Posts Tagged ‘1960s’


Nick Hornby has always been what I would call a reliable author, by which I mean that I might not have loved everything he has written, but I have found some enjoyment in everything of his that I have ever read. But actually I did love this book, and think it is his best yet.

Set in the 1960s, it tells of Barbara Parker from Blackpool, who wins the title of Miss Blackpool, promptly decides she doesn’t want it, and heads off to London to realise her dream of becoming a comedienne like her heroine, Lucille Ball.

Before long, Barbara has become Sophie Straw, landed a lead role in a new, successful tv sitcom, and the world – or the UK at least – is at her feet. She becomes part of a close-knit team, with her co-star, writers and director and life is wonderful for a while. But as they grow older and wiser and real life starts to get in the way, they have to rethink just how long the show can continue.

As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed this book. I liked Sophie so much – she was quick-witted, intelligent and full of fun – and I also liked the team she worked with. The writers, Tony and Bill, both gay men at a time when homosexuality was illegal and both dealing with it in very different ways; the director Dennis, gentle, kind, cuckolded by his awful wife Edith; and co-star Clive, who should have been easy to dislike with his womanising, his unfaithfulness and his professional jealousy, but who nonetheless was charismatic and made me laugh.

Hornby weaves real people in and out of the narrative, and I liked this; the prime minister and Lucille Ball both make an appearance amongst others. The tone is light and humorous, but never superficial. I felt as though 1960s London was brought to life.

Definitely a thumbs up from me for this one – I highly recommend.

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This sprawling, shocking novel revolves (mainly) around three fictional characters, but is rooted in the time of the Kennedy family’s rise to success – it features JFK campaigning for and winning the election and his brother Bobby becoming Attorney General. The events of the novel take us right up to that fateful date of 22nd November 1963.

The main characters are Pete Bondurant, bodyguard for the eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes as well as a terrifyingly effective Mob associate; Kemper Boyd, an FBI Agent who at the request of J Edgar Hoover infiltrates the Kennedy organisation and finds his loyalties (such as they are) split many ways; and Ward Littell, another FBI Agent and anti-Mob crusader. Lets be clear here – none of these men are particularly nice, but they are interesting. In fact, none of the characters in this book – real or fictional – come off particularly well, least of all John F Kennedy.

The story describes the machinations of the Kennedy family and their associates in making sure that JFK wins the election, and covers such historical events as the Bay of Pigs invasion, and attempts to bring down Fidel Castro. There’s so much story here that it was sometimes hard to take in everything that happens – whether you are familiar with the events upon which the book is based or not, this is a book that really demands your attention.

The writing is visceral and brutal and the story is fast paced, with loyalties of all characters constantly being questioned both by the readers and by other people in the story. Despite the concentration required, it’s actually a pretty easy read with mainly short, choppy chapters, which tend to show events from alternating points of view.

Overall, if you are interested at all in what happened to John F Kennedy and who killed him – this book offers a fictionalised theory – then I would definitely recommend this, but be aware that it is not a cosy afternoon read!

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I first saw this show last year at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, and as soon as I came out of the theatre, I knew I wanted to see it again.

The story probably doesn’t need any recapping, especially for women of my generation, but in essence, it is set in 1963 and revolves around Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, who goes on holiday with her parents and sister, to Kellermans Holiday Resort. Baby is the apple of her father’s eye, and at the tender age of sixteen, has her sights set on changing the world, one good cause at a time.

When she meets dance instructor Johnny Castle however, her eyes are opened to a world completely new to her, and much to the disapproval of her father, who instantly dislikes Johnny and blames him for getting dance partner Penny ‘in trouble’, Baby falls in love.

The show is packed with amazing dancing and terrific songs, and is colourful and fun from start to finish. Lewis Kirk and Jessie Hart played Johnny and Baby, and both were great. Unfortunately, I was completely mesmerised by Gareth Bailey in the role of Johnny Castle last year, and I doubt that anybody could have matched up to him. Bailey was also taller and more muscular than Kirk, and physically probably fitted the part a little better. However, that is not to take anything away from Lewis Kirk, who was certainly appreciated by the mainly female audience.

Fans of the film need not worry – all the classic scenes and lines are there, and most of them got cheers of recognition from the audience.

I definitely recommend this show – this is the second time I have seen it, and if I get the chance, I will be going to see it again.

(Click here for more information about this production.)


Click here for my review of this production from October 2014.


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Hilarious is a word often thrown about to describe shows, film, tv etc., but in the case of National Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors (based on Carlo Goldoni’s play from the 1700s, Servant of Two Masters), it’s completely appropriate.

