Hit & Run: Party like it's 1962

Tomorrow, A Single Man, the debut feature by fashion designer Tom Ford, hits British screens. It stars Colin Firth as a gay man trying to come to terms with the death of his lover in Los Angeles in 1962. Why 1962? Because everything at the moment is set in the early 1960s. An Education, Lone Scherfig’s film of Lynn Barber’s story about her seduction, while a teenager, by a plausible middle-aged man, is set in 1961. Mad Men was initially set in 1961 and the third series, currently showing on BBC2, takes us through 1963 right to the cataclysmic events of November.

Filmgoers will have yet another chance, with A Single Man, to gaze at the piled-up beehives and slicked hair of the period’s men and women, just as they gazed in wonder at the minutely-researched costume and production details of MadMen (the guys’ hats! The raincoats! The wives’ floral daytime frocks!) and admired Rosamund Pike’s false eyelashes and school-of-Myra-Hindley barnet in An Education. The prevailing look of the time, as seen by these films, is a slightly tawdry opulence, an effortful display of harmony, proportion and elegance, even while the characters’ lives stubbornly refuse to live up to their aspirations.

But there’s a wider significance to these years, summed up by Philip Larkin’s often-quoted lines: “Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixtythree…/ Between the end of the Chat-terley ban/ And the Beatles’ first LP.” Before 1961, the 1950s felt like a hangover from the war: a time of austerity, shades of grey, limited expectations, a natural deference towards authority by men and women who’d learned discipline in a war. After 1963, the world slowly began to swing, to advertise in vivid colours, to protest against the Vietnam war, to embrace rebellion, to have as much sex as possible. Designers, satirists, photographers and rockers held the keys to the Zeitgeist. After the death of JFK in November 1963, and of the confident idealism that died with him, politicians became figures of suspicion. Retailers targeted the teenage pound. Scholars turned into druggy students, demanding that the world change.

That’s why 1960-1963 are being so enthusiastically mined: they’re the pivotal years between the buttoned-up past and the socio-sexual revolution that nobody saw coming. In On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan locates the pivot, the cusp of repression and release, in July 1962, when his characters Edward and Florence, bound by different social codes, endure a grisly wedding night, their marriage and lives blown apart by misunderstanding and embarrassment. Will nobody make a movie of it, before the present vogue subsides?

John Walsh

A Menace to society?

Last year Beano fans were gnashing their teeth at the news that the cartoon version of Dennis the Menace was being toned down for TV. Staff on the comic muttered about political correctness gone mad (a phrase associated with any changes at The Beano for the last 30 years) but now the anarchic character who once stalked its pages has also been emasculated, with Alan Digby, the comic's editor, saying that "Dennis has to comply with the rules of broadcasting". No longer allowed to shoot peas at his foes or kick footballs through windows, Dennis is a shadow of his former self. But was he really all that bad in the first place? Let's look at his rap sheet.

Pranks

The bad news: Dennis's raison d'être is playing tricks. But these hijinks could land him with an Asbo if he were reported for yobbish behaviour or vandalism.

The good news: True, he's naughty, but Dennis is no couch potato – he's active, seems healthy and is in no danger of becoming obese.

Pet ownership

The bad news: Gnasher has always been a bad dog rather than a perfect puppy. According to the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991, were Gnasher to be dangerously out of control in a public place, it would be a criminal offence.

The good news: Dennis gives his pet lots of exercise and love. He isn't cruel and has a good command of Gnasher.

Bullying softies

The bad news: For decades, Dennis spent his days plotting new ways to torture Walter the Softy. Today, every UK state school must by law have a policy on bullying and Dennis's behaviour could be dealt with using the no-blame approach, peer counselling, restorative justice or circle time.

The good news: Walter has more recently been portrayed as a snob, rather than a wimp, and has conquered his fear of his tormentor.

Is Dennis a real menace to society? I don't think so.

Rebecca Armstrong

Comb-over 2.0: a spotter's guide

It's extreme. It travels in packs. And it's coming to a mall near you. It's a hairstyle last seen on the heads of Sir Bobby Charlton and quizmaster Robert Robinson: the comb-over. No longer just the last resort of balding national treasures, comb-over 2.0 is the favoured style statement of teenage girls whose parents have banned them from getting either a) an undercut or b) grey streaks like Mossy's. Still, it's a curious phenomenon, seen in gaggles of at least four (look out for roaming groups next week during half term). The junior version of "rich hair", sometimes called the "Kings Road parting", this follicular trick requires a parting situated at a perilously low angle, just above the ear; famous proponents include Coco Sumner ( left) and Nicola Roberts. Like Emo hair (see YouTube), it hides half the face; but the comb-over isn't glued by hairspray or dyed black. It's a reversible rebellion, the temporary tattoo of hair, a schoolgirl's badge of honour. You think it looks stupid? Whatevs. SUSIE RUSHTON

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