White Heat by Dominic Sandbrook

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All set to take another trip in Dominic Sandbrook’s wonderful time machine? White Heat takes us back to 1964-70 via 794 pages of small print where there is something of interest in virtually every paragraph: politics, yes, but also high street fashion, furniture design, art and town planning. Prominent flashpoints in Vietnam, Northern Ireland and Rhodesia are covered extensively along with Twiggy, the Stones, Biba and Sgt Pepper. For all this, the Sixties only really swung for only a couple of thousand bright young things, although their activities had an influence on many more who had never been near Carnaby Street: Sandbrook points out that the vast majority of Britons during the Sixties did not have much sex, and led quiet, conservative lives which revolved around gardening and DIY. As a result it’s interesting to note that politicians in this era – including Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey and Harold Wilson – ran far ahead of public opinion in introducing liberal reforms in areas such as the death penalty, abortion, homosexuality and divorce. It’s fair to say that Sandbrook is right wing (writes for the Daily Hate, that sort of thing) but he is scrupulously fair about the Wilson government as it lurched from crisis to crisis, some unavoidable but many self-imposed. He is occasionally vicious (on John Lennon: ‘LSD suited his self-pitying, self-indulgent and pretentious personality’)* but Sandbrook is generally a fresh, funny writer who is always looking for an enlightening quote and is catholic in his choice of sources. Perhaps he relies a bit much on The Avengers and Private Eye in White Heat but that’s a small quibble. Anyone who offers equally thrilling accounts of events as diverse as England’s World Cup Final win and Derry’s ‘Battle of the Bogside’ cannot disappoint. Politics remains the source of the best stories: the still-staggering madness of newspaper proprietor Cecil King (who tried to orchestrate a military coup against Wilson) is well worth revisiting. And poor, alcoholic foreign secretary George Brown was always looking for a fight with Wilson: ‘threatens to resign’ has six separate entries under his name in the index along with another for: ‘tries to dance with Cardinal Archbishop of Lima’. A sad legend.

*Blimey, steady on

 

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