1968 (12.03)

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There’s a big season of films about 1968 on at the National Film Theatre at the moment. I’m really interested in that year, so many important events happened during it. I think of it as being the beginning of recent modern pop-cultural life, post baby-boom, although that’s probably debatable. Oh yes, and it’s the year in which I was born.

My dad is Stewart Cooper. I asked him to talk about 1968 because he was there and, luckily, he agreed to spill the beans. This is what he said:

What were you doing in 1968?
In 1968 I was four years into my employment with the Firm and had completed a tour of duty in the Far East and was looking forward to more tours of duty in exciting places. We were living in Beech Close in Buckingham and I was working at Poundon, at the radio station nearby. I was working a pattern of shifts. It comprised: two evenings (four in the afternoon until 11 at night), two days (eight in the morning until four in the afternoon), two nights (11 at night until eight the next morning), and two “off”. The first of those supposed two “off” began after eight on the morning that the night shift finished. It was a crippling regime. It was easy to recognise one’s colleagues knocking about town – they looked pale and appeared to be not quite awake.

Tell me about the time when you first saw me.
My introduction to you was somewhat amusing. In Beech Close a lot of other couples were like Mum and I, and had small children (for us Paul and Jeremy), and while the husband went off to his employ each day (yes, it does sound old fashioned these days doesn’t it), wives were keen to find employment to fit in round duties towards their children. For everyone I was nicely placed in that my two days off happened mostly in midweek and I was able to field some of the neighbours children while their parents were otherwise engaged. Your appearance was imminent, but it was my turn to look after a few children. Mum said words like “We’d better go”, and off we set for her reserved bed in Brackley Cottage Hospital. I drove, Mum was in the passenger’s seat of course, and there were about five children stuffed in the back. The journey was made and Mum was installed as comfortably as she could be in Brackley. In those days it was not customary for husbands to hold the hands of their wives at these times and I was sent away to the children who were waiting in the car outside. I couldn’t go home, but fortunately the weather was clement and there was a play-park near to the hospital. I entertained them on the swings and seesaws and things and periodically nipping round the corner to see what progress had been made. After what seemed like an age I was told that I could go in and see Mum. I went back to the park explained carefully to my little charges that they had to be on their best behaviour because we were going to see a brand new baby. They were irreproachable, but as I headed this crocodile of little kids into the ward where Mum was accommodated the intakes of breath and the tut-tutting from the staff rather surprised me, until I realised that they thought all these children were mine! I’m sure that comments like “That poor woman”, and “The beast”, were muttered under these shocked breaths.

In honesty my first concern was towards Mum. She looked tired but smiled and indicated this little wrinkly-skinned red thing that lay beside her. I felt quite proud and somewhat emotional for a minute or two. I don’t recall picking you up in the traditional way, like on television, because you were comfortably and properly sited and I didn’t want to make a mess of it. I don’t recall having any profound thoughts, just relief that all was well with the pair of you. I took the kids to their homes and passed round the news. It was supposed that the new dad “wetted the baby’s head” and celebrated at such an event. I didn’t. I was being very brave and looking after Paul and Jeremy, both quite young, all on my own.

What do you remember about any of the following events that took place in 1968:
The publication of Eddie Adams’ famous and dreadful photograph of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Vietcong prisoner
A shocking photograph, but I thought at the time that it would be unlikely for the perpetrator to get his due desserts.

Nixon’s election campaign
Nixon’s campaign was a thoroughly American-style professional one. It took some time (because I’m slow on the uptake) for me to understand the enormity of what went down in “Watergate”. (I presume it was the “Watergate” election.). My cynicism was beginning to develop and I have the feeling that I thought that the main thing that Nixon got wrong was getting caught.

The My Lai massacre
Rather like your first topic I knew Lieutenant whoever-he-was would get away with it despite a show trial. I have ever had the same opinion of the US Forces. They are ill-trained, and generally seem to believe that John Wayne films are true. The same thing happens today, viz Iraq.

Martin Luther King’s assassination
Again, while MLK was the leader of the civil rights movement, and one is sorrowed with the assassination of anyone at all (including the Kennedys), his martyrdom, brought about the success of the movement rather more rapidly than may have happened had he not been struck down. The movement was growing at the time with “grumblings” getting louder, but his assassination made these grumblings into a great united roar which could not be ignored, almost overnight.

The student riots in Paris
I thought the French police with their water cannon and batons acted and reacted rather more robustly than our own “Now Then, Now Then” thin blue line. But there you are, they are foreigners and what more could anyone expect.

Andy Warhol being shot by Valerie Solanas
Not being terribly avant garde and having little respect for self-seeking exhibitionists I didn’t know it had happened.

Robert Kennedy’s assassination
As with MLK I felt sadness. What he had done to alienate the individual concerned I know not. He belonged to the American “Royal” family so I suppose someone thought his comeuppance was due.

The Yippies and Abbie Hoffman
I have heard the title “yippies” and I think I recall the name Abbie Hoffman, but that is all.

Feminist protests against the Miss World beauty pageant
Never one of my close interests. Everyone has the right of peaceful demonstration (shall we see that when we host George Dubya??). It didn’t affect me or anyone around me. It was not a topic of conversation. To me it seemed a fill-in news item.

How did you feel about bringing a child into the world at such a tumultuous time in recent history?
All times can be shown to be tumultuous. By being selective I’m sure one could make a parallel list of “white” items as opposed to the “black” ones you have selected. We were getting close to putting men on the Moon. We were still bathing in the World Cup win in 1966. I can’t remember what the cricket was doing. In my then working world of communications new developments were on the way. There was every promise that science was leading us into a life of milk and honey. Both Mum and I were positive and hopeful.

In 1968 how did you imagine the future to be?
In a word “better”. We had a good family now of a size that suited. We had a house. We had a car. We had a television. I had a job that was permanent, pensioned (although I didn’t think of pensions at all in those days), and had prospects of being enjoyable whether it involved promotions and “career” or not. We were moving in an upward direction. Despite Vietnam generally peace reigned. International travel was becoming more popular and available which, we felt, would break down international barriers.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about 1968?
Apart from your arrival I can remember no outstanding feature of 1968. Perhaps I ought, but there you are.

There you are then. I am exhausted. I hope my responses to your questionnaire were sensible and comprehensible.

Lots of love,