy appearances from young talent like Lenny Henry and Keith Harris failed, and finally the show was axed in 1978.

The BBC conceded that entertainment was being redefined and the show was an anachronism in the modern world.

All that remains is a strange infamy and abandoned performers.

The show became a screen pariah in one of the most extraordinary episodes in television history.

The Race Age

Sunday 6 June

From mixed race marriages to racial hatred, from Conservative MP Enoch Powell's 'rivers of blood' speech to Luther King's dream of "a promised land" - The Race Age is a powerful impression of the black experience in Britain in the decade of love.

More than any other decade, the Sixties polarised attitudes to race in the UK and television was quick to reflect the mood of the times.

The Civil Rights movement inspired the documentary maker Dennis Mitchell to explore segregation in a small US town while filmmaker Jack Rosenthal brought the black experience closer to home with his angry investigation into discrimination on Britain's doorstep.

It was also a time for the satirists: black US comedian and activist, Dick Gregory, commented on racial issues with lines such as, "My daughter doesn't believe in Santa because no white man would be seen in our neighbourhood after dark".

The film also reveals a time when Britain opened its ears to the black people trying to make their voices heard - thrilling, passionate, funny, poetic voices.

It's these voices together with the music and literature of the time which marked the shaping of an era.

Completely archive-led without commentary, The Race Age depicts the attitudes, opinions and images that defined Britain in this extraordinary decade, through the interweaving of image and narrative.

Vivian Stanshall: The Canyons of His Mind

Friday 11 June

BBC FOUR presents a profile of Vivian Stanshall - "The late, majestic Vivian Stanshall, one of the most talented, profligate, bizarre, infuriating, unfathomable and magnificent Englishmen ever to have drawn breath" – Stephen Fry.

A veteran of the common law marriage between Sixties art school and rock ‘n' roll, Stanshall was co-founder, lead singer and co-writer of cult Sixties sensation The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, the missing link between satire and psychedelia, pop and performance art, pastiche and Python.

Stanshall was a dapper Zappa, perfecting what he called "ballet for the vulgar".

Like Peter Cook, he burnt himself out tragically early, virtually drinking himself to death before dying in a fire at his house in 1995.

He was, as the title of his last ever broadcast put it, a Renaissance man: writer, composer, performer and painter.

This film tells Viv's life story from mum and dad to Dada and Mummery.

It follows his progress from an 'odd boy' Southend seaside childhood, through art school, his intro to and outro from the Bonzo Dog Band and subsequent spectacular resurfacings as solo artist with his Peel Show monologue about Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (later a book and a film starring Trevor Howard), his comic opera Stinkfoot performed on board the Bristol Showboat and at London's Bloomsbury Theatre and his final appearances with Rawlinson DogEnds.

Tracing Viv's musical journey from its Bonzo beginnings to Rawlinson End and beyond, this expedition into the archival canyons of his mind is peppered with contributions from colleagues, close friends and comic descendants.

But at its centre is a portrait of the man who made his life and art into what he called "a sur-Ealing comedy", drawing on a wealth of largely BBC audio and video.

It combines interviews with his collaborators from the Bonzos and beyond, including band members Neil Innes, Legs Larry Smith, Rodney Slater and manager Gerry Bron, plus later associates like John Peel, Jack Bruce and lifetime fan and Stinkfoot financier Stephen Fry.

I Hate the Sixties

Saturday 12 June

For some people, the Sixties were when it all went wrong for British society.

In their view it was the decade's moral permissiveness, collapse of respect for institutions and failed experiments in 'progressive' education that led directly to the state we are in today.

Ranging across culture, politics, fashion and morality, this provocative but entertaining film will be shamelessly revolutionist, challenging head-on what Norman Tebbit once memorably described as, "the insufferable, smug, sanctimonious, naïve, guilt-ridden, wet pink orthodoxy… of that third-rate decade, the Sixties".

Sixties Dinner with Portillo

Saturday 12 June

In a special 'Dinner' Portillo and his guests debate the true legacy of an era in which the established order was being challenged, subverted, and ultimately buried.

Portillo says: "I am definitely a child of the Sixties and as such I am a fan of the period. It introduced colour after the drab Fifties and liberated us.

"It was a period of meritocracy which gave people like me a look-in.

"It was filled with excitement and Britain had a key role in driving global fashions in culture."

