Miles Kington Remembered: The decade when all good things came in fours

7 August 1995
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The Independent Online

Why do people go on about the Sixties? Why do people go on about the Sixties? Well, tell me, why do people go on and on about the Sixties? I'll tell you why people go on and on about the Sixties. It's because they've just written a book about the Sixties, and they want people to buy it.

That's why I've brought the subject up today. I've just written a history of the Sixties. But it's not like the other books about the Sixties. It goes back to first principles and really explains how the Sixties worked.

I don't even want you to buy it. I am going to bring it to you today for free. All I want you to do is read it today and memorise it and never ask those stupid questions about the decade again. Yes, not only is it the deepest book ever written on the Sixties, it's also the shortest – and the most bad tempered. So here we go then with A Complete History of the Sixties.

Chapter One. The Rule of Four

Anything worthwhile in the Sixties was done by people in groups of four. The satire boom was ushered in by the so-called Fab Four – Dud, Pete, Jonathan and Alan – who formed a group called Beyond the Fringe, which made all the hit satire records between 1958 and 1970. Beyond the Fringe had all the girls in Britain queuing up and screaming, especially if they had a good degree and could understand the jokes. Every girl had her favourite. Motherly girls liked Dud, regional girls liked Alan, brave girls liked Pete and girls who wanted to get on well later in life in medicine, opera or television liked Jonathan.

America was dominated by a group called the Kennedy Brothers, who really were brothers. There were, of course, four of them: John, Bobby, Teddy and Zeppo. They all took it in turns to run America, have affairs with Marilyn Monroe and be shot. They only had one major hit, on the independent Cuban Crisis label, with a song called: "Take that Rocket 'way from my Shore". (Oddly enough, everything in the Fifties centred not on four but groups of five, such as Five Guys Named Moe... But see my book and video, So This is the Fifties!)

Chapter Two. Sport

The main sporting event, apart from the Vietnam war, was the 1966 World Cup, which was won for England against Germany by the Famous Four, Bobby, Nobby, Geoff and the one called Alan who was said to be years ahead of his time but wasn't. Experts who have spent many years inspecting film of the World Cup claim to have found evidence that the last goal was not actually fatal but may have missed the target. This, in turn, has been connected to a shadowy stranger on a nearby knoll who we now think was Jimmy Greaves.

Chapter Three. The Media

Journalistically, the Sixties were notable for the founding of Private Eye, a weekly review which satirically came out every fortnight. It was founded by the Fab Shrewsbury Four, Richard, Willie, Footie and Booker. In its early days it was a rough'n'ready, rather endearingly black and grey amateur production, and has wisely never changed.

Another famous magazine was a comic called Ounce, later shortened to Oz, founded by the group of four known as the Neville Brothers. It appeared briefly in the West End as a smash stage show called The Oz Trial. At the time it was called "the magazine that is way ahead of its time", and they were absolutely right – not until the Eighties did it come into its own under the new name of Viz.

Chapter Four. "I remember where I was..."

The Sixties was the decade when people went round saying, "I remember exactly where I was when I heard ..." This first happened to me when Harold Macmillan went to the Queen to say it was the wish of the Cabinet that Lord Home should be the next PM, which was an absolute lie, as everyone except Macmillan wanted Rab Butler. So, just as people say they can remember exactly where they were when John Profumo got up in Parliament and admitted he had been lying, I can remember exactly where I was when Macmillan didn't get up and admit he had been lying.

Coming soon: Sixties cookery, drugs, books, and a posthumous apology from Harold Wilson