Real living: Sex in the Sixties

Mini-skirts, flower power and the pill: we remember the Sixties as a time of high passions and sexual freedom. But was it really as much fun as it sounds?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
What was it, exactly, about the Sixties? Could they really have lived up to their reputation as the decade of liberation, revolution, peace and flower power?

A new series from Channel 4 which starts this week re-examines the sexual revolution, from the Sixties through to the Nineties. Below, four who lived through the beginning of this great change recall their Sixties experiences. It wasn't all free love and flower power, especially outside the big cities: the repressive hangover of the Fifties still lingered for many years.

Even so, all four of our interviewees are emphatic: they wouldn't swop their twenties in the Sixties for any other decade.

MAUREEN FLANAGAN, model:

"I was educated in a convent till I was 15, then I became a hairdresser. When I was 17 I started going out with my future husband - he would wait for me outside the shop, and we'd go dancing or to the pictures and get the bus home. In those days, if anyone wanted to dance with you he had to ask your boyfriend's permission first.

"We'd kiss and cuddle on the doorstep but I was terrified to do anything more - though the boys used to go with other girls, ones who'd say 'yes', and a few of the boys got caught out. I was a virgin when we got married in 1961 - I was 20. I was terrified on my wedding night. I remember thinking 'Is that it?'

"I loved films and it wasn't like it was in the films, I didn't start enjoying it for months and months. I started modelling in the first year of our marriage - I'm extremely photogenic, thank god. I went to an agency, started on the catwalk, then went on to photographic stuff - I was the first Page 3 model - then into television.

"Well, my husband didn't agree with that! I stayed with him ten years - these days I'd have left within 18 months. But I was breaking out every one of those years; the fashion, the music and my job really changed me. We were a generation that was the product of the Fifties - all those dull clothes. No wonder we wanted to be flower children.

"My skirts went from knee-length to nine inches. All my friends who'd got married at the beginning of the Sixties were changing too, but our husbands stayed the same: same jobs, same suits, same straightlaced attitude - my husband would be out digging up the roads in the day and he'd be back at five wanting his dinner on the table.

"A lot of marriages broke up at the end of the Sixties. We were more free than young people today. They laugh and say they can do what they want, but I think there's lots of pressure on them. We were all working; today there's unemployment and boredom.

"I wouldn't want to be 20 now when I see kids outside the jobcentre or queueing up to be first on the list for a flat - that didn't happen in the Sixties. We took LSD and purple hearts, but I know people who were on purple hearts who are granddads now: today you see kids on smack and coke. The Sixties totally changed women, we became our own people. We came out of the Sixties independent."

GAVIN HODGE, hairdresser:

"There were two phases to the Sixties: pre-pill and post-pill. My sister, who was growing up in the late Fifties, didn't have half the freedom: if you got into trouble back then, you had to get married or you ended up down a backstreet with a coathanger. Then the pill came along - it gave women the freedom to be the equal of their boyfriends. There was a lot of moral debate at the time but, as far as I could gather, most girls couldn't care less about that: they just wanted to get their hands on it. We smoked a bit of dope, did a bit of acid, but the major drug of the Sixties was the pill.

"The Sixties was a time to achieve: you could achieve anything. There were so many of us born just after the war - there was such a wave, a push forward, it was freedom. England and London were still shaking down from a horrendous period and it was down to belief in oneself, wanting to get something better.

"I came to London when I was 15. I started work in a hairdresser's in 1960 when the first mod era was going on - there was the music, the clothes, London was being rebuilt. First I was a beatnik, then I progressed to being a mod - I'm a clothes freak; it's the peacock bit.

"I had a scooter, it went with the scene - the Lyceum, the Locarno, all the big clubs. I was arrested after the first CND rally. We were aware of the bomb and there was this perception that there were a lot of trigger- happy loonies out there - it was the only thing that worried us."

MAUREEN DELENIAN, mature student:

"I left school in 1956, I got married and had three children very close together; I was horrified when I fell pregnant again. I would have had four children under the age of five, and my husband was setting up his own business so we had sold our house and we were living with his partner, so we were homeless, too.

"I was about 25, I wasn't a skittish teenager, but I was desperate and knew I couldn't cope, so I decided to do my own abortion. The first time it didn't work, so then I had the added thought that if I went ahead with the pregnancy I might have damaged the foetus; the second time, it worked but I haemorrhaged massively and came as close to death as you can get.

"The 1967 abortion act was the event of the Sixties as far as I'm concerned. I don't think the decade lived up to its flower-power reputation. I'm studying history now, and I had to go back and read about what happened in 1968 even though I lived through it. It made no difference to me at all."

"The experiences of the Sixties on a grand scale were gradually filtering through because of things like the abortion act and sexual liberation but it wasn't an instant thing at all. I certainly never went to Glastonbury! There were difficult times, but I'd still rather have been young in the Sixties than now. It was a boom period, there wasn't any high unemployment and wages were rising.

"And there were real revolutions going on - eventually it was no longer frowned on to have an abortion, get divorced. You could talk about sex openly. And, the key thing; it was before Aids. What have youngsters got now? They can't know the joy of thinking, 'I'm single, I'm horny, I'm going to get a man' and then doing it.

PAT HOWARTH, housewife:

"I lived in Colne in Lancashire, and flower power didn't get much further than Manchester; we didn't see much free love except on the telly. I came out of grammar school at 15 and went straight to work as a telephonist. I started going out with a boy called Victor; he wasn't my first boyfriend, but he was special. I met him in a club and there was instant chemistry: I went in with another boy, and by the time he got back from the bar, Victor had already asked me out. We went out for two years, it wasn't just a flash in the pan.

"I was 16 when I got pregnant. I told him, but we just left it: my idea was that, being from a good Catholic family, if I hung on we'd get married. I presumed my dad would say we had to, and that would have pleased me. Nobody said a word until I was six months pregnant - in those days, everything would get swept under the carpet - but eventually my mum said to me "Are you going to tell us, or do we have to tell you?

"She said she'd tell my dad and I thought she would sort everything out. Then a fortnight later my dad told me to pack my bags and they took me to St Teresa's, a Catholic home for unmarried girls and their babies. It was a horrible place. My parents visited me and so did Victor.

"I was 17 when my daughter Lisa was born, and by then my mother was very ill herself, with cancer, though they didn't tell me that was what it was. Victor had applied for a place at art college and went off to study; I stayed in the home for five months, much longer than most girls did.

"Then one of the nuns came and told me to pack my bags because I was to go home; I was so pleased, and I dressed Lisa all in white - she looked beautiful. But on the way back, my dad pulled into a driveway; we went inside and two nuns came in and took Lisa away. I don't know why I let them do it, I can't believe it to this day. I think I thought maybe we were just there to fill in some forms or something. I don't remember the journey home, but when we got back I couldn't stop screaming. I tried to find her, but I never saw her again, until she traced me 18 years later.

"The Sixties didn't swing for me; my mother died and I had to look after my younger brothers and sisters, and I was watched like a hawk after that. But it was still a better time. It might not seem like it but our morals were better. There was some romance with sex, sex now is just wham-bam with not even a thank you ma'am.

"And they talk about drugs in the Sixties, but look at the drugs now! We've got a problem in this town on every street corner. And there are no jobs; back then, once I went after four jobs and was offered all four and couldn't decide which to take. There is nothing to look forward to for young people today, no future, and we're not really any more enlightened now than we were then."

'Sex Bomb' screens on Channel 4, Tuesday 13 October, 9pm

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