Never Had It So Good by Dominic Sandbrook

51Tz+nyOvNL._ This history of Britain from 1956 to 1963 starts with the debacle of Suez and ends with Harold Wilson on the verge of becoming prime minister. In between there is James Bond, the Tories making a total Horlicks of Europe, Doctor Who, sex scandals, Cliff Richard, concerns that the ruling elite is out of touch, David Frost and serious economic woes. In fact pretty much the only thing missing from today’s landscape is Harold Macmillan, of whom we hear a lot. On the evidence Sandbrook presents, and for all the Tory grandee’s faults, you can’t help but feel it might be a good thing if the old walrus could somehow make a comeback. There are errors: erroneously calling Archie Rice from John Osborne’s The Entertainer Billy Rice is an odd mistake to make, and a slack one to make twice, for example. But it’s hard not to love a book that is 740 pages long, goes into some depth on the Common Agricultural Policy and still finds time to mention the Tea-V-Tray, a plastic device designed to allow go-ahead folk to eat their tinned peas while watching this newfangled television thing. Sandbrook also explains why I’m All Right Jack was a searing social critique (at the time) rather than an amiable museum piece (now), quotes a lot from Beyond The Fringe and is sniffy about CND, which is all fair enough. He reiterates what a thoroughly, staggeringly inept and above all dishonourable episode the abortive invasion of Egypt to regain the Suez Canal was. But then – what fundamentally decent men its prime movers Macmillan and his predecessor Anthony Eden were – and how terribly ill Eden was. Sandbrook’s thesis is that the 1960s were far less culturally significant than they have subsequently been painted, and the 1950s were considerably more interesting than is commonly thought. It’s the little details – such as an insight into the crippling unhappiness of Supermac’s private life, or what an entertaining shit Malcolm Muggeridge was – which make it. And of all the throwaways, none beats the laughable but still rather touching fact that Andrew Loog Oldham, guru of the Rolling Stones, took Phil Spector to an Aberdeen Angus Steak House to impress him.

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