Beam Me Up Scotty tells me (a child of the Sixties) that I was brought up in age when we all had inflatable plastic chairs, wore disposable paper underwear, and boasted a Lava lamp in every room. Yet, for those of us who lacked central heating, fitted carpets and refrigerators (our first fridge came in 1967), such novelties were the stuff of dreams and of Tommy Robert's dreamy "Mr Freedom", shop-of-the-future in the King's Road. I bought my first Lava lamp last year.
I was clearly not a part of Radio 4's Space Age, but then few of us were. As children we waited impatiently for next week's Eagle to see Dan Dare ("pilot of the future") battling with the Mekon. We thrilled to Soyuz and Saturn rocket launches taking Reds and Yanks with crew cuts and the Right Stuff towards the moon, yet the world we inhabited was more steam age than Space Age.
We knew about sputniks, looked forward to sherbert and rice-paper "flying saucers" on the walk back from Mass on Sunday, craved Lyon's Maid Zoom ice-lollies, could hum the tinny tune of "Telstar" by the Tornados, and wanted to be Daleks; yet the Comet was still a steam-hauled flyer from Euston to Manchester, and Evening Star the last steam locomotive built by British Railways (Swindon, 1960). A Constellation was one of the triple- finned American turbo-props that arched over the tree-tops. Mars was a bar of "thick, thick" chocolate (price: 6d), and Milky Way the sweet you could eat between meals (3d).
My first space rocket (6s 11d) was launched with the aid of a catapult. On a good day it could penetrate the playground-o-sphere, commencing its parachute-assisted descent to Earth at about 100ft. It was a lot less sophisticated than my Mamod SE2A steam engine, which, powered by meths and water, could (when attached to the right cogs and eccentrics) polish a set of table knives within the hour, whilst intoxicating guinea-pigs and terrifying cats.
Equally, the veteran transformer that controlled my model trains was much more sophisticated than the miniature RAF Javelin, Hunter and Lightning fighters (as advertised in Eagle) that, filled with noxious gas, rocketed across the garden so much faster (and more dangerously) than defunct Airfix Lancasters stuffed with flaming, paraffin-soaked rags and catapulted from bedroom windows.
There was more fun to be had from making walkie-talkies from two tin cans and a length of string than from a smug classmate's utterly wet and weedy Dan Dare 2-way Space Radio. And, instead of watching Fireball XL5 or Lost in Space on the black-and-white telly, a much better way to tour the cosmos was to climb a tall tree, and, from its swaying cockpit, follow the vapour trails of military jets reaching for the stratosphere from nearby air bases.
Perhaps the best way of all was to snuggle under dogs and bedclothes on pipe-cracking nights, kitted-out with hot water bottle, torch and The Swift Book of Space Flight, and dream one's seven-year-old self to Andromeda and galaxies beyond.
Girls' (chiz chiz) dreams of space had little to do with disintegrator guns and knowing the top speed of an X-15 rocket plane; girls dreamt of dressing up and pirouetting into Narnia and Oz-like worlds, or variations on the mysterious island where Sandra, a kidnapped orphan, has been taken to train in a secret ballet school (a tale told weekly in Judy).
Teenage sisters brought the Space Age closer to home with giggly discussions turning on the "phworr" factor of Apollo astronauts. Neil Armstrong's giant leap for mankind seemed rather less important to womankind (now students of "Cathy and Claire's Problem Page" in Jackie) than whether he was cuter than "Buzz" Aldrin.
By then they had developed a crush on Captain Kirk or Mr Spock (having abandoned Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin). To be fair, the micro-mini- skirted Lieutenant Uhuru was beginning to exert a strange attraction on us boys (enuff said).
Girls were the final frontier for Space cadets, but, sufferin' satellites (as Dan Dare would have said), all that embarrassing stuff was aeons in the future. Until then, space would remain the stuff of catapults, burnt fingers, electric shocks, scorching jets of superheated steam and starry yarns read under blankets. Today, the Sixties' Spage Age has caught up with the world of the Jupiter probe and Hubble space-camera: inflatable furniture, silver dresses, plastic hipsters, rocket-style Lava lamps have only now landed in the high street, 30 years after the late, great Space Age of the Sixties.
"Beam Me Up Scotty", presented by John Peel: 10am R4, Friday 2 FebReuse content