Notable Firsts in the 1950s and 60s

All decades see changes, inventions, introductions and significant firsts. This post explores some of the things which were new, exciting or important during the 50s and 60s when I was growing up.

The 1950s

Recently, I heard the name Roger Bannister referred to and it brought back a memory from the 1950s of the much-talked-about 4-minute mile.

Image result for roger bannister

More than 60 years ago, back on a cinder track at Oxford University’s Iffley Road Stadium in 1954, Bannister completed four laps in 3:59.4, a record-breaking performance that many believed was not humanly possible. The image of the exhausted Bannister with his eyes closed and mouth agape appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world, a testament to what humankind could achieve.

Researching for this post, I realised that I couldn’t possibly remember the actual event as I was not even three years old. This quote from Bannister himself explains just why ‘the four-minute mile’ was such a well known expression when I was a child.

“It became a symbol of attempting a challenge in the physical world of something hitherto thought impossible,” Bannister said as the 50th anniversary of the run approached, according to the AP. “I’d like to see it as a metaphor not only for sport, but for life and seeking challenges.”

Laika was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth. A stray mongrel from the streets of Moscow, she was selected to be the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 which was launched into outer space on 3 November 1957. This really used to upset me whenever I heard about it on the news or heard adults talking about it. The thought of a tiny helpless dog being sent up into space seemed so unkind to me. I still don’t like to think about it.

After a week in orbit she was fed poisoned food, “in order to keep her from suffering a slow agony.” When the moment came, Russian scientists reassured the public that Laika had been comfortable, if stressed, for much of her flight, that she had died painlessly, and that she had made invaluable contributions to space science. So sad!

Image result for laika dog

Here is a list of some of the other notable firsts, creations and inventions from the 1950s.

Synchromesh gear changes  Invented in the 1920s but not used in cars until the 1950s. Before this invention, changing gear involved a process called double de-clutching where you went into neutral between each gear position.

Car seat belts. These arrived on the scene in the 1950s and were made a legal requirement in 1968.

Hula hoop These were invented in the 1950s and soon became a huge craze. I spent hours and hours hula-hooping. I loved it – and can still do it.

Organ transplant. This must be one of the most important firsts in medical history.

Pacemaker (internal).  Another amazing medical breakthrough. Before the 1950s there were pacemakers being used but they were external devices.

Not forgetting – Barbie, Colour TV, Tape recorder, Velcro, the Hydrogen bomb,  the Hovercraft, NASA.

The 1960s

And so to the 1960s. After the Soviet space dogs of the 50s (and, it seems there were dozens), the next step was to send a person into space. This time the plan was for him to return alive! I was in Primary school and was ten years old when the first human travelled into space. Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He became the first human to journey into outer space when his Vostok spacecraft completed one orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. Mr Lewis, the headteacher of my tiny school (approx 30 children ages 4 – 11), decided to buy the school its first TV in time for us to watch the launch live. It must have been a weekday between 9.00 am and 4 pm UK time and during a school term for this to happen. Given that many home didn’t have TVs in 1961 where I lived, you can imagine how exciting this was for us!

Image result for yuri gagarin

Eight years later, in 1968, Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first two people on the Moon. Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, both American, landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969, and Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the surface of the moon.

Image result for first moonwalk 1969

The Beatles were my first love in pop music. “Love Me Do” was their debut single backed by “P.S. I Love You”. When the single was originally released in the United Kingdom on 5 October 1962, it peaked at number 17.

Image result for the beatles    Image result for the beatles love me do vinyl single

My sister and I absolutely adored the Beatles. We knew the heights, eye colour, birthdates, likes and dislikes of all four of them We had Beatles magazines, Beatles jigsaws, Beatles badges and my sister even had a really dreadful Beatles wig. Made of moulded plastic it hurt her and forced her forehead into a frown – but she loved it!

Heart transplant. I remember this being massive news when it happened.  On 3 December 1967, Dr Christian Barnard transplanted the heart of accident-victim Denise Darvall into the chest of 54-year-old Louis Washkansky, with Washkansky regaining full consciousness and being able to easily talk with his wife, before dying 18 days later of pneumonia.

 

Christiaan Barnard 1969.jpg

First supermarkets in Britain.  In 1951, ex-US Navy sailor Patrick Galvani, son-in-law of Express Dairies chairman, made a pitch to the board to open a chain of supermarkets across the country. The UK’s first supermarket under the new Premier Supermarkets brand opened in Streatham, South London, taking ten times as much per week as the average British general store of the time.

Image result for premier supermarkets 1950s

Then there were these – Coco Pops, the audio cassette, the laser, the ring pull and Star Trek.

I’m sure readers of a similar age to me can think of many more!

 

 

Facts and statistics from my memory and from Wikipedia. Photos all sourced from the Internet. Anyone with any issues regarding my use of any photograph should contact me directly so that I can remove the offending item.

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Memorable Firsts.

This one is for my friends Judy and Heather (aka Flo). It’s a slight departure from my normal posts as it fast forwards a few years. Instead of talking about life in the 50s and 60s this post talks about the differences between rural life then and city life in the early 70s.

In September 1969 I began my three years at university in Nottingham. Times were changing rapidly in the late 60s/ early 70s  On top of that, I was moving from rural Wales to England; from a tiny community miles from anywhere to a bustling city. This is about some of the things I experienced for the first time during the three years I was a student. These experiences are forever linked in my mind with the city of Nottingham and on a recent visit to the place I decided to revisit those times in my blog.