It’s the early 1960s, Francis Henshall is the none-too-bright minder of gangster Roscoe Crabbe – but Roscoe is really Roscoe’s twin sister Rachel, disguised as her brother for her own safety, after her brother was murdered…by none other than Rachel’s boyfriend Stanley Stubbers!  To complicate matters, Francis is hired to work for Stubbers, but he must keep his two gunners – who (as he far as he knows) don’t know each other – apart, and that proves to be a lot harder than it sounds.

Quite honestly, after reading reviews of this play, I expected a few good belly laughs.  What I did not expect was to be literally crying with laughter, but there’s no doubt – this is simply one of the funniest shows I have ever seen.  First of all the music – skiffle band The Craze come on stage about 10 minutes before the show begins, and then during the performance they provide a number of musical interludes.  The music is jaunty and thoroughly enjoyable, performed by very obviously talented musicians.  There are other musical interludes too – performed by various cast members, and all very enjoyable.

Gavin Spokes was absolutely perfect as Francis.  This role was originally played by James Corden, who I’ve no doubt was brilliant, but I’ve also no doubt that he could not have been more brilliant than Spokes.  Francis is loveable, despite all the double-crossing and deceit which is character employs with varying degrees of success.  Shaun Williamson (forever destined to be known as ‘Barry from Eastenders’) is probably the most well known cast member, as Charlie Clench (!) father of ditzy blonde Pauline Clench (Jasmyn Banks), who was due to enter a marriage of convenience with the newly dead Roscoe, but who has since fallen in love with wannabe actor Alan Dangle (a superbly over-the-top Edward Hancock).  Roscoe/Rachel is played with aplomb by Alicia Davies, and I also really enjoyed Patrick Warner as the upper-class Stanley Stubbers.  The terrific cast is completed by Derek Elroy as Lloyd Boateng (a friend of Rachel/Roscoe and Charlie Clench), Emma Barton as Dolly (Charlie’s book-keeper who Francis falls for), David Verrey as Harry Dangle (the lawyer father of Alan) and Michael Dylan who practically brought the house down with his portrayal of Alfie, a doddery old Irish waiter.

The wordplay is fantastic, with many genuinely laugh-out-loud lines – and I also loved how Francis broke the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience, reminding us that this is after all, not real, before pulling everyone back into the delight of the show.  However, as well as a great script, there is also a LOT of physical slapstick comedy, the highest point of which is probably the scene at the end of the first half of the show, where Francis is trying to serve dinner to both of his bosses in the same venue, but without letting them find out about each other.  The cast throw themselves around spectacularly, and I can only imagine that Gavin Spokes in particular must be exhausted by the time the show finishes!  There is also some terrific interaction with audience members, but at the risk of revealing spoilers, I’m not going to give details.

Overall, I reiterate that this is truly one of the funniest and cleverest plays I have ever seen.  Just brilliant from the opening scene to the closing moment.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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This book – set in the 1950s and 1960s, is a charming coming-of-age story.  It tells the story of (and is narrated by) Tara Jupp, a young girl who grows up in the shadow of her older sister Lucy’s beauty.  However, Tara has one thing that Lucy doesn’t have, and that is a fabulous singing voice.  When she is discovered by the record making husband of an old friend, Tara is spirited from her home in Cornwall, to the bright lights of London, where she is transformed into Cherry Merrywell, the city’s latest singing sensation.  Tara attends glamorous parties, meets exciting men (falling in love with two of them), and experiences the effect of fame…but will she be able to keep hold of who she really is, or will Tara Jupp be lost forever to Cherry Merrywell?

I was looking forward to reading this book, as I had thoroughly enjoyed Eva Rice’s previous novel, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets.  In fact, some of the characters from that book are also in this one (but this novel is not a sequel, and you do not have to have read the previous book prior to reading this one).  I was glad that I read it – I enjoyed the story a lot.

Tara was an endearing and loveable narrator, and I felt that the author really captured all the pain, pleasure and confusion of being a teenager.  I also liked the frustrating but impossible-not-to-like Lucy; and Clover, Tara’s mentor in London.

The feel of the 1960s came through well, and there was a lovely nod to the Rolling Stones, who of course broke onto the scene in spectacular fashion in 1962.

The story flowed beautifully, and although the book came in at over 500 pages, it did not feel like a particularly long novel (and there was no sense of ploughing through it, which I sometimes get with books of that length, if they don’t hold my attention). There were a couple of places where I felt it could have done with a bit of editing – Tara’s age in relation to Lucy seemed to jump about a bit (unless it was me getting confused), and at one point a character was telling a story from his childhood which he said happened when he was three, but in the very next paragraph, it was happening when he was five!  However, I should perhaps mention that my copy of the book was a proof copy, and it may well be that these slight errors are not in the finished copy.

