Miles Kington Remembered: If you can remember 1948, you weren't there

Rory cannot remember anything about 1968 when he was 19 and in his prime, but has perfect recall of the year 1948, when he was not even born
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The Independent Online

The saddest man in Britain today must be Rory Bazalgette. His job is to write books for anniversaries and centennials. He has been approached by almost every publisher in Britain to do something big on 1968. And he has had to turn them all down. Why?

"Because I can't remember anything about 1968." But you lived through 1968?

Oh yes. That was the year I got my first job. It was a very important year for me." So why can't you remember anything about that year?

"Because the job was writing a book to celebrate the 20th anniversary of 1948." Rory put his head down and immersed himself in everything to do with 1948. By the time he got his head up again, 1968 was over and he had missed the year of revolt. All he can remember about 1968 now is 1948.

"Say the date 1968 to me and I think of the railways getting nationalised. The electricity industry was being nationalised as well. And the National Health Service was just coming into being. The dentists voted against going in, you know. They just refused. We could have had a health service with all doctors and no dentists. Imagine, lots of healthy people with all their teeth dropping out!

So he has no opinion about the May 1968 student revolt in Paris?

"The what?" The student revolt. Paris, 1968. A bit like Chicago the same year. The police battling the students.

"I wouldn't know about that. I really don't remember it. It sounds pretty dreary, if you ask me. I can only remember the Russians cutting off Berlin from the West and us starting the Berlin airlift. That was exciting, that was. We had the Greek civil war rumbling away. People didn't go on holiday to Greece in 1948, I can tell you. Or anywhere. They couldn't afford to. In 1948 we were allowed to motor 90 miles a month, for the first time." What this means is that Rory cannot remember anything about 1968, when he was 19 and in his prime, but has perfect recall of a year when he was not even born. Isn't that a bit, well, eclectic?

"Not at all. Anyone at all interested in history is dealing mostly with stuff which happened before he was born. Did you know that the King of the Yemen was assassinated, by the way? And Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands abdicated in favour of Juliana." To avoid assassination?

"No doubt. Burma took independence. President Masaryk of Czechoslovakia fell out of a window and was killed, perhaps also to avoid being assassinated. It was discussed whether peeresses might be allowed in the House of Lords. Bread rationing ended. Thirty-nine people died in the worst ever British air disaster. An MP was drowned off Bude while playing with his children. British forces fought against Arab armies to help set up Israel, and Jewish gangs blew up British soldiers..."

The litany goes on. What Rory Bazalgette is doing, you see, is convincing himself that 1968 was worth missing for 1948. He has a mental block about 1968. He can never learn about it now, not even by reading it all up. All he can tell you about is 1948 ...

"We had world records in those days, in Britain. In March, Group Captain John Cunningham reached 59,446 feet in a Vampire jet. World altitude record! On 19 April, a football game in Aldershot was struck by lightning, and at least two of the players were killed. I bet that's still a record."

The more you listen to Rory, the more the suspicion creeps over you that 1948 is an underrated year, And that 1968 might be, well, a slightly over-rated year. All those hippies and all that frothy idealism – is it really worth getting excited about?

"I'll tell you another interesting thing from 1948. A man killed 24 people by pulling the communication cord." No!

"True. Near Winsford, in I Cheshire. Train behind ran into the stationary train. Twenty-four people were killed. Probably world record number of people killed by a safety device."

An unfashionable year, but a truly great year from the sound of it. Rory has no copies left of the book he wrote about it: 1948 – Twenty Years On. Luckily, he has had it reprinted under the title: 1968: Rory Bazalgette Remembers. It's still all about 1948. And why not? It's the only book about 1968 that has a list of all the winners of the London Olympics, 1948, and no mention of Vietnam. Highly recommended.