Tuesday 2 November 2010

Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll? Leicester in the 1960s: Manning it up!

I hope by now you’ve all seen our shagadelic poster for Friday’s Lab, ‘Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll? Leicester in the 1960s.

The image is taken from the MACE archive, and is part of their collection of ITV regional television news. It was broadcast just over 45 years ago in 1965 and features Birmingham band ‘The Uglys’ beautifying themselves at the hairdresser. They flick though women’s magazines, have their hair washed, get their curlers put in and go for a blast under the hairdryers. The item ends with their curlers unfurled to reveal glossy mop-tops a la Beatles as they saunter out the salon smoking cigarettes –surely the epitome of cool...

The accompanying voiceover would have been broadcast live, so only the images remain in the archival collection. In true ITV style I assume the commentary would have been fairly tongue-in-cheek, something like: “Are you man enough for the mop-top? Brumbeat band The Uglys are not afraid of the girls in the hairdressers” *chortle, chortle*
Susan J Douglas has argued that the relative androgyny of The Beatles is what made them a hit with the ladies - less masculine, less threatening. But what made the style appealing for this local Midlands band –did they think they were embracing their feminine side? Or just achieving a look? Was it all for the cameras? Did the ‘real men’ of the Midlands watching at home scoff at the sight of men in curlers, or reckon they were on to something?
I think this wee news item is interesting, because it represents a nod towards gender negotiations at play in the 1960s. The regional television news was fairly in tune with its audience, it didn’t generally broadcast items that it thought would alienate those watching –it needed them to tune in every tea time. It shows that not only femininity, but masculinity was up for discussion at the time.

And, what happened next…well tune into New History Lab this Friday afternoon and you may well find out!