It’s often the case that excessively good-looking and successful people are a little resented and disliked. But not Paul Newman, every woman I knew went weak at the thought of him and every man would have given his right nut to be as charming, graceful and cool as him. And who didn’t want to swagger through life with a wise-crack and a twinkle in their eye like a Butch Cassidy or Cool Hand Luke?
He was married to the same woman his whole life, donated millions to charity, and was a bloody great actor to boot (I think The Verdict is his best performance.) In short, the guy was a mensch and he’ll be missed, they’re not making them like him anymore.
In 1972 unemployment in the UK hit 1 million people for the first time since The Great Depression and there was concern that it would cause some sort of social breakdown in the country. By 1980 Maggie Thatcher was Prime Minister and the number had grown to 2 million, and only three years later it was a whopping 3 million. During those 11 years punk had been and gone and we’d had strikes, power cuts, economic crisis, a 3-day work week, riots and a Winter of Discontent – society might not have broken down but it was definitely feeling a bit stressed out and in need of a holiday. But Maggie told us there was no alternative to her tough love and the only advice her Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit had for the unemployed was to get on their bikes if they wanted to find a job. What a lovely man he was.
I was one of “Maggie’s Millions” on a couple of occasions myself in the 80s and though I was only out of work for a few months at the most, being on the dole was a depressing experience. With nothing to do all day and little money to keep yourself occupied, just getting out of bed in the morning can be hard as you wonder what the point of getting up is. But I was lucky, I didn’t live in a town that had its factory or coal mine shut down (or to be in profession that had factories) but up North you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting someone who’d lost their job and their future when England’s manufacturing and industrial base collapsed and died. I didn’t have to choose to cut down on beer or the kid’s new gear either, but there were days when I had to choose between cigarettes and food – I nearly always chose cigarettes, ten Marlboro lasted a lot longer than a meal did.
It says something about how unemployment dominated the landscape that one of the most popular and relevant bands at the time took their name from a form given to people on the dole. When you sign on in England you are given Unemployment Benefit Form No.40 which you have to bring to the dole office every time you claim benefit, this is more commonly known as a UB40. There can’t be that many other bands named after government paperwork and their debut album “Signing Off” had a replica of a UB40 card on the cover.
I had one of these tan coloured ones when I was first on the dole but it was changed to a minty green at some point, they were probably thinking the brighter colour would make the whole unemployment experience a bit more cheerful.
Younger readers might only think of UB40 as purveyors of light, singalong pop-reggae, but before “Red Red Wine” made them stinking rich and ruined them they were a serious, overtly-political band who had more in common with The Clash than Musical Youth, singing heavy songs about being on the dole, poverty and social injustice. Bloody good they were too, “Tyler” is from the debut album and these two 12″ single mixes show them stretching out in a more Dub-wise direction, I don’t know if these are available anywhere but they should be.
Just looking at this picture I can hear the glassy ching-ching of the milk crates rattling and the electric hum of the Unigate milk float driving off up the road. Time to get up and get ready for school.
I wonder what these birds do now that everyone buys their milk in a carton from the supermarket?
Looking at this school photo of myself from 1973 it occurred to me that this was taken around the same time that Simone Palmey asked me out which makes me wonder what was it that attracted her. Do you think it was my long, flowing Donny Osmond locks? If I’d had that gap in my teeth fixed I could have been on the cover of Disco 45.
Not everyone was a fan of my hair though, I still remember my teacher Mr. Grant handing me the prints of that photo and shaking his head in old fogey disdain at my girly look. My Grandmother hated it too, I was staying with her one day back then and she took me to an old fashioned barbershop in Shepherd’s Bush Market to get it chopped off without telling my parents. The barber jokingly said “we don’t do girls!” when we walked in and then gave me a very severe short back and sides with the clippers. When my Dad came to pick me up later that day he screamed at my Grandmother “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HIS HAIR!!!!”
The other thing about the photo that occurred to me is that horrible t-shirt I’m wearing, it may have been the height of children’s fashion in 1973 but no amount of retro cool nostalgia could make it look good today — my sister had one exactly the same in pink too. I would have hoped that on school photo day my Mum would have put me in something a little less groovy, didn’t she know I’d be looking at this picture 35 years later?
If you’d like a soundtrack to this photo, this romantic little number was top of the charts about when it was taken.