They say that decades don’t start at their chronological beginning but take a few years to kick in, and that is true of none more than the Swinging Sixties. By popular consensus, they started around 1963, when, as Philip Larkin famously said, sexual intercourse began, “Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles’ first LP”.
That LP, Please Please Me, swept away the crooners, the helmet-haired girl singers and the skiffle groups with their homemade washboards. (Hell, the Beatles even made the mighty Elvis look old-fashioned.) But it was only part of a bigger change.
In the US, there was a president as handsome as a movie star who wanted equality for black people. In the Vatican, there was a Pope who wanted equality for ordinary Catholics. Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, called for equality for women, which Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova acted on by becoming the first woman in space.
Martin Luther King gave his famous speech, I Have A Dream, to 200,000 civil rights protesters in Washington. And Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton created a scandal by falling in love on the set of Cleopatra.
And in July 1963, in a slum area of Manchester, Myra Hindley enticed her 16-year-old neighbour, Pauline Reade, into her van and drove up to Saddleworth Moor, on the pretext of looking for a lost glove. Ian Brady followed on his motorbike. When they reached the bleak moors, Brady sexually assaulted Pauline and cut her throat.
He and Hindley then buried her body near Hollin Brown Knoll, a huge rock only yards from the road.
Many of us didn’t have phones or cars, and colour television didn’t even come in in this country till 1967
Decades are not a matter of chronology, but of the collective unconscious, of the sort of mysterious mass decision-making that goes on when lemmings step off a cliff together or king penguins set off on a 250-mile waddle across Antarctic wastes seeking food for their chicks.
By the end of the Sixties, John F Kennedy, Pope John XXIII and Martin Luther King were all dead – as were four more young people at the hands of Brady and Hindley.
When I first started writing my novel, Myra, Beyond Saddleworth, about the imagined life of Myra Hindley if she were freed to a new life and identity, I began corresponding with Ian Brady, who is held in Ashworth secure mental hospital outside Liverpool.
His response (or was it a challenge?) was to say, “You’ll never get the zeitgeist.”
Escape from routine
I was a teenager in 1963, too young to participate at first in the Swinging part of the Sixties, though we all swooned at the Beatles, wore mini-skirts and dreamed of being writers and artists and of travelling the world. Of having exciting lives.
It is difficult for young people today to imagine how little people had then. We didn’t go out every Saturday and buy cheap clothes from Primark. We saved up for things and would go to each other’s houses to hear the latest Beatles record.
Many of us didn’t have phones or cars, and colour television didn’t even come in in this country till 1967.
Brady and Hindley had been born during the Second World War and emerged into childhood at a time of austerity. Food rationing went on in Britain until 1954. There was no consumer society because there were few goods to buy and less money to buy them with.
Life was tough and boring. The war had been too much excitement for most people and now they tried to re-establish the normality, the order that had been lost.
But they tried too hard. The post-war generation had been born into a time of turmoil and strife and perhaps sub-consciously that was what they were seeking. They didn’t want the routine jobs their parents strove to hang on to; they didn’t want to scrape by. They wanted glamour and fun and excitement and they felt entitled to take it.
Like most young people of the time, Brady and Hindley were caught up in this maelstrom of energy and longing. There were few drugs around in Manchester in the early 60s and the couple’s steady but menial jobs allowed them to splurge out only on low-grade luxuries such as Liebfraumilch or cheap red wine. Wine itself was unusual in those days. Most ordinary people drank beer or spirits.
Ian Brady read voraciously, like many of his generation scorning the censorship, both legal and implicit, that society tried to impose on him. But where others read Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita or DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was only released for mass publication in 1960, Brady’s tastes were for altogether darker subjects.
He was interested in anything to do with the Nazis and became entranced by the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, who urged people to follow their desires without fear of the consequences.
For most people that philosophy led to drugs, sex and rock’n’roll – or just to a yearning for drugs, sex and rock’n’roll if they lived outside London. But Brady was driven by sado-masochistic and homosexual fantasies and his passion was for inflicting pain on others.
In a society where young people were urged to throw caution and cowardice to the winds and take part in the revolution, there were few mental brakes to stop him acting on his desires. Once he met Myra Hindley, who participated in his secret emotional life, there was no going back.
As the decade wore on, it became clear that there was a price to be paid for the hedonism and freedom that young people were claiming for themselves. Charles Manson and his deluded followers embarked on the Tate/La Bianca killings, a murder spree that left seven people dead and Hollywood terrorised.
In Britain, The Troubles began in Northern Ireland, leading to over three decades of terrorism and murder. 1968’s Summer of Love led slowly but inexorably to the Winter of Discontent 11 years later, when there were strikes and widespread protest against government cuts. The way was open for Margaret Thatcher to become prime minister and preside over the most selfish, individualistic period we had had since the Roaring Twenties.
Most people don’t think of the Moors Murders as anything other than a terrible aberration on the part of two deviant individuals, but they were very much part of their time. Myra Hindley became notorious as the first woman who killed, as men did, for sexual pleasure. Not at all what feminist Betty Friedan had in mind.
The book is published by Wild Wolf Publishing and is available both as a paperback and on Kindle from Amazon and major bookshops
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Jean Rafferty is a journalist, twice nominated in the UK Press Awards, and non-fiction writer who has written two books about sport. She began her career writing light-hearted articles about footballers’ dressing rooms and karate-chopping nuns, then moved into darker territory with her work on torture, bereavement and suicide. Her investigative work into Glasgow’s street prostitutes won her a Joseph Rowntree journalist’s fellowship in 2003. Myra, Beyond Saddleworth is her first novel.