Baby, you’re out of time*

One minute I’m thinking, gosh, what a good and faithful reconstruction of the fashions and language and décor of 1963. The next, there’s a slip in the fabric of time.

A man speaks. A twenty-first century expression in a 1960s mouth.

My admiration deflates as quickly as an ice cream melting in hot sun. (I know, terrible mix, sorry.)

It’s an all too common phenomenon of dramas set in the recent past. And once the first anachronism jumps out at me I’m alert – annoyingly – to more nits for picking.

It’s one (just one) of the reasons I haven’t been able to watch ‘Mad Men’ and didn’t enjoy ‘The Hour’. The clothes were swish and the hairstyles pretty good (speaking of nits), but somehow, it all looked too clean, too new, too straight off the page of the latest glossy magazine.

I’m not old enough to have been part of the ‘Mad Men’ scene, nor that of ‘The Hour’, but even when I was a little girl we didn’t live in a new, clean-clothed, hair-washed bubble.

The original Sindy was a bit older than mine. She was launched in 1963 and like miine had very shiny, possibly unwashed (forever) hair.

The original Sindy was a bit older than mine. She was launched in 1963 and like mine had very shiny, possibly unwashed (forever) hair.

Most people washed their hair once a week. My father, who had a phobia about water, washed his very, very rarely. I don’t think he was the only one.

Barbers even now, I’m told, sometimes run the comb through their own hair before tackling that of the customer. In lieu of washing.

Hair had a slickness to it then – especially men’s hair – because it was oily. Because people didn’t wash it every day.

Powder shampoo promised much for the appearance-obsessed teen’s interim de-oiling.

Those of us who had scarcely any pocket money as teens used talcum powder instead. It made little difference, both did the job – and delivered fake dandruff.

Every house had talcum powder in those days. Tins of several different scents would nestle in the family bathroom cabinet. It was standard Christmas or birthday present fare, along with bath cubes and soap.

Very few British bathrooms had showers. We washed our hair in the bath or over the washbasin, had a plastic hose attachment for the taps, which often shot off as we rinsed in the primrose yellow, pink or avocado tub.

(I’m not saying we had three tubs, by the way. We had one and, actually, it was white. Sorry.)

But back to the small screen. (Ours is. Just nineteen inches.)

1963. What  do you reckon, did Ringo wash his hair every day?

1963 – what do you reckon – did Ringo wash his hair every day?

In period dramas set in the fifties and sixties the clothes – even if authentic – all look as if they’ve come straight out of a (posh) shop. Blemish free, crease free, perfect in every way. Never worn. Or darned, or mended.

At my school in the late sixties/early seventies we were obliged to wear grey stockings. We all carried a needle and thread, because ladders were an everyday occurrence. Between lessons we’d dash into the loo and apply soap to stop them spreading further.

Come break time we’d sew them up, huddling on the cloakroom benches under our grey gabardine macs, sitting on top of the cubby holes of outdoor black shoes. Yes, we had outdoor shoes – and indoor shoes.

That was also the time when we’d fix any straps that had broken – petticoat straps, with safety pins. Does a teenage girl of 2015 know what a petticoat is? Does she have small safety pins for holding broken straps together? I doubt it.

But to go back to slips (ha ha – petticoats, get it?) in time.

We watched ‘The Theory of Everything’ the other night.

I was prepared not to enjoy it – it seemed a bit – I don’t know – odd, to me. Focused on two people who are still alive. One very famous, one a classic fame-by-association wife. Who wrote the book on which it was based. Well, good on her.

But as I say, I approached it in a dubious frame of mind.

As it notched up the minutes I was pretty impressed – yes the clothes were especially clean for scientific male students of any era, but the fashions were pretty good. The females looked right for the class being portrayed. I began to settle in. And then it happened.

We were in a pub. Beer was being drunk. Dimpled glass mugs were in evidence where now there would only be smooth handle-less glasses. But then.

‘Can I get two more of those?’

Aaargh!

We turned to look at each other, the spell broken.

‘No, don’t you worry, that’s my job, I’ll get them for you.’

That’s how my in-house Professor reacts when he hears that.

[And, digressing a bit, his reaction to, ‘I’m good,’ is, ‘I was asking after your health, not your moral welfare.’ Snigger. *Sucks teeth*.]

It doesn’t matter for most people – certainly not for the generation brought up to say ‘I’m good,’ and ‘Can I get,’ but it bugs me, I’ll be honest. Along with excessive and anachronistic use of the ‘f’ word.

