The Sixties? I was there ... I think

WILLIAM DONALDSON'S WEEK
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The Independent Online
Rod Ellis, of North Street, Clapham, has written to me rather crossly, protesting that he hasn't - as last week I said he had - abandoned work on How To Tell If Your Parents Aren't On Drugs ("At any mention of the Sixties, they say: `If you remem ber them you weren't there! Pass the Chardonnay `93!'") but is continuing to grapple with it on his own while trying to get 101 Things Streetwise People Do away from the starting-blocks ("Planning to snatch a bag in Shaftesbury Avenue, they get a kicking in a doorway from an old actress in a hat.")

Meanwhile, those of you who are in television developments will have recently concluded that none of your ideas is so promising that it wouldn't be enhanced by the participation of Jonathan Meades. To reassure some controller of programmes with the jitters, you proposed, no doubt, to send last year's comedian half way across the world, realising too late that you would thereby learn a great deal more than you wanted to about the comedian and less than nothing about the country visited. Had you arranged for Jonathan Meades to emerge from the bushes on a suburban golf course, the view would have been wonderful from his unusual angle.

Arriving at the same conclusion, I rang up Mr Meades this week and, rather to my surprise, he mentioned the Sixties.

"I'd have thought you were too young to remember it," I said.

"Not in the least," he said. "The Sixties didn't start till 1968, though some would argue for the summer of 1967."

This is undoubtedly correct, and a complete answer, too, I think, to the Rev DG Williams of Whitbourne, Worcester, who wrote to the Independent last week criticising Jim White and myself for saying, in a piece about Buster Edwards, that at the time of the Great Train Robbery, this country was a dour place, that convention was suffocating and that the Establishment had seldom been so powerful.

"Where were they both in 1963?" asked Mr Williams, adding that Ken Tynan was in full flower, the Beatles were famous and you could watch Tom Graveney batting in the afternoon.

Equally, you might have caught Trevor Bailey, Cliff Richard was top of the charts with Bachelor Boy, the Home Secretary had just deported the American comedian Lenny Bruce, and Lord Devlin was about to argue, in The Enforcement Of Morals, that the law should regulate behaviour likely to offend the man on Clapham omnibus. Further, and while I can't speak for Jim White, of course, I know exactly where I was in 1963, or more accurately, perhaps, where I think I was, for if the slogan submitted by Mr Ellis is true - and let us for the moment assume that it is - then if I remember where I was, I wasn't, and if I don't, I was, or something of the sort.

We seem to have a problem here, but never mind. In the summer of 1963, I was driving Annie Ross to Heathrow, where we were to meet Oscar Brown Jnr, the jazz singer from America - the idea being that the two of them should star in a show with - confusingly, I think - girls, a revolve and low comedians. Annie turned on the car radio and immediately became most excited.

"These are the Beatles," she said. "They're quite interesting, I think, and will usher in something called the Sixties. Drugs, flower power and do your own thing. Some say it will start in 1968, others argue for the summer of 1967."

Alerted by Annie, I left my wife ("I'm off to do the so-called Sixties") and moved into the Basil Street Hotel, where they put a bible by your bedside. There I bided my time, waiting to meet Mrs Mouse and - since Arnie had told me that those intending todo the Sixties with a Mrs Mouse, a penthouse with sauna bath en suite and a wardrobe suitable for going backstage at Hair, thereafter attending Robert Stigwood's party for the Bee Gees, would need to be well funded - waiting, too, for certai n discretionary interests (shipping lines and so forth) to come my way.

Otherwise, and for the next three years or so, I had lunch once a week with Anthony Powell, who was keen to see a play of his produced in London. Mr Powell was the most courteous man I've ever met, but he had nothing to say to me at all. This being so, Iwas greatly relieved when he suggested that we should be joined at our next rendezvous by his friend Osbert Lancaster. We met at the revolving restaurant on top of the Post Office tower and, to my surprise, these two great friends didn't address a single word to each other throughout the meal. We munched away in silence while the restaurant went round and round.

Apart from these lunches, I spent most of my time in the offices of the Lord Chamberlain, who, among his other duties (looking after 600 swans, keeping hairdressers in co-respondent shoes off the Queen's lawn at Ascot), licensed all plays about to be produced in London. The Premise, an improvised revue from New York, presented a problem - except that it didn't, since it was no more improvised, of course, than are the antics of the giggling exhibitionists of Who's Line Is It Anyway? The cast wro te aidesmemoires to themselves on the scenery, so we took the scenery along to St James's Palace and had it stamped by the Lord Chamberlain.

Then, in 1968, I met Mrs Mouse and, by a stroke of luck, the discretionary interests (shipping lines and so forth) came my way. Mrs Mouse and I bought a penthouse in the King's Road and were able to participate fully in the Sixties - giving musical evenings and having stuff planted on us by the Drugs Squad.

Be that as it may, I asked Jonathan Meades if he could help me with my TV developments and he said he was fully booked up for the next two years. It would be nice to meet anyway, I said.

"We've already met," he said. "In 1968, I had a flat opposite yours in the King's Road. One night, because I was dressed entirely in velvet at the time, you seemed to think that you could score some grass from me."

I don't remember this at all, so what does it mean? Was I there or wasn't I? We seem to have stumbled across a philosophical mistake, and one which Rod Ellis may be able to clear up. He adds a PS to his letter, pointing out that Professor Michael Dummettwas, in his day, the only philosopher at Oxford who could work the department's photocopying machine - though what that's got to do with the price of greens, I'm not quite sure.

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