Overall, this was a delightful and sweet story of a young girl’s adolescence, lived in extraordinary circumstances.  I would recommend it, and I look forward to reading more of Eva Rice’s novels in the future.

(I would like to thank the author for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

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Damian Baxter is ridiculously, stupendously rich.  He’s also dying and has nobody to leave his vast fortune to. However, an anonymous letter received years earlier suggests that he may have father a child many years ago, and now he wants to find that child in order to include him or her in his will.  There are a few contenders for the mother of the child, and to track her down he needs the assistance of a former friend from the late 60s when Damian spent time amongst the upper classes and the aristocracy.  The former friend is the narrator of the book, but he now harbours a strong grudge against Damian…

When I started this book I was not sure I would enjoy it.  It seemed to be populated by snobbish shallow characters who I did not think I would be able to warm to.  However, by about halfway through it had quite won me over and I simply did not want to put it down by the time I got to the ending.

As stated, the unnamed narrator is the former friend of Damian, who undertakes to find his child.  As he does so and meets up with several people who he was friends with at the time in which most of the book was set, he not only discovers secrets about Damian’s past,  but also comes to terms with events in his own.

We learn early on that the narrator is upset with Damian over an incident that occurred in Portugal years before, although the details of the incident are not revealed until nearly the end of the story.  There is also some tension over a girl with whom the narrator was clearly in love – Serena Gresham.

The book describes the search for Damian’s possible offspring, and also explains the differing fates of several of the characters.  It also gives plenty of description of upper class society in the late 1960s.  The narrator notes that the 60s for many people were not all free love and flower power, and describes debutantes’ balls and posh parties galore.  The era was explained in great detail, which I found very interesting to read about.

I ended up really liking the narrator and finding him to be a believeable character.  It was clear to see how he had mellowed and matured in the intervening years between the two periods of time which the book covers. Damian himself was not a particularly sympathetic character, but I did feel that the reader could understand him much better by the end of the book. 

Some parts of the book were very moving, and some were very funny.  The whole description of Terry Vitkov’s ball had me in fits of laughter, while another part where the narrator finds out some distressing news almost had me in tears.

I would highly recommend this book.  I now want to seek out ‘Snobs’ by the same author.

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This rather beautiful books tells the story of three women, two of whom – Aibileen and Minny – are black maids working for white families in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, when racial segregation meant that black and white people could not mix socially, could not use the same restaurants, and could not go to the same hospitals or churches.  The third woman is a white girl named Skeeter, who comes home from college with dreams of becoming a writer.  She eventually decides to write a book about what it is like to be a black maid working for a white family, and she, Aibileen and Minny become embroiled in an exciting and potentially dangerous project.

I’m not sure I can accurately put into words how much I enjoyed this book.  The three narrators’ voices (Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter) come through beautifully and each character is distinct and wholly believeable.  We see each character’s life through their own eyes, and watch as they cope with their own problems (Aibileen is still grieving over the death of her son, and trying hard to make the young child she looks after grow up to be a nice person; Minny lives with an abusive husband and several demanding children; Skeeter has an over-bearing mother who won’t explain the sudden disappearance of Skeeter’s beloved childhood maid).

As well as the three central characters, there are a multitude of other people of great importance to the storyline.  Hilly Holbrook is a long time friend of Skeeter’s, but the bond between them is pulled very taut as the hypocritical and bigoted Hilly dislikes Skeeter’s desire for awareness and change.  Their other best friend, Elizabeth Leefolt, is Aibileen’s boss and it is her daughter who Aibileen cares for (seemingly far more than Elizabeth does).  However, my favourite of the ’supporting’ players is Celia Foote – Minny’s boss, who herself feels an outsider, as Hilly and her friends consider that she is not good enough to associate with them.

Historical events such as the death of JFK and Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech are covered here, adding to the already very real sense of the time in which this novel is set.

One of the things I most admired about the novel is that the author does not just show the characters as either good or bad.  She shows them as totally believable people.  Some of the nicer people sometimes do less-than-good things, and some of the not-so-nice characters in the book can show that they have a heart.

I loved this book, and would say it is definitely my favourite book out of all that I have read this year.  It’s thought-provoking, funny in places (look out for the scene with the toilets), and it made me cry in other places.  I was riveted throughout; my attention was grabbed on page one, and was held right through to the last page.

Utterly fantastic read, and very strongly recommended.  10/10

(Author’s website can be found here.)


Click here for my review of the 2011 film adaptation.


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