It’s our final episode of Rewind the 60s and we’ve reached the end of the decade, focusing on the years 1968 and 1969. On the Rewind guest couch today is John Craven, pioneer of children’s news and now a reporter on the hugely popular BBC show Countryfile. John tells Lulu about starting out in BBC local news in the north east at the tail end of the 60s, and how he got his break as a broadcaster: the newsreader rang in sick one morning, John took the microphone, and a legend was born.
The sixties was a time of enormous social change, but it was in 1968 and 1969 that some of the decade’s most important events occurred. For many women, one of these was undoubtedly the introduction of the Abortion Act. Prior to this, it is estimated that there were over 60,000 illegal abortions a year in England alone. We meet Barbara, who was then a young student, and she tells us what it was like to have to undergo an illegal abortion. She recalls being thrown out of her GP’s surgery when she asked to be put on the new contraceptive pill.
In the theatre too, old rules were being rewritten. Actor Oliver Tobias, one of the original stars of the hippy musical Hair, joins Lulu and John Craven in the studio. For most of the 1960s, the Lord Chamberlain still had the right to censor every theatrical production and could refuse to give a play its licence. But his powers were abolished in 1968, and when Hair opened shortly afterwards, it had the freedom to break all kinds of taboos. Oliver recalls how the script called on him to use the f-word around 30 times in 5 seconds, to interact directly with the audience, and also to appear naked on stage. “I remember at school saying my worst nightmare would be to appear naked in front of everyone. Little did I know when I was 21, I’d be on stage doing the same thing”. Lulu, who was in the audience on that first night, remembers that she had to close her eyes during the show’s notorious al fresco moment.
We discover how the 1960s saw a revolution in the toy industry. Many toys had previously been enjoyed only by richer families, but with new cheaper durable plastics, they were now available to everyone. It was the time of Martin Luther King’s assassination, The Rolling Stones playing Hyde Park, and Lulu herself becoming joint winner of the Eurovision Song Contest with Boom Bang A Bang. Star Trek first appeared on British television, and the nation was glued to the Forsyte Saga.
But there was one piece of television that eclipsed the others, and brought the world together in a mass celebration of technical accomplishment. The moon landing provided Britain’s first all night broadcast, and captured the imaginations of the millions who watched it. We meet Rob and Helen, who remember watching the Apollo landing vividly, and whose lives were changed by the experience. As Lulu remarks, it was a moment when the world felt united, and anything seemed possible.