The Royal County Arbiter

19 May 2005

The original Generation X

A couple of weeks ago I heard a most interesting programme on BBC Radio 4 called The Real Generation X. The programme, for which unfortunately I can now find no streaming archive, talked about Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson's 1964 book Generation X and followed up several of the book's original participants - an Observer article. How serendipitous then that I found a copy of this very work for sale yesterday at the local hospital when I took my mother in for a nasal probe!

The purpose of Hamblett and Deverson's book is a kind of Mass Observations study of Britain's youth, a window into the world of the under-25s, carried out entirely by interviews. The blurb on the back perhaps sums it up best: 'TODAY'S GENERATION TALKING ABOUT ITSELF... talking about Education, Marriage, Money, Pops, Politics, Parents, Drugs, Drink, God, Sex, Class, Colour, Kinks, and Living for Kicks.'

A brief flick through brings up some interesting tidbits:

"Okay, so I'm a girl Rocker. My boy's a Rocker and I'm proud of him. He's got guts, he'll fight anyone in sight... I'll be seventeen in September ('64) but I'd marry anyone just to spite my parents... I'd hate to marry a Mod, they're not men at all really. When there's a punch-up they fight like girls... They say the Rockers are scruffy, that we don't wash. I'd rather not wash than be mistook for a prissy little Mod girl."

"Being middle class is the most degrading thing in youth."

"Your mind is geared to fantasy rather than fact. I knew a young teenage boy who loved the Romans in a purely subjective way. He saw himself as a Roman. His great dream was to buy a Roman castle... and to live as the Romans did - eating meat with his hands, wearing Roman clothes, holding great Roman feasts and orgies. This was not a vague dream. To him it was real - an ambition to be achieved. Teenagers are surrealistic... They have a wonderful real imagination which is lost only too quickly. It's beaten out of you... Last month I celebrated... my twentieth birthday. I'm still sad about it."

"I went abroad once, working on a banana boat to California. My mate and I met two American youngsters who taught us this game with razors on the end of a stick. You strip to the waist and fight with them, and the first one to give in is called chicken. You get a bit cut about."

"I go to church nearly every Sunday. And I try to listen to the sermon and concentrate but it's awfully hard sometimes... I definitely believe in God, though, and I pray like billy-o when I want something."

"So we shall have to accept some type of conformity. But it must be rational, elastic, civilized, within the needs of present civilisation rather than pipedreams about 'golden ages' of Greece and other donnish, quasi-homosexual wish-fantasties... Our generation will have to fight hard to beat our animal heritage. The rational, sensitive, clever ones may be destroyed by the mob, by mass hysteria. It will be a struggle."

"Generation X? I don't understand. All this nonsense about teenagers is just newspaper publicity."

"You have to carry a knife in Arab countries, the Arabs are fascinating but evil. If you trust them you're done for. But I love them. I love going to their bars, listening to their music and smoking hashish - it gives you a wonderful feeling, you feel fantastically happy... I expect I shall be killed sooner or later... But it doesn't worry me. I'd rather live for a short time than exist in England."

"Every new Generation X has the same problems and they can only be solved by growing up."

It's a wonderful document of social change, of life in the 1960s, of youth culture and certainly of adolescent posturing.

Remember, these people are your parents.


Anonymous routard:

Wonderful stuff.

I was lead to believe gen x'er were children born in the 70s. All this time I've been living a lie, not to mention foolishly telling people I was one.

I must hunt down a copy for a read, I love the comment about the Arabs.


7:08 pm  
Blogger ben:

Fascinating post, Myrt. Its always plesant and bizarre to see social documents of any time. Even if its just john40dalek typing out the listings from the Radio Times for 14th April 1978. Without being asked. Or acknowledged. Ever.


2:00 am  
Blogger Noo:

What on earth is a "nasal probe"? I mean, I guess it's a probe that goes up one's mother's nose, but why?

4:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous:

*ouch* I must say I too stumbled over the "nasal probe" bit. Hope your mom is OK. I had something like that too one time and it was so horrifying, that afterwards I thought "So THIS is why people have nightmares they've been abducted by aliens. . ."

That book is a true find. Thanks for posting the excerpts! Even though I know I would have been a Mod if I were born then & there, still, I often ponder, what would I do if I really had to make a choice, Mod or Rocker, one or the other? It seems an insurmountable challenge.
XXX Miss Gretchen

3:43 pm  
Anonymous Old Guy:

I hope the rockers found their life calling in military service.

Otherwise, Jail?

Most Mods became scientists, engineers, bankers, scam artists, etc.

Just my opinion, mind you.

I was born WELL before that era.

9:18 pm  

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