Service Buses. In the area where I grew up there was not a bus service in the way towns and cities have them. We had a local coach firm called Thomas Brothers who provided the school buses for children in outlying areas They also ran a weekly coach from the villages village into the town a few miles away. The coach left from outside our village post office on Fridays (market day) at 11 am and left the town at 2pm. Regular buses with numbers on the front and, in particular, double decker buses were such a novelty! I loved being able to walk from my uni down to the main road and catch a bus into the city centre.

Thos bros coach.jpg           nottm-bus

Tea bags. On my free Saturday afternoons (I even had lectures on Saturday morning in my first year!) I loved to wander around the city centre and in and out of the shops. Shops like that were a two hour drive from where I grew up and major shopping trips were made infrequently. My afternoons in the city centre always involved a cafe stop. I can still remember the names of two of my favourites which were called The Gingham Kitchen and The Pepper Mill. There is still a Gingham Kitchen in Nottingham but I haven’t been able to find out whether it’s the same one or not – I remember the name but no more.

gingham kitchen.jpg

It was on one of my cafe visits when I first came across a tea bag. I asked for a cup of tea and was given a cup of what looked like milky water with a strange object floating in it. It took me a minute to work out what I was meant to do!

Indian Restaurants. During my first term a group of friends suggested we went for a curry in town. I had come across curry before – made at home using curry powder – but had never been to an Indian Restaurant. I was helped by friends more sophisticated than I was to choose suitable food from a bewildering menu. My starter was Onion Bhaji and I thought I had never tasted anything better. I don’t even remember my main course – and I still love onion bhajis.

onion-bhaji

 

Colour TV. In early 1970 one of the big events was Apollo 13 which was to be launched on the 11th of April. The hall of residence I was in did have one TV which was black and white. Students at that time didn’t have TVs in their rooms like now. In the days leading up to Apollo 13’s launch word got around that the Union Building on the campus was going to acquire a colour TV especially for the event. I can remember cramming into the main common room on that day – as excited about the colour TV as I was about the space launch!

1970s-tv                            apollo-13

Guinness. I had drunk beer when at home in Wales – and still do! – but I was introduced to Guinness during my second year and absolutely loved it.

guinness        guinness-ad

Pizza. My first taste of pizza was during my three years in Nottingham. I had read about this Italian favourite and thought it sounded like something I would enjoy as I’ve always loved bread, tomatoes and cheese. A friend (who had tried one before in London) and I went into an Italian cafe and ordered one between us. This was partly because we didn’t have much money but also in case we didn’t like it. I loved it!

‘Twin-Screen’ Cinema.

I have always loved going to the cinema. Although my home town was tiny (pop 2,000) we were lucky enough to have a cinema. It was in a building which had once been a chapel and the films we saw were always at least a year old but that didn’t matter to us. During the break between Pathe News – also out of date! – and the main film a still photograph of the local garage/ filling station popped up on the screen and stayed there until the lights went down again. When ‘big’ films arrived in our cinema, long after they had been released in the cities, there would be people standing in the aisles and sitting on windowsills. I particularly remember this from Tom Jones, the Bond films, Bonnie and Clyde and Dr Zhivago.

nottm-cinema  gaumont.jpg   gaumont-inside

In Nottingham I discovered the joys of a cinema with a proper foyer, a refreshment stall and the latest films. Some films I remember seeing at the time in the two Nottingham cinemas shown above were The Boyfriend, 633 Squadron, The Virgin and the Gypsy, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, Staircase and The Battle of Britain. The cinema on the left was the more modern of the two and was a twin-screen cinema. I thought this was amazing! I have learnt through researching for photographs that it was actually the world’s first twin-screen cinema. The second one shown (exterior and interior shots above) was the Gaumont. I also absolutely loved this cinema for its interior. Originally built as a music hall, I now know, it had ornate plasterwork, gilt, brocade, balconies and boxes.

Microwave oven. One evening I was in our campus sports centre. I was there for social reasons not sporting ones! In the cafe I decided to order myself a pie. At that time I was particularly partial to a chicken and mushroom pie made by Pukka Pies and this cafe sold them. To my amazement, the pie was placed in a small glass-fronted oven and then spent a few minutes rotating on a turntable and puffing up at high speed as if time had been fast-forwarded. In awe, I accepted my pie which was piping hot and enjoyed it. It was several years before microwaves became household objects and I realised what I’d seen.

 

1977microwaveoven     pukka-pies

Spaghetti Bolognese. In my second year I left the hall of residence on the campus and took a room in a rented house in the city shared by a number of other students. In the autumn the annual rag magazine was printed. In it was a recipe for spaghetti bolognese which was something I’d heard spoken about but hadn’t tried. Being self-catering was novel as halls of residence in those days were mostly full board. I decided to cook this amazingly exotic-sounding dish for a few friends. I have no memory now of how the meal turned out but I do remember having to go out and buy things I hadn’t bought before like olive oil, garlic salt and tomato puree.

10 Pin Bowling, Pinball, Bar Billiards, Table Football.

table-football                    barbilliards

pinball 1.jpg               Three games I discovered and played during my student years – Table football (often called ‘rods’, bar billiards (does this still exist?) which was not quite billiards, pool or snooker but played on a similar table top, and pinball which always reminded me of an old wooden game we had at home called bagatelle. Ours was very like the one below.

Vintage-Bagatelle-Board.jpg

Cling Film. I went into a university cafeteria one day to buy myself a sandwich for lunch. The sandwich was handed to me wrapped in a very thin soft plastic which appeared to cling to itself. This was my first sight of cling film.

cling film.jpg

Some of these experiences were new to me because I’d moved from the country to the city; others were new inventions and developments. I hope they trigger some interesting memories for readers.