The Best and Worst of Years: 1960

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Indy Lifestyle Online
On 8 December 1960, I joined the staff of the Sunday Times. Oh rapture. I'd achieved my ambition. I was 24 at the time, and had been a journalist only 18 months, but it seemed to have taken for ever, first on the Evening Chronicle in Manchester, then the Sunday Graphic in London, both tabloidy papers, both deceased. I wonder what happened to the Sunday Times? Must check this Sunday.

I'd joined Thomson, nee Kemsley, as a graduate trainee, bit of a joke in those days, as there was no training, but they did move you around. I arrived on the ST as the boy on the Atticus column with Robert Robinson in charge, both of us coming from the Graphic. It seemed awfully posh. Wood panelled walls, public school accents. Ian Fleming was still floating around. I had to do stories about who might be the next Bishop of London or Master of Balliol, really boring stuff, when all I wanted was to interview working-class lads from the North. Eventually I did, practically all the time, when the Sixties really got going and I got my hands on the column, but for the first three years, working very hard, I never got my name in the paper once. They didn't throw bylines around in those days. Dreadfully vulgar.

In the evenings and on Mondays, my day off, I was writing a stage play. Gawd knows why. No one asked me. I didn't like going to the theatre, still don't. It was about a bloke with two wives who stayed at home, playing with his kids in a playground, while both wives went out to work. Very avant-garde. It was bought, straight away, by a West End director, Alan Davis (later famous for No Sex Please, We're British). I made pounds 100, but it never got put on, so I gave up my career as a playwright and later turned to novels when my wife got one accepted. I thought: 'I know her. If she can do it, I can.'

The other big event of 1960 was getting married to the said wife. In Oxford register office, 11 June, no guests, by request. Just us. Our parents were horrified and affected surprise, which was daft, considering we'd met at school and had been going out for years. I wish now we'd had some sort of do, just to please them.

I was so thrilled, so proud, to get married. For the three years she'd been at Oxford, and I'd been at Durham, I feared that would be it, she'd meet some real brainbox, some golden youth, probably aristocratic, and it would be bye-bye Hunt. I was dreadfully jealous of Dennis Potter; no, he wasn't aristocratic, or golden, but she starred in an Oxford play with him. She'd been a legend in Carlisle, brilliant at everything, from art to acting, as well as winning open scholarships to both Oxford and Cambridge, while I was just well, er, I dunno, one of the lads. Quite good at football.

After the ceremony, we drove back to London in my 1947 2.5 litre Riley which I was very proud of. No, I didn't drive it. The day before, I'd failed my test for the second time, such ignominy. We had to get a friend to come on the first stage of our honeymoon, just to drive my rotten car.

We moved into a flat in the Vale of Health, Hampstead, not at all healthy, as the nearby pond brought on my asthma, but terribly beautiful and romantic. We made little lists, what we would buy each month when my ST salary arrived, plus Margaret's money as a supply teacher. I still have it somewhere - double bed, fridge, cooker, carpet. No mention of a house. That was fantasy land. There was also a list of children's names, if and when we had any. I remember Morag, Elspeth, Siobhan. Also Ewen, Luke and Adam. Whenever our kids have moaned about their names I say listen, think what you might have been called.

I loved the whole of the Sixties, but I also like now, especially since our three children started work and we've been able to carve out the year to our own desires - half the year in Loweswater writing books, and half the year in London doing journalism. Now, in some ways, is always better than Then, as you have the accumulated good times to savour, and you can think: 'Well, we've managed to get this far in one piece.' But forced to choose one year, it would have to be 1960. The year it all began.

(Photograph omitted)

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