By Stephen Lewis
15th March 2008
IF YOU can remember anything about the Sixties, you weren't really
there, Jefferson Airplane's co-founder Paul Kantner once said.
An awful lot of people weren't there, in that case. Because we all
have our favourite Sixties memories - even those of us who really
Whether it was the music (the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Animals,
The Who), the style (has there ever been anything to rival the curves
of a Lambretta scooter?), the fashion (Mary Quant and miniskirts) or
the space age ("This is one small step."), the decade had something
In the words of one of the information panels at the York Castle
Museum's new Sixties exhibition, this was a decade of change,
political activism, transition and turbulence.
It was a decade when the modern world of instant communications,
in-your-face advertising and mass consumerism was born. The decade of
free love, pop art and counter culture, when youth came of age,
National Service ended, alternative lifestyles became mainstream,
outer space was conquered - and, perhaps, a certain innocence was lost.
And none of what was going on was quite as simple as it seemed. Take
the whole free love and sexual liberation thing, for a start.
Miniskirts might have been great for men, says Sherri Steel, the
Castle Museum's curator of social history. "But they were not very
convenient to wear."
Ditto free love. "There's quite a lot of feeling now that the whole
Summer of Love, free love thing might have been good for men," Sherri
says. "But women did perhaps feel that they were expected to go along
with it. There was a lot of pressure."
In fact, while the pill came into use in the Sixties, it was only
available for married women - and on a limited basis, Sherri says.
It wasn't until the Seventies that the pill became widely available.
And it wasn't until the Seventies that the feminist movement really
took off either. In the Sixties, more women started going to
university. But then they found themselves forced back into the same
roles they had always occupied, as mothers and carers.
"They were going to university, yet when they got married they were
being forced into the same patterns," Sherri said. Nothing had
changed at work, either. "There was no equal pay, no equal opportunities."
In many other ways, however, the Sixties really was the decade in
which everything began to change and the modern world took shape.
Trying to capture this in a museum exhibition hasn't been easy,
admits Sherri. The Sixties experience' which opens on Wednesday has
been more than a year in the planning and preparation.
All the signs are, however, that it has been worth the wait.
When The Press visited for a preview the finishing touches were still
being put in place.
Signs were being affixed, displays arranged. The iconic Lambretta
scooter hadn't yet been wheeled into place, and a full-sized replica
of a Mercury space capsule in which the first astronauts ventured
into space was nowhere to be seen.
But there was enough to make it clear this will be an exhibition to
stir the imagination. And where pieces were missing, Sherri and
fellow social history curator Katy Turner were more than ready to
fill in the gaps.
An entire gallery has been turned over to the exhibition, which is to
become a permanent fixture.
Walk in, and you are greeted by an introductory panel and
audio-visual display. Then comes the exhibition proper.
That beautiful Lambretta scooter - missing only a parka-clad Mod -
will be waiting to greet you.
On the left will be a display dedicated to the music of the Sixties.
Life-sized silhouettes of the four Beatles will take pride of place
here - along with a cabinet of Beatles memorabilia.
Among them is a poster from the York Rialto dated March 13, 1963.
Headlining that night were Americans Chris Montez and Tommy Roe, with
support from The Terry Young Six, Debbie Lee and The Viscounts.
Propping up the foot of the bill were a new, dynamic young British
group with that odd beatnik name: The Beatles.
In the next cabinet is an authentic Dansette record player - the kind
that transformed the lives of teenagers because for the first time
they could listen to their own music in their own bedrooms with their
own record player.
Best of all, visitors will be able to recreate that Sixties sound for
themselves. The exhibition will feature an authentic Sixties juke box
- and you'll be able to choose which tunes it plays.
This exhibition isn't just about the music, however.
Between them, Sherri and Katy have tried to cover every aspect of the
social explosion that was the Sixties.
So there are sections on fashion, the home (kitchenettes and all that
cheap veneer furniture) and Sixties toys (Lego, Meccano, Spirograph
and the Sindy doll).
There is a pub' with Sixties-style telephones in which you can listen
to recordings of local people talking about their own Sixties
memories - authentic oral history in practice.
There is stuff about the counter-culture - satire, TW3, distrust of
authority, Vietnam and the peace movement - a section on pop art, and
a tribute to the space age that includes that full-sized replica of
the Mercury space capsule.
All this and the Summer of Love and Youth Culture, too.
It is a brave attempt to capture an astonishing decade. It was, says
Sherri, a time of "excitement, vibrancy, the feeling that it was an
era of change".
Visitors will get a sense of all of that at the Castle Museum from
Wednesday. And they will have some of those lost memories restored.
The Sixties at the York Castle Museum opens to the public on
Wednesday. Entry is free with a YorkCard. Otherwise, from Friday,
March 21 when prices go up, admission to the museum will be as
follows: Adult: £7.50; Concession: £6.50; Child: £4