Revisiting the most remarkable events from the swinging ’60s

Dec 16, 2023
Brian Lee recalls some of the major happenings of the 1960s. Source: Getty Images/ Jacqui Lee.

They say if you can remember anything of the 1960s you weren’t part of it, but hopefully that’s not completely true! Certainly, though, England — where I lived for most of the decade — was at last getting over the trauma of a World War and had started to let its hair down again. It wasn’t quite like the ’30s maybe, but things were starting to be fun!

It was the decade of the Beatles, Alec Issigonis and the BMC Mini, and Carnaby Street. John F Kennedy was elected president and he ruled the United States, if not the world; and Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, ruled the world by not being on it!

My wife, Jacqui, and I were married in 1959 and immediately stepped into the ’60s, as well as into New Zealand, where we were isolated a little from the goings-on in other parts of the world — with the exception of what we heard on radio news broadcasts (no television in New Zealand in those days!) — or from family and friends ‘back home’. Yet even we heard about the Berlin Wall going up, and the Cuban missile crisis, both truly terrifying moments, when a wrong word, spoken by the wrong person, in the wrong place, could have meant the end of the world as we knew it. Thank goodness common sense prevailed.

Brian and Jacqui Lee on their wedding day in 1959. Source: Jacqui Lee

In the early-’60s Marilyn Monroe, a popular sex symbol of the last decade, took an overdose. English politician John Profumo got caught with a 19-year-old would-be model named Christine Keeler, not such a terrible thing in itself, except that reports also suggested she was simultaneously sleeping with an important Russian diplomat. In 1962 Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for conspiring to overthrow the state. Who knew, one day, many years later he would be regarded as one of the world’s great leaders, taking South Africa out of apartheid.

It was in the ’60s that JFK was assassinated in Dallas. His assassination on November 22 sent shockwaves around the world and turned Kennedy into some sort of heoric figure.

President John F Kennedy in Dallas, before his assassination in 1963. Source: Getty Images

In 1965 Cassius Clay became Muhammed Ali, and the Americans sent troops to Vietnam, causing that little fracas to enlarge out of all proportion!

During the ’60s Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Che Guevara, Harold Holt, Tony Hancock, Ho Chi Minh and Judy Garland all died, but it was also the decade when men first walked on the moon, the Concorde first flew and Hair was a great, if controversial success on the stage.

Muhammed Ali was quite the force in and out of the boxing ring in the ’60s. Source: Getty Images

Meanwhile, Jacqui and I were living our quiet lives in NZ, little more than unaware of everything going on around us — I guess we were more interested in each other than the rest of the world at that stage of our marriage, and we did finish the decade with three kids to prove it!

I do remember NZ prohibition of course, and I can clearly recall it was almost impossible to buy a new car there unless you had ‘overseas funds’ (which we didn’t!). Even when you had the cash, it seemed the only make you could get was a Holden!

Things have changed rather a lot since the ‘swinging sixties’, some good, some disastrous. I suppose some of the most momentous being in the fields of electronics and medicine. When Jacqui and I started out in life together, computers were things about the size of a small room and companies like IBM were saying that maybe, one day, there might be as many as 17 of them throughout the world — just goes to show, even the experts can be wrong… And how wrong!

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