Want a revolution? Let me finish my tea first
‘Want a revolution?’ she said. ‘Well okay, but let me finish my tea first,’ was the flippant reply to the attendant checking my entrance ticket, to a new and explosive exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum celebrating the culture change and movements of the 60’s entitled ‘You say You want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 -1970.
Anyone who can remember flower power, the Beatles, Vietnam, Civil Rights and the pop up toaster will move through these colourful psychedelic rooms enmeshed in a time warp of sixties culture, which examines the influence of this period, through some fantastic music, lighting and performances alongside the changes in fashion, film, design and political activism.
Greeted by a collage of vinyl record covers spoke volumes to what was about to happen on our magical mystery tour of sixties invention. The Christine Keeler photo’s, representing the sex scandal of the ‘Profumo affair’ was nicely paid off above by a quote from Phillip Larkins poem Annus Mirabilis – ‘Sexual intercourse began in 1963 (which was rather late for me) – Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban And the Beatles’ first LP’. This reminding us, not everyone got caught up on free love and the permissive society, some missed out and made do with a cup of tea brewed by those new things called tea bags! Advertised on the TV by chimps.
This also was the age of increased consumerism with new kitchen appliances and newly designed products such as the Mini car and Mini skirt. Even the Rolling Stones acknowledged this boom in a track stating ‘When I’m watchin’ my TV and that man comes on to tell me how my white shirts can be’ – ‘(I can’t get no) satisfaction’ (1965). Whether this song title means Mick Jagger was struggling to get his laundry really white, we may never know. But it underlined a consumer boom which was further examined in the recent TV series ‘Mad Men’ (2007-2015) dramatizing a golden age in the sixties through a factious Advertising Agency on Madison Avenue, New York. Singer, songwriter Janis Joplin stated sarcastically ‘Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends’. A warning to where all this may be going? The various rooms and displays were cleverly added to by some highly visible and well-chosen quotes from the periods musical lyrics, writings and poetry.
This social revolution caused people to rally around the strong pertinent lyrics of musician Bob Dylan, whose song ‘The times they are a changin’ captured a mood and spirit which encompassed the world. People began to believe social change could give them better life opportunities, with working class backgrounds now acceptable in the Arts and Culture, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Michael Caine amongst others captured in some of Terry O’Neil’s iconic photographs with invites to Downing Street and the White House endorsing this change. But it was also a time to stand up against governments and in particular the Vietnam war. As Stokely Carmichael said in his speech outside the United Nations (April 1967) ‘The draft is white people sending black people to make war on yellow people in order to defend land they stole from red people’. Boxer Muhammad Ali standing up against the draft and although vilified for his actions by some, losing his boxing license, turned him into a national hero. As Germain Greer said ‘Revolution is the festival of the oppressed’ (‘The female Eunuch’ 1970).
What was a revolution in itself was the sound and commentary which accompanied this exciting exhibition. No longer did we have to click our device to hear something or press back to listen again. The music and sound effects would automatically come on to our ear piece, dependent on the area you occupied. A much-refined experience allowing one to go backwards, forwards into spaces without messing with a hand set, part of the new digital age meeting the past sound of the sixties.
This month saw President Obama setting the goal of getting people to Mars by 2030, shades of Presidents Kennedy’s 1963 promise to land men on the moon ‘by the end of the decade’. Such a challenge was fore filled by NASA in July 1969, with Neil Armstrong announcing those famous words ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. This was celebrated with the TV footage on an old 60’s black & white set, alongside Bill Anders (Apollo 8) space suit and some moon rock, which years ago would seem to be the highlight of an exhibition, now seen as just some moon rock, proving how once we were surprised, then soon we come so blasé.
The moon landing was brought to the world by Television which in the sixties changed the world probably more than anything else, as it was able to bring the most dramatic and artistic events into our homes, to give us the information to start the revolution. The shocking news reports from Vietnam, Rev. Martin Luther Kings ‘I have a dream’ speech, TV commercials, the change in music through programmes like ‘Top of the Pops’ and shifts in entertainment ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’. More could have been made of this important media as it represented the sixties just as much as the Beatles, Mary Quant and Carnaby Street. A collage of old Radio Times would have worked just as well as album covers. But one cannot take away the flavour, accuracy and pure nostalgic ride this exhibition takes us on, so is well worth a visit, even if it is just to see how far we have come. Or have we?
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.