The roots of this Sunday’s Something Understood for Radio 4 are in one song – The Beatles’ She’s Leaving Home and one time: the 1960s.
Over the course of the decade young people found greater opportunity through a huge growth in jobs and state funded education than ever before to break away from the old ways, though the stigmas of class, homosexuality, unmarried pregnancy and strong racial prejudice were still strong. Lynn Reids Bank’s The L Shaped Room and Philip Larkin’s heartbreaking Jill written in the late 1940s reminds us how deep seated such divides still were and the loneliness of the adolescent thrown into a new world. I’m also reminded of George Melly’s lovely parody of Northerners heading to Swinging London, Smashing Time. There’s a scene when Northern girls Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave scan the clearly genuine ads in a newsagents window for flat shares. You’ll see the one that specifies ‘no coloureds’; a reminder of the reality beneath our selective celluloid memories.
Even so for my parents’ generation of Commonwealth immigrants the 50s and 60s was also a remarkable time. Many thousands crossed continents and oceans at an incredibly young age, found work, fell in love and created a new culture in the big cities like London. It’s a period I’ve only recently begun to appreciate fully. We’ve music from the Jamaican born Lord Kitchener (the discovery for me in making this programme) and a Bollywood film song to celebrate the way Britain was changing and a poem by the wonderful Grace Nichols.
Having made a whole documentary about David Bowie and suburban escape, I Dressed Ziggy Stardust, my plan was to end this show with David Bowie’s postcard from those left behind, the song Everyone Says Hi. A fascinating number from the suburban boy who put so much effort into becoming a pop star and getting out. It was lost from the final edit, sadly, but it’s on this spotify list I’ve put together with music from the programme.
Hope you enjoy it.