Eventually, though, equanimity restored, the film worked its sentimental magic and tears were shed before bedtime.

But I still found it odd. Those people, still alive.

Not my book, but by a rather more successful novelist. This appeared in 1963

I can’t even promote my own book. Shriek! No! Don’t look at me!

How can they cope with themselves up there on big screens the world over? With people oohing and ahhing over them, dissecting the ifs and buts and whys of their lives.

I just don’t get it.

Get it?

Baby. I’m out of time.


*[Rolling Stones song, No 1 hit for Chris Farlowe in 1966, when I was at school in grey stockings.]

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14 Responses to Baby, you’re out of time*

  1. MELewis says:

    I’m with you on Mad Men. Having worked in the ad biz and been around in those days, I had every reason to want to like it. I never really knew why, it just felt too slick. You have a good eye (and ear) for detail!

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    • Exactly how I felt – too slick. Too clean. Recreators of period appearance always seem scared of worn clothes or real un-made-up faces and hair – except on paupers and ragamuffins. But then I suppose it’s partly down to how actors inhabit the parts too. Thanks, ME, for reading and commenting from a position of knowledge!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thel says:

    I have no interest in watching Mad Men. It glorifies an era when women were dominated by men in the workplace. I’ve never seen it and don’t plan to.

    And about that talcum powder. “Mini-poo” spared us sleeping with head full of rollers or mucho time under the hair drier. It bought us another day of freedom from the hair routine.

    And my pet peeve, if you can stand it. Quite often in the retail or restaurant setting, I say “thank you” to the clerk and he says “no problem.” I didn’t realize that my patronage might be a problem or inconvenience. Sorry about that. Whatever happened to “you’re welcome”? Or maybe he should say “thank you” and I should be say “no problem.” Now I’m very confused.

    Thel

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    • I only tried Mad Men once – hated everything about it.
      Ha ha mini-poo! I love that! I used to use spongy rollers on my long straight hair with a slathering of Dippity Do gel, or Amami liquid, or sugary black coffee if all else failed (made the hair a bit crunchy) and tied them up overnight by wearing a pair of tights on my head!
      Your pet peeve is not your very-own-precious. I hate it too. There’s something about that ‘no problem’ that makes you feel like they think they’ve just done something utterly amazing for you that required heroic effort and great personal inconvenience not to say danger. Sadly there isn’t an easy comeback, unlike when someone doesn’t thank you for something obvious when you can smile sweetly (or snarl) and say ‘ You’re welcome’. I do. I’m also beginning to get a bit intolerant of excessive use of ‘you guys’. Is this what they call grumpy old woman syndrome?

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  3. Thel says:

    Hmmmmm. Could be. I really believe the young ones who use “no problem” most often believe that their response is perfectly polite. But back in the old days….

    By the way, spongy rollers were the only kind I could sleep on!

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  4. EllaDee says:

    I’ve never watched Mad Men… and am averse to most TV shows that are recreated TV fodder of previous lives and times. Most of them aren’t done well to say the least. I wonder at the ages of the writers and creators. One I did watch and enjoyed was Paper Giants about the ‘magazine wars’ of the 1970’s in Australia – http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/magazinewars.htm But it was an ABC productions rather than commercial TV so maybe that helped.
    The hair thing is interesting, as a kid living on my grandparents’ farm where water came from rainwater tanks, we had 2 baths a week… me first then everyone else, and hair was only washed then. I remember in my teens using talcum powder on my fine blonde hair. These days although I wash it every workday, I find it more manageable on weekends when it misses a day or 2. Ditto, my skin loves it.
    The G.O. and I were on discussing on the weekend the joys of getting old that those who did it before us never disclose, among which was amusingly being particular about things just because… like use of certain language or people stopped to chat in the middle of the walkway or not keeping left… Done with the right attitude, being a grumpy old is a hoot. And it gets us all in the end 🙂

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  5. mud4fun says:

    As a young whipper snapper of just 48 I can’t really comment on the authenticity of the shows your refer to. However I do recall the talcum powder in the bathroom cabinet and as Christmas gifts, even as late as the 70’s.

    By the way, I only wash my hair once a week and even then just using water. I do not use shampoo. My hair is in perfect condition, no dandruff, no itchy scalp, not particularyl oily or greasy (other than its natural oils) and it doesn’t smell either. I believe hair naturally secretes an ‘oil’? which means it self cleanses as long as it is allowed to do its job.

