The triumph of the tube: Children of the baby boom enraptured by the new medium
On July 18, 1957, about a month before I was born Harold Macmillan uttered "the immortal passage", as David Kynaston calls it, that encapsulates the period covered by his latest book on postwar Britain: "Indeed, let's be frank about it; most of our people have never had it so good."
Looking back, what strikes Kynaston most forcibly is the sudden impact of consumer brands and, of course, television. By that summer, 45 per cent of British households had TV sets and within a year or two practically all the major genres we still watch today, from soaps to crime and game shows, were on air. Not everyone approved of the informality of the new mass medium. Hugh Trevor-Roper, soon to assume the Regius chair of Modern History at Oxford, could not bear the vulgarity of Cliff Michelmore's BBC Tonight, a pioneering effort in current affairs, on which he had been invited to talk about Julius Caesar: "I felt that the whole programme was simply a succession of knock-about turns in which I would rather not take part."
Class snobbery, while ubiquitous, was also treacherous territory. Writing to Dick Crossman, the Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell expressed his private concern about the bumptiousness displayed by their younger colleagues Roy Jenkins and Tony Crosland: "We, as middle-class Socialists, have got to have a profound humility . . . Now that's all right for us in the upper middle class, but Tony and Roy are not upper, and I sometimes think they don't have a proper humility to ordinary working people." The whiff of Wykehamist noblesse oblige here may be comical, but Crosland already envisaged the destruction of the grammar schools, which in the late 1950s were providing ladders for the lads from the new council estates to climb, while Jenkins's attitude to his Welsh compatriots is summed up by Nye Bevan's response to the comment that Jenkins was lazy: "Lazy? Lazy? How can a boy from Abersychan who acquired an accent like that be lazy?"
If class was making a comeback, sexuality was emerging as an even more contentious badge of identity. A few days after I was born, the Wolfenden Report into homosexuality was published, triggering the first ever public debate on the subject in Britain. The report's authors were quite conservative (the Tories knew how to pack a committee in those days), and they demanded measures against the London gay subculture of promiscuity and prostitution, but the key recommendation was the decriminalisation of homosexual relations in private between consenting adults. The BBC screened a balanced programme, albeit with health warnings, on the subject. Such permissiveness was too radical for the country, especially outside the metropolis, and Rab Butler, the Home Secretary, bowed to public opinion, though he and most others on both sides of the House were tolerant of the "queers" whom they actually knew. One of three homosexuals who had given evidence to Wolfenden was Patrick Trevor-Roper, the eminent oculist and brother of Hugh. His identity was disguised in the report as "the doctor", but as a gentleman and a scholar he didn't much care who knew about his proclivities. It is a safe bet that few if any of the thousand or so men in prison for homosexual offences were upper-middle class.