Nostalgia: Looking back at 1963

The Beatles
The Beatles
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IT was a year like hardly any other in living memory, when just about everything that could happen, seemed to happen –
and then some.

Whether it was celebrity scandals, tragedies, cultural changes that took the world by storm or the very public assassination of the world’s most powerful leader, 1963 had it all.

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

Chief writer SANDRA DICK looks back on 10 events in a year that changed the world forever.


THE ‘travelling post office’ train set off from Glasgow on its way to London on the evening of 7 August, stocked with £2.6m in cash – £41m in today’s money.

Driver Jack Mills pulled to a halt at a red light on the line between Leighton Buzzard and Cheddington, unknown to him, it had been tampered with. Hooded robbers coshed him and left him with head injuries from which he never fully recovered. The staff were tied up while the train was ransacked.

Investigators examine the Royal Mail train involved in the Great Train Robbery.

Investigators examine the Royal Mail train involved in the Great Train Robbery.

Around 17 gang members were involved but three were never found and two famously escaped.

Portobello writer Millie Gray remembers: “Some people might have felt it was some kind of Robin Hood situation, but the fact that a man eventually lost his life meant few had any sympathy for the robbers.”

Sex, Spies and lies...

THE Profumo affair was the ultimate scandal, full of sex, spies, lies and

American president John F Kennedy is struck by an assassin's bullet as he travels through Dallas in a motorcade

American president John F Kennedy is struck by an assassin's bullet as he travels through Dallas in a motorcade

sprinkled with intrigue and high society.

John Profumo was the married

secretary of state for war when he met ‘good-time girl’ Christine Keeler at Lord Astor’s plush mansion, Cliveden, in 1961 and embarked on a brief fling.

In 1963, Keeler’s tangled and violent love life had unravelled. Soon the press got whiff of hints that one former lover was an attache at the Soviet embassy, and another was the war minister.

Profumo denied the rumours to the House of Commons but later admitted he had lied and resigned.

It was suggested that Keeler had been used by the Soviets to acquire nuclear intelligence from Profumo.

When her close associate Stephen Ward – a socialite ‘party fixer’ moving in prestigious circles and accused of living off immoral earnings – was found dead, the plot thickened amid suggestions he’d been murdered to prevent him exposing people in power.

Lord Denning’s investigation into the affair coincided with the prime minister’s Harold MacMillan’s sudden resignation on health grounds.

High society embarrassment was

made worse when it emerged that

Kim Philby, a high ranking British intelligence officer was actually a double agent who had been spying for the



BEATLEMANIA was just a twinkle in the boyish eyes of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison back in February 1963, when they recorded their first album Please Please Me, laying down the tracks in a single day.

Within weeks, their lives would change forever and an entire generation would begin to find its voice.

The album was released in March 1963, the first of 11 studio albums up to 1970 that would reach number one. Beatlemania was born.

Every public appearance the band made inspired frenzied adulation and near riotous behaviour among overwrought fans. Inspired by the Beatles – and other Sixties sensations – young people drove forward new fashion, art and attitudes – the Swingin’ Sixties were born.


DALLAS, Texas – the image is still distressing 50 years on. Jackie Kennedy in her jaunty pink hat and trim two-piece skirt suit, clawing her way from the back seat of her husband’s presidential limo, him slumped, dying from a head wound caused by an assassin’s bullet.

It was 22 November 1963, and the world held its breath after the news that arguably the globe’s most powerful man had been so publicly killed.

Of course, his murder was shocking enough. Perhaps what made it even more breath-taking was that it was played out so vividly on television the world over. JFK’s assassination came after a pivotal year in his presidency. Just weeks earlier, he’d delivered one of his most famous and dramatic speeches, when he declared ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’, underlying support for post-war West Germany as it reeled from construction of the Berlin Wall.

The head shot appeared to have come from the Texas School Book

Depository. Lee

Harvey Oswald, a former US Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union then returned to the States, worked there. He was charged but the drama that gripped the world was far from over.

Two days later, while being moved to Dallas county jail, mobster and nightclub owner Jack Ruby burst past police and shot and killed him at point blank range

Former Edinburgh Evening News depute editor Hamish Coghill recalls: “It was one of the biggest world stories of all time. There was a television newsflash to say Kennedy had been shot, then he was in hospital and then he was dead. Next came this dramatic picture of Lyndon B Johnson being sworn in, with Jackie Kennedy beside him.”

