SCANDAL ’63 IS A SMALL BUT PUNCHY EXHIBITION to mark the 50th anniversary of the Profumo Affair. The exhibition’s mixture of photographs, paintings, magazines, artwork and ephemera captures the spirit and atmosphere of the period and the choice of exhibits helps to explain why this particular political scandal has retained such a hold on the public interest.
IT WAS THE YEAR OF THE BEATLES, GERRY and the Pacemakers and Freddy and the Dreamers. We ironed our hair and hitched up our gym slips to expose solid legs in American Tan tights. We sang She Loves You at the bus stop. We listened to Radio Caroline as we worked for our O levels and practised The Twist and The Shake in front of our bedroom mirrors. Our ideal couple was Paul McCartney and Jane Asher. Somewhere deep in our suburban souls we longed for more.
The voice crackled from the pink transistor radio like a bolt of electricity.
Girl on a Train is a song with lyrics by Clive James and recorded by Pete Atkin on the album Beware of the Beautiful Stranger released in 1970. It was the first of six Atkin/James collaborations, about 100 songs in total.
The combination of Atkin’s dry, deadpan delivery and James’s clever allusive lyrics won a cult audience, a large part of which were students, bedsit poets, hip English teachers, lovers of books and literature, wits and scholars, singers and musicians, wild-eyed drunks quoting Kierkegaard in public bars…
The story is simple and episodic. The Waterbury family, well-off middle-class inhabitants of a comfortable Edwardian villa in suburban London, are thrown into turmoil when the father is arrested on accusations of espionage. The mother and three children are thrown into (very relative) poverty and forced to move to the Yorkshire Dales to a house near a railway line. (Yes, I know.The ignominy.) The station used in filming is Oakworth Station and you can get to it on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. The Bronte Parsonage in Haworth is another location.
A film depicting suburban middle-class England in 1945, just recovering from the war, in which children squabble in cut-glass voices and men’s idea of casual homewear is a jacket and tie complete with pocket handkerchief.
A film whose romantic setting is the refreshment room on Milford Junction railway station. And yet ‘Brief Encounter’, directed by David Lean and based on Noel Coward’s play, tugs at the heartstrings and defies parody and ridicule.
MARTY WILDE WAS ONE OF THE PACK OF 1950s BRITISH singers who brought American rock and roll to these shores and changed our lives forever. He was discovered by impresario Larry Parnes who changed Marty’s name from Reginald Smith to one created by the template which served many of Parnes’ stable of performers, a cute first name followed by a surname which suggested sexual aggression and untameable passion.
Not that this was realised by any of the teenage girls (and boys probably, but they didn’t say) who clustered round the television at tea time on Saturdays to see the stars of Oh Boy and Boys Meet Girl, the vehicles for singers like Marty and Billy Fury and Vince Eager, and the one who was to prove to be Marty’s nemesis, Cliff Richard. The ‘Cliff or Marty’ stand-off was a playground ritual. We all know who won.
IT’S A GREAT SONG. IF YOU DON’T KNOW IT, SEARCH it out right now. Tom Waits wrote and recorded it in 1985 and it’s been covered many times. Mary Chapin Carpenter does a great version, as does Bob Seger. The big hit cover was by Rod Stewart in 1990.
Tom Waits growls his song in that hoarse gravelly voice which sounds as if it has been soaked in bourbon for a million years. Waits is the hobo poet, the beat poet, the balladeer of the seedy, the romantic, the grotesque.
He creates a world of drunks and hookers and junkies. Romeo is bleeding with a bullet in his chest. Small Change lies dead on the street and the newsboy picks the porkpie hat off the corpse and saunters off wearing it.
FIFTY YEARS AGO, MASSIVE CUTS TO BRITAIN’S RAILWAY NETWORK saw the disappearance of stations, branch lines and 9,000 miles of right of way as cars and motorways were declared to be the way to travel in the future. Goodbye dirty, smoky trains, hello brave new world of shiny motor cars and miles of tarmac.
Trains and railways have a romantic pulse which perhaps beats with a more feeble rhythm today in the light of the realities of travelling by rail. But the emotional resonance of train travel lingers, its impact still exerting a powerful tug on our sensibilities and imagination.
IT IS A CENTURY AND A HALF SINCE THE FIRST London underground journey took place, and a time to reflect on the impact of this historic transport system. The tube is part of our consciousness and it is impossible to imagine (or imagine navigating) the huge sprawl of the city without tracing our journey along the lines set out in Harry Beck’s iconic map. The anniversary has prompted us to reflect on how tube stations have been immortalised (actually, often just mentioned in passing) in songs and films and books. It is an opportunity to assess or reassess the place of these particular works in our collective and personal histories.