The Reading Room

A Northern Wind: Britain 1962-65

David Kynaston

Published: 2023, Bloomsbury Publishing

For my book review this month I must first declare my interest as a born and bred Yorkshireman arriving in “God’s own county” in 1960, so it’s no surprise the title of this book immediately resonated and attracted my eye when I recently visited the Cheltenham Literature Festival but that aside, it’s a great read and highly recommended to all.

Kynaston’s 600-page book goes into painstaking detail about every aspect of British and Northern life during the four year period between 1962 and 1965 but his easy, very readable style make the pages fly-by. I love how he mixes a variety of subjects taken either from local or national newspapers, private diaries, correspondence and blends them all together to make a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. So much so that I regularly found myself transported back to my childhood in Yorkshire as if it were yesterday. On the other hand, as I read and reflect, it seems not much has changed for the challenges of Government and for the people living in Britain over the last 60 years. The North/South divide was much debated then as it is now, reflected in an article in the Guardian back then which commented that “The North is crippled with the burden of the industrial revolution to an extent that the South hardly begins to understand.” Serious housing problems, neglected schools, an underfunded NHS, struggling industries, a declining population, a government clinging on, railways in crisis… This latest volume in the Kynaston’s mighty history of post war Britain may sound horribly familiar!

The book doesn’t cover the whole decade of the 60’s, of course, merely the period between October 1962 and January 1965. The month of October 1962 was in itself hugely significant culturally. Saturday 6th October 1962 witnessed the simultaneous release of both the first Beatles’ single, Love Me Do and the very first cinema release for the very first James Bond film, Dr. No starring Sean Connery. It was also the month during which, thanks to the Cuban Missile Crisis, humanity came closer to wiping itself out than at any time before or since. Current global conflicts make me wonder if we aren’t yet again heading for this same self-destruct button.

The year 1963 saw the government of Harold “Supermac” Macmillan dealt with a severe blow by the eruption of the Profumo Affair which shook British society to its foundations. By October 1963, Macmillan, who was approaching seventy, had lost all appetite for the job and used the excuse of a perfectly treatable bout of prostate cancer to make a sharp exit from Downing Street (he went on to live until 1986). With no formal arrangements to elect Tory leaders yet in place, the subsequent “contest” to succeed the old man quickly turned into a farce, the skeletal Sir Alec Douglas-Home somehow emerging as leader, despite still being in the House of Lords at the time of his appointment…… It seems Tory leadership battles haven’t changed in their ability to be farcical events! Subsequently and not surprisingly a youthful Harold Wilson won the next General Election for the Labour Party. Today, a politician who always wore a raincoat and smoked a pipe would risk seeming like an odd ball. But in 1963, these things when added to the new leader’s heady, intoxicating, arguably slightly meaningless talk of the “white heat of revolution” helped make Wilson seem like the harbinger of a new, exciting, more technological and meritocratic new age. Despite this, he only just managed to knock the stiff, untelegenic Sir Alec off his perch, leading Labour to victory with a single figure majority.

But that’s enough about politics! The book also provides a unique insight into almost all aspects of British life through the TV they watched, the newspapers and magazines they read, the music, the sport and the thoughts and feelings of people both famous and ordinary through their letters and diaries. It is a reminder that history is not always what we remember it to be and that people’s perceptions and attitudes back then might not be exactly what we would now expect them to be. For example, as some reflected idly on the return of Dixon of Dock Green “like an old friend coming into the house every Saturday”, others discussed the possible implications of the contraceptive pill – “this is not a subject which a woman will discuss over morning coffee – even with her closest friends,” wrote Jean Rook in the Yorkshire Post. The Beeching Report was published. The Great Train Robbery happened. On the night of President Kennedy’s assassination, Beatles fans went to see the Fab Four perform at the Globe Theatre on Stockton-on-Tees. Mods and Rockers fought on Brighton’s beaches. The first episode of Top of the Pops went out. Some took an instant dislike to its first ever host: “What an odd-looking individual…like something from Dr Who…Mutton dressed as lamb.” Sometimes the effect is similar to reading a Twitter feed. The host on that occasion was the 37-year-old Jimmy Savile.

