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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 98 - A dance to the music of a new, swinging age


YES, I remember the Sixties; they gave me a bad back, caused by the twist. Up till then, my ballroom dancing, following Victor Sylvester’s spoors, was characterised by sedateness and dignity resembling rhythmic funeral processions.

Partners either favoured the Statue of Liberty stance or clapped me to their bosoms like a Belladonna plaster. They did not expect to encounter someone moving convulsively as if a jellyfish had been dropped down his shirt. Some attempted their own twists, resembling well-upholstered pneumatic drills, while others stood, apparently in shock.

But they were the "swinging" years when "to do your own thing" was a mantra chanted almost with Buddhist intensity that indicated an era - depending on how you or Tony Blair-types looked at it - of self-liberation or selfishness. I did my own twist until I tied myself in muscular knots, unravelled occasionally by osteopaths.

I am not bitter and, you might say, warped because I was living in that great social sunburst in which hippies, the often drug-ecstatic young who had rejected conventional society for unstructured lifestyles based on communal living, had usurped the prerogatives of children to dress up in fantastic, multi-coloured clothes with matching flowers and bells and behave irresponsibly.

As one, then in his early, tweed-jacketed and grey flanneled thirties, I regarded the decade that held the promise of society freed from restrictive moral conventions with close-weaved suspicion. The contraceptive pill was rolled out and taken with the avidity of children swallowing Smarties.

COUPLES, doubtless wallowing in moral depravity, bought houses to live in although unmarried. A conflagration of Walpurgis Night-type parties - I seldom received invitations - spread across Britain held by all-too-liberated young and, to a sonic boom of national shock and horror, John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, resigned after admitting lying to the Commons about improper relations with "model" Christine Keeler.

Things got worse. The Beatles received MBEs, causing me to return my Wolf Cub woggle in protest. DH Lawrence’s long-banned Lady Chatterley’s Lover was declared not to be obscene by an Old Bailey jury, a ruling that led to a Field and Stream review stating that "the account of an English gamekeeper’s day-to-day life was full of considerable interest to outdoor-minded readers. Unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material and, in this reviewer’s opinion, the book cannot take the place of JR Miller’s Practical Gamekeeping".

In all this festering Gehenna of beehive hairstyles, flaunting of mini-skirts, flower power, Mateus Rose and Bull’s Blood wines, I saw the birth of the supposed brave new age.

Attending the 1963 Edinburgh Festival Drama Conference in the McEwan Hall, I witnessed the notorious event - part of a Play of Happenings staged by the Los Angeles, avant-garde, director, Kenneth Dewey, in which an Edinburgh model, Anna Keseler (19), was wheeled in a trolley nude across the organ gallery, a flash of flesh seen by the naked eyes of the audience, too briefly in my glazed view, for deploring purposes.

LORD Provost, Duncan Weatherstone blasted, "The perpetrators are sick in mind, hand and heart", while at the London Moral Re-Armament Conference, Michael Barratt, an Edinburgh member, unleashed alliterative thunder. "Edinburgh," he said, "seems to be producing dirt, debts and decadence." Several days later, Miss Keseler was charged - and afterwards found not guilty - at Edinburgh Court with "acting in a shameless and indecent manner" and the case against John Calder, publisher and the conference’s organiser, for allowing the incident to take place, was deserted.

The journalist and author, Bernard Levin, claimed that the event marked the start of the Britain’s permissive society. If so, permissiveness progressed alarmingly. In 1968, the hippy musical Hair opened in London, a day after the Lord Chamberlain’s theatre censorship was abolished. The cast bombarded the audience with confetti and the four-letter word, took their clothes off under a blanket and then displayed themselves on the bare stage. Ripples from that liberating tidal wave are with us still.

Nudity and explicit sex are regularly shown on TV and cinema screens and theatres in scenes that would, I suspect, be regarded as bad form in better-class bordellos.

For some, the decade was a moral pain in the neck. For me, it was an ache in the back - the old twist twinge. Thank you, Sixties.


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