How and why British culture changed so dramatically during the 1960s

“The 60s have been described by historians as the ten years having the most significant changes in history. […] The 60s were influenced by the youth of the post-war baby boom – a generation with a fondness for change and far-out gadgets. ”[1] The 60s had a big impact on the society in many different areas. It was a decade with many personalities and some important events. To name only a few, there was John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, the first human on the moon, the Beatles, the creation of ARPANET.

The whole world was affected by this decade; however, this essay will focus on what happened in Britain and how these changes affected the country itself and the rest of the world. First of all, a short history of the country is needed to understand better the context in which the changes took place. There was a period when the British Empire was really powerful: it is called the Victorian era. [2]” By the end of Victoria’s reign, the British Empire extended over about one-fifth of the earth’s surface and almost a quarter of the world’s population at least theoretically owed allegiance to the ‘queen empress’. [3]

However, this could not last forever: the colonies wanted their independence more and more, and this was the beginning of the decline of the British Empire. By the end 1979, almost all the colonies had been declared independent. The two World Wars also influenced on the change of culture that operated in the 60s. These changes did not operate directly at the end of World War 2; it takes time to rise and educate a whole new generation. This post-war generation was mostly responsible for most of the cultural changes that will be mentioned later.

The end of the Second World War marks the beginning of a new generation, and therefore a change in the mentalities. The young people sought for a change: they did not live during the war. During this period of time, many British people develop a strong feeling of racism due to the high immigration rates. [4] “There were anti-black riots in Liverpool (1948), Deptford and Birmingham (1949) and Camden Town (1954), but more commonly, the growing black community was discriminated against in housing, employment opportunities and welfare. [5]

Tony Benn expressed himself about this discrimination and said: “discrimination was rife – you couldn’t go into bars without being told: ‘We don’t serve black people’. “[6] One of the reasons that resulted even in a stronger feeling of racism was the economical crisis in Britain and the rest of the world. People were looking for someone to blame, and they immediately blamed the immigrants. [7] These racist movements were not only in Britain, but also in other parts of the world, especially in the United States of America.

At the time some riots took place in Britain, Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous I have a dream speech (1963). [8] The 1960s also were a turning point for some political achievements: homosexuality and abortion became legal, the capital punishment was abolished, the voting age lowered to 18, and some measures were taken to improve the position of women within society. [9] The last point mentioned did not take place in Britain only: during the war, women had to work while the men were fighting for their country. This led to increasing feminist movements over the country. The first British women’s right group was formed in Hull in 1968”. [10] This group demanded for the “recognition of an independent sexuality focused on heterosexual activity with an assertion of women’s rights to enjoy sex, to have it before marriage without incurring criticism, and to control contraception and, thus, their own fertility”. [11] Finally, one of the most important changes that happened in the 60s concerned the music area. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones are both groups that began to have a worldwide success in this period of time.

The Beatles first played in Liverpool; however, they began to be known in the whole country a couple of years later, and even in the whole world. It was the first British music group going to play in the United States of America. Their music had a big influence and even a phenomenon called the Beatlemania. [12] People getting crazy at the concerts of the Beatles marked this. The band did not only have a huge musical influence, but also in other areas, such as fashion for example. The Beatles were known as ‘the good boys‘ whereas the Rolling Stones were always described as ‘the bad boys‘.

Their influences in the music area were very similar though (mostly rock’n’roll), however the Beatles changed their style over the years. This musical phenomenon went hand in hand with the hippie era, which was directly ‘imported‘ from the United States of America to England by the Beatles when they did they first Music Tour there. During this period of time, the drug consumption of the population increased; some of the artists, such as Paul McCartney, admitted having taken drugs at that time.

To conclude, the 60s had a big impact on the society, not only in England, but also in the rest of the world. It was a time for changes: the end of the two World Wars affected the mentalities of the population. Nothing stayed the way it was before: people had to readapt themselves within the society in a post-war situation. The 60s also were a time of technological revolutions: many electronic devices, such as the television and the radio, were made accessible for the population. The political situation in England also changed, which demonstrates the will for a change among the population.

In 1964, instead of electing the Conservative Party, the majority of the voters gave their voice to the Labour Party, which was known as a more liberal party. [13] This was a turning point in the British politics: the Conservative Party had been in power for 13 years before that. All these events that happened during the 60s had a direct impact on the major events that are known under the name of May 1968. It was a period with many protests, however most of them were done in a very pacific way; this was contrasting with the period of the World Wars, which was very violent.