But Portillo says it also created problems: "It brought moral and intellectual flabbiness.

"The architecture of the Sixties is a disgrace. It's knocked us sideways in attempting to have any value judgements.

"It was the precursor to the Seventies with their hopeless mismanagement of government and spinelessness towards terrorism.

"It's been a real struggle for children of the Sixties to get back on an even keel. Blair is a good example, maybe I am another."

Portillo's guests in the discussion will include Oscar winning film producer Lord David Puttnam, raconteur Ned Sherrin, artist and activist Caroline Coon, author and columnist Bel Mooney and political commentator Peter Hitchens.

The Gay Decade

Sunday 13 June

The Sixties are remembered as the decade when homosexuality came out of the national closet - but what was life actually like for Britain's gay population?

Using a combination of oral history and TV archive, this film paints a picture of life as a homosexual both before and after the Sexual Offences Act of 1967.

Looking at the contrast between the relatively open lifestyle of gay bohemian London (as remembered by Wayne Sleep, the dancer, and Peter Schlesinger, David Hockney's then boyfriend) and the reality of life for gay men and women in slightly less glamorous circles, we hear from writer Paul Bailey, artist Maggi Hambling and writer Maureen Duffy (acclaimed as Britain's first public figure to come out as a lesbian).

Presented by journalist Philip Hensher, the film will also chart the start of gay campaigning in both the UK and America, with personal testimony from Allan Horsfall, a Bolton-based colliery worker who set up the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, and Jeremiah Newton, a veteran of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York.

Round the Horne… Revisited

Sunday 13 June

In an age of great radio comedy, Round the Horne was arguably the greatest and best-loved.

At its peak, some 15 million listeners tuned in each week to hear Kenneth Horne – the ultimate unflappable BBC straight man – encounter figures as diverse as Dame Celia Gruntfuttock, Rambling Syd Rumpo and the legendarily camp Julian and Sandy.

With its endlessly inventive innuendo and cheerfully British twist on surrealism, Round the Horne ran from 1965 to 1969, and proved a brilliant showcase for the talents of Kenneth Williams, Betty Marsden, Hugh Paddick and Douglas Smith.

Now the one surviving member of the original writing team, Brian Cooke, has developed the scripts into a hit stage show, Round the Horne...Revisited, which will come to the screen exclusively for BBC FOUR's Summer in the Sixties season.

Time Shift – Art School

Saturday 19 June

What do Mary Quant and The Who have in common? What links Carnaby Street boutiques with the Hornsey student sit-in of May '68?

Like so much of what made the Sixties swing, they were the product of the British Art School, the engines of the 1960s counter culture.

With fresh interviews with luminaries such as Mary Quant, Brian Eno and Brian Rice and with archive footage and interviews with Ian Dury and Pete Townshend, Time Shift probes the stories of Art School's contribution to pop, its experimental graphic design and its unique place in further education.

With few places for the artistic non-academic teenagers to escape the world of work, and universities the preserve of the middle classes, many found their local art school was an escape route from the drab terraced house and the job waiting at the local factory.

For many socialites it was a cheap finishing school, and the mixture of classes and talents created many opportunities for artists and entrepreneurs.

Art school became the breeding ground for much of the decade's hot talent.

While the courses didn't leave a great mark on the subsequent careers of John Lennon, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, other pop artists were profoundly influenced by their time there.

Pete Townshend famously smashed his guitars on stage, similar to the deconstruction artists he was exposed to as a student, and Brian Eno began his first experiments in ambient soundscapes on a battered old reel-to-reel tape machine at Ipswich Art School.

The Royal College of Art student magazine – ARK – became a prototype for the 1960s colour supplement, defining the look of the decade, influencing pop art and decades of style magazines.

Inspired by the American revolutions, students stood up to the educational authorities during the 1968 Hornsey sit-in.

Dr Kim Howells MP, one of the sit-in's more radical student leaders, remembers how the college's bureaucracy effectively crushed the student's creativity, and how the sit-in was a sincere attempt at reform.

But police guards were drafted in, gas and electricity supplies cut and the revolt disappeared over the summer holidays as the authorities reclaimed the college.

As the defeated students arrived for the autumn term, the school was a changed place, with barred windows and secure doors installed to lock down entire sections of the college.

