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To See and to Speak

Most retrospectives take the Swinging Sixties, and more particularly Swinging London, on their own terms.  “Society was shaken to its foundations!” a 2011 BBC documentary on the subject shouted.  “All the rules came off, all the brakes came off . . . the floodgates were unlocked. . . . A youthquake hit Britain,” and so on.  For most young Britons, of whom I was one, what this mainly seems to have meant was some very silly shirts, marginally better food, and a slight increase in the use of soft drugs.  By a lucky bit of timing, the introduction and rapid availability of the contraceptive pill coincided with the arrival of that other defining symbol of swinging bedroom etiquette, the duvet.  Exact statistics are elusive, but as a result of these twin developments, it’s likely that a few more young women spent the night together with their boyfriends.  But that was about it for the so-called youthquake.  For millions of young Britons, it seems fair to say that sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll took their place against a normal existence of knitting, cricket, and worrying about O-level exams.  A night out at The Sound of Music, followed by the Berni Inn Family Platter, remained the height of most teenagers’ aspirations.  When Time came to dub London the “Style Capital of Europe,” it concentrated on a few...

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