On Friday evening, my family and I went to The National Archives (TNA) at Kew for their sold out sixties themed Archives At Night event.
“A decade that defined a generation, the sixties in Britain brought us everything from Beatlemania to miniskirts. Yet it was also a time of acute political unrest that saw the destruction of traditional structures and constraints. Using original material from our records, come on a journey to discover some of the most fascinating aspects of the era – from the Profumo affair, to mods and rockers, and the cultural, sexual and social revolutions”.
The event promised displays of key documents and ephemera from the decade, pop-up performances capturing iconic moments, expert talks, using records from TNA to illustrate the subject, a cocktail bar, a Beatles themed photobooth, and a DJ complete with a dance floor for shimmying and twisting the night away. Now I’m not saying my family are alcoholics, but we all enjoy a good cocktail, so obviously the bar was our first stop and we were not disappointed. Being gin lovers (and fans of The Who), most of us opted for the My Gin-eration, which was their take on a Tom Collins. The cocktail was great and obviously we went back for more. Who doesn’t love a good pun?
We popped to the upstairs talk room to hear Dr Richard Dunley’s talk ‘Sex, Spies and Scandal: The Profumo Affair’. Here we heard about one of the greatest political scandals of the decade, involving the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, showgirl and model, Christine Keeler, gangsters, and a Russian spy. I had not heard about the Profumo Affair before, but the speaker brought the story to life by using records from TNA. We also stayed to hear the next talk, ‘Money, Mods and Modernisation’, by Dr Mark Donnelly. In this talk, we heard how pop culture, media, design and politics all sought to embrace the ‘new’ times.
The documents on display were fascinating. We saw original documents relating to the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, medical reports used for the arrest and trial of the Kray twins, and documents charting the rise of the Beatles. Seeing these original records up close and personal was a great experience, and as an archivist, it was great to see archival material being used to weave stories, and bring key people and events to life.
We caught some of the pop-up performances for the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the death of John F. Kennedy, and the strike of the worker’s at Ford Dagenham. These performances used the words taken directly from records of these events to create dramatised readings, and they were great. Having not been around in the 1960’s, I had not experienced these events but I had heard of them, and again it was great to see how archival material could be used in a different way to capture the attention and imagination of the audience.
Fulled by our cocktails, we ended the night by taking to the dance floor, boogieing to the musical stylings of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison and The Monkees. We had a really fab night: we were educated, we were entertained, and we had a lot of fun. Well done The National Archives, we’re looking forward to your next #ArchivesAtNight event!
Header image from Barneby’s