A review of the history book “On The Cusp” by David Kynaston

Distinguished British historian David Kynaston has embarked on a formidable project to produce a post-war history of the country under the banner “Tales Of A New Jerusalem” which will eventually cover the period 1945-1979. The distinctive style of this historical record is his use of contemporary records such as diaries, letters, and news reports.

By the time of the global pandemic, he had written three of a planned six segments (each of two volumes) entitled “Austerity Britain” (1945-1951), Family Britain” (1951-1957) and Modernity Britain” (1957-1962). 

“On The Cusp” is something of a break-out work written largely during the first lockdown of spring and summer 2020 and covering only those months between June and October 1962. He calls this period the cusp of the ‘real’ swinging 1960s as highlighted by the release of the same day on the first Beatles single (“Love Me Do”) and the first James Bond film (“Dr No”).

At the time, I was a 14 year old schoolboy in Manchester who had just started writing a daily diary – a habit which would run for (so far) 60 years.

Kynaston’s work is highly readable, almost compulsive, but the picture he paints of 1962 comes across as somewhat grim, although it did not seen so at the time. 

People’s teeth were in a terrible state and there was the scandal of thalidomide babies. Race relations were toxic and homosexuality was illegal. There were only two channels of television both black & white. Farming was ceasing to be a major source of employment, while the traditional industries of coal, steel, and textiles were in decline. Beeching was savaging the railways. Harold Macmillan was Conservative Prime Minister and promoting Britain’s application to the so-called Common Market, while Labour’s Hugh Gaitskell was opposing this because it would be “the end of a thousand years of history”. 

Thank goodness for the Beatles and Bond …

Full disclosure: my diary is quoted.


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