Remember the 1960s?

In his new fortnightly column, <a href="http://liberalengland.blogspot.com/">Liberal England's</a> J

The New Statesman website has asked me to write a column about my memories of the 1960s. Well, when it comes to the sixties, they say that if…

To be honest, I can’t remember what they say about the sixties. And living in Shropshire is no help: they have not reached us yet. Every morning I climb to the battlements of my redoubt on top of the Stiperstones and sniff the air for patchouli oil. But all I smell is damp sheep.

Let’s try the seventies instead.

I liked the Statesman in the 1970s. Under Anthony Howard’s editorship, the back half was written by the hip young gunslingers of the day: Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens and Julian Barnes. Those in the know called them “The Hitch”. “Mart” and “Julian Barnes”.

Further forward it was all politics. They even printed the leading article on the front cover, which made the magazine appear wonderfully serious.

Today, after 30 years of educational advance, the Statesman has to put a colour picture on the front or it wouldn‘t sell at all.

And if you open it today you find that every comedian in the country has a column. And Julian Clary has a big one.

It wasn’t like that in the seventies. The contents page didn‘t read:

Freddie "Parrot-Face" Davies on the future of the Common Market;
Dickie Henderson on the Palestine Question

And coming next week:

Mike and Bernie Winters debate the Bullock Report on Industrial Democracy.

But there was humour in the seventies Statesman, in the shape of Arthur Marshall.

Marshall was originally famous for his radio sketches of headmistresses addressing girls at the end of term, botany mistresses leading nature rambles…

You are going to have to trust me here. Marshall was funny.

His association with the Statesman dated back to 1935 and was to last until 1981, when he was taken out and shot by the incoming editorial regime.

By the 1970s he was writing gentle essays about life at his cottage Myrtlebank. Once he returned to his own schooldays, remembering the headmaster’s occasional bedtime lectures on moral purity and the temple of the body.

Marshall wrote that he was at first bewildered:

"But as time went on I began to get the hang of the affair and the gist of the matter and hung upon the housemaster's words, later in the day to be so splendidly mimicked by wags as we disrobed, shrieking, for bed, and cackled ourselves into the Land of Nod."

That is what he wrote. Unfortunately the Statesman printed the final words as “tackled ourselves into the Land of Nod”.

I shall be asking to see proofs of this column.

* * * * *

These days I don’t go into Shrewsbury much: just the occasional trip to buy paraffin, candles or ammunition. But I used to go more often and would sometimes meet Derek Conway, who was then the town’s MP.

At that time his sons were too young to come to my notice. Besides, I don’t want to speak ill of a colleague: Henry Conway is the New Statesman’s Knitwear Correspondent.

So let me just say that, when you hear Henry recently hosted a “Fuck Off I’m Rich” party at a Chelsea nightclub, you should bear in mind that he may not be quite as pleasant as that makes him sound.

Yet I had my doubts about Derek even then. Why did he employ the pianist Russ Conway as his agent and speechwriter? I never looked into it, but I bet if I had I would have found that they were related.

Jonathan Calder has been a district councillor and contributed to speeches by Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. These days he prefers to poke gentle fun from the sidelines. He blogs at Liberal England