Not Cricket: The Basil D'Olivera Conspiracy

Sunday 20 June

In 1968 Basil D'Oliveira, a brilliant Cape Coloured cricketer from South Africa who had made his home in the UK, became the subject of a row that rocked the British political and sporting establishment.

Immediately after scoring a brilliant 158 in the fifth and final test against Australia, he was excluded from the England team to tour South Africa - apparently because of his race.

The 'D'Oliveira Affair' which resulted led directly to the sporting isolation of South Africa and was crucial in ending the Apartheid system of white rule in South Africa.

Set against the backdrop of the tumultuous events of 1968, this is the untold story of the betrayal of Basil D'Oliveira by the English establishment and includes exclusive interviews with D'Oliveira himself.

Sport in the Sixties: a TV Revolution

Monday 21 June

It was the decade when sportsmen became sports stars, when home grown heroes became international icons and we learnt to love sport like never before.

The Sixties set the template for sport on TV. At the beginning of the decade men in blazers lectured the viewer on the finer points of swimming, show jumping and cycling and we listened attentively.

By the end, household names like Coleman, Carpenter, Vine and McLaren raved about boxing, football, rugby and cricket.

TV brought the national games to the nation. In this affectionate history of the decade, the pioneers and stars explore how sport itself was transformed by a revolution in broadcasting.

Contributors will include Harry Carpenter, Martin Peters, Peter Dimmock, David Attenborough, Anne Jones, Barry Davies, Jackie Stewart, Cliff Morgan, Jimmy Hill, David Vine and Henry Cooper.

Time Shift – Fantasy Sixties

Saturday 26 June

Between the launching of Sputnik and the first man on the moon, there was a golden age in television – Fantasy – with classics like The Avengers and Dr Who.

The Soviet satellite bought a wave of global paranoia and the space race created a new vision for the future, breeding a new genre of programming.

Gripping stories, peppered with good humour and naughty sexuality, pushed further and further from reality as the storylines played on people's fears about the sinister side of technology.

With interviews from those that made the shows such as scriptwriter Brian Clemens, the actors who starred in them like Gerald Harper, the critics and the fantasy TV pundits, the genre is stripped to the bones and laid bare.

There are rare clips from gems such as Adam Adamant Lives!, Danger Man, A for Andromeda, Dr Who, The Avengers and The Prisoner.

In the Sixties, the TV industry was booming. By 1968 television households had increased by 50 per cent since the beginning of the decade and Britain's fantasy shows' diet of leather-clad women and violence was being exported around the globe.

The Avengers reached audiences in 120 countries - a record that still stands today.

By the end of the decade, some storylines became more intellectual and less conclusive.

Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner angered so many viewers with its incomprehensible finale that Patrick, the highest paid actor at that time, went into hiding to escape the anger directed at him, while the production company ATV frantically issued written explanations of the symbolism behind the show.

Even the director, Peter Graham Scott, didn't understand the show saying: "The script arrived and I couldn't make head or tail of it, it was so way out."

But when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon in 1969 and TV stations screened the real life cliff-hanger of bringing the crew back to earth alive, setting a story in space was never going to be pure fantasy – anything now seemed possible and the fantasy shows dwindled out.

Sixties Films

Various transmission times through June

The image of Britain in the Sixties is irrevocably shaped by the icons of cinema.

The Summer in the Sixties season will feature a number of classic films from the era, including A Hard Day's Night, Alfie, Cul de Sac, Billion Dollar Brain and Repulsion.

Plus there will be a special edition of The DVD Collection in which Stuart Maconie makes a personal selection of the most interesting British films of the decade, including Blow-Up and Performance, and meets some of the key figures behind them.

Dennis Potter: The Nigel Barton Plays

TX: to be confirmed

Political controversy has always dogged the BBC and these early classics by playwright Dennis Potter are a case in point.

Highly autobiographical, Stand Up, Nigel Barton and Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton chronicle a young man's journey from student activism to his attempt to stand for parliament as a Labour candidate in a safe Conservative seat.

Potter's depiction of a manipulative party agent dismayed BBC executives and led to a controversial re-write.

As an early tribute to mark the tenth anniversary of Potter's death, BBC FOUR will screen these two famous but rarely-seen dramas alongside a new programme exploring the controversy they provoked.

< previous section next section >
Printable version top^

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy