It was Larkin who famously said in his poem Annus Mirabilis: “Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three/ (which was rather late for me) -/ Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban/ And the Beatles’ first LP.” Teenagers for the first time were heard and given a glimpse of freedom, which as teenagers are wont to do, grabbed it by whatever they felt in reach, another person’s body, music, protest, and drugs of course. When I think about the first portrayals of the working class in the early 1960s in books and films, they are often rites of passage, where there is a clash of ages, with authority, and opportunity presents itself to our young confused adult protagonists.
Billy Liar does his eponymous best to escape the drudgery of northern working class life by playing on the fields of his mind as well as women he is in sentient contact with. Bumping up against his parents, grandparent, and boss, the wonderfully named Mr Shadrack. And at the end of the film, we so want him to leave with Julie Christie and go to London, but at the same time know that would undermine the film’s premise. Similar stories are told in such films as Taste of Honey, where Rita Tushingham fights with her drink-happy mother, gets pregnant by a black man, and is looked after by a gay man, which given the fact this was first written in 1959 by an eighteen year old Shelagh Delaney, four years before sexual intercourse was said to have begun, is remarkable. There is a wonderful line in the film from Murray Melvin, her ‘gay saviour’, when saying: ‘You need somebody to love you while you’re looking for somebody to love’. (more…)