With the perspective of sixty years, Kynaston also highlights prejudice at every level. For example he explains how travel chaos hit Bristol when a boycott followed the city bus company’s refusal to employ minority ethnic crews, one of several race flashpoints of the early 1960s. Despite the talk of prosperity common to the era, A Northern Wind is a chill reminder of calamitous social management, not least in the replacement of solid Victorian terraces by high-rise housing. Kynaston notes that even then, some were having second thoughts about this modernist dream, with its emphasis on style and impact overlooking the needs of the prospective tenants. Not much to cheer in education, either, where the continuing unfairness of the 11-plus, the unloveliness of secondary moderns and the “barrier to democracy” represented by private schools kept British society more or less benighted. “Ultimately,” writes Kynaston, “this was an issue about social class.” It always is. The 1960s was still a conservative age, still hidebound by deference at one end of the class spectrum and complacent in its privileges at the other. Of course, there were outliers of independence, in Katharine Whitehorn’s forthright columns at the Observer and in novelists who took the social temperature: “the days are over, thank god, when a woman justifies her existence by marrying” (Margaret Drabble).

The book concludes on two seismic moments, one a beginning, one an ending. Labour’s election victory in 1964 was not the landslide expected, but a majority of four: thus, a country still suspicious of change. The latter was the death of Churchill, at 90, in January 1965, which few would dispute as the passing of an era. His funeral at St Paul’s brought London to a standstill and the country to a reckoning. It marked “the final act in Britain’s greatness”, wrote one journalist, who also called it “a gesture of self-pity”; “sobering”, wrote an elderly diarist, “but we have been pronounced dead before and been buried and there has been a resurrection”.

Robin Sellers

October 2023

The information contained above and in other entries in the Ocean Dial Book Review Series is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only, and should not be relied upon in making, or refraining from making, any investment decisions. No information provided herein should or can be taken to constitute any form of advice or recommendation as to the merits of any investment decision. You should take independent advice from a suitably qualified investment adviser before making any investment decisions.

Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture

Kyle Chayka

Published: 2024, Bonnier Books Ltd

From trendy restaurants to city grids,  algorithmic recommendations dictate our experiences and choices. Over the last decade, this network of mathematically determined decisions has taken over, almost unnoticed, as we’ve grown increasingly accustomed to our insipid new normal.

Read more

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail

Clayton M Christensen

Published: 1979, Harvard Business Review Press

Innovation expert Clayton Christensen explains why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. No matter the industry, he says, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know how and when to abandon traditional business practices.

Read more

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – And Why

Amanda Ripley

Published: 2009, Harmony

In life, some of us will have to make split-second choices to save ourselves and our families. How will we react? What will it feel like? Will we be heroes or victims?

In her quest to answer these questions, award-winning journalist Amanda Ripley traces human responses to some of recent history’s epic disasters.

Read more

Disclaimer

IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU READ THE CONTENTS OF THIS NOTICE CAREFULLY BEFORE ACCESSING THIS WEBSITE. THIS NOTICE GOVERNS YOUR ACCESS TO AND USE OF THE WEBSITE. BY ACCESSING THE WEBSITE YOU AGREE TO ACCEPT THE TERMS OF THIS NOTICE AND THE FOLLOWING TERMS OF USE. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO ABIDE BY THESE, YOU MUST STOP USING THIS WEBSITE IMMEDIATELY.

This website is provided by Ocean Dial Asset Management Limited, whose Registered Office is at 30 Coleman Street, London EC2R 5Al and Registered Number 05583807. Ocean Dial Asset Management Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (“the FCA”), with registered number 447424.

NOT FOR U.S. PERSONS
The information contained herein does not constitute a distribution, an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities in any jurisdiction in which such distribution or offer is not authorised. In particular, the information herein is not for distribution and does not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of any offer to buy any securities in the United States of America or to or for the benefit of any U.S. Person as such term is defined under the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended.

No investments or services mentioned on this website are directed at U.S. Persons who are not Professional Clients or Eligible Counterparties as defined by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Handbook or Qualified Purchasers as defined under the Investment Company Act of 1940. The information contained herein does not constitute a distribution, an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities in any jurisdiction in which such distribution or offer is not authorised.

THIS WEBSITE IS ONLY MADE AVAILABLE TO PROFESSIONAL CLIENTS AND ELIGIBLE INVESTORS AND COUNTERPARTIES.