Former provost Eric Milligan recalls vividly where he was when JFK died: “I was at Gorgie Boys’ Brigade. Billy (Sandy) Jardine who’d go on to be such a great footballer and his twin brother came in late and told me JFK had been shot.

“Everyone was in a state of shock.”

The Doctor will see you now...

DOCTOR Who looks significantly younger now than when he first burst onto the screens in an explosion of cardboard sets and wobbly Dalek foes

50 years ago.

However, when the show

arrived on screens in November 1963 it took a nation already gripped by the real life space race by storm.

Originally intended as a cross

between science and education, early programmes often involved the Doctor, played by snowy haired William Hartnell, travelling back in time to revisit historic events or forward to explore new scientific ideas.

The first episode, An

Unearthly Child, has become the stuff of television legends, even if the adventure back to cavemen times received a fairly lukewarm response.

The second, however,

introduced the Daleks, and an entire nation was hooked.

The show went on to become the longest-running science-

fiction series on television.

These days it is viewed weekly

in around 48 countries and is among the BBC’s top five grossing titles.

Plans emerged this week of a golden anniversary 90-minutes BBC2 drama which will celebrate the programme’s birthday and focus on the show’s first producer,

Verity Lambert.


IAN Brady and Myra Hindley’s five victims were aged between 10 and 17 years old, and at least four of them were sexually assaulted.

Pauline Reade was their first victim, just 16 and on her way to a dance on 12 July, 1963 when she went missing.

Hindley offered Pauline a lift in her car then drove to lonely Saddleworth Moor, where Brady sexually assaulted the teenager and cut her throat.

The pair struck again in November. This time their victim was 12-year-old John Kilbride, given a lift from a market in Ashton-Under-Lyne, driven to the moor where he was sexually assaulted by Brady. The killer then tried to slit his throat with a serrated blade before strangling him with string.

The abductions and killings continued the following year. It was not until October 1965 that the pair was eventually captured.

The Moors Murders, remembers Edinburgh writer Millie Gray, horrified the nation: “There was a lot of talk that hanging should be brought back. What they did was awful.”

Change is going to come

JUST 50 years ago, the suggestion in certain quarters that a black man could sit near a white man or woman on even the shortest of intra-state bus journeys was unbelievable. However, 1963 was the year anything could – and did – happen.

In April, civil rights campaigners began the Birmingham Campaign, staging a peaceful sit-in to desegregate lunch counters that made international headlines.

Later that month, Martin Luther King Jnr and others were arrested for protesting in the city without a permit.

The Alabama city became the focus for the civil rights movements, and tensions rose further in May when a protest there involving thousands of people led to mass arrests and police use of firehoses and dogs to control the crowd.

The murder of civil rights campaigner Medgar Evers outside his Mississippi home by a white supremacist increased tension. When members of the Ku Klux Klan blew up the 16th Street baptist church in Birmingham, killing four girls, there was US wide condemnation.

President Kennedy had already indicated moves for new laws, and no-one could ignore the fact that change was going to come when Dr King stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial in August and delivered his ‘I have a dream’ speech to 300,000 demonstrators in


Cllr Eric Milligan was just a child but was conscious of the civil rights movement. “There were songs on the radio, ‘We Shall Overcome’ and ‘If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus’.”

And finally . . .

AND as if all that isn’t enough, here’s a flavour of what else happened during 1963.

No live sports event would be the same without constant instant replays of the action. Thank Tony Verna, a CBS-TV director who, in December 1963, invented Instant Replay.

Imagine the headlines if the son of one of the world’s biggest stars were to be kidnapped today. In December 1963, 19-year-old Frank Sinatra Jnr was snatched from Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, a Nevada casino resort, and a $1.8m ransom paid for his release.

Diet drinks are the weight conscious consumer’s favourite tipple – thanks to Tab launched by Coca-Cola. And while at home some lucky families grappled with the first video recorders, into space went the first communications satellite.

Gamers the world over have PhD student Ivan Sutherland to thank for writing the revolutionary Sketchpad program, while American Express introduced credit cards to the UK.

In Edinburgh, the Traverse Theatre opened in the Lawnmarket. Finally, one to make everyone, everywhere smile. The yellow smiley face symbol – a favourite of today’s text generation, is 50 this year. Harvey Ball designed the yellow smiley in December, 1963.