Thursday, December 2

On the Cusp: Days of ’62 by David Kynaston review – dizzyingly varied | History books

In Whitehall, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan unexpectedly removed a third of his cabinet; at a North Cheam pub, the Rolling Stones performed before an audience of two; In Barrow-in-Furness, Nella Last, after a lunch of “soup, salad, ham and the last piece of chicken,” had to call the television rental store when her set couldn’t “hold” the ITV. And so, David Kynaston’s decidedly democratic take on postwar British history reaches the summer of 1962 with, as always, big and portentous events jostling with the everyday details of life to evoke a snapshot of an era.

On the cusp marks the midpoint of the multi-volume sequence of Kynaston’s Tales of a New Jerusalem, which opened on VE Day 1945 and is ultimately destined for Margaret Thatcher’s victory in the 1979 general election. So far, the books They have been distributed in chunks of between two and five years each, but here Kynaston shifts gears to focus on the few months leading up to October 5, 1962, the day the Beatles released their first single, “Love Me Do.” , and the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, came to light, which, he claims, marks the transition between the old world and the “real” 1960s. As additional evidence, he also cites a storm of other events and trends collected from national and local newspapers and magazines, official reports and archives, snippets of high and low culture, sports reports, academic studies, and especially the diaries and memoirs of famous people. . and less famous alike.

The result is dizzyingly varied, but rarely random. It would have been perverse, for example, for the decaying Macmillan government and its “night of the long knives” to have been excluded from the project, but the television reception in Barrow, as recorded by the prolific “housewife” chronicler from Mass Observation and Kynaston’s favorite Nella Last – it was also a sign of the times. “The box in the corner, which still showed only the two channels, was becoming an increasingly central part of most people’s daily lives.”

While new technologies and improved communications seem to hint at a brighter future, Kynaston is equally alert to the less progressive, but equally durable. On the same day that The Lasts’ TV was turned off, the workforce of an aluminum manufacturer in Banbury overwhelmingly voted “against” the question “Should workers of color be admitted to the factory?” Also that day Gyles Brandreth, 14, in boarding school and with German measles, complained in his diary about the bad mood of the school doctor, adding, in something that could have come from the #MeToo movement, that “Nobody really likes . The girls say he takes his time putting the stethoscope on their chests and it’s pretty creepy! “

Although Kynaston is generally sparing in his editorials, it is generally clear where he stands. Returning to one of his long-standing concerns, urban redevelopment, he points out corrupt and ill-thought-out schemes, as well as citing with approval Balliol philosopher Marcus Dick’s objections to a proposed 260-foot tower in Oxford (which also allows him apart from that Dick was the father of current Met Commissioner Cressida).

Along with the stream of contemporary events, Kynaston occasionally takes a step back to see more themed on longer-term themes. Exploring the lives of immigrants, he observes, among many other things, the first deportations approved by the Secretary of the Interior, the increase in intimidation and violence from the far right, but also the growth of the start-up of companies owned of immigrants and of new independent social organizations. Examining rural life, you notice an increase in industrialization and the use of chemicals (the herbicide paraquat was launched in 1962), but also some hints of environmentalism and Rachel Carson. Silent spring become a bestseller. Other literary events that summer included a dismissive review of a paragraph from 22 captures at TLS and at a Cheltenham festival panel that included Romain Gary, Joseph Heller, Carson McCullers and Kingsley Amis, meeting to discuss “Sex in Literature”, which disappointed organizers who hoped they would be one ” good copy, “but instead” He did little except jokes. ”On the other hand, the anachronistic Gentlemen v Players match at Lords came to an end and the Ford Cortina arrived, but there was both continuity and change. Funding and the future of the BBC, the divide between north and south and Britain’s relations with continental Europe were all subjects of controversial debate.

Kynaston says he wrote much of the locked book “about a country where the doors and windows were about to open a little wider.” His continuing achievement, in addition to managing the prodigious amounts of material, is to convince his readers, who know well what comes next, of real lives lived almost in real time and of a future as unwritten then as ours today.

On the Cusp: Days of ’62 is a Bloomsbury publication (£ 18.99). To support the Guardian and the Observer, purchase a copy at

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