ODAM does not manage money for retail clients. Eligible investors only may access ODAM’s expertise through the funds or investment companies for which it acts as investment manager.

This website is not directed at you if Ocean Dial Asset Management Limited (“ODAM”) is prohibited by any law of any jurisdiction from making the information on this site available to you, and is not intended for any use which would be contrary to local law or regulation. This website and its contents are not intended to sell services or products over the Internet, rather for Internet viewer convenience and information purposes.

Information displayed in this website contains material that may be interpreted by the relevant authorities in the country from where you are viewing the website as investment advertising or an offer to purchase securities. Accordingly the information on this website is only intended to be viewed by the persons who fall outside the scope of any law that seeks to regulate investment advertising in the country of your residence or in the country in which the website is being viewed. Users of this website are therefore assumed to have the knowledge and experience in business and financial matters to enable them to evaluate the merits of, and risks of, investing in the investment funds referred to in this website. Persons of any other description should not enter this website nor rely on any of the information contained therein. If you are uncertain about your position under the laws of the country in which the website is being viewed then you should seek clarification by obtaining legal advice from a lawyer practising in the country of your residence or in the country in which the website is being viewed before completing this question.

Risk warnings

Investments may fall as well as rise and investors may lose a substantial portion or even all of their investment. Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance.

Investments denominated in foreign currencies can result in the risk of loss from currency movements as well as movements in the value, price or income derived from the investments themselves.

Investment in emerging markets involves risks which may not be typically associated with investing in more developed markets. Investment in small- and mid-cap stocks may also involve a higher degree of risk as these markets tend to be more volatile than their larger capitalisation counterparts.

Disclaimer

To the extent permitted by relevant law and regulation, ODAM expressly disclaims any and all liability which may derive from this website or any other information provided by ODAM in connection with this website, and any errors therein or omissions therefrom. The description of the investment management services and processes provided by ODAM in this website is written in general terms. The services and investment funds referred to in this website should not be regarded as an offer nor solicitation for such services or investment funds in any jurisdiction where such offer or solicitation is unlawful. The terms and conditions applicable to individual investors investing in investment funds managed by ODAM are set out in each relevant fund’s offering document. This website contains information designed only to provide background material for determining whether or not to consider investment. This website should be read in conjunction with the relevant offering document for each fund. All potential investors must carefully read the offering document which will contain significant additional information needed to evaluate investment in the fund and important disclosures regarding risks, fees and expenses. The offering document is the sole document upon which potential investors should rely. Recipients in any doubt about the content of this website should seek advice from an independent professional adviser.

This website is based upon information that is considered to be reliable but ODAM does not represent or warrant that it is accurate or complete, nor should it be relied upon as such. Views and opinions expressed within this website including comments on sectors or individual stocks or companies are those of ODAM and its Mumbai based affiliated company Ocean Dial Asset Management India Private Limited (a company incorporated in the Republic of India) as at the date of publication. Subsequent events may cause these views to change. The investment policies and procedures described are guidelines and not rules. Occasional deviation from the parameters given may result.

Use of links
The ODAM website may contain links to websites operated by other parties. ODAM does not control the content or accuracy of information on such websites and does not in any way confirm or endorse the material placed on such sites. The links are provided for your reference only.

Copyright
The copyright and all other rights in all of the material on this website are owned by the company listed on the web page or the material is included with the permission of the rights owner. You may review and copy material on this website for your own private or domestic use only. All other copying or use is prohibited.

Governing law
You agree that in the event of any dispute of any nature that may arise between you and ODAM, these terms and conditions shall be governed by and construed exclusively in accordance with the law of England and Wales and you agree to be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.

Privacy policy
Any personal information that you supply ODAM via the website and other means will be held in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation – please see our privacy notice for more details . If you would like to be removed from our database at any point, please email your request to enquiries@oceandial.com

Use of cookies
For the purposes of gathering data to measure traffic and patterns of usage on our website, we need to use your IP-address. In addition, for example, we use cookies to ascertain as to whether you have agreed to our disclaimer.
A cookie is a small file held on your PC. If you do not want to accept cookies, you will need to alter the setting on your internet browser. We will not use your IP-address or any cookie to identify you personally.