Selected as always by the scientific method of typing the first year that comes to mind into YouTube’s search box and seeing what memories it gleans from the museum of recollections, this week we have the random date of 15th Feb 1968 and a full Top of the Pops episode featuring as their star presenter a man who’s sainthood in life (awarded a Knighthood not only from the Queen but also from the Pope no less) was suddenly tarnished upon death by multiple claims of kiddie-fiddling and sexual predation upon girls in his audiences, in fact look upon this very audience of 15th Feb 1968, its one day after Valentines Day and dear disgraced Sir Jimmy Savile has probably already had all of the girls in the studio before the cameras started rolling.
11 years old I would be when this program was aired on our little plastic black and white TV set, the one that could only receive two channels because our dad refused to pay for a bigger aerial so that it could get BBC2, he told us that the TV couldn’t be retuned anyway and that BBC2 was only for posh people and not for the likes of us and only changed his mind later when snooker was broadcast on that channel, at that point it suddenly became imperative that we obtain BBC2 on our shit TV.
11 years old and in the final year at Primary School and in just three short months we would be facing the most important examination known to childhood, the dreaded 11 plus exam, for it was the 11 plus exam that decided the next step in your life, nay, decided the whole of the rest of your life – fail the 11 plus and you were parceled off to a Secondary education in one of the new 1960s secondary schools – dress them up how you like the title said it all, your education at a secondary school would always be secondary to the elite Grammar schools, which was your reward for passing the 11 plus.
Fail and you would be primed for the next five years for a life of manual working, you’d be expected to become factory fodder, council bin men, petrol pump attendants, fail the 11 plus and they may as well stamp “Failure” on your forehead and send you off to the quarries to break rocks.
Pass the 11 plus on the other hand and you were destined for the land of milk and honey in education terms, pass the 11 plus and you were streamed into an elite form of education at the end of which you’d be a doctor, or lawyer or at the very least wear a white collar to work and shuffle paper around in an office for the rest of your life while staring in scorn out of the window at your former mate the street cleaner, the one who failed his 11 plus.
I of course passed my 11 plus, one year later my brother, as you’d expect, failed his 11 plus, I went on to have a long and successful career as a paper shuffler in an office somewhere, he went on to learn skills in woodworking and can now build anything you like out of wood whilst I can come around to your house and shuffle any stack of paper that you care to point to while looking out of the window scornfully at my brother who is building a magnificent teak extension to your house and tenon jointing all of the corners so that you’d never notice – ha! but he’d never have been able to order the teak if I hadn’t shuffled the right paper.
Mouldy Moulton was our teacher at Cookridge County Primary School, Mouldy Moulton was the school-marm who had been selected to coach us innocent 11 year olds through to our 11 plus exam, she was to be the one to guide us through the process of the rest of our lives and on day one of that last year in Primary education she already knew which ones she was going to coach and which ones were, in my fathers parlance, “a dead loss”.
I later discovered, much later, by sneaking a look at our 11 plus exam results that I made the grade by one mark, the pass mark each year was decided by how many Grammar school places there were and then simply arranging all the kids in the city into pass mark order and counting down the list until you reached the point at which your Grammar schools were full, the pass mark in my year was 52/100 and I scored 53 and so was elevated into the elite stream of education although unknown to me at the time by the slimmest of margins and making me the thickest kid in our Grammar school that year.
None of which mattered in Feb 16th 1968 for when this episode of TOTP was aired in black and white on our cheap plastic TV set my father would be sat at one end of the room and me and Ned sat on the floor in front of the TV mesmerised by the popular beat combos and their rhythmic gyrations but punctuated by comments from my father such as “Look at that big jessie he wants to get his bloody hair cut he does”, and “You can’t whistle to any of these bloody tunes, whats he singing, I can’t understand what he’s singing, switch it over and put some decent music on” and pointing at the audience “i bet Jimmy Savile’s had all of those girls in the interval” and he wasn’t far short of the truth there wasn’t my father.
At the same time in other houses up and down our street most other parents would be pointing at the TV set and saying pretty much the same for this was of an era when your parents didn’t dress like you or speak like you or like your music or dance your dances, your parents weren’t your best mates and hugs and kisses and “I love you” weren’t exchanged on a daily basis between the generations, oh no, this was a time when there was a definite dividing line between you and your parents, a yawning canyon of space betwixt the generations, our parents had lived through the second world war, had been shot at and bombed (well some of them had), had known rationing for ten years, had lived by the motto “Make do and mend” for the whole of their lives, would not buy a new TV set just because you could get one more channel on it because the one we had was perfectly good thank you and had years of life left in it yet, would not buy a new car just because Ford had a new model out that year because the one they had was perfectly good for the job thank you very much and I can soon fix that rust spot and I only need some bolts to fix that bumper back on, thank you for asking anyway.
Our parents were a different species, they whistled different tunes, Sinatra tunes mainly in our house, this episode of TOTP would look like a transmission from outer space to my father and he simply could not comprehend why Alan Price, a white man, should sing in a faux West Indian voice, or what the hell those bloody weirdos in The Move thought they looked like, or indeed why Dave Dee of Dave Dee, Beaky, Mick and Titch should be cracking a bull whip whilst singing a song or indeed why they gave themselves such a stupid name for a popular beat combo group in the first place.
You knew where you stood when I was a kid of 11 years old, your parents had their music and you had yours and ne’er the two should meet and if perchance “your music” appeared on a TV show that “they” were watching then it was expected that your father would complain loudly and shake a newspaper at the screen while your mother chuntered on whilst knitting in the background “Well I don’t know what that nice Cliff Richard thinks he’s doing having those hippies and weirdos on his show like that, shouldn’t be allowed on a Saturday night”
None of which applies today of course for with the destruction of such demarcation lines children can have children of their own, share their music, share clothes, with less than a dozen years between generations its to be expected that they become as one, back in 1968 you’d have siblings that were more than a dozen years older than you NOT YOUR BLOODY MOTHER.
“Nurse, bring the screens please, he’s gone off on one again, bring the medication cart in here please, quickly…”