    People buying shampoo are just wasting their money and the chemicals in the shampoo wash away and destroy the hairs own natural cleansers. I’m going to guess that it takes a good few months for the hair to recover even if you stopped using shampoo so people will feel it is dirty or greasy during that period and revert back to using the soaps before they’ve given it time. The manufacturers have you hooked for life! 😉

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    • My dad very rarely washed his hair and as you say, it didn’t smell, never looked any worse than any other men’s hair. The introduction of blow-drying (Vidal Sassoon?) in the late sixties (?) or early 70s was, I reckon, the turning point. To look good as new without the old-fashioned shampoo and set was almost impossible. Interesting the fashion now for big rollers worn as accessories! No brown hairnets though … In the 80s I had long hair – permed – and it was my favourite time – I could just wash it and leave it wild or blow dry it all Farrah Fawcett Majors. Sorry, getting a bit nostalgic there! And now I’m still blow-drying… I’m sure that shampoos and condiditoners are a big con but we are – most of us – hooked. 😦

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  6. charliebritten says:

    Great bit of social history, moh. This is the sort of thing I want to ‘collect’ for my blog. Thank you. Very insightful. Just shows how important it is to do your research properly before you put your work on telly!

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    • You’re welcome Charlie – good to hear from you and yes, litte things make a difference I think. Andnto always historically. I think it was an episode of NCIS that was solved with the help of British college year books…!

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  7. Owls says:

    Excellent!

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  8. Steph says:

    I’m definitely with you on the vast majority of this one. Son no.1 tells a waiter “Can I get…” as he orders, and I feel the hairs rising on the back of my 56-year-old neck, though custom has somewhat eroded my reaction to ‘no problem’. The hair issue is interesting. I do think that nowadays people may be inclined to over-wash. When I was little my sister and I had two baths a week (we took turns to have ‘first bath’ in the same water), and my brothers shared a bath on different days. We didn’t have a bathroom at the time – the bathtub was in the kitchen. I was given a hair wash once a fortnight over our old kitchen sink, my mother squeezing my hair free of water until it hurt, The first week I would have my hair loose, then it would be put in a ponytail for the second week. I still only wash my hair once a week and I certainly don’t use very much shampoo. Not even regular, pleasant hairdresser appointments have erased the memory of the early painful experiences My sister used to use talc on hers, but I drew the line there. Not that I have any objections to talc for its normal use; there is a big container on my dressing table.

    The blow-dry did not come into vogue until my early teens. Because my father was a ladies’ hairdresser for a while (before he realised that he couldn’t support a family on his earnings and so went into banking), he used to use me as a model to practise on. After I had had that nerve-shredding fortnightly wash I would be whisked into metal rollers, put under a hair dryer (metal rollers are like a form of torture when hot against the head), beehived to within an inch of my 7 to 8 year old life, brushed out and covered in that really sticky hairspray that hung around you like a miasma for days and created a solid helmet of your erstwhile fine and shiny tresses. No wonder my schoolmates thought I was weird.

    Why was it so important in those days to go to bed in a hairnet? I had one in my teens; it really didn’t do much to keep the strategically placed hair grips or, indeed, hair, in place. Regarding ladders in the tights – didn’t any of you use nail varnish? We did, all the time. Actually, just thinking about one’s toilette in those days raises a rueful smile. Those monstrous and quite useless sanitary belts. And the tiny little tools you could buy for popping your blackheads! A generation of scarred chins there, I suspect. Those were the days, my friend.

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    • Hi Steph good to hear from you. What an interesting tale – I never knew any of that – – it’s funny how often I find something new out about a friend in response to a post here. Nail varnish – yes, we did use nail varnish, but for me the benefit of the soap was that it washed out once you’d mended the ladder – and it didn’t stick to your leg. Ouch! As for sanitary belts – eeurgh yes, there was something especially creepy I always felt about broad, flesh-coloured elastic. I still have (in the button box) one of the metal paper-clip like things that the pads hooked onto. Some things have definitely improved in that department. I too found hairnets worse than useless with my sponge rollers but the pair of tights, with their legs wrapped around and tied in a knot – held them nicely in place. What a sight I must have looked. I also went through a phase of rag rolling with setting lotion – the resulting ringlets never looked like those idealised Victorian ones in the girls’ books pictures. The things we did for vanity … Thanks for reading – and commenting, Mx

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