299 - Swinging London

Barry Miles – or “Miles” – is the author of the book London Calling: A Countercultural History of London since 1945. He was also a prominent figure in London in the 1960s. He ran both The International Times, a famous underground newspaper, and the Indica Gallery, the place where John Lennon and Yoko Ono first met. We asked him about British life in the ‘60s:

Barry Miles (Standard British accent)
Although the British way of life is supposed to be quite liberal; it’s not, actually. It’s... you scratch the surface and... and they don’t like it because then there was the one British way of life. You know, the businessmen did still wear bowler hats and carry furled umbrellas and, you know, and... and that was the way of life. And if you... if you challenged it all, you know, then... then they really were upset. I mean, it took a long time before... well, before the ideas of the ‘60s became normal. I mean, people forget that, certainly when I moved up to London, there really were signs on the... on the doors of... of boarding houses saying, you know, “No Irish, no blacks, you know, no dogs” and all this kind of thing. I mean, you know, incredible racism, incredible sexism! All of that’s changed and I think a lot of it was because of our... of what happened in the... in the ‘60s, not just the underground, I mean, obviously it was the whole of the population must have been behind many of those moves, otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. I mean, the fact that homosexuality was made legal in ‘67, for instance, was nothing much to do with the underground, it was much more of a... of a widespread campaign throughout society, but those were very, very good years, and it was a particularly good time to be young, particularly if you were in the music business, let’s say, you know, because the growth of British rock’n’roll in the ‘60s was fantastic and... and led the world. If you were an artist, I mean, the English pop art scene surrounding Peter Blake and Pauline Boty and well, you know, Allen Jones and all those people, I mean, it was a very, very interesting scene and I was very, very fortunate and privileged to... to happen to go to art college and then get involved in the whole scene. So... hard to say whether.... whether one... you know, was the ‘60s better than the ‘70s or ‘80s? Well, yeah, I think it probably was, in retrospect. It seems like every 40 years there is a period of tremendous creative activity in... in... in society and I happen to coincide with... with a really good one. So, with a bit of luck, there’s another one coming up, as we speak!

(Barry Miles was talking to Mark Worden)